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Currently Reading

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Just finished Leaving Blythe River: A Novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde. Almost a page turner. When one uses the phrase “coming of age,” it usually means (I think) love and loss/boyfriend/girlfriend, and in this case it’s somewhat that way. When Ethan, a 17-year old boy and his mother come home unexpectedly to find dad and his young secretary in a compromising position, all hell breaks loose. Separation happens instantly and just as his father moves out, his mother has to go take care of her aging mother. Ethan’s too young to be left in the NYC apartment alone, so Mom sends son to the father who is escaping from the world in Wyoming, living in a primitive A-frame house, and continuing his daily 20+ mile running journeys. Ethan and his father are barely speaking. They live in the middle of nowhere. Ethan feels betrayed by his father in every possible way, and somewhat by his mother for forcing him to live with his father for a temporary period. Then his father doesn’t return one day from his run. The authorities do a cursory search, but they are under the impression the dad wants to “get lost” on purpose. Ethan, although he thinks he doesn’t care, really does. What happens next is best left to you reading this book. Very interesting people (kind of loners) enter the picture and off they go to search. So worth reading.

The Girl With No Name by Diney Costelhoe. What a good book. Perhaps you’ve read before about the huge numbers of German refugee children who were sent to England before Hitler closed down any exits. This is a novel about one particular young girl, who is devastated when her mother puts her on one of the boats. She ends up in London, in an orphanage kind of place, and is eventually placed with a childless couple. She speaks no English. They speak no German, but they manage soon enough. Lisa (who eventually becomes Charlotte) is so homesick. She’s bullied at school, because most people and children don’t want any Germans there. A boy steps up to protect her, and as she grows up, she’s attracted to him. She shouldn’t be – he’s also German and from her own home town. He’s not a good match for her. You live with her through the blitz during all those war years and during one attack, she’s badly injured and loses her memory (and no ID on her). Through a series of mishaps she ends up in a village far from London, with a spinster woman who does eventually come to love her very much – they name her Charlotte and Charlotte she becomes. She goes to school there, still longing, though, for her mother and brother and her London foster family too. Then when she’s 16 she returns to London to help at the orphanage where she was originally placed and tries to find her foster parents. The story goes on from there, with the boy/man who “wants” her, the bad boy, and a good boy/man she befriends in the village in the country. Eventually she regains her memory. SUCH a good read.

The Girl with Seven Names by Hyanseo Lee. If you, like me, know little about North Korea and how it came to be what it is today, you’ve got to read this book. It’s a memoir written by a young woman who escaped from North Korea about 9 years ago. Her journey – and I mean JOURNEY – is harrowing, frightening, amazing, heart-rendering all at the same time. She chronicles the lives of the Kims (Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il to current Kim Jong Un), shares the strict propaganda that surrounds every North Korean citizen, the poverty and hunger, as well as the underground black market for food and goods. It took her awhile to get from North Korea, to China and eventually to South Korea, where she currently lives. She’s well educated and speaks English quite well. She was invited to be a speaker at a TED talk – you know about those, right? TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a media organization which posts talks online for free distribution, under the slogan “ideas worth spreading.” I listen to them as  podcasts now and then. Always very educational, if sometimes over my head when it gets very technical. She works diligently for human rights now, doing her best to help other North Koreans escape. You owe it to yourself to read this book.

Also just finished reading The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian. Another WOW book. I’ve always liked the author – many years ago I read his book, Midwives and really liked it. Don’t confuse this book with the one I recently read, The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas that I reviewed recently. I think we read it in one of my book groups. He’s a brilliant writer, and this one has a lot of characters and twists. It’s a novel, but based on a lot of truth regarding the Armenian genocide. Most of the book takes place in Aleppo, Syria with some good Samaritan folk trying to help rescue people (mostly children) following the forced long marches the Turks made prodding the Turkish Armenians to exit their country. But it also jumps to near present day as a family member is trying to piece together obscure parts of her grandparents’ former lives there. She uncovers some hidden truths (many survivors of the genocide never-ever-ever wanted to talk about it) and a bit more about her Armenian heritage. A riveting book – I could hardly put it down. Lots to discuss for a book club read. I simply must read more of Bohjalian’s books (he’s written many).

The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke. All I can say is “wow.” In a general sense, this book is based on the premise of The Pilot’s Wife. But this one has some totally different twists and turns. A young wife is met at the door by police, informing her that her husband has died in an auto accident. Then she finds out he died in Hawaii – not Kansas, where she thought he was, on business. Then she finds out there was a woman in the car. Then she meets the fiance of the woman passenger and the two of them embark on a fact-finding mission in Hawaii to discover the truth. Well, I’m just sayin’ . . . the plot thickens. And thickens. And thickens clear up to the last few pages. Hang onto your seat. A really, really good, suspenseful read.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. What a WONDERFUL book. It opens up a shameful part of America’s past, but one you might not have heard about before this. In the late 1800s thousands of Chinese workers were brought to the West Coast to help with a variety of construction projects and a myriad of other things where laborers were needed. Many settled, married and made a new life for themselves. But suddenly the white population didn’t want them here anymore and they summarily ordered them ALL out of our country. This book chronicles a young Chinese girl, who was on a ship that was supposed to take her family to China, but the ship’s captain decided en route to dump them all overboard, to drown. The girl’s father knew it was going to happen and in order to save her, he threw his daughter off the ship as they were passing Orcas Island (in the San Juan Islands west of Seattle). She was saved. The book switches from that time to current time as a woman is rebuilding her family’s home on Orcas and finds a beautifully embroidered silk Chinese robe sleeve hidden under a stair step. The book is about that sordid past and the young girl’s descendents, and about the woman who is rebuilding. Stunner of a novel. Good for a book club read, I think. It has a reader’s guide at the back with good questions for book groups.

