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You’ve got to read Catherine Ryan Hyde’s book –Take Me With You. What a story.  From Amazon’s description: August Shroeder, a burned-out teacher, has been sober since his nineteen-year-old son died. Every year he’s spent the summer on the road, but making it to Yellowstone this year means everything. The plan had been to travel there with his son, but now August is making the trip with Philip’s ashes instead. An unexpected twist of fate lands August with two extra passengers for his journey, two half-orphans with nowhere else to go. What none of them could have known was how transformative both the trip—and the bonds that develop between them—would prove, driving each to create a new destiny together. Have a tissue handy at the end. It’s such a charming, sweet story. You’ll fall in love with the young boys, and fall in love with them again 10 years later.

One of my book clubs occasionally reads a kind of edgy book. This is one of them. By Mohsin Hamid, Exit West: A Novel is a book set in an age not dissimilar to our own and in current time, but something bad has happened in the world. Something never divulged, although symptoms of a civil war are mentioned. A unmarried couple, Nadia and Saeed, are given the opportunity (as others are, as well) to go through a door (this is the exit part of the title) and to another place in the world – it takes but a second – to go through the special door. They go to England (London), to a palatial mansion. Sometimes the power grid is sketchy. Another door. And yet another. And finally to Marin County (north of San Francisco). You follow along with the ups and downs of the chaste relationship of the two, this couple from a house to living on the streets. And the eventual dissolution of the relationship too. I wasn’t enamored with the book, but after listening to the review of it and hearing others talk about it, I suppose there’s more to this story than it might appear. Hope is the word that comes to mind. The book is strange, but it won the Los Angeles Times book award in 2017. It’s received lots of press. It made for some very interesting discussion at our book club meeting.

The Last Letter from Your Lover: A Novel by JoJo Moyes. Story: Jennifer Stirling wakes up in hospital, having had a traumatic car accident. She’s introduced to her husband, of whom she has no recollection, and is sent home with him eventually, to a life she neither remembers or embraces readily. But this is the life she was raised to have, so surely it must be worth living, underneath the strange, muted tones of her daily existence. Jennifer goes through the motions, accepts what she is told is her life and all seems to bob along well enough, except when she finds a letter that isn’t her husband’s handwriting, and is clearly a link to someone she has been involved with, but whom? London, France, Africa and America all come into play in this story of a woman piecing back together her life in effort to understand what she has lost, and what she threw away. There is a bit of a time-hop from 1964 to 2003. . . from a reviewer on amazon.  I loved this book from page one to the end. There’s some bit of mystery and you so get into the head of Jennifer Stirling. I could hardly put it down. Great read.

Francine Rivers, an author relatively new to me, but much admired, is most known for this: Mark of the Lion : A Voice in the Wind, An Echo in the Darkness, As Sure As the Dawn (Vol 1-3) It’s a trilogy. The first 2 books are about Hadassah, a young woman in the time of the Roman Empire. When Jerusalem was overrun and destroyed, the Christians still alive were sent off and away, separated and derided and abused. Hadassah was one of them. She’s a slave to a wealthy family and it takes 2 of the books to read before the son of the family finally realizes that he’s in love with Hadassah. If  you’re a Christian, you’ll learn a whole lot more about the time following Christ’s crucifixion, about the lot of the struggling Christian community. The 3rd book in the trilogy is about a gladiator who is part of book 1 and 2, but not a main character. You’ll learn about his life too, after he regains his freedom from the fighting ring and the battle of his soul. These books are a fabulous read. Can’t say enough good things about them all. I’ve never been a huge fan of old-world Roman Empire reading, but this one was altogether different. Very worth reading.

Amy Belding Brown wrote this book: Flight of the Sparrow: A Novel of Early America, a true accounting in 1676, of Mary Rowlandson, a woman who was captured by Native Americans.  Even before she was captured on a winter day of violence and terror, she sometimes found herself in conflict with her rigid Puritan community. Now, her home destroyed, her children lost to her, she has been sold into the service of a powerful woman tribal leader, made a pawn in the ongoing bloody struggle between English settlers and native people. Battling cold, hunger, and exhaustion, Mary witnesses harrowing brutality but also unexpected kindness. To her confused surprise, she is drawn to her captors’ open and straightforward way of life, a feeling further complicated by her attraction to a generous, protective English-speaking native known as James Printer. The story is riveting, and perplexing once she is traded back to her home. You’ll see a different side to the Indian problem back then and find yourself conflicted. An excellent read.

Taylor Caldwell was a prolific writer, and one I read when I was younger. She died in 1980, and this book, her last, Answer As a Man certainly delivers as her others did. All his life, Jason Garrity has had to battle intolerance and injustice in his quest for power, money, and love. His new hotel will give him financial security, the means to support a loving family and become an upstanding citizen. When family secrets and financial greed combine to destroy his dreams, his rigid moral convictions are suddenly brought into question. . . from Goodreads. Caldwell believed the banking industry was way too powerful, and often took aim at it, as she did in this book. It chronicles the life of a very poor, impoverished Irish immigrant to the U.S. He was an upstanding citizen, God-fearing, but maybe naive in some respects. Good book if you enjoy very deep character study.

Another book by Diney Costeloe, Miss Mary’s Daughter. When a young women is suddenly left with no family and no job or income, she’s astounded to learn that she’s actually a granddaughter of a “grand” family in Ye Olde England. She’s very independent (at least I thought so, for the time period), but is willing to investigate this new family of hers. There are many twists and turns – is she going to inherit the family home – or is the man who has been caring for the home and his daughter the logical inheritors. There’s a villain who nearly sweeps her off her feet, much intrigue from many characters. Well developed plot with a happy ending. A good read.

Celeste Ng is a hot new author. I read another of her books (see below) but this time I read Little Fires Everywhere. There are so many various characters and plots in this book, as in her others. This book focuses on a Chinese baby abandoned at a fire station and the subsequent court battle when the single mother surfaces six months later to try to reclaim her daughter from the family in the process of adopting her. Emotions well up, waxing and waning on both sides of the issue. You may even find yourself changing your own mind about the right or wrong of a child raised with a natural-born mother (albeit late to the raising) or the mother the child has known since near birth. Ng likes to write books with lots of grit and thorny issues. Although a good read, I liked Everything I Never Told You better than this one.

The Rent Collector by Camron Wright. Oh my. This book has so many layers: (1) the young, impoverished couple and their infant son who live, literally, in a dump in Cambodia and about the precarious structure, if you can even call it that, that comprises their “house” in the midst and perched on top of trash; (2) the woman who collects the rent (hence the title and yes, people have to PAY to live there); (3) the young son’s chronic illness; (4) how they make a living out of collecting and selling trash; and (4) the life saving grace and wisdom imparted by characters in the book as the young mother begins to learn to read. If you decide to read this book, please don’t stop at about page 15-20, thinking you just don’t know if you want to read about this. Please continue. It’s so worth it. Have a highlighter pen in your hand because you’ll find so many quotes you will want to remember. Believe it or not, there is also quite a bit in this about literature.

