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Oh wow. Just finished reading David Guterson’s book, East of the Mountains. You know this author from his most well known book, Snow Falling on Cedars. I loved the Cedars book when I read it years ago, and assumed I’d like this other book (not new) as well. Have you learned to trust my judgment when I tell you, you HAVE to read a book? When I tell you the story line, I can already hear you thinking . . . oh no, I don’t want to read this kind of a book. Please trust me. You’ll come away from it being glad you did. It tells the tale of a 70ish man, a widower, who has been diagnosed with terminal colon cancer. He’s a retired physician, knows the scenario of death by cancer, and doesn’t want to do it. He decides he’s going to take a bird hunting trip, east of the mountains in Washington State (Guterson writes a lot about his part of the world), with his two dogs, and he’ll commit suicide. He sets up an elaborate ruse with his children and grandchildren, and heads out. All of this, so far, takes place in the first 10 pages of the book. First he has an accident in his car, and that sets off a cavalcade of incidents. You’ll learn a whole lot about flora and fauna (one of Guterson’s writing attributes). You’ll learn a lot about apple and pear orchards, which abound in eastern Washington (I’ve been there, it’s beautiful, pastoral and full of fruit). Flashbacks of his life story are interspersed throughout, his growing up on an apple farm, meeting his wife, his service in WWII, their reuniting after the war and the life they had. You’ll learn some about his cancer pain, the grief of his wife’s death 5 years prior, and about his resolve to end it all. Please don’t NOT read this because  you’ll think it’s depressing. It is and it isn’t. It’s so much more for the better. And I just read, this book is being made into a movie.

A fabulous read – Catherine Ryan Hyde’s newest book, Have You Seen Luis Velez? I marvel sometimes about how authors ever come up with the ideas they do, to create the premise for a novel. And this one is right up there at the top of the list. Raymond, a youngster, an older teenager, who has a big lack of self-confidence and feels like an odd duck sometimes, reluctantly (at first) befriends an elderly woman in the apartment building where he lives with his mother and step-father. He discovers she’s blind and needs some help, which he gives her. Then he discovers that there is a lot more to know and understand about this elderly little lady down the hall and he begins a journey to try to find someone for her, the Luis Velez of the title. If you want to use coming-of-age to describe this, that’s partly true. He learns all about himself, the abilities he didn’t know he had, the kindness that lives within him that he never realized was there, and the friends he makes along the way who make some life-changing differences in his young life. He discovers he has some gifts that he can give to others, something most teenagers don’t understand. I can’t recommend this book highly enough – it’s a bit of a tear-jerker, but for every good reason and moral character trait described in the book. It’s there.

Kristin Hannah is quite an author. She’s written upwards of 20 books, I think. This one, Magic Hour: A Novel is another very mesmerizing read. I could hardly put it down. A young, 6-year old child is found in a small town on the Olympic Peninsula. She’s mute and frightened beyond reason. And she seems not to understand English. A psychiatrist is brought to town to try to unravel the mystery and to “reach” the child. I don’t want to spoil the story, but know that the whole subject of nature (biology) vs. nurture comes into play and will keep you hanging onto your seat until the last few pages.

Ever heard of Barbara Pym? I knew the name, but hadn’t ever read any of her work. She was an English author (deceased now), having penned several books. I think she was an inveterate spinster, and in this book, Excellent Women she wrote about a small village community in England with the humdrum, day to day life, but she wrote with such interesting detail. I thought I might be bored to tears reading it, as it describes a 31-year old woman, considered a spinster in the time (1950s), and the book is about her rather boring life with new neighbors who move into her small home (2 units, sharing a bathroom), the local vicar, his sister, and a myriad of other ladies of the parish. Yet you get caught up in the very minor intrigue of the deteriorating marriage of the couple in the building, the love life of the vicar, and the annual planning for a jumble sale at the local church. This book is considered Pym’s best. I loved the book. I highlighted a bunch of phrases and sentences (I will be doing a book review in one of my book clubs). It wasn’t boring at all, and was entertaining right up to the last page!

Did you ever watch Sandra Lee on the Food Network? This was in the early days of the network, and I did watch her some, although her cooking style didn’t mesh much with mine, since I’m a bit of a make-things-from-scratch kind of girl. But then, I don’t make my own mayo, or jam anymore. And I understand her philosophy, making it easier for busy women to feed their families and juggle a busy life. I’d never thought about reading her memoir. But then, a friend highly recommended I do so. I found a used copy online, and read Made From Scratch: A Memoir. She had a very, very hard young life. Her mother? Well, she shouldn’t have even been a mother. Sandra was the eldest and from a very early age she took care of all of her younger siblings. She was badly mistreated and nearly raped by a family member. Her grandmother Lorraine was her favorite person from the get-go and Sandra took care of her grandmother in her waning years. Once Sandra was old enough she left home and went to college for 3 years, then her entrepreneurial spirit just took over. She learned by doing in every job she’s ever had, and I have to admire her tremendously for her accomplishments. She made money, then lost it, found another niche, made money, then lost it. Yet she’s got the kind of grit that we should all emulate. There are 2 recipes in the book. Sandra is a Christian, and a paragraph that really gripped me was at the very end: “Grace has become one of my favorite words. To me it means learning to balance the good days with the bad. Grace is about being proud of yourself, your actions, your life, what you stand for, and the way you give back [Sandra is a huge philanthropist]. Its’ being generous when someone hurts you; it’s knowing when and how to react. It’s knowing that someone you’re not fond of today might turn out to be the only person who puts his or her hand out tomorrow just when you’re about to step in front of a moving bus. Grace is offering understanding and acceptance when the rest of the world does not.” This book isn’t great literature; yet I’m very glad I read it. She is an inspiration.

The book Pachinko (National Book Award Finalist) by Min Jin Lee had been recommended to me by several friends. Finally got around to reading it. It’s a novel about a family of Koreans living in Japan and covers several decades, beginning in the 1940s, I believe. They’re poor. Dirt poor, yet the women just get themselves back up and work. The husbands in the story have problems, health and otherwise. But what you see here is work, and work and more work just to keep above water. You’ve probably read about how poorly Koreans are treated in Japan – they’re kind of thought of as scum of the earth. I don’t know if this phenomena is still true today, but it apparently was even up until a couple of decades ago. As  you read this book, you’ll find yourself rooting for various family members as they progress in life. A fateful decision is made by one that reverberates throughout her life and those of her children. Pachinko (the machines and the gaming economy that runs because of it) is thought of as part of the underbelly of Japanese culture. I remember seeing the pachinko machines when I visited Japan back in the 1960s. So the book infers, much of pachinko is even controlled by a kind of Japanese mafia and certainly has no status if you work in the pachinko arena. Wealth, yes. Status, no. Very worth reading, even though it’s tough going part of the way. This isn’t a “happy” book. But still worth knowing and reading about the subject. Reading the author’s afterword at the end was very revealing and interesting.

Also read An American Marriage (Oprah’s Book Club): A Novel by Tayari Jones. The book is set in the south with a young, well-educated, middle-class couple and suddenly the husband is accused and convicted of rape (that he didn’t commit). The book is not about the justice system or his wrongful conviction. Not at all. It’s about the relationship, the husband, wife, and then the 3rd person who inserts himself into the mix. Much of this story is told through the letters that Roy and Celestial write each other during and after his incarceration. Jones recreates the couple’s grief, despair and anger until they finally work their way to acceptance, but maybe not how you would expect it. This is complicated emotional territory navigated with succinctness and precision, making what isn’t said as haunting as the letters themselves.  Some of the above (italics) came from the New York Times’ book review.

Recently finished Sally Field’s memoir (autobiography) called In Pieces. I’ve always admired her and her acting, but never knew much about her. I remember when she was involved with Burt Reynolds, but knew nothing about her dysfunctional coming of age. I think she’s a consummate actress, and was awed by her performance in Norma Rae, and also with her role as Abraham Lincoln’s wife.  She wrote this book herself, with help from a writer’s workshop and with some good advice from various other writers. It’s very well written. She spends a lot of time discussing the very young years and her perverted step-father. But the over-arching person in her life was her mother, be what she may as far as being a good/bad mother. I really liked the book; really enjoyed reading about how Sally throws herself into her tv and film roles over her life. And what a defining moment Norma Rae was in her career. Well worth reading if you enjoy movie star memoirs.

If you want grit, well, read Kristen Hannah’s newest book, The Great Alone: A Novel. It’s a gripping novel about a young girl whose family moves to Alaska when her father is gifted a small plot of land with a ramshackle cabin on it that’s barely fit for habitation. The family survives only because some of the townspeople offer to help them learn how to live through an Alaskan winter, which is not easy. The girl’s father is a tyrant and a wife-beater as well. Some pages were hard to read. Surviving on the land with nearly no funds is an arduous task in the best of times, but doubly so when you’re dealing with an Alaskan winter which lasts about 9 months of the year. I don’t want to spoil the story by telling you too many details. The book touches on some very current social issues and is so worth reading. Although difficult at times, as I said. But I’m very glad I did. I think it would make for a good book club read – lots of survival issues to discuss, let alone the other social problems that ensue. But there’s also love, which makes it worth the read.

Recently finished reading a book for one of my book clubs. I’m interested to find out who in that group recommended this book, Tangerine: A Novel by Christine Mangan. Had it not been selected for my club, I wouldn’t ever have picked it up. Most of it takes place in Tangiers, in the 1950s. Alice and John have moved there, newlyweds, when Lucy Mason shows up. Lucy is Alice’s former college roommate. Lucy simply moves in. There’s bad blood between them following the death of Alice’s beau during their college years. Lucy, who might appear as a very sensible woman, has a dark physical and mental obsession with her “friend.” Is it horror? Not really by strict definition. Is it a mystery? Not quite, although there are several murders that take place. Chapters jump between Alice’s voice and Lucy’s voice and you understand the mental fragility of Alice, and this consuming obsession Lucy has for her friend. I’m NOT recommending this book, but I did finish it just because of my book club choosing this very strange book.

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.

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.

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 Brunch, IP, pressure cooker, on February 12th, 2018.


Goodness, me. This was so easy to make. I could even make this for myself for dinner, and then have leftovers.

Christmas morning I usually make something special for breakfast. My cousin Gary was visiting, and although he wasn’t feeling very good, still he knew he should eat, so I whipped this up in the IP. It was my first IP recipe I tried, and it turned out really well. My cousin has to eat GF, so going crustless was the way to go anyway. I was perfectly happy with the results.

I did research using the IP for quiche, but found several recipes, so I knew it was a successful thing to try. I had some baby spinach in the refrigerator that needed eating anyway, so I kind of combined two recipes and made it a quiche Lorraine style but with added spinach. Daughter Sara gave me an IP cookbook called Instant Pot® Obsession: The Ultimate Electric Pressure Cooker Cookbook for Cooking Everything Fast. This recipe, with my modifications, came from that book.

The quiche ingredients were standard, starting with some thick sliced bacon that I sautéed for awhile to get it rendered out and crispy. There was hardly any fat in the pan anyway since the bacon I used was so meaty. The onion was cooked through, then I cooled and cleaned the IP pot. Meanwhile I mixed up the quiche ingredients (eggs, milk, cream, S & P, Emmental cheese, spinach) and the bacon and onion, of course. The rack is inserted into the IP, then the quiche, loosely covered with foil (you don’t want steam to get in there – it would ruin the chemistry of the quiche). It was pressure cooked for 10 minutes, rested for 10, then quick released.

IP_crustless_quiche_lorraine_spinach_wedgeI’d shredded a bit of extra Emmental and sprinkled more of it on top and stuck it under the oven broiler, just so it would have a bit of color. One thing about pressure cooking . . . you can’t get good color unless  you brown things before, or broil them after. It took no time at all to broil it for a few minutes. I let it rest for a couple of minutes because it was so hot, then cut into 4 portions and served it along with some yogurt and fruit.

What’s GOOD: it was basically a 2-dish prep (IP pot plus the ceramic baking dish) so there was easy cleanup. Loved the quiche. It may not have had the same consistency as a traditional oven-baked quiche – almost like eggs done in the microwave – but it was good and hit the spot. I liked the addition of spinach, even though it’s not traditional for a Lorraine type quiche.

What’s NOT: nothing really, unless you really miss the crust.

printer-friendly PDF and Master Cook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

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IP Crustless Quiche Lorraine with Spinach

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Instant Pot Obsession
Serving Size: 4

1 teaspoon butter — (for coating baking dish)
3 slices bacon — chopped
1 small onion — sliced thin and chopped
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup fresh spinach — coarsely chopped
3 large eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon white pepper — or black
1 1/4 cups Emmental cheese — or Gruyere, or other Swiss type
1 cup water — for steaming
1/3 cup Emmental cheese — or Gruyere, or other Swiss type

1. Prepare a 1-quart round baking dish (that fits in the IP) and coat the bottom and sides with the room temp butter.
2. Using the IP saute function render the bacon until it’s crispy. Remove and set aside. Add onion and 1/4 tsp salt and cook, stirring often, until the onion is fully translucent and soft. Remove and set aside. Pour out any extra grease from the pot, cool, then clean the pot and replace into the IP.
3. In a large bowl combine the eggs, milk and cream, then add pepper and remaining salt. Add half the cheese to the mixture along with the spinach, bacon and onion, and pour it all into the prepared, buttered baking dish. Add remaining cheese on top. Cover with foil – not tight – but enough so steam won’t get into the dish. Install rack in the pot and gently place quiche dish on top of the rack. Add water to the bottom. Use manual pressure for 10 minutes, then let sit for 10 minutes as a natural release, then quick release.
4. Open IP, remove quiche, using the rack handles and set on countertop. Meanwhile, preheat broiler.
5. Add extra cheese to the top of the quiche and place under broiler just long enough to get some nice golden brown color to the top (watch carefully), remove, allow to cool for about 3-5 minutes. Cut in wedges and serve.
Per Serving: 386 Calories; 31g Fat (71.9% calories from fat); 20g Protein; 7g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 250mg Cholesterol; 519mg Sodium.

Posted in IP, Pork, pressure cooker, on February 8th, 2018.


Oh yes, mouth watering happening as I look at that photo. So quick and easy.

The other day I discovered an ancient package of pork spare ribs (not baby backs) in my freezer, back when my DH and I bought a part of a Berkshire pig. It had unique wrapping, so I knew – and it had a date on it. 2011. Wow. It’s been in my freezer for nearly 8 years! I didn’t hold out much hope that it would be all that good, but guess what? It was wonderful. Maybe because it was packaged well to begin with!

With my new instant pot sitting on my kitchen counter, I scanned websites to find a recipe that would work. Sure enough, found one at the blog called iwashyoudry. Shawna had used baby backs, but I presumed the cooking time would be similar. First I removed the thin tissue along the back of the ribs. It’s a bit of a nuisance to have to do that, but I did it anyway, knowing the dry rub would reach all the inner meat if I took the time. Then I combined the dry rub – a little bit of brown sugar and a bunch of spices. A very good mixture, I think! Into the IP they went, to rest on top of the IP rack, leaning up against the sides of the pot.

Once the meat was in, you add some water, apple cider vinegar AND a tiny jot of liquid smoke to the bottom of the pot, making sure you don’t wash off any of the spices sticking to the ribs. Having used liquid smoke in the past I wasn’t altogether sure I’d like it – but  using just 1/4 tsp gave the ribs just a hint of smoke. The meat cooked under high pressure for 23 minutes (Shawna cooked her for 25, but spareribs have less meat on them, so I chose 23). It rested for 10 minutes, then quick release.

Meanwhile, preheat the broiler during the last couple minutes of resting time and prepare a baking sheet with foil (for easy cleanup) and have at the ready your favorite bottled BBQ sauce. Lay them on the baking sheet and brush that on. Broil just until beginning to get crispy brown. Remove and dig in! For mine, the ribs were nearly falling off of the meat, so I just took the bones out and had a nice little plate of just meat. And sauce. And spices. All good tasty stuff! My thanks to Shawna for a great recipe that works!

What’s GOOD: you can have ribs on the table in a little over 35 minutes or so, that taste like you’ve spent hours smoking and tending to them. When you haven’t!! Loved the combo of spices in the dry rub and with using just a little bit of BBQ sauce to finish them off; these were perfect! A keeper.

What’s NOT: really nothing, other than ribs have a lot of fat, so for me, they’re a real treat. Not something I’d fix on a regular basis.

printer-friendly PDF or MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

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Instant Pot BBQ Spareribs

Recipe By: adapted slightly from I wash you dry (blog)
Serving Size: 4

3 pounds pork spareribs
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons dried parsley
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup water
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon liquid smoke — optional
1/2 cup barbecue sauce

1. Remove the thin lining from the bottom side of the ribs by running a butter knife under the skin and then using a paper towel to grip and remove completely. (This allows the dry rub to reach the meat underneath.)
2. Combine the brown sugar, chili powder, parsley, salt, pepper, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder and cayenne pepper in a small dish and rub all over the ribs.
3. Place the rack in your IP/pressure cooker and place the ribs inside the pot, standing on their ends, wrapping around the inside of the pot. It’s okay if it leans against the pan. Pour in the water, apple cider and liquid smoke (if using), being careful to not wash off any of the seasonings.
4. Secure the lid, making sure the vent is closed. Pressure cook on high for 23 minutes. Let the pressure naturally release for 10 minutes, then quick release the rest of the way.
5. Carefully remove the ribs from the pressure cooker and set on a foil lined baking sheet. Brush with your favorite BBQ sauce, and broil for 5 minutes, but keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn.
Per Serving: 686 Calories; 51g Fat (67.4% calories from fat); 37g Protein; 18g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 165mg Cholesterol; 994mg Sodium.

Posted in Pork, pressure cooker, on June 4th, 2013.


Another one of those “brown” photos. It’s so very hard to give brown colored food any eye appeal. All I can tell you is that this dish was absolutely sensational. The flavors – oh my goodness yes. I’ll be making this again and again. It would even be good enough for guests. What you see there is browned pork chunks (at top), sweet potatoes (bottom and far right), an organic purple carrot (right side, vertical) and fennel (left). And drizzled over the top is the lightly creamed Calvados and broth which was then topped with chopped chives. Thank goodness for chives!

Out of the freezer came our last package of Berkshire pork. It was pork chunks, and by the time I got into the kitchen to start dinner, it was after 4pm, so I needed to figure out something fast. What I didn’t know was what kind of pork it was – it was labeled pork stew meat, that’s all. It could have been trimmings from pork chops, pork shoulder, tenderloin bits, or pork loin. All needing different cooking times. But oh well, I just had to guess. With time of an essence, I knew I needed to do this in the pressure cooker, so the recipe below is done that way, but you can do this all without one – just cook the meat mixture on the stove until barely cooked through, and cook the vegetables until they’re tender. You can add the Calvados cream ingredients with everything in the pot.

You know about Calvados, right? It’s an apple brandy from the northern part of France. It’s still a brandy. I’ve had my bottle for about 15 years, and with this dish I emptied it. We never drink it – I use it exclusively for cooking. Time for a new one now. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it:

Calvados is distilled from cider made from specially grown and selected apples, of which there are over 200 named varieties. It is not uncommon for a Calvados producer to use over 100 specific varieties of apples, which are either sweet (such as the Rouge Duret variety), tart (such as the Rambault variety), or bitter (such as the Mettais, Saint Martin, Frequin, and Binet Rouge varieties), the latter being inedible. The fruit is harvested (either by hand or mechanically) and pressed into a juice that is fermented into a dry cider. It is then distilled into eau de vie. After two years aging in oak casks, it can be sold as Calvados. The longer it is aged, the smoother the drink becomes. Usually the maturation goes on for several years.

Don’t Have a Pressure Cooker?

Just cook the pork low and slow until it’s tender, add the veggies and cook those until just tender and add the Calvados and cream in at the end. The pressure cooker just cut down the cooking times, that’s all.

Here’s what I did: I sprinkled the pork chunks with Herbes de Provence, then browned them until they were caramelized brown on several sides, not crowding the pieces. That took 2 batches. I removed the meat and poured out the fat that had accumulated in the pan. Meat went back in, then I added a 6-ounce (can) of pineapple juice, 1 1/2 cups of water, bay leaves, fresh thyme sprigs, salt and pepper, and Penzey’s soup base (I used pork, but chicken would be fine). I pressure cooked that for about 13 minutes. Cooled it under a cold running tap, and the pork was just perfectly cooked. I removed the meat (because I didn’t want to cook the meat any further – it was perfectly cooked), then I added all the vegetables and apples and those were pressure cooked for 4 minutes. The vegetables were perfectly cooked so I removed them also. With the liquid left in the pan I added the shallot and Dijon mustard and let that simmer for a few minutes until the shallot was cooked. Then I added the cream and heated it through, then in went the Calvados. I cooked that for 2-3 minutes just so it would boil-off the alcohol. Then I added the meat back in and let that simmer for 2-3 minutes so the meat would be piping hot. The veggies stayed hot, so those were divided amongst the wide soup bowls, then I spooned the meat equally between the bowls (there won’t be lots of meat per person – 2 pounds of pork doesn’t end up being all that much, surprisingly) and poured the Calvados cream over them equally as well. Chopped chives went on top and it was ready to serve.

What’s GOOD: Oh, just everything. The meat, the juices, the veggies, the apples and of course, the creamy Calvados sauce I drizzled over the top. You’ll be licking the bowl.
What’s NOT: nothing whatsoever. Unless you don’t like stew. Or meat, or you’re averse to a little bit of cream.

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Pork Stew with Fennel, Carrots, Apples, Sweet Potato and Calvados Cream (Pressure Cooker)

Recipe By: My own concoction, 2013
Serving Size: 4

2 pounds pork shoulder — fat trimmed, cut in 1″ chunks
1 1/2 teaspoons Herbes de Provence
2 tablespoons canola oil
6 ounces pineapple juice — or apple juice
1 1/2 cups water
2 whole Turkish bay leaves
6 sprigs fresh thyme — left whole
1 teaspoon Penzey’s chicken soup base — or pork soup base, if you have it
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 large fennel bulb — trimmed, quartered
1 large sweet potato — peeled, cut in large pieces
2 small apples — peeled, cored, cut in wedges
10 ounces carrots — peeled, cut in chunks
1 whole shallot — peeled, finely minced
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard — French style
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons Calvados — (apple brandy) or regular brandy
2 tablespoons fresh chives — minced, for garnish

1. Trim the pork of the bigger pieces of fat, if possible. Toss them with the dried herbs.
2. In a tall pressure cooker heat the oil and brown the pork pieces over medium heat. Don’t crowd the pan (do this in 2 batches). Remove pieces to a plate.
3. Drain and discard the fat in the pan. Add pineapple juice, water, Bay leaves, fresh thyme sprigs, soup base and seasonings. Transfer the pork pieces back into the pan.
4. Bring the pressure cooker up to pressure and simmer for 13 minutes. Place under cold water tap to reduce heat quickly. Taste the pork to see that it’s done – it should be just perfectly tender and juicy. If it’s not, continue to pressure cook for 2-3 minuites at a time until the meat is cooked through but not dry. Remove meat from the pan and set aside.
5. Add the fennel, sweet potato, apples and carrots. Bring the pressure cooker back up to pressure and cook for 4 minutes. Again, place under cold running tap to cool quickly. Remove all the vegetables to another plate and set aside. Discard thyme stems.
5. To the liquid in the pan (about a cup) add the shallot and Dijon mustard and cook over medium-high heat until the shallot is tender, about 3-4 minutes. Add heavy cream and cook for about 1 minute at a slow simmer. Add the Calvados brandy and stir in. Continue to heat until the mixture comes to a boil. Add the meat back into the pan and heat the meat slowly for about 2-3 minutes.
6. Divide the vegetables in 4 wide soup bowls. Divide the meat and Calvados cream over each serving and garnish with chopped chives. Serve immediately.
Per Serving (this assumes you eat all the fat, most of which is drained off after you brown the meat): 699 Calories; 45g Fat (59.7% calories from fat); 32g Protein; 37g Carbohydrate; 7g Dietary Fiber; 148mg Cholesterol; 352mg Sodium.

Posted in pressure cooker, Utensils, on March 20th, 2013.


This post isn’t about a recipe. It’s just about pressure cookers, what makes them tick (ha! that’s a joke, the old-fashioned ones did kind of tick or jitter, new ones don’t). Most of this is synopsized (is that a word?) from my latest issue of Cook’s Illustrated. It was so interesting I thought I’d share it with you.

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time you’ll already know that I particularly like to know the “why” of things. The science of cooking. I imagine this comes from the genetics I got from my dad – he was an engineer, and probably would have liked me to be one too, but I took a different path. Yet, when it comes to cooking, as I’ve gotten older (oh, excuse me, mature!) I really like knowing why things work. Like what is the maillard reaction (that’s the effect of caramelization or browning in a pan, mostly related to meat, but it could be anything that’s cooked to a high enough heat and creates a fond, that brown stuff that sticks to the pan, where all the flavor lies)? Or how/why does baking powder or soda makes things rise. Why is arborio rice different than long grain and why do they cook differently? You know, those kinds of things.

Just a bit of pressure cooker background here – I was given a pressure cooker in 1962 when I got married the first time. I used it, and then one unfortunate day I was cooking artichokes, got distracted, went outside and totally forgot about the artichokes jiggling away in the kitchen. When I came back through the door about 30 minutes later, the smell assailed me – burned is all I can say. The pressure cooker, one of those old-old Presto versions – was still on the stove, the jiggly top had blown off and the artichokes were burned to a crisp and obviously there was no more water inside. The interior couldn’t be cleaned up, and I discovered immediately that the bottom of the pan was warped. Big time warped. It had developed a rounded bottom – so bad that the pan wouldn’t sit level anyway, although it was still barely usable (amazing, when you consider what I’d done to it!). Plus, I couldn’t get that burned smell out of the pan in any event. I kept it for years, out of guilt, I think, that I’d been so careless as to ruin the darned thing. Hoping there would be a solution. (No.)

But I’d remembered all these ensuing years how much time they saved sometimes. It was at a cooking class about 5-6 years ago that the instructor (Deb Buzar) made short ribs, and she did it in the pressure cooker. It wasn’t a pressure cooker class – but she’d arrived at the class at about 5pm, was somewhat short on time to prep for the class. But, she explained that she always does her barbecued short ribs in the pressure cooker – mostly because the recipe she shared (linked just above – and is still my go-to short rib recipe) was from her mother-in-law, and SHE had always made it in the pressure cooker. It was at that class I decided to buy one.

Being a judicious buyer as I am, I went online and read reviews about PC’s. Mostly at There are all varying prices – from under $100 to nearly $300. After reading reviews, I decided to buy a Fagor, and purchased a variation of the 5-piece set (the one you see pictured at the top) – Fagor Duo Combi 5-Piece Pressure Cooker Set. It has 2 different sized pans, with two lids – one which includes the rubber sealing ring that allows the pan to come to pressure, and the second one just an ordinary glass lid,  and also came with a pasta/steamer insert. I think it’s about $150. The set I bought from amazon didn’t come with the pasta insert and didn’t have the glass lid. I’ve been nothing but happy with my purchase. I don’t use it every day. I don’t even use it every week, but when I use it – I’m very grateful I have it. Lately I’ve used it most often for cooking dried beans, which has been a revelation to me. I’m not trying to convince you to buy a Fagor. I’m only sharing my process and that I’ve been happy with my decision.

So fast forward to the other day when I was reading Cook’s Illustrated, and they had a lengthy article about PCs. Purposely I didn’t flip the couple of pages to read which ones were their winners. Here’s what I learned.

Pressure cookers function based on a very simple principle. In a tightly sealed pot, the boiling point of liquid is higher. As the pot heats up, pressure begins to build. This pressure makes it more difficult for water molecules to turn to vapor – therefore raising the boiling point from 212 to 250 degrees. Why does this matter? The superheated steam generated in the cooker makes food cook faster. And because the pot stays closed, cooking requires much less liquid than usual, and flavors concentrate.

steam_digesterContraptions for cooking under pressure have been around for a long, long time. They were first invented by Denis Papin in 1679. He was a French mathematician and physicist and invented it because he wanted to reduce bones (probably from cows, pigs and sheep) to bone meal. Some time in the 1900’s, after World War II, there was a big surge to develop them for the home cook. At one time I used my badly warped pressure cooker to cook chicken backs and necks (which were dirt cheap back in the 1970’s), reduce them to mush, and feed them to my female dog who had just whelped and was quite thin and weary from caring for and feeding her litter of puppies. It worked like a charm to give her lots of calcium. The bone mixture was loaded with calories too. She wolfed it down.

Anyway, early pressure cookers had some inherent problems (and the article said there were some unscrupulous manufacturers too), but as the years have gone by they’ve been tested and designed for ease of use – and safety for home use. No toggle thing that ticks. With mine, I bring it up to temperature and it starts to spit steam. Once it’s a steady stream of steam, I reduce the temp, and it sits on the range with no need to watch it at all, until the minutes have ticked away. Once done, you can just let it cool down on its own. You can flip a toggle and release the steam, or I put it in my kitchen sink and run cold water over it for about 15 seconds and it’s down to a regular/no pressure. Mine has a tiny little plastic plug and when it’s under steam pressure the plug sticks up (kind of like those little plastic thingies that come in turkeys, that supposedly pop out when the turkey is done). Once pressure is released, the plastic plug slips back down into the lid so I know it’s safe to remove the lid. It’s very easy and I feel very safe using it.

The article concluded that 6-quart pans aren’t very useful. Mine is an 8-quart, which was the preferred size. They also highly recommended a 9 inch width. Some are 7 1/2 inches, but they didn’t like them much. The bottom of pressure cooker pans enclose a heavy-duty aluminum ring, encased in stainless steel, that regulates and retains heat. If that ring is too small, food on the outer edges can burn. And they cautioned about using pans on a burner where the flame can lick up the sides and can damage both the locking mechanisms in the lids and the rubber gaskets. So don’t use the cooker on a really high BTU burner (those are always a wider ring of flame). Better to use a regular burner, although it will take a bit more time to bring it up to temperature. The 2 winners had base thicknesses of over 7 millimeters thick. Several other models were under 7 millimeters and didn’t perform as well. Some models didn’t quite reach/maintain the 250 degree desired temp. Only the top one did. fissler_vitaquick_pressurecookerThe 2nd best, their Best Buy model (the one I own, above) didn’t quite get to 250 degrees, but was very close. All the others were less, so cooking times were longer. Some models also lost fluid (meaning they vented too much steam). The two top models lost a very tiny amount, which is ideal. The number one model was the Fissler Vitaquick Pressure Cooker, 8.5qt.  It’s $279. The #2 choice was the one I own (see link in top paragraph if you’re interested).

Electric pressure cookers were also examined and found wanting, for a variety of reasons: smaller size (too small), the nonstick coating inside was less durable than the stainless steel in regular models, they lacked handles, they spun around when stirring, and weaker heating elements. The only model they half-heartedly recommended was Emeril by T-fal CY4000001 6-Quart Electric Pressure Cooker, Silver.

If you’re interested, the article says that 5 recipes from Cook’s Illustrated’s new book, Pressure Cooker Magic (not out yet, I gather, since I can’t find it online anywhere), are available for free for 4 months (until May 13th, 2013). You will have to sign in/up (free) in order to access the recipes. There’s one for Asian-Style Boneless Beef Short Ribs, Chicken Broth, Easy Chicken and Rice, Easy Ziti with Sausage and Peppers, and Parmesan Risotto.

I do have a number of recipes on my blog prepared in the pressure cooker. In case you’re interested, click on the links below. And I just posted 2 days ago an article about cooking beans – if you click on this link, you’ll go to that one, and do print out the 2-page chart which includes the cooking times for cooking every possible kind of bean in a pressure cooker.

Malaysian Inspired Pork Stew
Parsnips in Orange Sauce
Lamb Shanks with Garlicky Madeira Gravy
Sweet and Spicy Barbecued Country Ribs
Carnitas Tacos
Italian Pot Roast
Mushroom Risotto
Beef Stew with Dumplings
No Heat Beef Chili (the beans are made in the pressure cooker)

Posted in easy, pressure cooker, Veggies/sides, on January 25th, 2013.


Do you have a pressure cooker? I don’t use mine enough, but when I do, I’m so delighted with the results. Usually parsnips take a good long time to cook. Not this way!

It was last Sunday afternoon. I went to a concert at our church – to hear the Male Chorale from Cal Baptist (a college in Riverside, 40 miles or so east of where we live). What a performance it was, and I loved every minute of it. But when I got home it was later than I’d planned and I’d not done much preparation for dinner! My DH helped me some – he prepped the Brussels Sprouts with Maple Syrup. I had made a new salad dressing (I’ll post it soon). I’d marinated some steaks and just needed to make the sauce to go on them, chop the salad and pan roast the Brussels sprouts. I’d also wanted to use the parsnips too, that were growing feathery roots in my vegetable bin. I did a quick search on the internet and found something immediately that sounded good. I had oranges from our trees and I had the pressure cooker all ready!

First I peeled the parsnips, which took about a minute. I sliced them into smaller pieces, threw them in the pot, added a little bit of butter, zested the orange (and set that aside for later), then squeezed the juice. The recipe indicated some sugar, salt and that was it. They were pressure cooked for 5 minutes and I did a quick cool-down under the faucet and into a serving bowl they went with a sprinkle of Italian parsley and the orange zest. Delicious. It’s not really a “sauce,” like I think of sauce – to me sauce means something thickened – not a jus. This was just orange juice that permeated the parsnips like magic. It was very low calorie – 104 calories and 2 grams of fat per serving.

What’s good: how easy and quick it was to make. I may try this same recipe with carrots. You could make it with no butter (the original didn’t have any added fat), but I did use a little bit. Altogether delicious. My DH could hardly get enough of them.

What’s not: nothing! Just be careful and don’t over cook them.

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Parsnips in Orange Sauce (Pressure Cooker)

Recipe By: Adapted from
Serving Size: 4

1 pound parsnips — peeled and cut lengthwise into quarters
1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Italian parsley — minced
1/2 teaspoon orange zest

1. Place parsnips in pressure cooker. Combine orange juice, sugar, butter and salt; pour over parsnips.
2. Close pressure cooker cover securely and cook for 5 minutes only. Do not over cook. Run cold water over top of pressure cooker to reduce pressure quickly. Sprinkle parsnips with orange zest, Italian parsley and serve.
Per Serving: 104 Calories; 2g Fat (14.4% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 22g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 4mg Cholesterol; 143mg Sodium.

Posted in easy, Pork, pressure cooker, on February 5th, 2012.


A super easy pressure cooker recipe for country ribs. Not only was it easy, but the flavor of the sauce was outstanding. You can see the little pieces of onion in the sauce.

Going to the freezer, I grabbed a small package of the Berkshire pork we purchased last summer. I’m embarrassed to say that this is the first of it I’ve used (we bought a quarter of a 4-H Berkshire pig). My freezer has been just overflowing. I’ve not purchased any fresh meat for months (except for additional chicken which we eat often), in an attempt to use up some of the good stuff we have in the freezer. But with just two of us eating, it takes awhile to make much of a hole in the jam-packed freezer contents.

In addition, I didn’t even think about how I’d  prepare it. So I went to Eat Your Books, searched for “country ribs” and it told me in the short form what ingredients are in each recipe. Choosing one, yup, I had all that was needed. I can’t say that I have ever done country ribs in a pressure cooker. What a winner of a recipe this is. 25 minutes in the pressure cooker and it was done! Wow. Ordinarily I would have simmered the ribs for awhile in water, then we would have grilled them on the barbecue. Not needed with this recipe. It came from Pressure Cooking for Everyone by Richard Rodgers.

First the ribs were browned in oil in the pressure cooker pot. That was easy and took just a few minutes. The ribs were removed, then I lightly sautéed an onion, with a bit of garlic added in at the end. Catsup was added, some jalapeno jelly (or you could use apricot preserves instead), chili powder and some water to give it just enough saucy consistency. The ribs were added back in, on went the lid and I brought the pressure cooker up to steam and it cooked for 25 minutes. I brought the heat down right away by putting the pressure cooker under the cold water faucet in the sink. Done. While it had been hissing away I made a green salad and some cauliflower.

The pressure cooker pan did have a bit of grease in it, so I spooned that out, then scooped out the remaining barbecue sauce onto the cooked ribs. Oh, it was fantastic. This recipe was so easy – I’d make it again any day. And I just loved the flavor of the sauce.

What I liked: the flavor of the sauce was just right as far as sweet scale. Because the onions are chopped, they don’t disintegrate, and I liked that little bit of texture in the sauce too. Easy to make too. I loved how quickly it cooked too. Just what a pressure cooker is for!

What I didn’t like: nothing at all. (If you were going to make mashed potatoes or rice on the side, I’d suggest you double the amount of sauce as you’ll want some to spoon onto the side dish.)

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MasterCook 5+ import file – right click to save file, run MC, then File|Import

Sweet-and-Spicy Barbecued Country Ribs (pressure cooker)

Recipe By: Pressure Cooking for Everyone, by Rick Rodgers
Serving Size: 4

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 pounds pork country-style ribs — (cut into servings)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 medium onion — chopped
2 cloves garlic — peeled, minced
1 cup catsup — Heinz brand, preferably
1/2 cup jalapeno jelly — or apricot preserves
2 teaspoons chili powder
1/2 cup water

1. In a 5-7 quart pressure cooker, heat the oil over medium-high heat. In batches, add the ribs and brown lightly, about 5-7 minutes total for each batch. Transfer ribs to a plate, season with salt and pepper and set aside.
2. Pour out all but a tablespoon of the fat in the pan and return to the heat. Add onion and cook until softened, about 2-3 minutes. Add garlic during last minute of cooking.
3. Stir in the catsup, jalapeno jelly, chili powder and water and stir. Add the ribs back into the pan. Cover and lock lid in place. Follow directions for your pressure cooker, but bring it up to pressure and cook for 25 minutes. Remove from heat and quick-release the pressure [I put it under a stream of cold water in the kitchen sink]. Open the lid, tilting it away from you to block any escaping steam.
4. If desired, you may heat the sauce on the stove top and boil it down to a desired thicker consistency. Or, spoon out any pools of fat and scoop the sauce on the top of all the ribs and serve.
Per Serving: 770 Calories; 47g Fat (54.7% calories from fat); 41g Protein; 47g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 160mg Cholesterol; 1141mg Sodium.

Posted in Pork, pressure cooker, on April 24th, 2011.


The latest issue of Food and Wine magazine had a quick (and easy) method of making carnitas (pork) tacos. Two of our grandchildren were visiting the past week, and I know they enjoy Mexican food, so this seemed like an easy entrée. I served it with a green salad, and that was dinner.

The pork shoulder roast should be trimmed of noticeable fat, cut into small chunks, and it’s pressure-cooker cooked for 25 minutes. Do run the pressure at a low level if possible. Also, don’t put much water in the pan – it makes some fluid (water and fat) as it cooks, but after the meat is cooked, you mix the limited amount of fluid with the three spice powders (ancho, chipotle and achiote) to make a kind of sauce on the meat at the end. The meat chunks are drained, then briefly fried in a bit of vegetable oil – to caramelize the outside edges a little. Then you just pile some pieces onto a hot corn tortilla, add some cilantro, a squirt of lime juice and some sliced avocado. If you desire, put out some shredded cabbage, and cheese and let people help themselves. Result? Well, this isn’t quite as flavorful as a many-hour roasted carnitas roast, but for a quick weeknight dinner this was just fine. Flavor was good and it made for an easy cooking experience. I do have another recipe on my blog for a caramelized pork carnitas also. That recipe requires a bit more cooking time than this one, but it has some added steps too. Both are good, but if time isn’t a problem, I’d opt for the caramelized one which also has a bunch of cheese added to it as well. I adapted the magazine recipe a little (I used more pork and I’m glad I did because we barely had enough for 5 people), so the recipe below has been changed with my additions and changes.

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Pressure Cooker Pork Carnitas Tacos

Recipe By: Adapted from Food & Wine, May 2011
Serving Size: 5
NOTES: You want very little fluid in the bottom of the pressure cooker when you add the spices. Start with less than 1/4 cup, add the spices, then add more of the broth as needed to make a sauce. The nutrition info does not include calories for the tortillas, cilantro and avocado. It’s important that you don’t allow the pressure cooker to steam too much – you want it to be under very low pressure. Some cookers are adjustable for 15-25 psi. Use lower setting if possible.

3 pounds pork shoulder (butt) roast — boneless
1 teaspoon achiote paste — a dry paste product
1 teaspoon ancho chili powder
1 teaspoon chipotle chile powder salt, to taste
2 tablespoons vegetable oil — for frying
about 10-12 6-inch corn tortillas, lime wedges, 1 cup minced cilantro, 1 sliced avocado, and green onions

1. Pour 1/4 inch of water into a pressure cooker and add the pork. Cover and cook at 15 PSI for 25 minutes, regulating the heat to prevent excessive steam from escaping through the valve. Turn off the heat and wait for the pressure cooker to depressurize so that the lid can be removed without force, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meat to a strainer. Stir the achiote paste and both chile powders into the pan juices and season with salt.
2. In a medium skillet, heat 1/2 inch of oil until shimmering. Working in batches, fry the pork over high heat, turning once, until crispy, 3 minutes. Season with salt. Add the meat to the sauce and stir to coat. Serve the carnitas with tortillas, sliced avocado, cilantro and lime wedges. Makes about 10 tacos.
Per Serving: 533 Calories; 42g Fat (72.3% calories from fat); 35g Protein; 1g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 145mg Cholesterol; 167mg Sodium.

A year ago: Chicken Breasts with Maple Mustard Sauce
Two years ago: Mint Juleps with Agave Nectar
Three years ago: Caramelized Onion Sage Puffs

Posted in Beef, easy, pressure cooker, on February 1st, 2011.


That’s sliced pot roast in the foreground, laid partly on pasta, and the sort-of red sauce that got whizzed up in the food processor after cooking the meat in the pressure cooker.

I’m on a kitchen mission. A mission to work more diligently to clean out my freezer. I not only have a huge full freezer in my kitchen, but I have a second lower-drawer freezer in the refrigerator/freezer in our garage. That latter freezer holds mostly meat. And it holds a LOT. Enough that, were we to have a catastrophe of major proportions, I think we could live (with a generator, mind you, keeping the meat frozen) for at least 3 months without buying any meat. At a guess, 3 months. Veggies – well that’s a different matter. I have some canned stuff and a few frozen bags, but mostly my freezer is full of meat products, at least 5 pounds of different kinds of nuts, a few oddball things like frozen limeade, squeezed lemon juice from our Meyer lemon trees, chutneys of a few varieties, and some ordinary things like chili, soup (lots), bread, bacon, sausage that we have for breakfast most days, a few cookies, one dessert I made a couple of weeks ago, and some chipotle chiles.

My DH, darling that he is, often tells people how much meat we have in our reserve freezer, and that all he must buy is a Coleman stove and we’d be in business. We could set up a local soup kitchen. But we’d need that stove first, which we haven’t purchased. We should. All part of earthquake or emergency preparedness. We don’t have a generator, either. So, the next best thing is to start eating up the meat.

Therefore, I defrosted a 3-pound chunk of boneless chuck roast a few days ago. It was nicely sealed up in plastic (I have one of those FoodSaver things that seals foods of all kinds so they don’t get freezer burn). My guess is that there are other people out there like me – who really know how to pack a freezer. Right? We’re almost to the point that our kitchen freezer door must be opened carefully – like Fibber McGee’s closet, for fear something will fall out and break your toe. Most of you readers are too young to remember Fibber McGee and Molly, a long-running radio program (1935 – 1959), where one of the long-standing jokes was about somebody inadvertently opening the hall closet to a long, noisy crash of stuff. I vaguely remember the program because my parents loved the show. Once we got a television (about 1946, when I was 5) we didn’t listen to much radio anymore. But the joke about the closet lives on and it always ended with Fibber’s comment: I’ve gotta clean out that closet one of these days. My freezer, therefore, is my Fibber McGee’s closet!

The last few days I’ve been more than a bit under the weather. But I’d defrosted this roast before I got my cough/cold thing I have, so on day 3 of my cold I dug out my Fagor Duo Stainless-Steel 6-Quart Pressure Cooker and fired it up. Referring to a recipe in one of my 3 pressure cooker cookbooks, I settled on an Italian style roast because I knew my DH would enjoy having just a little bit of pasta on the side. We don’t eat much pasta because Dave’s a diabetic, but once in awhile we celebrate and always savor every bite!

The pot roast took about 20 minutes of prep (browning the meat, cutting up all the veggies and cooking them briefly), and about 1 1/4 hours to cook it all under pressure. Then I removed the meat and tented it with foil while I prepared the sauce. All of the stuff left in the pan, the veggies (except the fat I was able to spoon off the top) went into my food processor and I whizzed it up to a smooth puree. I tasted it for seasonings, then poured it out over the sliced beef and the pasta. With a green salad, that was a complete dinner.

Bottom line: it was good. Certainly not as good as my tried-and-true French Pot Roast a la Mode that I’ve used for years. That takes innumerable hours to make and bake. But since I was in sort of a hurry, it was very good. My DH loved it – really loved it. And it was on the table in about 2 hours.

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Italian Pot Roast (Pressure Cooker)

Recipe By: Adapted from a recipe in Pressure Cooking for Everyone by Rick Rodgers and Arlene Ward, 2000
Serving Size: 6

2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
3 1/2 pounds chuck roast — boneless rump or bottom round
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 large onion — peeled, chopped
3 medium carrots — peeled, chunks
3 stalks celery — chopped
3 large garlic cloves — finely chopped
1/2 cup dry red wine
28 ounces canned tomatoes
1/4 cup Italian parsley — chopped
1/2 pound pasta — your choice of type, or mashed potatoes or rice

1. In a large pressure cooker (5-7 quart), heat one tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat. Dry the roast briefly with paper towels and add to the hot pan. Saute until one side is dark brown, turn over and repeat on second side, about 5 minutes. Transfer meat to a plate and season the meat with salt and pepper.
2. If there is fat in the pan you may pour it off, then add the other tablespoon of oil. Add the onion, carrots, and celery. Saute for a few minutes until the vegetables are nearly limp. Add the garlic and stir, cooking for another minute. Add the red wine, seasonings, and bring to a boil, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan, using a wooden spoon. Add the chopped tomatoes and their juice. Stir.
3. Return the meat on top of the vegetables, adding any juices from the plate. Lock the pressure cooker lid in place and bring to high pressure. Reduce heat (using directions for your own pressure cooker) but maintain a steady steam and cook for 1 1/4 hours. Remove from heat and cool, using directions with your unit. Open lid and transfer the meat to a platter and cover lightly with foil.
4. Pour all of the veggie mixture into a food processor and blend until the mixture is pureed. Return to the pressure cooker pan and reheat. Taste for seasonings.
5. Meanwhile, prepare your choice of carbohydrate (1) pasta; (2) mashed potatoes; or (3) rice. Slice the meat across the grain and place beside and partly on top of the carb and pour the sauce over the top. Garnish with Italian parsley.
Per Serving (this assumes you consume all the sauce and fat – you may not): 802 Calories; 47g Fat (53.9% calories from fat); 49g Protein; 41g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 153mg Cholesterol; 554mg Sodium.

A year ago: Stacked Chicken Enchiladas
Two years ago: A list of travel websites
Three years ago: Chocolate Scones (fantastic!)

Posted in pressure cooker, Veggies/sides, on May 6th, 2009.


When I bought my Fagor pressure cooker, I recall watching a video (on a DVD included in the package) and one of the recipes was for risotto. Really, I thought? You can make risotto in a pressure cooker?

Well, I’m here to tell you this recipe worked like a charm. I rarely make risotto, for two reasons: (a) rice is a high glycemic carb; and (b) it’s labor intensive. But, as you probably know, risotto is also downright delicious. It’s probably been 2 years since I’ve made risotto, but I think I might make it slightly more often with this new recipe.

arborio-riceWe had a nice thick ribeye steak for dinner, a green salad, an artichoke, and this risotto. Arborio rice always lives in my cupboard, even though I rarely use it.  I had some already-prepared mushrooms (leftovers) so I decided to add them to the mixture. I wasn’t sure the mushrooms would withstand the pressure cooker method, so I added them in at the end (along with the garlic and parsley and Parmesan cheese).

First you saute the onion, then add the rice and cook it briefly in olive oil. You add the white wine and let it evaporate, then broth is added and you let it do its pressure cooker thing. Mine pressured for five minutes. Once I removed the lid there was just the perfect amount of liquid in the pan, but once I added the mushrooms, it thickened up some, so I did end up adding a bit of water. Taste the rice to see if it’s cooked perfectly – still slightly firm to the tooth. You do not want to overcook it, that’s all. You may need to try your pressure cooker. The creaminess was perfect. And it was really tasty. Next time I might add a bit more Parmesan. If you’re eating this as your entree, it’ll serve 2. As a side, it’ll serve at least 4, maybe 5.
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Pressure Cooker Mushroom Risotto

Servings: 5

1 medium onion — finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup arborio rice
1 cup white wine
22 ounces chicken broth — boiling, or beef broth (1 5/8 cups)
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup parmesan cheese — grated
freshly ground black pepper
1 cup mushrooms — sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic — minced
2 tablespoons Italian parsley — chopped

1. In pressure cooker pan, heat the olive oil and gently fry the onion until soft and translucent.
2. Add rice and saute for about 1-2 minutes until the rice glistens but does not brown. Add the white wine and cook until the liquid has evaporated. Add the broth, stir, then follow directions for your pressure cooker. Cook under pressure for about 5 minutes (or a maximum of 6 minutes).
3. Meanwhile, in a small nonstick skillet heat the oil and saute the mushrooms briefly, then add garlic. Continue to cook for about 2-3 minutes until the mushrooms are just cooked through. Add the parsley and set aside.
4. Cool the pressure cooker under cold tap water until the steam is released. Open the pressure cooker, place it back on the stove. If there is too much liquid, cook for a minute or two. Stir in the butter, parmesan and black pepper. Add the mushrooms and stir in to the risotto. If the rice is too dry, add a bit of hot water. If it’s too moist, continue to cook over low to medium heat until some of the liquid has evaporated.
5. Replace the lid on the pressure cooker (don’t cook it, you’re just trying to keep it hot) and allow to rest for 2-3 minutes. Serve immediately.
Per Serving: 394 Calories; 21g Fat (52.2% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 34g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 25mg Cholesterol; 627mg Sodium.

A year ago: Brownie-Bottomed Pudding Pie (easy)
Two years ago: Mexican Chopped Salad (oh, a real favorite)

Posted in pressure cooker, Utensils, on July 10th, 2008.

fagor pressure cooker duo combi set

Some months ago I attended a cooking class where the chef prepared barbecued short ribs in a pressure cooker. The cooking school didn’t have one for her to use, so she brought her own. The owner of the cooking school recommended the Fagor brand (made in Spain) