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Sara and me

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Just finished reading A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts by Therese Anne Fowler. My friend Ann, from Idaho, brought it with her as we spent a week in Palm Desert. She handed it to me and said I’d really like it. Oh, did I! Loved the book. This book is a novel, but based on the life of Alva Smith Vanderbilt (Belmont). She was nearly destitute (and faking it) when a marriage was proposed for her with William Vanderbilt. There is lots of dialogue in the book, which is made  up, but I’m guessing the author probably read many diary entries of Alva (and the family) to create a very intriguing and readable story. A life of unbelievable privilege. Several children, including one who marries into a titled family in England. You see the inner life of Alva – her day to day busy work, charity work, visiting for afternoon tea, the undercurrent of society’s morals – men were nearly expected to have mistresses or affairs. This was the Victorian Age when sex between and man and a woman was not necessarily, and usually not, passionate. I loved this book from page one until the end.  She was a suffragette of the first order. Having read the book, I have a lot of admiration for her, even though she lived in the highest echelons of society.

Also read In Falling Snow: A Novel, by Mary-Rose McColl. From amazon: Iris, a young Australian nurse, travels to France during World War I to bring home her fifteen-year-old brother, who ran away to enlist. But in Paris she meets the charismatic Dr. Frances Ivens, who convinces Iris to help establish a field hospital in the old abbey at Royaumont, staffed entirely by women—a decision that will change her life. Seamlessly interwoven is the story of Grace, Iris’s granddaughter in 1970s Australia. Together their narratives paint a portrait of the changing role of women in medicine and the powerful legacy of love. The book  gives you a vivid picture of the state of nursing in WWI, but the story is quite mesmerizing. And there’s a twist almost at the end. Highly recommend.

Also couldn’t put down The Secret Wife by Gill Paul. A long story that begins in war-torn Russia. Cavalry officer Dmitri falls head over heels in love with one of the daughters of Tzar Nicholas. But events intervene, as history tells us. That was 1914. Cut to 2016 when a young woman inherits an ancient cabin in upper New York State and she discovers a jeweled pendant. The two times weave together to make a really riveting story. Lots of Russian history; well written; as I said, couldn’t put it down.

Uncommon Woman. A book about Colonial America, but really the western frontier at that time, which is in western Pennsylvania. The warring native Americans play large in this book. There is a romance, yes, but this book is not “a romance.” It’s more than that – about the hardships of living on the land, away from protection, Tessa and her family struggle to make a living and avoid the angered natives who take revenge when their people are murdered. Clay Tygart is a respected officer/soldier and commands a fort near where Tessa lives. Clay was captured by Lanape Indians when he was a young man, so he straddles both sides of the equation – first hand, he knows how the natives feel, but also his role in the lure of American exploration of the west. The natives wish to preserve their hunting grounds from the encroaching settlers. This book takes place in the mid-1700s I think. Loved it. Not only the history that is brilliantly detailed, even to the summer heat they experience. The crops they raise, the constant fear of attack. And the sweet love that weaves through it. Not a speck of sex in it.

Reading mysteries has never loomed large in my reading life. Occasionally, yes. And some espionage type books. But light mysteries have not intrigued me much. But one of my book clubs had us read Louise Penny’s novel, A Rule Against Murder (Chief Inspector Gamache Novel). The member actually handed out a cheat sheet of the characters in the book (many) and posed several questions of us as we read through it. The cheat sheet really helped. She asked us when (or if) we caught the foreshadowing of the murder culprit (I never did). The book takes place at a lovely inn in Canada and Chief Inspector Gamache (he is quite a character – along with his wife – are vacationing there) when a murder occurs. None of the characters escape the C.I.’s scrutiny. Lois, our book club member, led us through a very thorough and lively discussion of the book. Usually, my complaint about murder mysteries is that they don’t make for good discussion at a book club – but this book was an exception, for sure. Many of my learned book club friends rave about Louise Penny. One told me I should read Still Life next, and probably should have read it before I read this one.

Rachel Hauck is an author I’ve enjoyed reading over the years. Just finished reading The Memory House. It’s about relationships. Love. About family. About secrets. Doesn’t that just describe about 90% of every novel out there these days? Beck is a cop in NYC; a series of events occur and she is forced to take leave. Just then she inherits a house in Florida. She barely remembers the woman who bequeathed the house to her. Then you meet Bruno, a sports agent who will figure large in Beck’s life. Then the book jumps back in time to Everleigh, the woman who owned the house and you learn her story. Really stories of her two husbands. And how do those stories connect to present day. Very sweet book. Not a speck of sex in this one, either.

