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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, Miscellaneous sides, on July 14th, 2007.


As a confirmed chocoholic, I know my chocolate. And chocolate sauces. I don’t buy ready-made. Why bother to buy it when you can make it so easily? Maybe twice a year I make this sauce, my favorite, Regal Chocolate Sauce, and when it’s gone, it’s gone. When the grandkids visit I sometimes buy the Hershey’s squirt bottle, which they love. But, this sauce is far and away my favorite.

Year ago I was in a Newcomer’s Club, and the group decided to publish a cookbook of members’ recipes. A couple of my recipes are in the book, plus this one, from a friend I made in the club. Over the years I’ve tried several loads of other variations. The Los Angeles Times did an in-depth investigation into home made chocolate sauces some years ago and I tried a couple of them. Nope. Didn’t measure up in my book. I have tried recipes using heavy cream, a lot more butter, corn syrup instead of sugar, and various types of chocolate including milk. A friend shared her mother-in-law’s coveted recipe. Nope. Not that one, either. Why do I bother to try all these others? I have the best recipe already. It’s incredibly easy. What I like about it is that it doesn’t get chalky as it ages in the refrigerator. And you can make it in the microwave in a Pyrex measuring bowl, or heat it on the range if you want to have more control. You never want to overcook pure chocolate. Then pour it into a glass containier, cool and refrigerate. Then when I need it, I merely remove the lid and heat briefly – very briefly – in the microwave, until it’s just thin enough to pour and you’re done.

I’ve even tried the recipe using Scharffen Berger chocolate, and Valrhona too. They are good, and you can certainly substitute them for the German chocolate. What is it about the German chocolate? I’d forgotten what was unique about it:

  • German’s Chocolate dates back to 1852, when an American named Sam German created a sweet baking chocolate bar for the Baker’s Chocolate Company. This new chocolate had sugar added to it, as a convenience for bakers. But that all important apostrophe and “s” were soon dropped from “German’s.” In 1828, Dutch chocolate maker C. J. Van Houten invented the cocoa press. This machine squeezed cocoa butter out of the beans and treated the cocoa with an alkalizing agent to improve the color and flavor. The process became known as “dutching,” and cocoa processed this way is called Dutch chocolate.

So, Dutch chocolate, because of the use of an alkalizing agent is a milder form of chocolate. I’m a dark chocolate fan, so it’s interesting that I prefer the milder chocolate in this sauce. And speaking of Dutch chocolate, you may not have heard about this fabulous liqueur, Vermeer Dutch Cream. It’s very similar to Bailey’s, but it’s chocolate based rather than coffee/chocolate. It is made with Dutch chocolate. You have to seek out a retailer for it, as it’s a bit hard to find. It would make a great gift to a friend who is a chocoholic, or try it yourself. (As with Bailey’s, you should keep it refrigerated, and shake it up each time you intend to use it.) Note that the bottle has a Vermeer painting on the front The Girl with the Pearl Earring, the one that inspired Tracy Chevalier to write the novel about her (wonderful book, by the way, if you haven’t read it). Here’s a photo of the bottle, at left.

So, back to chocolate sauce – try my Regal Chocolate Sauce. You can use any form of chocolate you like. Try it on a little bit of good-quality vanilla ice cream with a few toasted almonds on top. Oh yes. (Photo at bottom from Vermeer Dutch Cream’s website.)

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Regal Chocolate Sauce

Recipe from a friend I met in the 1970’s
Servings: 6
COOK’S NOTES: It keeps in the refrigerator for months, and is easy to reheat (at medium power setting) in the microwave.

4 ounces German chocolate squares
3 tablespoons water
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon butter
1 dash salt
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine chocolate, water, sugar and salt. Cook and stir over low heat until sauce is smooth. Remove from heat and stir in butter and vanilla. Serve hot or cold over ice cream. Makes 3/4 cup.
Per Serving: 144 Calories; 9g Fat (48.7% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 5mg Cholesterol; 65mg Sodium.

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  1. Anonymous

    said on July 16th, 2007:

    Okay so here is another favorite of mine as well. I would sneak bites of it the next day straight from the refrigerator. Yes, this chocolate sauce is great even when it is cold!! I have made this a few times myself and I LOVE it!!

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