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On my recent road trip, I visited one of my local libraries and borrowed 5 books on tape. We listened to 3 of them. I’m a big fan of Craig Johnson, the author of a series of mysteries taking place in Wyoming, and a TV series on Netflix called Longmire. This book, A Serpent’s Tooth: A Longmire Mystery was really complex. Hard to explain, but it’s about graft and greed and oil. Worth reading, for sure. Also read Stone Kiss by Faye Kellerman, another complex mystery about Lt Decker, an LA cop who journeys to NYC to help out his family when a murder occurs. Lots of violence in this one.  Not particularly a fav book, I’d venture. Then read Leaving Time: A Novel by Jodi Picoult. I’ve read most of her books – always very riveting. In this book, you’ll learn a whole lot about elephants since the protagonist in it is a young girl whose mother disappeared when she was quite young. Her parents ran an elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire. In the ensuing years, Jenna has tried to find clues as to her mother’s whereabouts because she just cannot believe her mother would have up and abandoned her. There are a whole cast of characters (her mother, her father, employees at the sanctuary, a cop or two, and a psychic). All play fairly prominent roles. Fascinating book – I really liked it, almost as much for the education about the behavior of elephants as about the mystery. A great read.

Also on the trip, I read a book (on Kindle) for one of my book clubs, The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin. It’s about the relationship between Truman Capote and his “swans,” a group of aging high society ladies, and specifically Beth Paley. I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not. Truman Capote was not a nice man, although the whole novel (vs. non-fiction, which this is not) is conjured from speculation about the years Truman was kind of adopted by the group of women. He cared about all of them (most were married/divorced, wealthy women) but in the end he betrays them all by writing a novella about their secrets, their marriages, their affairs (theirs or their spouses, information they’d all shared with him, thinking he could be trusted with their innermost secrets). It was scandalous, and yes, all that part is true. I finished the book, but almost felt like I’d read a “dirty book.” There is no graphic detail in this book – it’s just what Capote did to destroy these women, supposedly his dear, darling “swans.” He was the villain in the book, and in his old age . . . well, I won’t spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it.

I’ve written up an entire blog post about this book. (It hasn’t been posted yet, but will soon.) It may be one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a memoir by Pat Conroy (an author I’ve long admired). He died a year or so ago – sad, that. In order to get the most out of My Reading Life, I recommend you BUY THE HARDBACK. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s an autobiography of sorts, but not really. He never wrote one, I don’t think, and I doubt he would ever have written one as he likely didn’t believe anyone would want to read about his (sad) life. In this memoir, he chronicles the books (and the people who recommended them) that influenced his life. Starting at his mother’s knees and continuing through influential teachers and mentors and friends. One of my book clubs read it, and I devoured it, cover to cover, with little plastic flags inserted all the way through to re-read some of the prose. Pat Conroy was a fabulous writer – he studied words from a young age and used them widely and wisely throughout his writing, but better than most authors would. He adored his mother, and hated (with venom) his aviator military father who physically abused everyone in the family, including his mother. They all took it like stoic Buddhas. I’m going to have to read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel because of reading this book. I’ve never read it. Conroy says that book’s first page is the best first page of any book he ever read in his life. Wow. And maybe my book group is going to re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Vintage Classics) too because of the chapter on that book. We might have to assign that to a 2-month or longer read. If you have friends or family who are avid readers, this would make a great gift, this book, My Reading Life. If YOU are a reader, it needs to be on your bookshelf, but in hardback, so you can go back to it and re-read his stories. It’s a series of essays, each one about a sub-section of his life. A must-have and a must-read.

Also read The Towers of Tuscany by Carol Cram. It was a bargain book through amazon or bookbub (e-book). Back in the Middle Ages women were forbidden to be artists. Their only place was in the home, caring for children and sewing and cooking. But the heroine in this book was taught to paint by her widowed artist-father (in secret, of course). When her father suddenly dies, all hell breaks loose and she must fend for herself. Much of the book takes place in Siena (and also San Gimignano) as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

 

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 Cookies, on September 15th, 2009.

ad hoc choc chip cookies

You’ve heard of Thomas Keller by now. Yes, surely you have. If you’re into food, then Thomas Keller is a beacon in today’s foodie world. Renowned for his restaurants (The French Laundry, Per Se, Bouchon, and Ad Hoc), Keller just looks at food differently, and always has some different take on things. Including cookies.