How It All Began: A Novel by Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.


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 Beverages, on January 16th, 2018.


Do you have family members who are just nutso about hot chocolate? I do, and when I saw this recipe, I knew I needed to make them to take to my grandson JohnJohn (age 17). I kept two of the balls and they’re in my refrigerator as I write this. They’re calling my name.

Since Chris Kimball was ousted from America’s Test Kitchen/Cook’s Illustrated, he’s started up his own new organization with a magazine (Milk Street Magazine) and also is taping TV shows. I like the magazine a lot and read it cover to cover every month. It’s a similar layout, but lots of color photos and interesting comments about products. This recipe came from a one-page article about the quality of chocolate we’d use for baking. The #1 winner was Ghiradelli’s, both their bittersweet bar chocolate or the chocolate chips (and I have bags of them in my  pantry since they’re my go-to choice for chips for baking or grabbing to eat).

choc_ball_dropping_mugAlongside the review (also acceptable were Hershey’s unsweetened bars, Dove milk chocolate and Hershey’s cocoa powder) was a gorgeous picture of a bunch of chocolate pieces and some chocolate sauce dripping all over it plus this recipe for chocolate balls. It was the photo that sucked me in!

So, these balls . . . they’re something you make ahead and chill, then form into balls (as above), wrap in plastic wrap (and keep chilled), and when you’re ready for a hot chocolate you merely plop one of the balls into a mug of milk and microwave it about 2 minutes, stirring several times until it’s completely melted. EASY! My cousin Gary was visiting over the holidays and we enjoyed the last 2 balls as I was in the middle of writing up this post. That’s his hand in the photo. I topped both mugs with a squirt of whipped cream from the aerosol can.

heavenly_hot_chocThe chocolate concoction is nothing but good quality chocolate chips (yes, I used the Ghiradelli ones), heavy cream and a dash of salt. That’s melted in the microwave, allowed to cool to room temp, then chilled for 2 hours in the refrigerator. Don’t attempt it at 1 1/2 hours chilling time – it needs the full 2 hours. I used 2 spoons to make the each ball (about 2” thick). I put on plastic gloves as it was quite messy. I only got 9 chocolate balls from the mixture, and I thought I was doing skimpy 2” balls.

When you melt the chocolate ball in the milk, in the microwave, do stir it frequently and try to break up the ball a bit (you could cut the ball in half) – it’ll melt/heat better that way. Using a whisk would be good at the end. Top with whipped cream if you really want to make it decadent.

What’s GOOD: this would make a really nice gift for a chocoholic friend, no question about that. Kids love it as it’s different. BUT, I will remind you, the chocolate is rich, so kids might not drink an entire mug. Flavor is marvelous – rich and chocolaty, which is the object, right? Loved the new way of doing it. I’m not a hot chocolate fiend, but I do enjoy a mug or two a year, I’d guess. I had a mug when I took it to my daughter’s family (mostly for young JohnJohn) and thought it was delish and then my cousin Gary and I enjoyed the last 2 balls the day after Christmas. It does need to be kept refrigerated. Shelf life, it says, is 5 days. I think you could get a week out of it. It’s the cream that’s at issue with the freshness, but heavy cream keeps well.

What’s NOT: only that it’s very rich – and not everyone likes bittersweet chocolate. If you have milk chocolate fans in your family make it with that. Am certain it makes no difference in how it’s made. Be sure to keep it refrigerated – wouldn’t be good for a long trip unless kept chilled.

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Make-Ahead Hot Chocolate (Balls)

Recipe By: Milk Street Magazine, 2017
Serving Size: 10

2 cups semisweet chocolate chips — preferably Ghiradelli
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Microwave chocolate chips, cream and salt in a large bowl, stirring occasionally, until smooth, about 2 minutes. Cool to room temperature and chill for 2 hours until firm.
2. Working with about 3 T. of chocolate at a time (and wearing disposable gloves if you have them) roll the cold chocolate into a round ball about 2″ in diameter. Wrap each ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate.
3. To make hot chocolate: Pour cold milk into a mug, add a chocolate ball and microwave the mug, stopping often to stir the chocolate, using a flat whisk. Continue to heat milk, about 2 minutes total, watching that it doesn’t boil.
4. Serve chocolate piping hot with a garnish of whipped cream, if desired.
NOTES: Before making hot chocolate, cut the chocolate ball in half – it will melt faster. This can also be made with milk chocolate if that’s preferred.
Per Serving: 243 Calories; 19g Fat (64.0% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 22g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 33mg Cholesterol; 66mg Sodium.

Posted in Beverages, on November 7th, 2017.


A very refreshing drink you could enjoy any time of year.

Sara_375Hi everyone – this is Carolyn’s daughter Sara . . . I’ve always envied Mom for her ability to share her passion of cooking with all of you. I tend to cook for friends and family only; well mostly baking really. So I consider myself a bit of a sugar snob. However, the recipe I want to share comes from a (very) impolite invite of myself to my brother’s house for dinner.