Recently finished C.J. Box’s book The Disappeared (A Joe Pickett Novel). I just love Box’s novels. They take place in present day semi-wild west, and chronicle the fish and game warden, Joe Pickett, as he unravels another crime in his territory. A woman has disappeared, and the governor has asked him to figure it out. He does, but the tale meanders through multiple layers of intriguing story. His books are riveting. Men and women enjoy his books – so if you have a fellow in your life or family that would enjoy an intriguing book (this is not espionage) then gift him one of Box’s books.

Also finished Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. About a dysfunctional family, through and through. I picked this up from amazon from someone who read the book, named “McReader,” and she says: “Set in the 70s, the story follows a Chinese American blended family in Ohio. When Lydia [the daughter] is found floating in the lake, her family is forced to analyze what put her there. Was it pressure from her family to succeed? Was it pressure to fit in? Was it a crime of passion or convenience? I was spellbound reading the last half of this book. I loved each flawed family member, especially Hannah,. While the story went where I hoped it would go, I was not disappointed at all with the progression. It was also quite insightful on the prejudices that society had about Chinese Americans still during that timeframe and how careful parents have to be to put their dreams onto their children.” Such a good book and definitely worth reading. Would be a good book club read. You’ll be hearing more from this author. Am currently reading her next novel, Little Fires Everywhere.

The Boston Girl: A Novel by Anita Diamant. A very, very intriguing book. The book is written from the voice of a Jewish grandmother as she tells her granddaughter the saga of her life starting about 1910, who struggles with her own individuality, with her domineering mother who never says a kind word to her. It’s certainly a coming-of-age story as she grows up, finds a job, makes friends, joins a literary girls club, moves out, but still suffers under her mother’s thumb and tongue. She becomes a reporter on a local newspaper, which opens her eyes to more of the world than she ever knew. She finally meets the right man (of course!) and she shares the stories about her life, and her friends and family members as she grows up, giving some sage advice along the way. Part of the time she’s talking to herself – to her young self  (really wanting to tell young Addie to keep on, forgive herself for her perceived transgressions, to live life, and experience the world).

One of the best books I’ve read in a long time – Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. Rivers is a prodigious writer of Christian fiction, and I’d never read anything by her until now. As I write this, I’ve already read this, another one (below) and just purchased the Kindle trilogy called Mark of the Lion (Vol 1-3) that I haven’t yet started. (Two of my friends have said the trilogy is her best.) Redeeming Love details the fictional story of a godly man, Michael Hosea, forging his way in the era of the Gold Rush. He’s “driven” to rescue a beautiful prostitute who lives and works her trade in a nearby town. The entire book is about the story, the rescue, and it parallels a bit of scripture about Hosea who rescues a prostitute names Gomer. You get into the heads of both Hosea and the prostitute, named Angel. We read this for one of my book groups. A great read.

As soon as I finished the above book I promptly visited my church library and found a whole shelf of Rivers’ books, and grabbed one called The Atonement Child. This book takes place in the 1980s or 90s, about a young college student who is raped. She was engaged to be married, was a stellar student. The book chronicles what happens to her when she discovers she is pregnant from the rape. Every possible thing goes wrong in her life. I don’t want to spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it, but I couldn’t put it down. I ended up spending a good part of a day plowing through it. You hear her inner voice (I’m guessing this is a common thread in Rivers’ books) from a Christian perspective. Lots of meaty issues to discuss in a book club if your group would be interested and willing to talk about rape, abortion, adoption and the thorny issues surrounding all of those things, but with a Christian bent, for sure.

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen. It’s kind of amazing how many and varied plot lines can be created from events of WWII. This is another one, about a current day woman who finds papers in the attic, after her father’s death, with references to “the child.” She never knew her father could have had another child – could she have a step-sibling somewhere? Her father she knew, had been shot down over Italy, but he never talked much about it. But of course, she must go to Italy to find out about this “child.” The book flips back and forth from this daughter on the search, to her father during the war, all of it taking place in a very small town in Tuscany. It’s about the varied people she meets who want her to go away and not dredge up anything about the war years (are they hiding something, you question), about how much she loves the landscape, and some of the people. And about the intense love affair between the injured pilot and a caring woman of the village. Very charming story. I could almost smell the flowers, taste the olives, hear the bees flitting, and loved the prose about the simple meals that were described. I really enjoyed the book. Perhaps not enough meat for a book club read, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy reading it nonetheless.

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 Cookbooks, on July 5th, 2016.

Product Details

Recently, I was contacted by one of the authors of this book, Clint Marsh (co-written by Karima Cammell). The book, The Troll Cookbook: A Taste of Something Different: Simple Foods Any Troll Can Make IS definitely different as it says right in the sub-title. Let me just say that from the get-go. When the author contacted me (to see if I’d accept a copy and write about it) he explained a bit about the book. I wasn’t sure that I was the right “market” for the book. I don’t can or preserve foods. I don’t forage for nettles. And I don’t identify in any way with trolls. But he persevered and insisted that I just might be the ideal candidate for reading the book.

Now, I realize, calling this a Troll cookbook is a little bit tongue in cheek – well, that is if you don’t believe in trolls. I do not. But if you’re of the bent that there are trolls out and about, that little wild beasties lurk everywhere, especially at night, then this book might be exactly down your alley! Note, if you can see it, in the bottom right of the cover’s art, there’s a sweet little hedgehog. I think it’s wise they didn’t put any art renderings of trolls on the cover. There are, however, many colorplates in the book, of all types of trolls, mostly sitting around fires or in kitchens, or foraging for things. Which is how the authors bridge the gap between trolls and humans. In the book, they say:

“ . . . Fire – and more specifically the cookfire of the kitchen – is the link which connects trolls and humans. Unlike humans, the trolls have not been led astray by the lure of expedience, nor have they been dazzled by the bright lights of modern technology. . . . they continue to live as they always have, in touch with the realities of the natural world and the rhythms of the year. They practice their magic every day through gathering, combining, and preparing ingredients in intuitive proportions and serving them with appreciation.”

The book contains a myriad of “recipes,”  divided up by seasons, and includes such things as making a composting mixture (I suppose that could be called a recipe?), that are perhaps on the fringes of the cookbook world. But interspersed between such things as stone soup, how to make vinegar and to can capers, prepare dandelion rootbeer, there are other more standard things like coffee can cake, scrapple (my DH loved scrapple, a staple in and around Philadelphia – not me, no thanks), rhubarb bread, garden raid stew, stuffed dates, quince paste, rose hip jam, and dozens and dozens of others. Even bathtub gin. Oh my.

If my DH were still here, he would repeat for me a legendary story about his father, who owned a ship chandlery in Bivalve, New Jersey, during the depression (and during prohibition). This was a man who had his required 2 Manhattans per evening, and that was it but not during those years when no one could actually BUY alcohol. But there were sources, I guess. . .  I don’t want to know about that part.