The Parrot Who Owns Me: The Story of a Relationship by Joanna Burger. Such an interesting book – nonfiction. The author is an ornithologist by profession (and a PhD) and this memoir of sorts is about her Red-Lored Amazon parrot she and her husband own. But no, it’s the parrot who owns her/them.

My Name Is Resolute by Nancy Turner. She’s the author of another book of some renown, These is my Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901 (P.S.). Resolute is what I’m discussing here. A book club friend recommended this book, I immediately bought it on my Kindle. I could NOT put the book down. I devoured it. Any other “work” I should have been doing was swept aside as I read and read of Resolute’s adventures. It’s fiction, but based some on a true story. Resolute, as a young girl from a privileged life on a plantation in Jamaica, was taken captive by slavers, eventually ended up in Colonial America. This book is the story of her life. The people she met, the men in her life, her children, and always about her indefatigable energy for life. Always hoping to return to Jamaica.

Finished The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek: A Novel by Kim Richardson.  It’s a novel about the first mobile library in Kentucky (this is the 1930s) and the fierce, brave packhorse librarians who wove their way from shack to shack dispensing literacy, hope, and, just as importantly, a compassionate human connection.

The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape by James Rebanks. This book was offered as a bargain book from Bookbub, and something about the description resonated with me – maybe because of my Old Testament readings regarding the lives of shepherds back in ancient days. I utterly loved this book. It might not suit everyone – it’s a memoir, so a true story, of a young man growing up in the Lake District of Northern England, the son of a farming family, who sabotages everything in his being regarding going to school and leaves as soon as he is able (probably about 8th grade, I’d guess). And becomes a shepherd. And at night, he read literature that he accumulated from his grandfather. He bickers with his father, eventually moves out. One night in a pub with his blokes (friends) he enters some kind of a contest in the pub and realizes he has a lot more knowledge than he thought he did. In time he applies to get what I’d call here in the U.S. a G.E.D (high school diploma), which he does, and then he applies to Oxford, on a whim. And gets in. He graduates. He applies his knowledge to his rural life. He marries, has children, but still, his day to day life is all about his Herdwick sheep, although he does have a day job too working for UNESCO. You’ll learn more about sheep than you might have wanted to know. I absolutely loved, LOVED this book. If you are interested, James Rebanks has a Twitter feed, called @herdyshepherd1, and you can sign up to get updates from him about his farm and his sheep. I don’t do Twitter or I would.

Moloka’i: A Novel by Alan Brennert. A riveting book about the early days of Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) in Hawaii, and the stigma attached to the victims AND their families. It chronicles the story of a young woman, diagnosed almost as a child, and ostracized from her family, subsequently learning to live alone and remote.

House by the Fjord by Rosalind Laker. What a darling story. From amazon: A touching and atmospheric love story – When Anna Harvik travels to Norway in 1946 in order to visit the family of her late husband, the country is only just recovering from five cruel years of Nazi occupation. So it is with surprise that she finds in this cold and bitter country the capacity for new love and perhaps even a new home. I just loved this book – could hardly put it down; yet it’s not a mystery. You’ll come away with a desire to find that house by the fjord. I want to go there and have some coffee with the Anna, who was a Brit, yet fell head over heels in love with Norway.

Running Blind (Jack Reacher) by Lee Child. A Jack Reacher mystery. From amazon: Across the country, women are being murdered, victims of a disciplined and clever killer who leaves no trace evidence, no fatal wounds, no signs of struggle, and no clues to an apparent motive. They are, truly, perfect crimes. Until Jack Reacher gets in the middle of it. A page turner, as are all of the Jack Reacher stories.

Say Goodbye for Now by Catherine Ryan Hyde. This story, which takes place in a kind of Texas backwater, sets a town into an angry mess when two young boys, one white, one black, become friends, something most folks don’t like. At all. There’s a dog involved, the father of the black boy, the father of the white boy plus a woman who lives in the town and does her best to avoid people altogether. But they all get fused. Wonderful story.

Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart. A sweet book, true story, of the author and her friend, during one summer in the midst of their college years, going by train to NYC and ultimately getting a job of Tiffany’s.  Cute read.

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann. You might think what a stretch – what does an Indian (Native American) tribe have to do with the FBI. Read and you’ll find out. This is back in time, 50s I think, and a number of murders have taken place on the Osage Reservation. A wake up call, even for today.