Typical of my family, there was amazing food made by all of us. So naturally, I had to come up with something just as spectacular. And since I was a last minute invite, dessert had already been assigned. I had just finished making a batch of Limoncello (recipe by Giada De Laurentiis) so I found this wonderfully refreshing cocktail to serve on a hot California day. It’s light, fanciful and yet had enough tartness that the men drank it too. I absolutely loved it! I did alter it minutely by adding fresh raspberries. I always choose fresh when I have the option.

This drink (from a blog called DamnDelicious) was so yummy that my sister-in-law Karen sent me a picture of them sharing another drink the following day! That’s when you know a recipe is good. When another person (and fabulous cook) makes it.

What’s GOOD: EASY! Portable! A little tart and sweet at the same time. I think all of us who enjoyed it that day will have it again. So, if you have lemon trees, make some limoncello, so you can!

What’s NOT: nothing at all.

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Rasberry Limoncello Prosecco

Recipe By: Damn Delicious blog, 2014
Serving Size: 6

3 cups Prosecco — chilled
1 cup limoncello — chilled
1 cup raspberries — frozen or fresh
6 sprigs fresh mint

1. In a large pitcher, whisk together prosecco and limoncello.
2. Serve over raspberries, garnished with mint.
3. Note: alternately, you can just add raspberries to the bottom of a cocktail glass, add 1/4 cup limoncello in each glass, and top off with about 1/2 cup of Prosecco.
Per Serving: 156 Calories; trace Fat (1.8% calories from fat); trace Protein; 18g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 2mg Sodium.

Posted in Beverages, on December 15th, 2015.


Truly, I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck, but I don’t frequent bars, liquor stores, big box liquor stores, and rarely even go down the aisle of wine and liquor at Costco – except to stock up on some Bailey’s now and then.

Then my friend Cherrie mentioned that one night when they were camping with a group of friends somebody brought out the Fireball. Having never heard of it and having heard her rave about it I bought a bottle. I thought it was something you mixed with something – – something – surely you don’t drink it straight? But yes she does. Over ice.

WHAT IS IT? It’s a Canadian whiskey somehow imbued with cinnamon and sugar, I suppose. It is very smooth. It’s also “hot.” It’s like drinking red hots with whiskey. Does that give you a clue? And it’s VERY smooth. It would have to be, otherwise I couldn’t drink it. Trust me on that! I’ve now discovered Fireball. So far I haven’t tried it with anything else – not with Rumchata, or 7-up, coffee, or Coca-Cola. There are websites about what to do with Fireball – other wild cocktails. I just can’t get past drinking it straight over ice.

Over Thanksgiving I casually mentioned it to my son-in-law, John, and to Sara, my daughter, who doesn’t drink hardly anything without falling asleep, and she sounded mildly intrigued. So John made a stop at a store one night I was there and must have asked where it was in the store . . . and said to the clerk “oh yea, I’ve gotta buy my mother-in-law some whiskey.” Anyone who knows me would know that’s so ludicrous because I drink almost nothing. But this Fireball. Well, I won’t say I’m hooked. I have one drink (an ounce) over ice and I’m done. And I definitely don’t have it every night. If I did that I suspect I’d get bored with it. So far, having one every 3-4 days, it’s still a treat and a taste sensation with the first sip.

John didn’t like it, and Sara didn’t like it either. We introduced it to Sara’s in-laws and no, they didn’t care for it. So now I have my own bottle plus the one John bought. In case you’ve not tried it – and in case you don’t like the taste of straight shots. This is more like a liqueur since it has a sweet tinge to it. It’s golden and is smooth. Now I have a drink I can order out. The drink has been around for a long time, but other than hearing the name of it, I’d certainly not tried it. It’s lovely . . . just so you know.

Posted in Beverages, Brunch, on August 23rd, 2015.


While I was visiting in Colorado, one day we visited a wonderful restaurant in Evergreen. I’m going to write that up another day. We enjoyed a delicious honeydew chilled soup, which I’m going to try to re-create. But in the interim, I bought a cantaloupe and decided to make it into a chilled soup, or a fruit delight for breakfast, or just to drink it like a smoothie.

Being just one person, these days to buy a whole melon means serving it to myself as a wedge every day for many days, so I decided to try my hand at making a refreshing summer drink, or a soup. Either one. After the first time eating this as a soup, I poured the remainder into a glass and drank it instead of eating it with a spoon.

Using some recipes I’d found online, I combined several and added in my own twist to things. I knew I wanted to add mint (since I have some in my garden) and yogurt. Other than that, I winged it. I chopped up the cantaloupe (do make sure it’s sweet and ripe otherwise it won’t taste all that great), added a bit of sour cream (light) and a cup of Greek yogurt, some honey, about 2-3 T. of fresh mint leaves, and a dash or two of ground cinnamon and ground cloves. Those spices were miniscule enough that you hardly know they’re there, but enough to wonder what that elusive flavor is. Use your own choice of spices if you don’t like cloves or cinnamon.

This soup or drink is not thick – cantaloupe breaks down to almost a pure liquid with almost no texture. The yogurt and sour cream added little or no thickness to it, either. So what I’m saying is that this soup is a thin type, more liquid than texture. But I loved it. Having read varieties of recipes I just made it up as I went along and I liked it. I did notice that the next day it tasted much better than it did right out of the blender. So keep that in mind. If you wanted to add some thickness, add about half of a cucumber, seeded and peeled.

What’s GOOD: oh, it’s very refreshing. Very low in calorie. It almost tastes like a thin milkshake or a smoothie, but most smoothies are quite thick. This one is not – it’s liquid. Wonderful flavors – providing the melon is extra ripe and sweet.

