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My reading of late has been short and fitful, somewhat like my sleeping pattern, ever since my dear husband passed away. I’m still in 2 book clubs, though, and have wanted to keep up with the reading for those.

When I started reading The Divorce Papers: A Novel by Susan Rieger, I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue. Initially, it brought back too many unpleasant memories of my divorce in 1979-80. But I kept reading and soon was engrossed in the unusual approach. It’s about Sophie Diehl, a young criminal attorney who gets roped into working on this very messy divorce taken on by her law firm. The entire book is written via letters, documents and email messages between the pertinent parties in this divorce (the couple divorcing, their daughter, both attorneys, her boss, and one of Sophie’s best friends). It’s a clever book. As I write this, I’m about 80% through, so I don’t even know how it ends, but I’ve enjoyed the read so far.

Recently finished Orphan Train: A Novel by Christina Baker Kline. It’s about a little known period of time (1854-1929) when orphaned children were loaded onto trains on the East Coast and sent to the Midwest to be adopted by families who needed or wanted children. Some were adopted by people who were unfit; some of the children were lucky and found good, loving homes. This is the story of one of the girls, Vivian Daly and her journey. Woven into the story is a much later period of Vivian’s life when many facts of  her earlier experiences are revealed. A very, very interesting book; there’s a love story in it too.

Since I’m a fan of Ann Patchett, it’s no surprise that I wanted to buy her most recent book, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage. It’s a book of short stories, but not fictional ones – it’s a compilation of essays and articles she’s written over the course of her writing life. My favorite is the one in which she describes in intimate detail how she goes about writing a book. About the process, her thinking, and the the hard, hard work it entails. I loved every one of the stories. She is quite self-deprecating about the book – it likely wasn’t her idea to put it together as she never thought any of her essays were worth much. She wrote them to make a living. Each of the chapters (essays) has been updated and/or addended to, so she did have to put some spit and polish on all of them before sending this group to the publisher. She’s written essays for a very esoteric group of publications; some I’d never heard of. But I enjoyed the book from beginning to end.

Also just finished reading The Invention of Wings: A Novel by Sue Monk Kidd. What a story. Sometimes it’s a good thing to read the author’s notes before you read a book. I guess I’m glad I didn’t (in this case the notes were at the end of the book) because it was then, afterwards, that I read that one of the characters in this novel is fictional; the other two (sisters) were real. There’s a bit about the Quaker religion in this book too, which was different. This is a slavery story and about the beginnings of the abolitionist movement. Interwoven between the 2 sisters who make waves about anti-slavery is the poignant story of one particular slave and her hard, hard life. It’s heartbreaking in many respects, not just because of the violence and abuse heaped upon her. The book is almost a page-turner. Very glad I read it.

Also read The Four Seasons: A Novel of Vivaldi’s Venice by Laurel Corona. It was recommended to me by a friend, and I enjoyed it a lot. It has a rather unusual story line, all envisioned by the author from reading a tiny line of elaborate script from a journal at what remains of a foundling hospital (run mostly like a convent by Catholic nuns) in Venice. It said something like Antonio Vivaldi purchased “a bow for Maddalena Rossa.” That started the author’s novel journey. Two sisters are raised at the Ospedale della Pieta. One becomes famous for her violin skills; the other for her voice. One is married “out” and the other stays cloistered her entire life. Then you throw Vivaldi himself into the mix, as he really was paid by the Ospedale for his compositions and for teaching some of the residents to play instruments. It’s an enlightening story about Vivaldi himself (a priest, with a lot of questions about his piety). It takes place in the early 1700s. Fascinating story and I want to listen again in total to Vivaldi’s very famous work, The Four Seasons, as a result of reading this. I’ve heard it many times before, but it will have new meaning now.

IN THE POWDER ROOM: Our guest half-bath 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); and The Trouble with Poetry (Billy Collins).

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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