There were any number of derelicts that frequented the streets (near the store) during that time. Many were sort of acquaintances who were down on their luck. Life was difficult, money was nearly non-existent. The details elude me, but I recall that my DHs father made a “deal” with the derelicts, that if they’d do a whole lot of work around the store (sweeping, cleaning, scrubbing, washing sidewalks and scrubbing the old bathtub at the back of the store until it shone) he’d cook up a batch of bathtub gin for them. Meanwhile, he went home to procure some of the perfume from his wife’s dresser, and it was used to “perfume” the bathtub gin. As my DH told the story, they worked like crazy, he made the gin with the little tiny squirt of perfume; they drank. Since this was during prohibition, bathtub gin was a real novelty and quite a treasure. As the story goes, one of the derelicts had a car, and the next morning he left the store when they’d drunk themselves into somewhat oblivion, and he barfed out the driver’s window. When next he appeared at the old stomping ground on main street, where the barf had dripped down the door, it had completely taken off the paint. No wonder it did something to everyone’s stomach!

So, here, for your reading pleasure, is a recipe – a troll’s recipe – for bathtub gin:

Half a gallon of water
1 1/2 ounces sugar
Half a gallon of grain alcohol
1/3 spoonful of juniper oil

Combine and simmer the sugar and 1/2 cup of the water, stirring until all the sugar dissolves. Stir juniper oil into the alcohol in a large cookpot or a [CLEAN, CLEAN] bathtub, then add the rest of the water and the syrup, stirring to combine. If you’re a troll, it’s suggested you can vary the mixture with peppercorns, citrus peels or crushed cardamom pods. Or in my F-I-L’s case, a drop or two of his wife’s perfume.

If any of you are interested in this book, the first person who lives here in the continental U.S. and contacts me and will send me $5 to ship it, I’ll mail it to you. It’s brand new, obviously.

Posted in Cookbooks, on January 6th, 2015.

cookbook shelves 3

This isn’t a new photo. You’ve probably seen it more than once over the years, if you’ve been reading my blog since way-back-when. My cookbook shelves look much like that now, except that there are some stacks of recipes and a few narrower cookbooks placed horizontal on top of the stacks. I can’t seem to stop buying cookbooks.

This year I even told my friend Cherrie and my friend Linda – “don’t buy me any cookbooks this year.” It was said in a New Years’ Resolution kind of voice – “I really need to be done with buying more cookbooks.”

Have I been successful with that promise? No. When Ina Garten’s new cookbook appeared at Costco I promptly threw it in with the paper towels, breakfast sausage, boxes of Ziploc plastic bags and a nice big piece of salmon.

Have I cooked from it yet? No. But I wanted it. And Cherrie told me a few weeks later that she’d already bought it for me for Christmas, but she gave it to someone else.

So therefore, I was ever-so pleased to see that there are other people out there who have the kind of gift or curse (whichever your opinion) of collecting cookbooks. I read about Georgeanne Brennan at Eat Your Books, and when I read the blurb, I clicked through to the Sacramento Bee’s article she wrote – about her lifetime of cookbook collecting. She’s never given away or donated a single book in her collection. Ever! In this instance, she was visiting friends in Napa Valley, their home nestled into the vineyards. Oh my mind’s eye could just see it. Can’t you? They had a small barn and it had become the cookbook library. Georgeanne said about her vision:

I’d be thinking white-washed wood plank floors, Persian rugs, floor to ceiling shelves, maybe a book-ladder like the ones that always seem to be in Merchant Ivory films, comfy wingback chairs, plus pools of light cast by old-fashioned standing lamps. I was mentally snuggling down to long hours of reading in a private place . .  .

That quote just grabbed my imagination. But then, I don’t live in Napa Valley. Among the vineyards. I don’t have a barn. I do have an 8×10 Turkish carpet that my DH and I purchased on our trip in 1997. It resides in our front entryway. But that’s about all I have to complete the picture. And, in fact, the barn didn’t turn out to fit her imaginary cookbook description at all. But, it got me to thinking, and wishing I had such a place. I’ve always wanted a home where there was a small reading nook near the kitchen. I’ve seen photos of such homes in magazines. Usually there is a small sofa, or possibly 2 chairs (for sure, wingbacks), and a table, even a coffee table, because when I’m researching a recipe, I need SPACE to spread out several cookbooks. There could be a very small fireplace in there too. And the seating has to be super comfortable, maybe something like chintz. Soft, cuddly where I could nestle in. I have a beautiful kitchen, with a nearby 6-shelf bookcase (above) that houses 3/4 of my collection, and it’s about 15 feet away from the kitchen. There is a window seat nearby – but not an honest-to-goodness kind that allows for leaning against – it’s just for perching and bringing in lots of light. So, there’s no good place to sit next to it, unfortunately. Ah well, in my next life maybe . . .

So I went online to look . . . there’s a photo of one at left. No chairs, soft and pillowy. Alas, no fireplace, either. Found this image at Kalynor.

Then there was another I found at right. That looks a bit more like what I had in mind. But it’s missing the table, and the fireplace. That one doesn’t look like it’s in or near a kitchen, either. Nor does it have reading lamps providing pools of light. But the idea works.

As I said, in my next life . . .

Posted in Cookbooks, on October 9th, 2014.

I can’t believe that I bought yet another cookbook. Geez. I’m hardly cooking these days, but when I read about it online my fingers were just pulled mysteriously to that one-click method on amazon. I pay for amazon prime, so it’s free shipping in 2 days (yes, I know I still pay for it, but I buy a lot of stuff from amazon). Pressed one button and 2 days later it was on my doorstep.

Years ago, when I started watching that years’ The Next Food Network Star, as they introduced Aarti Sequeira, I knew. I just KNEW she’d win. And she did. She has the most infectious smile, and cute way about her. (Did you know that she worked at CNN for a few years?) I’ve been a long time lover of Indian food, and she made it more approachable.  She adapted it to Western tastes. She played with flavors and spices. I faithfully watched her show, Aarti Paarti that was on for a couple of these things they call “seasons.” I mean what’s with this “season” of about 6 or 7, or maybe 8 shows. Not for me to reason why. When her show didn’t come back, well, let’s just say I was sad. But I’d been reading Aarti’s blog for several years, so I knew a bit about what was going on in her life. She never did explain, exactly, why her show didn’t return. I guess when you do get your network-star-show, they don’t renew it. I don’t know that any of the winners have a continuing actual cooking show. Correct me if I’m wrong. But then, we know that most everything on the Food Network is about showmanship and acting anyway. The food is less important.

So, Aarti is married to Bren (he’s in the acting/producing world in Hollywood) whom she met in her first days at Northwestern(journalism major). Aarti grew up in Dubai, although she’s 100% Indian and her family still lives in India. Aarti and Bren now have a baby daughter and while Aarti was pregnant she wrote her cookbook Aarti Paarti: An American Kitchen with an Indian Soul. And what a gem it is. I also love her because she’s an active Christian.

Ree Drummond (Pioneer Woman) wrote the forward to the book, and as I sat and read that last night, all I could say was that Ree absolutely loves the book. Ree doesn’t (I don’t think) cook Indian food. At least I don’t recall any recipes on her site or show that were Indian in nature. But she says she loves Indian food. However, I’ll tell you, as I began reading through the book (and so enjoying all the stories about Aarti, more details about her growing up, her sisters, her mum, her grandmother, her dad) she became so much more the fun girl next door. I just would love to have her as a friend. I can’t say that about very many food network people, but Aarti? Yes, indeed.

It would take me forever to write down all the recipes I’ve mentally flagged in the book already. I’ve read about 2/3 of the book so far, and I’m in love. Below are a few that rocked my boat and made me wish I could cook all of them today!

