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me_in_paris_198That’s me, on a trip,  sitting in a Paris restaurant.
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Just finished reading a really sweet memoir, called Champagne Baby: How One Parisian Learned to Love Wine–and Life–the American Way by Laure Dugas. The author is very young, considering she’s written a book 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 reading 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.

Also read another book by Haruf, called Eventide. It’s a bit of a carryover from Haruf’s book Plainsong (see review a paragraph or so down). Haruf is a “spare” writer. There is sufficient description. You definitely get a sense of place and the people, but there isn’t much emotion elicited. You have to scratch it out in between the lines. He’s a wonderful writer IMHO. I’ve now read 3 of his novels. This book takes place in high and deep Colorado country, and it’s a small town, with small town kinds of goings-on. There are some unsavory characters, and the heartwarming ones too which make the book worth reading. Good over evil, for sure. Worth reading. Too bad Haruf died in 2014. His books will be missed.

Eight Hundred Grapes: A Novel by Laura Dave. I bought it because it’s about Sebastapol, a cute little town in California wine country, in Sonoma County, although it’s on the fringes of the more mainstream wineries. A daughter of a friend of mine recently moved there, and when I visited her a few months ago, I was charmed by the cute downtown and the small village feel to it. Anyway, although the backdrop of the entire book is about the winery, the wines, the fields, the processes of wine making, it’s more about the family relationships. It seems that everyone (mom, dad, 2 sons, wife of one, a daughter [who is the protagonist] and her fiance and his ex-girlfriend) is in the midst of extreme turmoil. I swear, when I think about authors as they toil away in their aeries writing, they compile a big long list on a huge whiteboard of all the different awful things (divorce, affairs, fistfights, love lost, love gained, screaming and yelling, public drunkenness) they can make happen in one book and they pick and choose, yet make every effort to pack in as many of them as they can. No one in this family is immune from high levels of emotion and action or acting out about something or many things. I enjoyed the book despite those character flaws which occur on nearly every page. You have compassion for each one of them. Yet they’re a close family nonetheless. I haven’t read any of Laura Dave’s other books, but I suspect this one will be a winner. It’s not on any best-seller lists, but amongst book club readers, I believe it’s a strong contender.

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 Salads, on February 25th, 2011.

belgian_endive_orange_salad

At the dinner party we did recently I wanted to serve something other than a green salad. Even though they’re good and generally reliable, I wanted to do something different. This certainly fits that requirement.

The recipe comes from an old Gourmet issue (from 2006). It’s available online if you want to go there. I bought the multi-colored Belgian endives (at Trader Joe’s), 2 greens and 1 red in each package of 3. Navel oranges are in season at the moment, and they’re so juicy and sweet. And then there’s the vinaigrette. The headnotes to this recipe said:

It’s impossible to overstate just how well the ingredients come together in this beautiful salad. The textural contrast of juicy ripe orange and crisp endives is enhanced by a surprisingly complex vinaigrette containing sweet, spicy and smoky flavors.

chipotle_canIt was that information that made me clip out the recipe 5 years ago. I’d just never gotten around to making it. And it definitely is the dressing that makes this salad. The sweet comes from the orange juice and maple syrup, the spicy and smoky both from the chipotle chile in adobo. You won’t use all the dressing (at least I didn’t – I have about a third leftover). The dressing does have a few other additions (sherry vinegar, red onion, lemon juice) and it’s just full of flavor.  I served this with a pork roast, so the fruit addition to the salad blended well with the meat. I think pork marries well with fruity sides. We had leftovers, and unfortunately this salad doesn’t keep very well – the Belgian endive leaves begin to wilt. So make just as much as you think you’ll eat. I served it on a large, flat platter – so you could see all the fruit and colorful endive.

chipotle goop_540I’ve talked about chipotle chiles in adobo sauce before on my blog. They’re jalapeno chiles that have been smoked and cooked in a sauce. I hope you can find it at your market – they’re usually in small, 8-ounce cans (see photo above of one of the many brands available). One of the cooking classes I went to years ago provided a really helpful hint about this stuff – once you open the can, mash up the ingredients in a bowl. Do be extra careful touching it – it’s spicy hot – don’t get it in a cut or abrasion – ouch! Spread it out flat (about 1/8 inch thick or so) on a piece of aluminum foil (see photo  – that is the frozen goop resting on a piece of aluminum foil), cover with plastic wrap and seal in foil, then freeze in a Ziploc plastic bag. When you need some of it, pull it out and chop off a little chunk of it – use a sharp, heavy knife to cut it. Then return the rest to the freezer for another time. The chunk I have in my freezer has been there for nearly a year and it’s just fine. If you’ve never had chipotle chile, you’re in for a treat. Just beware – use it in moderation until you know what your heat-comfort level is. Generally I reduce the amount of chipotle in things until I know how hot it’s going to be. You can always add more, right?

One of the best parts of this recipe is that I made up everything ahead of time – the separated endive leaves in a bag, the orange slices in another, and the dressing in another. Took but a minute to put the finished salad on the platter and dress it.

printer-friendly PDF

Orange and Endive Salad with Maple Chipotle Vinaigrette

Recipe By: From Gourmet magazine, March 2006
Serving Size: 5
NOTES: The smoky vinaigrette (the smoky part comes from the chipotle chile in adobo) is what makes this salad. You probably won’t use all the dressing.

1/4 cup fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons maple syrup — dark type if possible
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon red onion — chopped
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon chopped canned chipotle chile in adobo plus 1 teaspoon adobo sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 whole navel oranges
4 large Belgian endive — ends trimmed

1. Whisk together orange juice, syrup, oil, vinegar, onion, lemon juice, chipotle with adobo sauce, and salt in a bowl until combined well.
2. Remove peel and any white pith from oranges with a sharp knife. Cut oranges crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Separate endive leaves and arrange with oranges on a platter, then drizzle with vinaigrette.
Per Serving (assumes you use all the dressing): 126 Calories; 6g Fat (37.2% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 215mg Sodium.

A year ago: Broccoli Casserole
Two years ago: Slow-Cooker Tamale Pie
Three years ago: Warm Bean Brie Dip

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