He has made quite a name for himself in the baked good department, with the Bouchon Bakery. Dave and I stopped there a couple years ago and sat out on the patio, in relative freezing cold weather, to enjoy some piping hot coffee, an almond croissant (probably the very best one I’ve ever eaten in my life!), and macarons. Oh my. All to die for. And most likely these cookies were there too, but my homing instinct was on croissants and macarons that day.

ad hoc cc 3 I read about this CC cookie over at Food Gal’s blog. What’s different about them is that you start with cold, cold butter, cut up in little pieces. Then you add all the other stuff, with the freshly chopped up chocolate (heavy-duty, good quality chocolate bars) at the end. One of the secrets to this is to sift the chocolate chunks in a sieve (to eliminate all the fine chocolate dust from coloring the cookies). It also has dark brown sugar in it. And one other helpful hint was to spray the cookies with water before baking – if you want softer cookies. I made some of both. The recipe indicates 33 cookies (large ones). I used a standard cookie scoop and got 44. Just so you know. . .

Good? Yes! Different textured cookies. I can’t exactly describe it, but they are softer in the middle than any traditional chocolate chip cookie. Other than the cookie dough I sampled, I’ve had a total of two cookies so far. Yummy. I’ll make these again. They may not be as spectacular as my favorite ones, the One Bowl CC Cookies, but they’re pretty darned good.
printer-friendly PDF

Chocolate Chip Cookies from Ad Hoc (Thomas Keller)

Recipe: From the Foodgal blog, but it’s from Thomas Keller’s “Ad Hoc At Home”
Servings: 33 [I made 44 more standard-sized cookies]

2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour — plus 1 tablespoon
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
5 ounces chocolate — 55 percent, cut into chip-sized pieces
5 ounces chocolate — 70 to 72 percent, cut into chip-sized pieces
8 ounces cold unsalted butter — (2 sticks) cut into small pieces
1 cup packed dark brown sugar — preferably molasses sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs

1. Position racks in the lower and upper thirds of the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with Silpats or parchment paper.
2. Sift flour and baking soda into a medium bowl. Stir in the salt.
3. Put chips in a fine-mesh basket strainer and shake to remove any chocolate “dust” (small fragments).
4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, beat half the butter on medium speed until fairly smooth. Add both sugars and the remaining butter, and beat until well combined, then beat for a few minutes, until mixture is light and creamy. Scrape down sides of the bowl. Add eggs one at a time, beating until the first one is incorporated before adding the next and scraping the bowl as necessary. Add dry ingredients and mix on low speed to combine. Mix in chocolate. Don’t overmix.
5. Remove bowl from mixer and fold dough with a spatula to be sure the chocolate is evenly incorporated. The dough or shaped cookies can be refrigerated, well wrapped, for up to 5 days or frozen for 2 weeks. Freeze shaped cookies on the baking sheets until firm, then transfer to freezer containers. (Defrost frozen cookies overnight in the refrigerator before baking.)
6. Using about 2 level tablespoons per cookie, shape dough into balls. Arrange 8 cookies on each pan, leaving about 2 inches between them, because the dough will spread. Bake for 12 minutes, or until the tops are no longer shiny, switching the position and rotating pans halfway through baking.
7. Cool cookies on the pans on cooling racks for about 2 minutes to firm up a bit, then transfer to the racks to cool completely. Repeat with second batch of cookies. (The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 days.)
8. Note: If your brown sugar has hardened, soften it in the microwave for 15 to 30 seconds.
Per Serving: 172 Calories; 9g Fat (44.9% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 23g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 28mg Cholesterol; 95mg Sodium.

A year ago: Tea

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