Of course, Indian spices feature prominently in nearly every recipe. How could they not. And many of those spices I do have in my kitchen. Maybe not so for everyone, but most are easy enough to find.

Good Girl Granola – the usual kinds of ingredients but with coconut oil added, along with cardamom and garam masala. Also cocoa nibs, cinnamon, maple syrup.

Ketchup Chutney – well, we know Indian cooking often features chutneys, and Aarti’s explanation about her home-made ketchup chutney just made my mouth water. And no, it uses no ready-made bottled ketchup.

Aarti’s “Real-Deal” Hummus – she’s very particular about her hummus. I’ve basically OD’d on hummus (the store bought stuff) in the last year. But her recipe makes me want some – it has a slightly different method of preparation (still using canned beans, though) and a few different ingredients as well. I’ll be making this. Soon.

Chewda – pronounced just like it sounds. It’s an Indian snack and contains cornflakes, rice crispy type cereal, nuts and seeds plus turmeric, curry leaves and golden raisins. Very different.

Lasagna Cupcakes – Aarti says she has a real problem with portion control when it comes to American lasagna, so she decided to make them in individual portions – using won ton skins in a muffin tin with the meat sauce inside, ricotta and topped with cheese. The only Indian thing in this is a little bit of mango chutney added to the ricotta filling.

I’m a sucker for dal (lentils). I gosh-darned love the stuff though I don’t make them very often just cuz they’re so high in carbs. They’re very good for us, you know, but still, they’re high in carbs. My daughter Sara came to visit me last Sunday night and at my request, she made a batch of the Moroccan Harira Chicken Soup that contains garbanzos and lentils. I can’t get enough of that stuff and now I have a bunch of bagged containers in the freezer. Aarti explains in the chapter on lentils and beans, that her Mum’s Everyday Dal was on the dinner table every single day, just as the title explains. Notice the link there –  I made this recipe in 2010 after she prepared it on her TV show.

French Onion Soup – who would think that onion soup could be adapted to be Indian. Why not?And indeed it can be adapted, and it sounds so scrumptious with cinnamon, cardamom and paneer (that’s a cheese that doesn’t melt) croutons. I cannot wait to make this one. Good for freezing for winter dinners.

Tomato Rasam (or Tomato Soup) – made Indian style. Can’t wait to try this one either. It uses pigeon peas (toor dal), cumin, curry leaves, tamarind paste and some yogurt and cilantro for a topping. Oh my that sounds so good. Another one I’ll make in quantity to freeze.

Indo-Chinese Chicken & Corn Soup – did you know that Indian people, in India, are crazy about Chinese food? Yup. So, combining things from an Indian cuisine and something from Chinese is a given. This one, even though it looks creamy, contains no cream, just canned creamed corn. What makes it unique is coriander, bay leaves, anise and fresh ginger.

Dill, Cilantro & Coconut Milk Fish Chowder – Aarti says that her husband has been a big inspiration for recipes – he’s from Maine and asked her to make chowder. So she did, but she used garam masala, ginger, garlic, cumin, turmeric and coconut milk to round it out. She used cod fillets.

Pregnancy Potatoes – reading this recipe had me laughing. Aarti had her fair share of morning sickness (or any-time-of-day sickness) and she said that when it came on, this was what she craved, among other things. It can be a side dish to a dinner, but for her it became a snack. They’re wedged potatoes baked with all kinds of Indian spices on them and could be served any time of day.

Beet(root) Thoran – I can’t say that I buy fresh beets all that often. My darling DH adored them, preferably pickled right out of the can. But once I came into his life in 1981 I wouldn’t let him have those anymore (because they were so full of sugar). One year we raised beets and in order to get me to fix them he had to put on his painting clothes and I required him to wash, roast and then remove all the skin because he got purple juice everywhere. Then I made them in several ways. But anyway, Aarti’s recipe sounds so different – it’s grated raw beets cooked with Indian spices and served with toasted cashews. Sounds divine.

Coleslaw – I never expected to find a recipe for this in her cookbook, but it’s nothing like what you think. It does contain some mayo and yogurt and it uses lime juice, turmeric, garlic, cumin and mustard seeds as well. Also half of a celery root too.

Dal Bukhara – this is a main dish lentil in a curry sauce. The ingredient list is long, but my guess is it would be amazingly flavorful. The spices include coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom pods, chiles and paprika. Another one I want to make soon.

Well, so that’s just a smattering of recipes that appeal to me. And I’m not finished reading the book yet.

Update on me: My foot is still healing – the boot comes off next week, then we’ll see if the cumbersome thing (that feels like a small sack of cement and makes for ever-so difficult walking) on my foot has done any good. I am counting the hours until I get the 2nd cataract surgery done next week so I can SEE better! The last 9 days I have basically stayed home and rested my foot. And I mean rested. I’m going stir crazy, especially without my DH here to keep me company, go shopping or just entertain me. I have gone out of the house just a few times and have tried to walk very, very short distances (Trader Joe’s, the eye doctor’s office). That’s it for now.

Posted in Cookbooks, Essays, on January 15th, 2014.

cookbooks verticalIt’s not a new tidbit here, that I love cookbooks. Now, there are collectors, and then there are collectors. I’m just a general all-purpose cookbook collector. I own about 300 or so now, and have given away at least another 150 or more. I tell myself that I do NOT need one single solitary additional cookbook. Ever. But I just can’t seem to help myself. I do occasionally order one because I just have to, that’s all. Others I’ll put onto my wish list at amazon, hoping that family or friends will buy it for me for my birthday or at Christmas.

If you haven’t noticed, cookbooks are one of the hottest selling genre of books these days. Didn’t used to be so. It seems like amazon sends me an email every few days (maybe it’s weekly) telling (touting) 2 or 3 more new cookbooks that I should look at and perhaps buy. There’s probably a special tag in the amazon servers just for me (and others like me) that says “sucker” or “easy” where it comes to buying cookbooks. You think?

The shelves you see at left reside in our family room, right next to the kitchen. Actually I’ve culled some out of that since I took that photo a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, I have a sofa-table just a few feet away that is a repository for stacks of stuff. Magazines I haven’t gotten to yet (and have been there for at least a year!), books I’ve pulled out of the shelves above and never re-filed, then I’ve stuffed some other cookbook into it’s slot. The depth on that sofa table is about 16 inches or so. Mostly more cookbooks. People give me books (not always ones that I’ve requested) and they have no home, exactly.

As of a year or so ago I created a cookbook annex up in my office (upstairs). I think I have 3 shelves there, and mostly they are books I don’t refer to for cooking. Most of them are memoirs and some rather esoteric cookbooks that are pretty to look at, but not to cook from.

When we had new carpeting installed underneath the family room shelves a year ago I had to unload that entire shelf system. Oh my gosh was that difficult, time consuming and back breaking. I sorted through the books when I went to return them, and tried my best to group them and I did give away another 20 or so. Problem is that some barbecue books that really belong on the 3rd shelf left had to go on the bottom shelf because they’re tall. Really tall, and they won’t fit anywhere except at the bottom. I’ve considered using a Dewey decimal system, but no, that makes no sense since all the books, just about, are within one small, really narrow group of numbers. Because of the variety of heights, I can’t group all similar genres together.