Oh wow. Just finished reading David Guterson’s book, East of the Mountains. You know this author from his most well known book, Snow Falling on Cedars. I loved the Cedars book when I read it years ago, and assumed I’d like this other book (not new) as well. Have you learned to trust my judgment when I tell you, you HAVE to read a book? When I tell you the story line, I can already hear you thinking . . . oh no, I don’t want to read this kind of a book. Please trust me. You’ll come away from it being glad you did.

A fabulous read – Catherine Ryan Hyde’s newest book, Have You Seen Luis Velez? I marvel sometimes about how authors ever come up with the ideas they do, to create the premise for a novel. And this one is right up there at the top of the list. Raymond, a youngster, an older teenager, who has a big lack of self-confidence and feels like an odd duck sometimes, reluctantly (at first) befriends an elderly woman in the apartment building where he lives with his mother and step-father. He discovers she’s blind and needs some help, which he gives her.

Magic Hour: A Novel

Excellent Women

Pachinko (National Book Award Finalist) by Min Jin Lee

An American Marriage (Oprah’s Book Club): A Novel by Tayari Jones.

Recently finished Sally Field’s memoir (autobiography) called In Pieces.

If you want grit, well, read Kristen Hannah’s newest book, The Great Alone: A Novel.

You’ve got to read Catherine Ryan Hyde’s book – Take Me With You. What a story.  From Amazon’s description: August Shroeder, a burned-out teacher, has been sober since his nineteen-year-old son died. Every year he’s spent the summer on the road, but making it to Yellowstone this year means everything. The plan had been to travel there with his son, but now August is making the trip with Philip’s ashes instead. An unexpected twist of fate lands August with two extra passengers for his journey, two half-orphans with nowhere else to go. What none of them could have known was how transformative both the trip—and the bonds that develop between them—would prove, driving each to create a new destiny together. Have a tissue handy at the end. It’s such a charming, sweet story. You’ll fall in love with the young boys, and fall in love with them again 10 years later.

The Last Letter from Your Lover: A Novel by JoJo Moyes.

Mark of the Lion : A Voice in the Wind, An Echo in the Darkness, As Sure As the Dawn (Vol 1-3)by Francine Rivers.

Flight of the Sparrow: A Novel of Early America

Answer As a Man

Celeste Ng Little Fires Everywhere.

The Rent Collector by Camron Wright.

C.J. Box’s book The Disappeared (A Joe Pickett Novel).

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng.

The Boston Girl: A Novel by Anita Diamant.

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers.

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen.

Leaving Blythe River: A Novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde. A

The Girl with Seven Names by Hyanseo Lee.

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian.

The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. W

How It All Began: A Novel by Penelope Lively.


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 Brunch, Vegetarian, on June 14th, 2010.

Have you heard about the new Cooking Channel? It’s run by Michael Smith and is a sister channel to the Food Network. Among some new chefs it also shows some older foodie TV series. Like Julia & Company and Nigella Lawson when she was much younger. So I’ve set up my Tivo to record Julia and Nigella both. And in the first recorded show that I watched of Julia she was creating a baked creamed corn and scoffed at the work required to scrape the kernels off 12 ears of corn. I nearly laughed out loud since I was just writing up another post and was scoffing, myself, at most of Julia’s recipes. And the time it takes to make one of her recipes – like Beef Bourguignon, for instance. So why she would not scrape 12 ears of corn, I don’t understand!

A week or so ago my friend Cherrie and I went to a cooking class about more of Julia Child’s recipes. Phillis Carey did the cooking, and made four dishes at the class. These crepes, a pork roast, quenelles and a lemon soufflé tart. To tell you the honest truth, I’m not sure I’d make even one of them. They’re just too darned much work. And although I like pork roast, I didn’t think Julia’s recipe was all that great. And the shrimp quenelles – oh my goodness! You know what they are, right? Little French kind of oval-shaped dumplings. They are nothing short of a labor of love. And they were just okay, served with a very rich chive beurre blanc sauce, but would I make them? No. The lemon soufflé tart was good. Very good, actually. But the different steps, the different pans and bowls required, the mountain of dishes deter me from even thinking about making it. I will give you the recipe for it, in case you’d like to make it.

