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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 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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