What’s NOT: nothing really. This was gone in a couple of days – I shared it with my Scrabble friends – and we drank it right down.

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Chilled Cantaloupe Soup with Yogurt

Recipe By: My own concoction
Serving Size: 6

1 medium cantaloupe
1/4 cup light sour cream
1 cup Greek yogurt, full-fat — or low fat
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon fresh mint leaves
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 pinch ground cloves
Mint leaves for garnish

1. Cut cantaloupe into small pieces and place in blender.
2. Add sour cream, yogurt, honey, fresh mint, cinnamon and cloves and blend until completely smooth.
3. If time allows, chill overnight. Can be served as a soup (it has a thin consistency) or as a beverage/smoothie. If serving as a soup, garnish with mint leaves. If you prefer a thicker soup you could add half of a cucumber, peeled and seeded, which would give the soup more texture.
Per Serving: 103 Calories; 4g Fat (29.7% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 16g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 16mg Cholesterol; 30mg Sodium.

Posted in Beverages, on December 24th, 2014.


Want something festive to serve on Christmas morning, perhaps? Or for a Sunday brunch? Or for a nice summer dinner? And so very easy!

This came from the cooking class with Diane Phillips, and I think I’ve made this before, years ago before I wrote a blog – it’s so easy – I just needed to be nudged or reminded about it – that it makes a lovely, light drink.

Diane served this with Prosecco, the very popular Italian sparkling wine (more lightly sparkled than Champagne). It’s nothing but canned or carton pear nectar, Prosecco and some fresh raspberries to make it look extra pretty.

Have everything chilled ahead of time, mix half pear nectar and half Prosecco, drop in the raspberries and you’re done. If you or your guests would prefer a bit more alcohol punch, then use a bit less pear nectar.

What’s GOOD: how easy it is – it’s very pretty, and light. It isn’t all that sweet – it could be if you used a sweeter Prosecco. This one was just right – Diane used Rustico brand Prosecco – she says she finds it all over, for about $12 a bottle, I believe she said.
What’s NOT: nothing that I can think of.

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Pear Bellini

Recipe By: Diane Phillips, author and cooking instructor
Serving Size: 6

1 quart pear nectar — (Kern’s) chilled
1500 milliliters Prosecco — or sparkling wine (chilled) [that’s 2 bottles] Rustico brand if you can find it
1/2 cup fresh raspberries — for garnish

1. Gather 6 champagne flutes on a tray. Drop two raspberries into each glass.
2. Pour pear nectar half way up the glass, then add the Prosecco. Serve.
Per Serving: 275 Calories; trace Fat (0.5% calories from fat); trace Protein; 29g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 19mg Sodium.

Posted in Beverages, on December 4th, 2014.


Know what a “shrub” is? No, not that kind of shrub! The drink, silly!

A shrub: [according to wikipedia] popular during America’s colonial era, was made by mixing a vinegary syrup with spirits, water, or carbonated water. The term “shrub” can also be applied to the sweetened vinegar-based syrup, from which the cocktail is made; the syrup is also known as “drinking vinegar.” Drinking vinegar is often infused with fruit juice, herbs and spices for use in mixed drinks.

Since I like sparkling wine (or Champagne) in almost anything, I knew I’d like this drink. And it was so very festive for Thanksgiving. Everyone who tried it, liked it. I liked it so much I had a second one (but then I didn’t have any wine with dinner).

When I went to wikipedia to look up the origin of the shrub, I read through it all. Very interesting. Here I’ve copied some of it, in case you’re interested in the history (underlining inserted by me):

The early English version of the shrub arose from the medicinal cordials of the 15th century. The drink gained popularity among smugglers in the 1680s trying to avoid paying import taxes for goods shipped from mainland Europe: To avoid detection, smugglers would sometimes sink barrels of spirits off-shore to be retrieved later; the addition of fruit flavors aided in masking the taste of alcohol fouled by sea water. As a mixture of fruit and alcohol, the shrub is related to the punch, however punches were normally served immediately after mixing the ingredients, whereas shrubs tended to have a higher concentration of flavor and sugar and could be stored for later use, much like a pre-made drink mixer. The shrub was itself a common ingredient in punches, either on its own or as a simple mix with brandy or rum. It was also served during the Christmas season mixed with raisins, honey, lemon, sherry, rum and other spirits. The shrub was sold in most public houses throughout England in the 17th and 18th centuries, although the drink fell out of fashion by the late 1800s.

The American version of the shrub has its origins in 17th century England where vinegar was used as an alternative to citrus juices in the preservation of berries and other fruits for the off-season. Fruit preserves made in this fashion were themselves known as shrubs and the practice carried over to colonial America. By the 19th century, typical American recipes for shrubs used vinegar poured over fruit—traditionally berries—which was left to infuse anywhere from overnight up to several days; afterward the fruit would be strained out and the remaining liquid would be mixed with a sweetener such as sugar or honey and then reduced to make a syrup. The sweet-and-sour syrup could be mixed with either water or soda water and served as a soft drink, or it could be used as a mixer in alcoholic cocktails. Shrubs eventually fell out of popularity with the advent of home refrigeration.

The serving of vinegar-based shrub drinks became popular again in 2011 and 2012 in American restaurants and bars. The trend has also been noted in bars in Canada as well as London. The acidity of the shrub makes it well suited as an apéritif or used as an alternative to bitters in cocktails. Unlike cocktails acidulated with citrus, vinegar-based drinks will remain clear when shaken.

