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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 Desserts, on July 30th, 2009.

cherry compote 3

These probably look just like the bowl of cherries I showed you a couple of days ago. But they’re NOT. Well, same cherries, but cooked. Same set-up (background, still left “up” in my mini kitchen studio area, but different bowl. I know, they don’t look cooked, do they? They’re not stewed for very long, but oh do they have flavor, big time.

cherries macerating 1 In Russ Parsons’ book, How to Pick a Peach, he mentions a simple recipe of his. This one. It’s just pitted fresh cherries, mixed with some sugar (pictured left at the macerating stage), then with some red wine, some spices, briefly simmered on the stove, a splash of balsamic vinegar added and you’re done.

Good for spooning over vanilla ice cream. Because they still had some shape to them I decided to cut them in half. They also didn’t have much juice left to them, but that’s the way Parsons makes them. I’d prefer some juice to it, so you might add a bit more red wine and sugar to it. The flavor is elegant. Deep. Complex (especially with the balsamic added at the end). Really good – true cherry flavor. With backbone. I made these a couple of days ago, and once they’d rested in the refrigerator, they’d softened up a lot more than the photo at top indicates – you can see them better below with the ice cream. Soft cherries, the way they ought to be on top of ice cream.

bing cherry compote with ice cream 1I did end up adding just a bit more red wine to the compote during the cooking stage than the recipe indicates, but OH, is this ever piquant. I’ll be making this again. And again. But only when Bings are in season.
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Fresh Bing Cherry Compote

Recipe: adapted from Russ Parsons’ “How to Pick a Peach”
Servings: 4

1 1/3 pounds cherries — fresh, Bing
1/4 cup sugar
1 whole clove
1 whole allspice berry
1 stick cinnamon — 1 1/2 inches long
1/4 cup red wine [I added more]
1 1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

1. Pit the cherries. You want to have 1 pound of pitted cherries.
2. In a bowl combine the cherries and sugar. Stir and set aside for about 30-45 minutes.
3. Add 1/4 cup of red wine, stir and set aside for 15 minutes.
4. Pour the mixture into a flat, wide skillet (just large enough to hold the cherries in a single layer). Combine in a cheesecloth bag the cinnamon stick, clove and allspice. Tie together and place it into the pan with the cherries.
5. Bring the cherries to a boil and simmer at a fairly high heat for about 10 minutes, while the juices begin the thicken. The cherries will still be in one piece.
6. Remove from heat and add the balsamic vinegar to the mixture. Cool, chill, and serve over vanilla ice cream.
Per Serving: 143 Calories; 1g Fat (7.1% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 33g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 17mg Sodium.

A year ago: Irish Cream Brownies
Two years ago: Normandy Apricot Custard

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  1. Debbie

    said on August 2nd, 2009:

    What type of red wine did you use for this recipe? The bing cherries were on sale at the store today so I bought a bag so I could fix this yummy looking compote.

    I think it was pinot noir – it was whatever we had open at the time – but I’m fairly certain it was pinot. BUT, any regular red wine would be fine. Even a chianti would work, but would be more acidic. If you used a sweeter red wine, I wouldn’t add as much sugar, but most red wines are in the low to moderate sweetness. A more fruity red would work the best. Even a zinfandel. A cab. Any of the above. . . you’ll be SO glad you’ve made this. Let me know what you think of it. . . Carolyn T

  2. Debbie

    said on August 11th, 2009:

    I made the compote a couple of nights ago with a cab. The cherries are delicious & I’ve enjoyed eating them with yogurt & granola for breakfast. Thanks for the recipe!

    Cherries aren’t visible at our markets anymore. Sob! I’ll have to wait until next summer to make this again, unless I do it with frozen cherries. Glad you liked it! . . . carolyn t

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