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My reading of late has been short and fitful, somewhat like my sleeping pattern, ever since my dear husband passed away. I’m still in 2 book clubs, though, and have wanted to keep up with the reading for those.

When I started reading The Divorce Papers: A Novel by Susan Rieger, I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue. Initially, it brought back too many unpleasant memories of my divorce in 1979-80. But I kept reading and soon was engrossed in the unusual approach. It’s about Sophie Diehl, a young criminal attorney who gets roped into working on this very messy divorce taken on by her law firm. The entire book is written via letters, documents and email messages between the pertinent parties in this divorce (the couple divorcing, their daughter, both attorneys, her boss, and one of Sophie’s best friends). It’s a clever book. As I write this, I’m about 80% through, so I don’t even know how it ends, but I’ve enjoyed the read so far.

Recently finished Orphan Train: A Novel by Christina Baker Kline. It’s about a little known period of time (1854-1929) when orphaned children were loaded onto trains on the East Coast and sent to the Midwest to be adopted by families who needed or wanted children. Some were adopted by people who were unfit; some of the children were lucky and found good, loving homes. This is the story of one of the girls, Vivian Daly and her journey. Woven into the story is a much later period of Vivian’s life when many facts of  her earlier experiences are revealed. A very, very interesting book; there’s a love story in it too.

Since I’m a fan of Ann Patchett, it’s no surprise that I wanted to buy her most recent book, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage. It’s a book of short stories, but not fictional ones – it’s a compilation of essays and articles she’s written over the course of her writing life. My favorite is the one in which she describes in intimate detail how she goes about writing a book. About the process, her thinking, and the the hard, hard work it entails. I loved every one of the stories. She is quite self-deprecating about the book – it likely wasn’t her idea to put it together as she never thought any of her essays were worth much. She wrote them to make a living. Each of the chapters (essays) has been updated and/or addended to, so she did have to put some spit and polish on all of them before sending this group to the publisher. She’s written essays for a very esoteric group of publications; some I’d never heard of. But I enjoyed the book from beginning to end.

Also just finished reading The Invention of Wings: A Novel by Sue Monk Kidd. What a story. Sometimes it’s a good thing to read the author’s notes before you read a book. I guess I’m glad I didn’t (in this case the notes were at the end of the book) because it was then, afterwards, that I read that one of the characters in this novel is fictional; the other two (sisters) were real. There’s a bit about the Quaker religion in this book too, which was different. This is a slavery story and about the beginnings of the abolitionist movement. Interwoven between the 2 sisters who make waves about anti-slavery is the poignant story of one particular slave and her hard, hard life. It’s heartbreaking in many respects, not just because of the violence and abuse heaped upon her. The book is almost a page-turner. Very glad I read it.

Also read The Four Seasons: A Novel of Vivaldi’s Venice by Laurel Corona. It was recommended to me by a friend, and I enjoyed it a lot. It has a rather unusual story line, all envisioned by the author from reading a tiny line of elaborate script from a journal at what remains of a foundling hospital (run mostly like a convent by Catholic nuns) in Venice. It said something like Antonio Vivaldi purchased “a bow for Maddalena Rossa.” That started the author’s novel journey. Two sisters are raised at the Ospedale della Pieta. One becomes famous for her violin skills; the other for her voice. One is married “out” and the other stays cloistered her entire life. Then you throw Vivaldi himself into the mix, as he really was paid by the Ospedale for his compositions and for teaching some of the residents to play instruments. It’s an enlightening story about Vivaldi himself (a priest, with a lot of questions about his piety). It takes place in the early 1700s. Fascinating story and I want to listen again in total to Vivaldi’s very famous work, The Four Seasons, as a result of reading this. I’ve heard it many times before, but it will have new meaning now.

IN THE POWDER ROOM: Our guest half-bath has a little tiny table with a pile of books that I change every now and then. They’re books that might pique someone’s interest even if for a very short read. The Art of Travel, a collection of essays about traveling (it’s not a how-to), gathering a variety of stories of some historic authors and where and why they traveled; The Greatest Stories Never Told; and Sara Midda’s South of France; also Forgotten Bookmarks: A Bookseller’s Collection of Odd Things Lost Between the Pages (just the cutest book – with a miscellany of things – letters, grocery lists, notes, reminders, confessions the author discovered hidden inside the books he purchased for his used bookstore); and The Trouble with Poetry (Billy Collins).

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small engraved sterling silver tea spoons that I use to taste as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Cookies, on May 22nd, 2007.

