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me_in_paris_198That’s me, on a trip, in a Paris restaurant.
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On a recent road trip, I listened to 2 books on CD that I checked out of the library. With long stretches of highway with nothing to occupy my time, I love doing books on CD. The better of the 2 was definitely Frances Mayes’ new memoir, Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir. She narrates the story herself, and I just loved hearing her southern accent all the way through, her lilting, slow manner of speaking. She tells the story of her youth, from as young as she can remember to about age 25 or so, with most of it her coming-of-age in her teens. Her parents were alcoholics. Her older sisters were away at college. She wasn’t from a wealthy family exactly, but there was some money, a maid that she loved dearly who protected her from her parents sometimes. A grandmother figures large for some of the years. Her thought processes are normal, although she says from the get-go that she always felt she was different than most people, not a traditionalist for sure. Having read her other books, I never picked up on all the angst she experienced as a young woman, a girl, really. I absolutely LOVED the book. Mayes has a gift of prose – of a kind you don’t often read – she uses amazing language and phrases, adverbs and adjectives. Describes scenes so well and with such detail you just know you’re right there beside her.  Didn’t want it to end. As I reached across to the passenger seat to pull out the last CD I was sad, knowing the story was coming to an end. Because she ended it at about age 25, I suspect there may be another book in her future. For several days after I listened to this book I could hear Mayes’ southern accent in my head (like I hear memorable music when I attend a concert or sing a hymn or praise song at church). Her voice resonated in my head. If you enjoy memoirs, and reading about a kind of a crazy family, AND you like Frances Mayes, well, then, you’ll like this book for sure.

The other book, that I am sorry to say I cannot recommend is Sue Miller’s book, The Senator’s Wife (Vintage Contemporaries). Reading the back of the CD box I wasn’t sure, but I took it anyway. And at first I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue listening to it (when the young woman digs into her neighbor’s personal letters when she’s supposedly taking in the mail and watering plants), then got engrossed in the story. It’s about a young couple who move to a new house, part of a duplex in New England. Their next door neighbor is the aging and somewhat estranged wife of a Washington Senator. The young woman is far too curious about her neighbor and her neighbor’s marriage, what there is of it, although she cares about her neighbor a lot. The chapters switch back and forth between the young wife and the aging woman next door with their personal daily trivia, interspersed with some drama on both sides. The Senator is a philanderer, hence the partial estrangement. The young woman has a baby and consequently spends lots of time at home, overwhelmed with motherhood, hoping for something to change her life. When the Senator has a stroke and returns “home” for his “wife” to care for him (her choice) the plot thickens. The young wife is asked to babysit, so to speak, for an hour or so once a week for the old man, and that’s when, something happens that sickened me. I disliked this young woman and felt her behavior was just so disappointing. I couldn’t continue. If you like that sort of thing, then maybe you’d like the book. I was on the last CD when the story took this turn, and I was sorry I’d wasted so many hours on it to get there. Friendship isn’t about betrayal – it isn’t a friendship then. If any of you have read this already and want to comment, send me an email. Go to my contact page above.

Read Maude by Donna Mabry. It’s a true story (but written as a novel) about the author’s grandmother, Maude. It takes place from the early 1900s to her death in the 1960s. She lived a hard, hard life (mostly in Detroit), and there’s information that even takes me back to things I vaguely remember about my own grandmother’s life. I was fascinated. I won’t say that I couldn’t put it down, but I looked forward each night to read what was going to happen next. It’s hard to tell you much about the book without revealing too much of the story – I won’t call it a happy book, because there is much sadness within its pages, but you admire Maude for what she did, the role she played, her inherent grit. But I wanted to smack her 2nd husband! A good read, though.

While I was on my 3-week trip to Europe, I read 5 books. Of them all, Sgt. Reckless: America’s War Horse by Robin Hutton, was by far the best story, a true story about an American Marine. Many books have been written about Sgt Reckless, this rather nondescript, small Mongolian mare that was purchased by American forces in Korea in the height of the war. She was reared as a race horse, but she spent her career as an heroic soldier for our military, saving countless lives as she willingly delivered munitions from one place to another. Everyone who came in contact with her loved her. She became a regular soldier, mostly so they could requisition food for her. Sometimes she survived on next to nothing to eat. She aimed to please, and please she did, as in one 24-hour period she ferried ammunition up steep slopes (too steep for soldiers to climb) and she did it all by herself. When the Marines unloaded her cargo, she immediately worked her way down for more. She knew what she was supposed to do. She was highly intelligent, amazing many people over the course of her life. If you love animal stories, you’ll love this one. Have a Kleenex box nearby.

Another really riveting story, one I could hardly put down, is The Headmaster’s Wager by Vincent Lam. My friend Joan recommended this one to me. Most likely  you’ve never read anything about Chinese immigrants living in South Vietnam during the war there, right? Neither had I. And you have to keep track of who is who, and the politics of the time. The Vietnamese don’t like Chinese people, so there’s that going on. The Chinese man runs an English school somewhere near Saigon. He has a right hand man who may or may not be what he appears to be. The Chinese man has a son who gets himself into trouble. Oh, webs woven every which way. As I said, I could hardly put it down. Will make a very good book club read.

IN THE POWDER ROOM: The guest half-bath in my house 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).

 

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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