Some years ago when I subscribed to Eat Your Books, the site that helps you find recipes within your own cookbooks, I entered most of my cookbooks into my own site there. I’ve mentioned it numerous times here, that if I want to find a recipe for chicken and artichokes, for instance, I can go to my site at Eat Your Books and enter those two items and it will give me a long list of the different recipe titles, the book they’re from on my own bookshelves, and the list of main ingredients. I use it all the time. Far better to sit at my computer than to stand in front of that bookcase for 45 minutes hunting. I love that site.

Today I was catching up on my blog reading and really enjoy the varied things I find (read) on the Eat Your Books blog. This one has to do with Anne Willan. She’s the American author, chef, and owner of the La Varenne cooking school in Paris. She and her husband have lived in Paris for a long, long time. If I ever have the inclination, and the time, on some trip to Paris I’m going to sign up for a class.

Anne Willan has just published a new book, a memoir type with recipes: One Soufflé at a Time: A Memoir of Food and France, and I ordered the hard copy just yesterday. Once I’ve read it, I’ll let you know what I think of it. Cookbooks I always order in hard copy; memoirs about cooking as well; nearly everything else goes to my Kindle.

In the meantime, though, I have some other books that require my attention. I’m doing the review in one of my book clubs of The Submission: A Novel. I read it last year and highly recommended it to everyone I met. Because I couldn’t stop talking about it, our selection committee chose it to read in my AAUW book group for 2014, and of course, no one else was willing to do the review, so I’m it. I’m a little intimidated about that because there are some very sensitive religious and ethnic issues in that book, and generally, in that group, anyway, we don’t choose books that have that kind of potential discussion problems. Fortunately for me, Seattle (the city of) selected that book in it’s read-a-book program, and they have a very detailed guide available with discussion questions. So I may be able to use those without having to figure out for myself how to squeeze through a minefield of religious issues to have an open discussion. No one in my group is Muslim, and perhaps I’m overly concerned, but I think it will take a sensitive hand (voice) to keep the discussion from getting out of hand. I’m also supposed to be reading any book by Alice Munro for one of my other book groups, but haven’t even started on that one. My 3rd book group, fortunately, I’ve already read the book. Just today I also ordered 5 more books on my Kindle. Just finished reading  The Four Seasons: A Novel of Vivaldi’s Venice. A novel about 2 young girls sent to a convent in Venice and both become musicians of note. Both are taught by Vivaldi. I’ll be writing that up on my left sidebar in the next day or so.

To get back to the reason I started this post, on the Eat Your Books blog, they discussed a Cookbook Tree of Life that has been created by Anne Willan (the print pictured at left, photo from the La Varenne website). I immediately clicked through to the source article at zester daily, and then further to Anne Willan’s blog post to take a look at it. In a nutshell, Anne laid awake one night thinking about her own family tree (framed copy) in her closet, and began thinking about whether cookbooks, as a collective group, could also have a comparable family tree. She must have spent months researching this, and narrowed the field to the first four cookbooks printed prior to 1500. And then expanded the tree in width and height to reach the breadth of books about 100 years ago. The cookbook tree covers the period of 1674-1861. From what I can see, the 16” x 20” $65 limited edition print would be a keepsake. I’ve thought about ordering one for myself, but I lack wall space anywhere near the kitchen to hang it. Besides, do I need it? No. But do I want it? Yes. But . . . I’ll try not to order it. Perhaps you’d like to, though.

Posted in Cookbooks, on November 23rd, 2013.


Having read at more than one website or blog about this book, I decided I did need to read it. The food magazines mostly have given the book high ratings. It’s the memoir of a 30-something woman who hits a crossroads in her life (left her good-paying corporate job) to pursue  her childhood dream of going to Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. Encouraged by her new boyfriend (now her husband), she packs a minimum of belongings, hops on a plane and starts in the professional course in Paris.

She, this American woman, spoke no French, yet she joined a group of international people with the same aspirations, most of them wanting to be a chef. She aspired to be a food writer or journalist of some kind. The course is the same – learning all those basics of sauces, meats, entrails, pastry, yeast, etc. There’s a bit of catty behavior amongst the adult women (students) which was a little difficult to imagine, yet the school is certainly competitive, so I suppose some people could stoop so low as to take all or most of the necessary ingredients so someone else wouldn’t have any (and thereby score poorly). That seemed to be a repeated event in the book – the sous chefs who prep the food for the students sometimes didn’t have enough of one thing or another (the early birds caught the worm on each occasion, and Kathleen was never the early bird). Sometimes the items were essential. No complaining allowed, though. No histrionics in class, for sure. She had to endure some harsh words many a time.

The book chronicles her couple of years there, interspersed with updates about her romance (he actually lived in Paris with her part of the time), the foibles of the different apartments she/they lived in and the lack of certain things she needs to cook. It’s also about her classmates (who change with each session) and the competitive nature of the school. If the teaching chefs at LCB treated most people the way they treated her, I’d doubt many people would last but a few weeks. She does learn French, discovers that success means mastering some of the recipes in her apartment kitchen, often laboring into the wee hours.

Each chapter ends with a recipe – perhaps modified slightly from the official ones at the school. They’re recipes you’ll find in most French cookbooks. I can’t say that I found any recipe I wanted to rush to the kitchen to prepare. But Le Cordon Bleu teaches almost more about technique than the recipes.

What I came away with was one sure thing: I’d have never survived that culinary school. I’d have been reduced to tears (something that just wasn’t done) on day one or two. Kathleen nearly quit once, but was encouraged to keep going. Part of her problem was the language – in the second and subsequent sessions the classes were taught only in French. She did take French lessons, and eventually she more-or-less mastered it – at least culinary French for sure.

Whether she really was disliked at first by the French teaching chefs, it’s hard to know, but they were very hard on her. It seemed like the chefs didn’t like Americans; English speaking students had to work harder to prove his or her mettle. Kathleen persevered, however, and it seemed that some of the chefs came around. For her final exam she decided to prepare a very grand plate – was advised by the chef not to, that it couldn’t be done in the limited time – she practiced it ad nauseum at home to perfect it and complete it in the time allowed. The chefs were mightily impressed. Perhaps that exam meal was her piece de resistance. At graduation she was offered a plum stage but opted not to do it. In the interim her husband was in a bad accident here in the U.S. and felt he needed her more than a non-paying stageI in a Swiss restaurant. Besides, she never aspired to be a chef.

The book, The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry: Love, Laughter, and Tears in Paris at the World’s Most Famous Cooking School is interesting. Not the kind of book you can’t put down, however. Every student took copious notes (obviously she did that part well) so she had ample material to write a book. There were some funny incidents that gave pause. I particularly enjoyed one thing: the French teaching chefs, in trying to pronounce her name, called her “Meez Fleen.” Every time she wrote that in the book I chuckled.

tasting spoonsHer favorite teaching chef said to her as she left school for the last time, “Remember, Meez Fleen, taste, taste, taste.” A good mantra for every cook. It’s something I try to do with everything I make (well, you can’t do it with baked goods). Hence my little silver Mint Julep cup of tasting spoons that sits beside my kitchen stove. (And, the muse for my blog’s name, obviously!