Are all cookies seasonal in your book? Certainly I have a few cookie recipes that I don’t make year around . . . like gingerbread men . . . or sugar cookies decorated with red and green. But otherwise, cookies are calendar universal. I had a bag of dried cranberries that needed to be used, and I remembered this recipe that’s become a personal favorite since 2000 when my friend Darlene brought them to a Christmas cookie exchange.

If you haven’t ever been to a cookie exchange, you should try it. These days, every woman’s magazine blasts ideas for how to streamline our shopping, wrapping, decorating, cooking and entertaining during the holidays. Happily I’ve hostessed cookie exchanges for years. I had my first one in about 1971. And I’ve had them many times since – not every year, but every few. I love to have a variety of cookies to serve friends and family during the holidays, so what’s easier than inviting a group of baking friends to share everyone’s goodies. I can remember many times trying to figure out the math – okay, 11 people coming, everyone’s bringing 5 dozen, how many of each cookie do we take? Got it. Oh, one gal didn’t come at the last minute? Oops, change the number. Oh, another gal only got 50 out of her batch? Uhm, what do I change the number to now? Eventually we just took a bunch and if there were still lots of cookies, we’d make another turn around the cookie table adding a few more to our stashes.

I didn’t intend this to be a lesson in cookie exchanges, but one thing I’ve learned is that each different cookie needs to go into its own plastic bag and sealed. Otherwise, someone’s double mint cookies will infect all the other cookies in your container with mint. And all the bags go directly into the freezer after the exchange.

These Cranberry Noel cookies were the hit of the cookie exchange that year. Hands down. (Thank you, Darlene.) They came from Martha Stewart, but at the time they were the #1 winner of a Christmas cookie contest Martha had on her website. For this posting I did look it up and finally found it on one of Martha’s forums here. I know they were originally part of a cookie contest because I wrote it into my recipe program in 2000. Martha subsequently published it in a Christmas special issue, apparently. These are super simple – you mix up the batter, roll into two logs, roll the logs in shredded coconut, chill, slice and bake. And once they’re cooled they go into Ziploc freezer bags and back into the freezer.

So, just because these contain dried cranberries, pecans and coconut, that doesn’t mean you can’t have them in May! I had one yesterday in the mid-afternoon with my cup of Earl Grey tea. Delicious.

Printer friendly PDF

Cranberry Noels

Recipe: Winner of MarthaStewart.com’s online Cookie Contest, 2000
Serving: 48    Preparation Time 15 minutes

1 cup unsalted butter — room temp
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract — or rum (I always use vanilla)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup dried cranberries (sometimes I chop them a little)
1/2 cup pecans — chopped
3/4 cup shredded coconut meat — unsweetened

1. In a bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about two minutes. Add milk, vanilla, and salt. Beat until just combined. Gradually add flour, cranberries and pecans. Mix on low speed until fully combined.
2. Divide dough in half and shape each half into 8-inch logs, about two inches in diameter. Roll logs in coconut, pressing firmly to coat the outside of the logs, but without misshaping the logs. Wrap logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about two hours.
3. Heat oven to 375°. Using a sharp knife, cut logs into 1/4 inch thick slices. Transfer to an ungreased cookie sheet, placing about 1 – 1.5 inches apart. Bake until the edges are just golden brown, about 12 minutes. Transfer cookies to a rack to cool.
Per Serving: 78 Calories; 5g Fat (57.8% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 8g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 10mg Cholesterol; 23mg Sodium.

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  1. Freya and Paul

    said on May 23rd, 2007:

    Yum, these sound great, Xmas or not! I have never made refrigerator biscuits and I think it’s high time I started!

  2. Anne Dovel

    said on December 20th, 2008:

    Oh! These are a favorite at our house every year! In fact, I’m making them today!

    You’re right – these are the “best.” Glad you enjoy them like we do. . . Carolyn T

  3. L Allen

    said on December 12th, 2009:

    I LOVE these cookies. They are always a hit. Had lost my recipe. So glad you had it here.
    Why does Martha do that? She has a Cranberry Noel recipe on her site, but it is ever so slightly different. Doesn’t even include the coconut.

    When my friend Darlene brought these cookies to a Christmas event, she said the cookies were a winner in a Martha Stewart Christmas cookie contest. They were first published in a Martha Stewart Christmas magazine (a special one, just Christmas stuff) that year. I found the recipe online (only then). Subsequently it disappeared from the website. Now I suppose Martha feels she owns it, maybe, and she had to change the recipe just a bit? I don’t know. Glad you enjoy these like I do! . . . carolyn T

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