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me_in_paris_198That’s me, on a trip, in a Paris restaurant.
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Just finished a very interesting novel, The Color of Water in July by Nora Carroll. It takes place in the upper peninsula of Michigan, an area I’ve never been to, but I have friends who live there and have been trying to get me to visit them for years, having told me (and sent photos) of how beautiful it is. The story takes place at a remote little cottage enclave on a lake. It’s clique-y, in that generations of families have kept these cottages in the family, not wanting any “outsiders” to come in. A young woman, Jess, who grew up partly with a crazy gypsy-like mother, and a loving but stern grandmother (who owns a home in the enclave) has a romance in her youth during the annual trek to the cottage, but a long ago tragedy ripples down through the years to affect her. When her grandmother dies, Jess has lots of mixed emotions about returning to the cottage. She wants to, but doesn’t. Finding papers in the house, she begins to unravel events over the course of two previous generations of family with startling revelations all along the way. Good character development for Jess, Daniel, her long-lost love, her grandmother, Mamie, and her current boyfriend, Russ. And great descriptions of the landscape of the area.

Champagne Baby: How One Parisian Learned to Love Wine–and Life–the American Way by Laure Dugas, another book I read recently. The author is very young, considering she’s written a memoir already (good for her, I say!). She was born to an old Champagne family in France, and paid little attention to anything regarding the wine business until her uncle (the CEO) offered to send her to the United States to do a 6-month tour with the vineyard’s distributor. She was fresh out of college and hadn’t really decided what she was going to do exactly. She’d be the spokesperson (brand ambassador they called her) for the family. Despite having a boyfriend, she made the leap anyway. Each chapter tells the story of her journey in America (with little language skills) or about what she learned about wine. And what she learned about long-distance relationships too. If you’ve never experienced much French wine, this would be a good introduction (she explains all about the different French wine regions and how/why they raise the grapes they do), but it’s woven into the very interesting life she led, living on a shoestring, meeting other French ex-pats in New York, and her thoughts on going to California, Boston, Memphis and other cities. When her 6 months were up, she wasn’t ready to go home. You’ll have to read it to find out what she did then. I liked the book immensely.

If you’ve been reading this sidebar much over the years, you’ve rarely seen mysteries here. Great for an airplane read, maybe, but I don’t find them (usually) gripping enough. But one of my book clubs is read a book by C.J. Box, called Open Season (A Joe Pickett Novel). Joe Pickett is a game warden in the wild country of Wyoming. He’s a good man. A family man. A good husband. AND a dogged investigator whenever anything goes awry in the hills. Usually it’s a murder of some kind. He writes a really good book that incorporates the mystery, lots of character study, some family stuff, but also a lot about the animals, the flora and fauna of the parks and land, and this one is also about an endangered species. I could hardly put it down. I’m SO glad I read this, and yesterday I visited my local library and checked out two more of his books. They’re easy reads; not overly long. But very absorbing. You’ll fall in love with Joe Pickett’s daughter Sheridan, too.

A page-turner of a book, Before the Fall by Noah Hawley grabbed me nearly from the first sentence. A small group of people take a private jet out of Martha’s Vineyard. Sixteen minutes later the plane crashes into the ocean. Two survive, a 4-year old boy and a single guy, an artist/painter, who ended up on the plane almost by happen-chance. What might have looked more like a fluke accident turns a bit sinister when you begin to learn more about the passengers on the plane, and the crew; the parents of the young boy, and a few others. Each person is scrutinized through the author’s lens and his/her culpability is analyzed. The painter and the boy form a bond because the man rescues the child and they swim miles and miles to shore. It’s just riveting. It’s not a James Bond type of thriller, but a real-life kind of drilling down into the core of each person on the plane. What I will mention, though, is that once you’ve read this, there isn’t a whole lot to discuss as a book club read, which is often the case for mysteries. Once the case is solved, there isn’t much to talk about except the characters, perhaps.

When one of my book groups gathered last week, we discussed a bunch of books that we might read for our next Sept-August “year.” We select them all, for the whole year, in advance. On the list of 18 possible ones (we’ll read nine only) was an old classic – I guess you could call it a classic – Plainsong – by Kent Haruf. Since it was published some years ago I dropped by the library, and sure enough, they had a copy. I came home and devoured it in one fell swoop. What a story. Tender, yet harsh in some respects. It tells the story of a group of small-town people (a teacher – a man separated from his wife, but he has the 2 boys who both play prominent roles in the book; a single woman caring for her aging and Alzheimer’s driven father; a young teenage girl who should have known better, but got pregnant; a couple of very old brothers, both single, struggling along with their ranch). All this takes place in a small town in eastern Colorado. I laughed. I cried. I wanted to reach through the pages to some of these characters to give them a hug. It’s a winner of a book. I may have to read more of Haruf’s books. The prose is spare, yet you can feel the anguish, the pain, the love, the caring. What a book!

 

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food 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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