If you’re new to my blog, those spoons (and a few forks) pictured at left are very old silver plated ones that belonged to Dave’s mother. Some are engraved, some with initials we don’t even recognize as part of the family tree. Some need replating, and we do have to polish them periodically. But, rather than let them sit in the silverware box in a drawer, rarely seeing the light of day, I pulled them out some years ago. They’re a variety of styles, all thinly shaped and small, which makes them just perfect for tasting as I cook. I like to think that Dave’s mother smiles every time I reach for one, which is often. I hope the chef at Le Cordon Bleu would also smile in approval.

Posted in Cookbooks, on September 28th, 2013.

Having never heard of “The Cookbook MANifesto,” I was intrigued when I read about it on the Eat Your Books blog. It makes perfect sense to me:

  • Don’t buy a cookbook because everyone else has it.
  • Just because someone can act or sing, doesn’t mean they can write a cookbook.
  • If there are tons of ingredients you cannot pronounce, move along.
  • You should love the images.
  • If it makes you drool, that’s a good sign.
  • You should be able to actually make the recipes inside.
  • As a rule, you may make 6 – 8 recipes out of any given book, so see if you can find those first.

That’s just the BUYING part of the manifesto. There’s more about the using of cookbooks, and also about creating them. Click on over if you want to know more.

Posted in Cookbooks, on June 20th, 2013.

So it is, each year somebody writes up a collective essay about the cookbooks from last year. This one about 2012. jerusalem_cookbookI read about it over at Eat Your Books (on their blog). The folks over at EYB write up frequent posts (and you don’t have to have an EYB account in order to follow their blog), always interesting, and this one particularly so. Since I assume you, my readers, are just like me, I keep saying I’m not going to buy any more cookbooks, and then something comes along that woos me to break that promise to myself. And since I have an amazon prime account (no shipping fees for most of their products), I convince myself that I’m saving money. (Sure!)

In addition to telling me about what cookbooks were the most popular sellers last year, they also quote some statistics about the buyers of cookbooks (more men? or women? what ages?) and this article also provided their take on cookbook trends. Their blog post was based on statistics in an article by PW, Publishers Weekly, but EYB just condensed it to the most important facts. So what did it have to say?

You probably already heard that Jerusalem: A Cookbook (above photo) won the IACP award for 2012. I’d read many blogs and magazine articles touting the recipes in the cookbook during the year, so I gave in and bought that a couple of months ago. So far I’ve not made anything from it, and I stuck the book on my bookshelf when we were entertaining recently, and intend to dig it out again and continue reading through it.


  • Vegetarianism is ever-more popular.
  • Middle Eastern cooking is the “it” cuisine at the moment. And it’s increasing.
  • We are developing a greater respect for ingredients. We want to know where our food products come from and how it/they were raised so we can make a conscious decision about whether to buy.

And who buys cookbooks? cookbook_buyersThe graphic at right I found at the Publisher’s Weekly website. You can (hopefully) read the fine print – 30-44 year olds buy more cookbooks than others. I thought it interesting that 13-17 year olds buy 3%. How about that? 69% of cookbooks are purchased by women (not surprising), although I suspect male buyers are increasing. I happen to love watching HGTV’s House Hunters and House Hunters International, and I would say that for at least 3 out of every 10 home buyers, men are the ones interested in having  a nice, big, updated kitchen because they do the cooking in the family.

Cookbook are certainly popular, and ever more so with each passing year. Here are the winners for 2012:

1. Barefoot Contessa Foolproof: Recipes You Can Trust , Ina Garten, Clarkson Potter, 428,105

2. The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food from My Frontier , (her 2nd book) Ree Drummond, William Morrow, 267,909

3. In the Kitchen with David: QVC’s Resident Foodie Presents Comfort Foods That Take You Home, David Venable, Ballantine, 264,953

4. Eat More of What You Love: Over 200 Brand-New Recipes Low in Sugar, Fat, and Calories, Marlene Koch, Running Press, 132,796 (a friend told me about this one – it’s a book that is often recommended through Weight Watchers because it shows WW points, although it is not sponsored by WW)

5. Great Food Fast (Best of the Best Presents) Bob Warden’s Ultimate Pressure Cooker Recipes, Bob Warden, Quail Ridge, 122,665

6. The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, Deb Perelman, Knopf, 114,547

7. The Chew: Food. Life. Fun., Peter Kaminsky, Hyperion, 109,020

8. The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl (her original cookbook), Ree Drummond, William Morrow, 103,751

9. Weeknights with Giada: Quick and Simple Recipes to Revamp Dinner, Giada de Laurentiis, Clarkson Potter, 95,040

10. Hungry Girl to the Max!: The Ultimate Guilt-Free Cookbook, Lisa Lillien, St. Martin’s Griffin, 86,656

Want to know about hardcover, vs. paperback, vs. e-books? Hardcover cookbooks still outsell all others, but as a portion of total unit sales, hardcovers dropped from 49% in 2011 to 42% in 2012. And e-book sales more than doubled, up from 9% to 22%. I don’t know about you, but I still prefer a hard cover cookbook to an e-cookbook. Obviously, I’m contrary to the trend, though.

The article talked some about how much the Food Network influences our cookbook buying, and never let it be said that any one of the stars on FN (or the Cooking Channel, for that matter) passed up an opportunity to monetize their shows. Hence new cookbooks appear on a regular basis. One of the newest ones to join the ranks is Mario Batali’s two sons (ages 16 and 14) who just published their own cookbook based on recipes they made themselves (apparently) and presented in a hand-made form to their dad on his 50th birthday. I won’t be buying it, but it’s a cute idea – The Batali Brothers Cookbook. It would make a cute gift for a teenage son or grandson.

FYI: I have an amazon associates account, and if you happen to buy a cookbook through any of the links above, I get a few pennies.

Posted in Books, Cookbooks, on June 6th, 2013.


I have such an admiration for Julia Child. So, no surprise that I wanted to read this new biography of her.

The author, Bob Spitz, was an unknown to me. He has made a name for himself in the book world. He published a 1000-page tome of The Beatles: The Biography. He’s written for several magazines as well, and now, with this newest book in his repertoire,  Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child he’ll likely continue in the genre. BTW, “Dearie” refers to the word Julia used for almost everyone – from waiters to bellhops or close friends. She called almost everyone “dearie.”