The only one of the four dishes that I really liked was the crepes gateau. But oh, are they a ton of work. Maybe Cherrie and I will pool our resources, divide up the labor and make it once for our husbands. Cherrie and I both thought the spinach overpowered the mushrooms, so we thought we might use twice as much mushroom filling as spinach. But whichever, Phillis told us it’s a first course. Not like a main course. I think we’d have to make it a main – no way would I want to make something else other than a green salad, perhaps, to go with it. With an appetizer maybe and dessert, it would have to be a complete meal. It also would make a lovely brunch dish, I think. For that matter, just look at the calorie count – nearly 1000 calories for a wedge!
printer-friendly PDF

Gateau de Crepes a la Florentine

Recipe By: Julia Child’s recipe, adapted by Phillis Carey, 2010
Serving Size: 6

2 cups cold water
2 cups cold milk
8 large eggs
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons melted butter — plus more for the pan
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons butter
2 3/4 cups whole milk — boiling
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 pinch grated nutmeg — large pinch
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup Gruyere cheese — or Emmental, grated
1 tablespoon shallots — minced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups chopped spinach — blanched, or 3 boxes frozen chopped spinach
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 ounces cream cheese — softened
salt and pepper to taste
1 large egg
1 cup fresh mushrooms — minced in food processor
1 tablespoon green onions — minced
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter

1. CREPES: Put the liquid, eggs and salt in blender jar. Add flour, then butter. Cover, blend top speed for one minute. If bits of flour adhere to sides of jar, scrape and blend further. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight. The batter should be a consistency of light cream, just thick enough to coat a wooden spoon. If, after making your first crepe, it seems too heavy, beat in a bit of water, a spoonful at a time.
2. The first crepe is a trial one to test the batter consistency, the exact amount you need for the pan, and the heat. Brush flat skillet (high sides make it difficult to turn) lightly with oil. Set over moderately high heat until pan is just beginning to smoke. Immediately remove from heat, pour with your predominant hand a scant 1/4 cup batter into middle. Tilt quickly in all directions to run batter all over bottom in a thin film. If you have too much batter, pour it back into the bowl and judge the measurement for subsequent crepes. This should take no more than 2-3 seconds. Return pan to heat for 60-80 seconds.
3. Jerk and toss pan sharply back and forth, up/down to loosen crepe. Lift edges with spatula and if underside is light brown, turn over using 2 spatulas, if necessary, or grasp edge with two fingers. Brown lightly for about 30 seconds on other side. The second side is rarely more than a spotty brown and is always kept as the non-viewing side. As each crepe is finished, slide onto a rack and let cool, stacking on a plate. Grease the skillet again, heat just to smoking and proceed as above. Crepes may be kept warm by covering them with a dish and setting them over simmering water, or in a very slow oven. Or they may be made several hours in advance and reheated when needed. They freeze well, separated with waxed paper. Makes 24 crepes.
4. SAUCE: Cook the flour and butter slowly together in saucepan for 2 minutes without coloring the flour. Off the heat beat in the boiling milk and seasonings. Boil, stirring for one minute. Reduce to simmer and stir in cream by tablespoons. Sauce should be thick enough to coat a spoon fairly heavily. Remove from heat and correct seasoning. Stir in cheese. Pour a very small amount of milk over the top of the sauce (to make a solid film) to prevent a skin from forming.
5. SPINACH FILLING: Cook shallots in butter for a minute in a medium saucepan. Add spinach and salt, stir over moderately high heat for 2-3 minutes to evaporate moisture. Stir in 1/2 to 2/3 cup of the Mornay Sauce (above). Cover and simmer slowly for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Correct seasoning and set aside.
6. CHEESE/MUSHROOM FILLING: Mash cream cheese in a mixing bowl with salt and pepper to taste. Beat in 1/3 – 1/2 cup of the Mornay Sauce (above) and the egg. Saute the mushrooms and green onions in butter and oil for 5-6 minutes in a small skillet. Stir them into the cheese mixture and correct seasoning.
7. TOPPING: Butter a 9-inch round baking dish (or a higher sided cake pan at least 1 1/2 inches deep) and center a crepe in the bottom. Spread with layer of cheese/mushroom filling. Continue with alternating layers of crepes and filling, ending with a crepe. Sprinkle with the Parmigiano cheese and dot with 3-4 pea-sized bits of butter. Set aside.
8. BAKING: Preheat oven to 350. Place gateau in the upper third of oven and heat thoroughly, about 25-30 minutes, until the top is lightly browned. To serve, cut in pie-shaped wedges and drizzle with additional Mornay Sauce on top and over the sides of each piece.
Per Serving: 978 Calories; 65g Fat (59.9% calories from fat); 33g Protein; 65g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 491mg Cholesterol; 1250mg Sodium.

One year ago: White Gazpacho Soup
Two years ago: Asparagus – everything you ever wanted to know

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