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me_in_paris_198That’s me, on a trip,  sitting in a Paris restaurant.
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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 know all about the people on the plane, including the two pilots and the flight attendant; 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 Breads, on October 18th, 2008.

wednesday breakfast scones from Anne Hughes Cafe

I’m not sure I ever thought I’d find a scone recipe that I liked as much as my own Buttermilk Scones with Golden Raisins. I’ve made them for years, and have been so happy with the recipe, I’ve never wanted to change. Then we stayed in Portland, Oregon for a couple of nights, at the Rose Cottage B&B just outside the city. The owner, Sally, served us just the lightest, most flavorful scones. The proportions of things are very similar to my tried-and-true recipe, but these have more flour in them – mine are more like very rich, flaky round biscuits. Sally’s were light, perfectly crumbly, huge and served in wedges. And, incidentally, if you’re ever up Portland way, I highly recommend Sally’s Rose Cottage as an ideal close-by location. She’s not in downtown, but it’s easy driving distance. She’ll serve you a breakfast that is enough to feed a small infantry, but it’s worth every single delicious-laden calorie.

Sally was kind enough to share the recipe for the scones with me. She said it was printed in the Portland Oregonian newspaper in 2004, and she raved about the chef, Anne Hughes, who created them. I believe she said the café that Hughes used to own is no longer in business. But Sally was happy she had THIS recipe from her café. Sally follows the recipe to the letter with the following exceptions: she mixes it by hand with a pastry blender AND she freezes the butter – she cuts the butter up in small chunks and puts that in the freezer so they’re all ready to go when she decides to make a batch (as a B&B owner, obviously she makes the scones quite frequently), then uses the pastry blender to cut it up a bit more (from a frozen state). She said you definitely don’t want to mix it so much that you can’t see the butter flakes. If the chunks are a bit larger (like little flat pieces the size of your little finger) they’ll be perfect for the flakiest results. These have a hint of lemon peel in them, and you briefly knead the dough just to pull it together, roll it out, sprinkle some of the zest on top, fold it over, then slice the pastry into wedges before baking on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Sally also adds fruit (like fresh Oregon blueberries) to the dough sometimes. I made my batch in the food processor (per the Oregonian recipe) and they seemed wonderful to me, but perhaps doing them by hand would produce even more flaky and flavorful scones. I also didn’t have frozen butter either, but I do like these enough that I might try those techniques next time I make them. I made them for my hubby’s Bible Study group the other day. They were gobbled up in short order.
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Wednesday Breakfast Scones

Recipe: Anne Hughes, of Anne Hughes Kitchen Table Cafe, Portland, OR
Servings: 8-10

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon sugar — to sprinkle on top
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter — cold, cut into small cubes
1 cup buttermilk
3 teaspoons lemon zest — from about 2 lemons
1 tablespoon heavy cream

1. Preheat oven to 400. Set aside an ungreased baking sheet (lined with parchment).
2. In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, add the flour, baking powder, soda, 1/3 cup sugar and salt. Process with 6-8 one second pulses.. Remove the cover and evenly distribute the butter over the dry ingredients. Cover and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal with a few slightly larger butter lumps (about 16-20 one second pulses).
3. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl. Add the buttermilk and half the lemon zest; use a wooden spoon to stir until mixture begins to form a dough, about 30 seconds.
4..Transfer the dough to a floured surface and divide into two equal balls. Use a rolling pin to lightly roll each half into a circle about 7 inches in diameter. Sprinkle the remaining lemon zest over both circles and use the rolling pin to lightly press the zest into the dough, then fold each circle in half (making a half circle), then cut each into 4 wedges.
5. Place the wedges on the prepared baking sheet.
6. If desired, glaze the scones by brushing tops with the heavy cream and sprinkling with the remaining one T. of sugar.
7. Bake until the scone tops are golden brown, about 18-23 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes to firm up. Serve warm if possible.
Per Serving (assuming you make 8 very large scones): 382 Calories; 19g Fat (43.8% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 48g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 50mg Cholesterol; 498mg Sodium.

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  1. Anne Hughes

    said on September 5th, 2011:

    Dear Caroline,

    I chanced on your post about my Wednesday Breakfast Scones and was delighted to see that you enjoyed them and passed it on to your followers.

    Your blog brought back fond memories of the guest house, the Wednesday Breakfasts and the Kitchen Table.

    I am now somewhat retired, though I do organizing work for various clients, and I even make up a batch of those scones once in a while.

    Thanks again for the mention.

    Best regards,

    Anne Hughes

    Thanks for the memories!

    How very sweet of you to send a comment. And yes, indeed, we enjoyed those scones very much. I don’t make scones very often anymore either – except when we have guests. Yours are really special, though! . . . carolyn t

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