Bob Spitz was a huge fan of Julia Child, which led him to write this book. In the acknowledgements he says:  The genesis of this book sprang from my amazing luck, traveling with Julia Child in Sicily in 1992. For several weeks we crisscrossed the island, eating, of course, but talking every chance we got. She was already a beloved icon, larger than life in so many different ways, but perhaps the most down-to-earth celebrity I’d ever encountered. Inasmuch as I was writing about her for several magazines, we were on the record throughout the trip, but she never held back from speaking her mind, never shied from a tough opinion, never pulled her punches, never blinked She was exactly like her TV persona: warm, funny, outgoing, whip-smart, incorrigible, and most of all, real. If I have to admit to one prejudice confronting this book, it is that I had a powerful crush on her. Sorry. Deal with it.

julia_child_monoprintFrom the first page I found myself picking it up at odd times because I found the story compelling. Bob Spitz writes interesting narratives. He gives you the facts, straight, and yet you can feel the drama behind so many events in Julia’s life. I found the history of Julia McWilliams, from nearby Pasadena, a daughter of a privileged family, quite fascinating. Her father rarely ever gave her an encouraging word – and maybe because from the get-go Julia was a kind of a maverick. She didn’t follow in her father’s ultra-conservative political path, and was forever ridiculed for it. She wasn’t driven to get good grades particularly, never felt herself a scholar, went to Smith College where she spent more time drinking and carousing than she did studying. Yet she graduated. At loose ends after that, she had no direction in her life, and her father, the ever present critic, didn’t encourage her much. Money wasn’t an issue. She did live in New York for awhile, took a menial job (about all she could find), but wasn’t particularly happy. She was a socialite, but not a fluttering butterfly. She wanted some meaning to her life, but just couldn’t quite figure out what or where it was. Her mother died and Julia ended up moving home to Pasadena as a companion to her father and she resumed her socialite role in her home town. He was not ailing, but she and her 2 siblings felt Dad needed some watching over.

julia_and_paulWhen war loomed, she joined the OSS, eventually going to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). And later to China. She met Paul Child, a very scholarly type, who was also with the OSS. They were friends for a year or more, and then their relationship bloomed. Julia never felt she was Paul’s mental equal. Although he didn’t attend college, he was extremely well read and could debate philosophy, politics, poetry and social culture with the best of them. They married eventually (much to her Dad’s dismay because Paul Child was a social liberal, as was Julia, but Paul more so). These facts rankled Julia’s father until the end of his days. Family dinners were always fraught with argument about politics, so much so that Julia did her best to avoid visiting home at almost all cost. Julia and Paul were devoted to each other for life.

The picture below is Julia’s reconstructed Cambridge kitchen at the Smithsonian (I believe). Note the distinctive pegboard, something she and Paul worked out so they’d always know where everything was kept in every Julia kitchen. julias_kitchen_cambridgeHaving already read Julia’s grand-nephew’s biography of Julia’s years in France, My Life in France, I enjoyed reading this new book, Julia’s full-life history. I’ve come away with so much more respect for Julia. Her years of cooking in Paris, making recipes over and over and over until she felt they were perfect, has to be a testament to her tenacity. And her tendency to be a perfectionist. Actually, last night I went online and ordered the DVD set of The French Chef: Julia Child 10-Disc CollectionTV series Julia did. (It contains an interview with Julia, and supposedly all the recipes that accompanied all the shows.) Having read this new book, and knowing the kind of labor of love she put into the making of the shows – and more importantly – how she revised the long and tedious French recipes from her first book of the 2-book series Mastering the Art of French Cooking (2 Volume Set) I wonder if I’ll be more intrigued to try more of her recipes.  I only own one of her cookbooks, and have cooked very few recipes from it.

Julia was a a fount of energy. Again and again through the book I read of her incredibly long hours in the kitchen from when she began cooking in Paris to her last days, almost. What I found new and interesting were:

  • the life-long feud between Julia and Madeleine Kamman – you can read more about it here; she also didn’t get along all that well with Jacque Pepin either! Even though they co-hosted a series of cooking demonstrations for TV, behind the façade of smiles, they didn’t like each other much;
  • Julia loved-loved men; even in her declining years she had a boyfriend, of sorts, even while her beloved husband Paul resided in a special home where he could be well cared for; whether any hanky-panky went on, I don’t know; this book doesn’t indicate so; Julia adored Paul unflinchingly, yet she craved male companionship once Paul wasn’t around;
  • although most everyone who ever watched Julia knows she had an irreverent side – she could laugh at herself and others, but was a natural in front of the TV camera; she also could use that biting tongue now and then. She had a stubborn streak. So, I didn’t know that Julia walked off the stage of a little cooking segment she did with Regis and Kathy Lee because Kathy Lee refused to get in and help – and get her hands dirty. It was arranged and agreed upon, but once the camera started rolling, Kathy Lee refused. At the break, Julia and her team walked out;
  • learning about her very assertive, abrasive lawyer she hired some way down her career path – she adored him – but oh, he made people mad. Yet he protected Julia’s interests, which was his purpose – I’d never heard about him before;
  • how hard Julia worked (with Paul, and with her editors, and her attorney) to keep her momentum once she reached the pinnacle; Julia was ahead of her time, I think, in knowing and understanding that she had to stay front and center or people (us home cooks) would forget her.

julia_kitchenThe photo at right – I think – was in Julia’s Provence kitchen, where she spent months working on the recipes for the Mastering manuscript. Note her “signature” neck scarf.

The author is a good story-teller, for sure. There were some times that he used colloquialisms that bordered on hip, trite or trendy. They seemed a bit strange in a biography. Since he’s been a magazine journalist, perhaps that’s why. Yet I found the book a page-turner when, in fact, there was nothing about Julia’s life that gave it that kind of intrigue. I found it interesting that many culinary professionals (back in the 60s and 70s) ridiculed Julia for calling herself a chef – she never cooked in a restaurant so she had no right to the title. She never called herself that – the TV show folks devised the title of the show. And yet, I think she was every bit a chef as any restaurant one just because of the dedication to her craft. Her recipes have stood the test of time, obviously!

So overall, I found the book very readable. Am sorry I never took the opportunity to meet Julia Child when I could have at her many book signings or classes. During her 80th birthday celebrations she attended a cooking class in her honor at a restaurant near us, but the tariff was $500 for the privilege. I just couldn’t – wouldn’t – pay that much, as much as I wanted to meet her! But I lived her life vicariously through this very fascinating biography. If you’re anything of a Julia fan, you’ll be glad to have read it.

Posted in Cookbooks, on January 15th, 2012.


It was just last month that I read an article in our local newspaper, written by Judy Bart Kancigor, about this book. [As an aside, I have one of Kancigor’s recipes here on my blog already – one of my favorites, a Layered Hummus & Eggplant appetizer.] Hardly before I’d finished reading the newspaper article, I went to my amazon account and added the book to my wish list. Thank you, Sara, for buying it for me for Christmas!

This book, Recipes Remembered: A Celebration of Survival is a treasure; there just are no other words for it. I’m not Jewish, and I don’t necessarily cook Jewish food as such, but I am always intrigued about the stories behind ethnic dishes. One of Kancigor’s mantras is “you don’t have to be Jewish to cook Jewish.” Yes! Until now, I’ve never owned a Jewish cookbook. Now I do, and I’m glad of it. Not only because of the history contained within the book, but because I’m grateful in some small way – happy – humbled – to honor all those souls who didn’t survive the Holocaust.

So, what’s this book all about? The writer (editor and writer), June Feiss Hersch, interviewed countless families in the process of compiling the stories and recipes in this cookbook.  Earlier, she approached the Director of the Museum of Jewish Heritage (in New York City), with the germ of an idea, to publish a cookbook of stories and associated recipes from Holocaust survivors. An aside: all the proceeds from the book go to the museum. It’s already into its 4th printing.