Recently I visited a cute little shop in my area called The Mixing Glass. It’s a tiny footprint of a shrub_and_co_cranberry_shrub_mixstore that carries a variety of more unusual alcohol types, drinking paraphernalia (nice gifts) and some mixes. I paused in the store to look around and I spotted this bottle (along with several other flavors, see above photo from their website) of a shrub mix. This one is a cranberry, but the small Berkeley-based company, Shrub & Co. makes a variety of flavors. Just click on the link and you can read all about them, and peruse their recipes. And read about where you can buy this in your area.

There were 12 people at our Thanksgiving dinner, and I think about 8 of them had at least one glass of this. Because the cranberry shrub mix is almost like bitters, but not as concentrated, you must add sugar, so the drink recipe below (provided to me by the shop owner) uses simple syrup. I bought Gloria Ferrer sparkling wine, which is a bit on the tart side anyway, so the drink wasn’t all that sweet. It was sweet, but not so much that people would be turned off by it. This recipe below isn’t on the company’s website, so I can’t give credit unless the store owner at The Mixing Glass came up with it herself. In any case, it’s really lovely.

The cranberry elixir also has Douglas fir in it. None of us could taste the fir or find the scent of it at all. But then, the drink recipe adds a sprig of rosemary to each glass, so perhaps it overwhelmed the Douglas fir. In any case, the drink was a success.

What’s GOOD: if you have the simple syrup made up ahead, chilled, and the bottle of shrub mix chilled, the drink will be nice and cold when you serve pour in the chilled sparkling wine. It’s a lovely, refreshing drink. Not too sweet, and not too tart. Perfect, we all thought. My daughter-in-law, Karen, asked me if I’d bring it to Christmas Eve at their house. So, I will, by all means! The drink uses very little of the cranberry mix (1/2 ounce per glass) so I have a LOT of it left. The mix would make a nice gift.

What’s NOT: only that you’ll likely have the bottle around for a long while – you don’t use much of it in each drink – and it must be kept refrigerated after opening. Fortunately I have a refrigerator in the garage, and that’s where it will stay until Christmas. I don’t know how long the shrub mix will keep – it doesn’t say – maybe forever. Don’t know. Oh, and I forgot to mention – the mix was $22.99.

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Cranberry Shrub with Sparkling Wine

Recipe By: From the owner of The Mixing Glass, Costa Mesa, CA
Serving Size: 1

1/2 ounce Shrub & Co. cranberry shrub mix
1/4 ounce simple syrup
5 ounces sparkling wine — on the dry side, rather than sweet
a sprig of fresh rosemary

1. Prepare simple syrup based on how many servings you’ll want to have available. Chill. [Simple Syrup: 1 cup sugar to 1 cup water – pour into jar with a good tight screw-top, shake vigorously and chill. It is not necessary to boil the simple syrup.]
2. Chill the sparkling wine and the Shrub & Co. cranberry elixir.
3. Into a champagne flute pour the cranberry mixture, then the simple syrup. Add sparkling wine, and a sprig of rosemary. Serve immediately.
Notes: The sweetness of this drink will depend on how sweet the sparkling wine is. The rosemary seems to create some kind of crazy foaming action with the sparkling wine, so add the wine very slowly – much slower than you would usually do with any sparkling wine to a champagne flute. If you add the sparkling wine first, then submerge the rosemary sprig, it will foam up immediately. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Posted in Beverages, on August 29th, 2013.

All this summer I’ve been making 2 quarts of iced tea about every 4-5 days using the recipe below. A home décor shop near us carries some of the products from Takeya, a Japanese housewares manufacturer. And since I had a discount card from this particular store, I decided I do make enough iced tea that it would be worth buying.

What I purchased was a set (shown below)  – the Takeya 2 Qt. Flash Chill Tea Maker Set  that includes the tall pitcher and lid, also the insert inside that has an extender on it so you can push the tea or mint or fruit down into the tea. Mine also came with a cute little cover (like a spandex sweater) that you can put around the pitcher to keep iced tea cold – to take it on a picnic, or to keep cold at the table. And it comes with a little cup/holder that you set the expended tea infuser when you remove it (it’s hot), then you can remove the contents later when it’s cooled off.

The Takeya brewing systems (you can buy any variation of the kits – with or without the sweater, or their specialty boxed teas made just for the system) aren’t cheap – I think I paid $39.99 (less the discount at the store). I thought a bit about spending that kind of money for something I could do with my tea kettle and any number of glass or plastic pitchers at home. But oh, do I ever love this thing.

Why? Well, it’s just so EASY to make the tea. Into the plastic and fine-mesh infuser I put the decaf tea bags (by using decaf tea I can drink this with my dinner and not worry about being awake at 2 am), and then I tear off a big bunch of mint from my kitchen garden and stuff that down into the infuser too. You screw the infuser into the lid and place it down into the container after you’ve filled it with just-below-boiling water (you know that we’re not supposed to pour truly roiling-boiling water on or over tea – it’s supposed to be a few degrees cooler – the boiling water burns the tea leaves). I just let it sit there on my counter for several hours until the water has reached room temp, then I remove the infuser (if using black tea, you might want to remove the infuser earlier as black tea releases tannins when it’s been sitting in hot water more than 5-7 minutes). The infuser is unscrewed and the contents discarded. I rinse out the infuser and set it into its own little drainer (that also comes with the set). Then the tea pitcher just goes right into the door of my refrigerator. I sweeten my tea with Splenda, so I add about a rounded 1/3 cup of Splenda into the 2-quart pitcher. I’m the only one who drinks tea in our household.