The recipes cover a broad Eastern European geography (ethnic and physical) including Poland, Austria, Greece, Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Russia and the Ukraine. And at the back is a lengthy list of Yiddish words, pages I referred to often, since I didn’t know the meaning of words like schmuts (dirt), cholent (a sacred stew prepared on Friday, baked overnight in a community bakery oven, to be eaten on Saturday), shtikel (morsel); and bashert (fated). I loved learning some of these new words (aside from other Yiddish words I did know: schlep, maven, nosh, kibbitz, mentsh, and shul).

As I write this, I’ve only read about half the book – I’m not even through reading the chapter on Poland (obviously there are more Polish recipes than those from other countries). But I’m awed by the stories. The true stories of survival, about the Crystal Night (when over 1,000 synagogues were burned to the ground and over 7,000 Jewish business destroyed), about people who hid in cupboards, cellars, forests, barns and other places to avoid the ghettos and concentration camps. But it’s also stories about people who did survive concentration camps (mostly ones who were interned there later in the war) or work camps. About those few who had skills the Nazis needed and wanted so they were fed better than some. About how prisoners hid food for others. About how they kept their spirits alive. About how they survived. About meeting other survivors, about first loves, marriages, boat trips to Israel, or America or Canada. About the yearning to live and thrive. About how some survivors would never – ever – talk about their wartime experiences – or shared them only at the end of their lives. And about how these proud Jewish people honor their loved ones by preparing the family recipes regularly.

Each country chapter contains numerous stories  (told from the actual survivor or a spouse or grown child) along with a photo or two about the family. About where they were from, their years of trying to escape, and managing to survive either in the dense forests with virtually no food, or in the concentration camps. And, thankfully, about their liberation and emigration somewhere else. Then, following that is a recipe, or two. Most of them are the actual recipes from the Holocaust survivor, or a descendant; a few are creations or re-creations from celebrated Jewish chefs (like Faye Levy, Mark Bittman, Daniel Boulud, Gale Gand, Ina Garten, Jonathan Waxman, Joan Nathan, Sara Moulton, and others).

In my copy, several recipes have been yellow-stickied already, and this week you’ll read about the first one I made from this book – a braised red cabbage and apple dish. Nothing fancy, but oh, so very delicious. Next I plan to make a Chocolate Chip Cake, and a Citrus Rice Pudding. Then maybe I’ll try one of the cholent recipes in the book. I’m intrigued about a 24-hour, slow-roasted stew.

Obviously, I highly recommend this book. If you enjoy reading stories, then a recipe to go along with it, you’ll be mesmerized by the book, as I’ve been.

Posted in Cookbooks, Desserts, on May 23rd, 2011.

This is the final post in the 3-part series about this new cookbook I own. After telling you all about how the book came to be, and the amazing process Amanda Hesser went through to get it accomplished, I thought I should share with you at least one recipe. Actually I’ve made one recipe from the cookbook – the Summer-Squash Casserole I wrote about recently. It was fantastic. I even got my first splotch of food on the page! Darn. I have way too many little yellow and pink stickies poking out of the book, all recipes I want to try. I think my next one will be the 1948 Green Goddess Salad.

In the cookbook Amanda wrote a lengthy headnote about the Purple Plum Torte:

This plum torte is both the most often published and the most requested recipe in the Times archives. By my count, Marian Burros (who was given the recipe by Lois Levine, with whom Burros wrote Elegant but Easy) ran the recipe in the paper twelve times. And when I asked readers for recipe suggestions for this book, 247 people raved about the torte. The plum torte happily lives up to its billing: crusty and light, with deep wells of slackened, sugar-glazed fruit.

I’ve thought a lot about why this torte struck such a chord with people: the answer, I think, is that it’s a nearly perfect recipe. There are only eight ingredients, all of which, except for the plums, you probably already have in your kitchen. There are just four steps, most of which are one sentence long. You need no special equipment, just a bowl, a wooden spoon, and a pan. The batter is like pancake batter, which most everyone is comfortable making. And baked plums are sweet and tart, making the flavor more complex and memorable than a hard-hitting sweet dessert.

It also freezes well. “A friend who loved the torte said that in exchange for two, she would let me store as many as I wanted in her freezer,” Burros wrote one year when she ran the recipe. “A week later, she went on vacation for two weeks and her mother stayed with her children. When she returned, my friend called and asked, ‘How many of those tortes did you leave in my freezer?’

“‘Twenty-four, but two of those were for you.’

“There was a long pause. ‘Well, I guess my mother either ate twelve of them or gave them away.’”

In later versions of the plum torte recipe, Burros cut back the sugar to 3/4 cup—feel free to if you like—and added variations, such as substituting blueberries or apples and cranberries for the plums (I haven’t tried either, but Burros was a fan). She jumped the shark, in my view, though, when she created low-fat variations with mashed bananas and applesauce. While I respect her enthusiasm for innovation, this is one recipe that needs no improvement.—Amanda Hesser

This particular recipe also contained several reader comments (presumably from the 6,000 emails and letters she received from her request for favorite recipes). Most recipes don’t have that much information. At the end of every recipe is the origin of it, the article title it came from, and the date. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading through recipes by the dozens, and noting the year it was published, like a sour milk cake from 1876 or a sauce for venison from 1880. Or even Dwight Eisenhower’s Steak in the Fire, from 1949, from one or more of his fishing trips to Wisconsin.

Obviously, you can tell, I’m really enjoying this cookbook. If you need a gift for someone, this would be a perfect one. Especially if that person enjoys cooking as well as reading about it. Or buy it for yourself – I don’t think you’ll be a bit sorry you did! The book is a bargain at $23.52 at The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century.

As a result of Amanda’s and Merrill’s collaboration on this cookbook, (they’re now business partners too) they have a blog called Food52, in case you’re interested.

printer-friendly PDF for the Purple Plum Torte

Purple Plum Torte

Recipe By: The Essential New York Times Cookbook, by Amanda Hesser
Serving Size: 8
NOTES: In the cookbook are several comments from long-time readers who suggested using apples or frozen cranberries. Someone else used mango, peaches, adds 1/2 tsp of vanilla and the grated rind of a small lemon to the batter. Yet another person added a teaspoon of almond extract to the cake batter. Someone else wrote that if you have more plums and want to use them, stand the plum halves on their sides and put them in a spoke pattern on the batter.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 pinch salt
1 cup sugar — plus 1 T. or more, depending on the tartness of the plums
8 tablespoons unsalted butter — softened
2 large eggs
12 whole plums — purple variety, halved and pitted
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice — or more or less, depending on the tartness of the plums
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1. Heat oven to 350°. Sift the flour with the baking powder and salt.
2. Cream 1 cup sugar and butter in a large bowl with a hand mixer (or a stand mixer) until light in color. Add the dry ingredients and then the eggs.
3. Spoon the batter into an ungreased 9-inch springform pan. Cover the top of the batter with the plum halves, skin side up. Sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of sugar and the lemon juice, adjusting to the tartness of the fruit. Sprinkle with the cinnamon.
4. Bake until the cake is golden and the plums are bubbly, 45-50 minutes [Mine takes 60 minutes to be completely cooked in the center]. Cool on a rack, then unmold. [Optional: serve with almond-flavored whipped cream.]
Per Serving: 331 Calories; 14g Fat (35.6% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 51g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 84mg Cholesterol; 97mg Sodium.

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