The tea – well, it’s just so flavorful and refreshing. I love-love the fresh mint (spearmint) taste. I’m not a fan of peppermint, but spearmint yes. And the green tea gives the tea some character, some soul and color too. This is just so easy – you can remember this, can’t you? 2 quarts water, 4 Trader Joe’s decaf green tea and a bunch of fresh mint still on the stems. It seems kind of silly to do my usual “recipe” thing when there isn’t much to this tea, but maybe this will help remind you to try it, huh?

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Green Tea with Fresh Mint (Iced Tea)

Recipe By: My own concoction
Serving Size: 8

2 quarts water
4 whole teabags — green tea, decaf or regular (I use Trader Joe’s)
1 bunch fresh mint
Optional: 1/3 cup Splenda if you like sweetened tea

Note: I use Trader Joe’s decaf green tea, but any green tea or decaf green tea will work just fine.
1. Bring water to a boil and remove from heat.
2. In a glass or plastic container place the tea bags and mint. Pour the just-below boiling water over the tea/mint. Allow to sit for 1-2 hours until it’s cooled to room temp.
3. Remove the tea bags and mint and pour tea into a pitcher, cover and chill. Add sugar or Splenda, if desired.
Per Serving: trace Calories; trace Fat (12.2% calories from fat); trace Protein; trace Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 7mg Sodium.

Posted in Beverages, Brunch, on August 5th, 2013.


A month or so ago I know I mentioned that I’d acquired a Vitamix blender. A workhorse of a machine that could mix cement, I think, if the quantities would fit in the container. (I’m joking, you’d never want to do that to a blender.)  A couple of weeks later, with me having not used the blender for anything except salad dressings, I saw a class listed at our favorite cooking school in San Diego (Great News, in Pacific Beach) on the Vitamix. I suggested my DH and I both go – he hardly does any cooking, but he was game. It was very inexpensive – although it didn’t include a meal – just a few samples of what the blender would do and we learned a bunch of techniques too. We had a strawberry agua fresca, a peanut and almond butter (wonderful), an orange vanilla vinaigrette (fabulous), kale and basil pesto (also fabulous) and a hot soup.

The very first thing the instructors did was a green smoothie. I was intrigued about that, because I’ve heard people say they’re really good and good for you. I watched The Chew one day a year or so ago when Daphne Oz  prepared green smoothies for all the other show cast. A few would just barely take a sip or two. Others loved it. Hers contains spinach, celery, kale, cucumbers, mint, parsley, apples, fresh ginger and lime juice.

In our class there was a recipe included in the handout for a “Spring Green Smoothie,” but this one we had in the class (below) was so good, I’ve barely ventured any further.  I’ve made this 3 times, so not every day – I have to have kale on hand, or baby spinach and I don’t always. Kale keeps for at least 10 days or so – spinach only a few days, so kale is my green of choice when I make this.

judy_jerry_green_smoothiesPlease don’t make a frownie face about this – you should try it before you decide you really don’t like it. Our friends, Judy & Jerry say they liked it (at right)! Jerry even asked for the recipe, so does that tell you how much? These are our friends from Newtown Square, a village outside of Philadelphia. My DH, Dave, and Jerry have been friends since high school, bonding early-on at sailing. These friends have a home in Florida also and they SAIL their boat from Annapolis to Naples, FL (it takes a month of sailing each way) in the fall and return in the late spring.

The fruit balances out the greens – it really does. The couple-instructors were vegetarians mostly, but they said they start every morning with one of these drinks. There’s all kinds of good nutrients contained in kale and other dark leafy greens that are so very good for us, and particularly if you have them as your first meal, or part of your first meal.

Providing you have a blender that will chop ice (a requirement here), this smoothie is very simple to make. You want to include some very fruit-forward fruit – meaning fruit that has lots of flavor like mango, pineapple or apple. You can use grapes, blueberries, strawberries, peeled oranges, or other stone fruit, but stonefruit, doesn’t have as much flavor as you might hope. It’s good, but not exceptional. I’d use an apple before I’d use peaches, nectarines or apricots.

About the only trick to making these things is to put the heaviest items in first (i.e. the kale goes in last). So ice, fruit, water, greens and sweetener, if using. Start the motor on low, then increase as it continues to blend. Stop and push any greens down into the liquid. Add more water if needed, more fruit, more sweetener . . . whatever suits your taste buds. The greens are the star of the drink, but you actually don’t TASTE the greens.

The next day after making the first version you see below, I made another one (the 2nd recipe below). A bit of a sweeter one, and everyone liked it better. Me too. I added just a little bit of apple juice, an apple and a small knob of fresh ginger. No other fruit, just the kale, parsley. Oh gosh was it GOOD! And we all really liked the little hint of heat from the ginger. Next time I’m going to add fresh mint leaves – just a few.

What’s GOOD: Well, what can I tell you – not only do these taste good, but they’re good for you. I like these a lot – the 2nd one maybe a bit better, but probably because I’m a novice at green smoothies and I prefer a bit more sweeter flavor.
What’s NOT: nothing – it takes a few minutes to make, that’s all. And really not all that many.

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Green Morning Smoothie

Recipe By: From a Vitamix cooking class, 2013
Serving Size: 4

2 cups ice
3 cups kale — or spinach or watercress (discard kale ribs)
1 cup parsley
1 cup fruit — your choice: mango, pineapple (or berries)
2 cups water
2 tablespoons honey — or sweetener

Notes: If desired you can add protein powder to this to make a complete breakfast.
1. In blender container add ingredients in order shown. Attach lid and hold it, then gently increase blender speed, stopping at least once to push greens down into the liquid. Continue to puree until the mixture is smooth. Taste for sweetness (add more fruit) or honey. (I prefer to use a little less water as I don’t like it watery – use just enough to get the mixture to blend completely.)
2. Pour into glasses and serve. Will keep for 24 hours in the refrigerator – reblend before serving as it will separate some.
Per Serving: 63 Calories; trace Fat (5.8% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 15g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 37mg Sodium.

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Green Morning Smoothie with Apple & Ginger

Recipe By: Adapted from a Vitamix cooking class, 2013
Serving Size: 4

1 1/2 cups ice
2 1/2 cups kale — (ribs removed & discarded) coarsely chopped
1 cup fresh parsley
1 small Granny Smith apple
1 1/2 cups water
One small knob of fresh ginger (about a 1″ x 1″ piece)
1 cup apple juice

Notes: If desired you can add protein powder to this to make a complete breakfast.
1. Add ingredients to blender as shown, in order. Turn on blender (low) and gradually increase speed until the mixture is smooth, stopping once or twice to push kale down into the liquid. Continue to blend until it’s very, very smooth.
2. Taste for flavor – more fruit? more kale? more ginger? Pour into glasses and serve. This will keep for 24 hours in the refrigerator – reblend and serve.
Per Serving: 71 Calories; 1g Fat (5.8% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 16g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 34mg Sodium.

Posted in Beverages, Brunch, Desserts, on May 25th, 2013.


Horchata is a refreshing rice-based drink from Latin America. It’s very easy to make, and if you’re so inclined, you can add some Kahlua to it as we did. Not traditional, but oh-so good.

Recently our four-couple gourmet group got together for a brunch. What fun we had, even though it wasn’t a nice day – one of those cloudy, overcast days that we, here in Southern California, don’t understand much, except in June, when we usually  have that kind of weather for the entire month, hence we call it “June Gloom.” But it was on Cinco de Mayo (the 5th). Early May!

One of the gals brought my Tuscan Sangria with Tuaca. We had 4 different salsas with chips (2 of them you’ll see here in a few days), then our main food included a egg/chile/cheese baked dish, caramelized carnitas tacos served with hot flour tortillas, guacamole and slivers of radishes. We also had a no-bake vegetarian enchilada dish that was surprisingly good. I’ll post that too. This, our dessert, was a horchata milk shake. I’d seen the recipe in Food and Wine, and since I like horchata, this one, with ice cream, sounded more like a dessert than a beverage to serve with a meal. So that’s what I did. And most of us ended up adding some Kahlua to the drink – making it a boozy drink, but not much. Just enough to taste it.

Horchata (hor-chaatah) is an agua fresca (meaning fresh water). All agua frescas are non-alcoholic and are common refreshing drinks served all over Latin America. In many Mexican restaurants here in California anyway, they serve some type of agua frescas – either horchata or tamarindo (tamarind) or hibiscus (also a favorite of mine – have never made it, I just buy it when I see it). We visit a Saturday morning farmer’s market some miles from us, and one of the food trucks there almost always has the hibiscus agua fresca, or the tamarind one. They’re all sweet, including horchata.

Anyway, horchata is easy enough to do, but since I’d never made it before, it was all new to me, other than I knew it was rice based. First I measured out rice, added water and whole cinnamon sticks (horchata typically is a cinnamon flavored drink). That sat overnight (out on the kitchen counter, not refrigerated). You remove the cinnamon sticks (see ERRATA below), then pour the entire mixture into the blender. The rice was not cooked at all, but after it sat in liquid all night, it was softened somewhat. Nothing is heated up during the making of horchata. I turned on the blender and let it go a bit, then added in some toasted sliced almonds, sugar and cinnamon. And here’s the most difficult thing you’ll do – pour the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer. Do NOT try to push the mixture through – you want the sieve to catch whatever rice it can, although it is ground up, you understand! I poured in about a cup and just let it sit until it had drained through. I rinsed the sieve and did it again, and again. It will take a few minutes for that, but truly that’s the most time consuming thing you’ll do making horchata.

Kahlua Tip:

If you do add Kahlua to this drink, don’t use much – you still want to taste the cinnamon, banana and almond flavors.

At that point in the making I poured it into a pitcher and refrigerated it (several hours before our get-together). When I was ready to serve it I put it back in the blender, added sweetened condensed milk, the banana, vanilla ice cream and ice. I tasted it and put in a tiny bit more horchata_lua_1of the sweetened condensed milk. Truth to tell, in our drive to the hosts’ home, my pitcher, with lid, slid and some of the horchata ended up on the carpet in my car’s trunk. Ooph! I wasn’t sure how much quantity I really had left, so needed to guesstimate how much to add in. Pour into glasses, add a straw and sprinkle the top with the cinnamon sugar mixture.

OPTIONAL: I served the horchata milk shakes in silver tumblers – they’re actually mint julep cups. Some people were drinking coffee with whipped cream on top and Kahlua was on the table. One person added a little jot of Kahlua to their horchata and he made very noisy mmmmmm’s, so someone else added Kahlua, and in short order nearly everyone had added Kahlua. Knowing that horchata is really a non-alcoholic drink, I wasn’t so sure it would be a good thing! Oh, was I wrong. It was fabulous. My only caveat: don’t add too much Kahlua or it does overpower the delicacy of the cinnamon, almond and banana flavors.

ERRATA: I have to confess, I forgot to take out the cinnamon sticks after the rice had soaked overnight. I glanced at the recipe and didn’t see the instructions. I just missed it. So our horchata was a bit grainy from the ground-up cinnamon – but you know what? Everyone seemed to love it that way. They said they liked it grainy and would definitely do it that way if they made it. Well, okay then!

What’s GOOD: every little sip of it was fantastic. I’d definitely make this again, with or without the Kahlua. I didn’t mind the grainy texture from the cinnamon sticks, but that’s up to you. Traditionally, remove the cinnamon sticks! You could lighten up the recipe some by using sugar-free ice cream, or light ice cream. There’s also low-fat sweetened condensed milk in grocery stores too. This one’s a keeper.
What’s NOT: nothing. Absolutely nothing wrong with this at all!

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Horchata Milk Shake

Recipe By: Food & Wine, May 2013
Serving Size: 4 (maybe 5)

1 cup long-grain white rice — rinsed well
3 cups water
4 medium cinnamon sticks — cracked
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon — plus 1/4 teaspoon
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk — plus 2 tablespoons
1/2 banana — (2 ounces)
1 pint vanilla ice cream
1/2 cup ice
OPTIONAL: Kahlua to taste, about 2 tsp per serving

1. In a bowl, cover the rice with the water. Add the cinnamon sticks and let stand at room temperature for at least 3 hours or overnight; discard the cinnamon sticks.
2. Meanwhile, in a skillet, toast the almonds over moderate heat, tossing, until fragrant, 3 minutes. In a small bowl, stir 1 tablespoon of the ground cinnamon with the sugar.
3. Transfer the rice and its liquid to a blender. Add the almonds and puree for 2 minutes. Strain the horchata through a fine sieve into a bowl. Rinse out the blender.
4. Return the horchata to the blender and add the condensed milk, banana and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon and puree. Add the ice cream and ice and blend. Pour the shake into glasses, sprinkle the cinnamon sugar on top and serve.
5. OPTIONAL: Add Kahlua to each glass (about 2 tsp). Don’t overdo the Kahlua as it will overpower the delicate cinnamony flavor of the horchata.
Per Serving (this is off some because you don’t consume all the rice – some yes, all? no): 482 Calories; 15g Fat (26.0% calories from fat); 10g Protein; 83g Carbohydrate; 10g Dietary Fiber; 36mg Cholesterol; 91mg Sodium.

Posted in Beverages, on November 30th, 2012.


Last week, before Thanksgiving, I turned on the Food Network and watched a little of  the 3-hour Thanksgiving show, whatever it was called, with about 7-8 of the Network show’s stars. Pioneer Woman mentioned it on her blog, so I recorded it and watched about 15 minutes of it. I actually wasn’t all that intrigued. Not necessarily because of the stars themselves, but with the silliness of the way they were not acting in the beginning. It was too ad lib, and it says to me that the Food Network chefs/stars don’t know how to do that. Seemed to me like it was mostly the stars teasing one another, with a few suggestions thrown in now and then about turkey hints or side dishes, etc.

I did stick with it long enough, though, to watch Alton Brown make this cocktail. I went online to find it – nothing there that day anyway – so I had to go back on my recorded show to scribble down notes about it. Alton didn’t even give it a name, so I’ve made one up. He explained that in his house he needs to serve a “cocktail” that can do double duty – for adults and children, so he came up with this drink that can be mixed with sparkling wine (I used Prosecco) or with club soda. The young ‘uns in our household weren’t all that excited about it – I think it was the color (kind of brown) rather than the taste, but that’s just my take.

You start with a quart of grape juice. A disclaimer here – I bought light grape juice – and I’m sure it was a mistake. To make a syrup you need the sugar. So buy the real sugar-loaded type. He said to add an 8-inch sprig of fresh rosemary and a 3-inch piece of crystallized ginger. I didn’t have the right kind of ginger, so I used fresh ginger – about 4 inches worth. I cut it up into large chunks (don’t do small as it needs to be strained out later). You bring that mixture to a boil and reduce it by half. It might help if you did this in the microwave, actually, in a big glass measuring cup so you could see how much it’s reduced. I did it on the stovetop and had a hard time measuring the darned thing – it almost burned at the end! Strain out the herbs and ginger. Then add a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, and continue reducing it again by half. Cool and chill. You should end up with about 1 cup of syrup. That would make about 16 servings if you used a tablespoon per person.

To make the cocktail, pour about a tablespoon of the syrup into a glass and add either sparkling wine or prosecco. Or the club soda for a non-alcoholic version. You may want to test the proportions. We started with using less than a tablespoon and found that adding more provided a much better flavor.

Just be sure to not boil down the juice too low – because then it will begin to taste like raisins, not grapes. It was different. Almost unusual. I liked it, but only if it was mixed in the right proportion. And I didn’t measure it, otherwise I would tell you exactly. It’s definitely grape juice – so if you’re not a grape juice fan, you might want to give this a pass. Will I make it again? Uhm. Maybe. Maybe not. It wasn’t a wow, but then it was supposed to be something we could use for both the kids and adults. It did fit that bill.

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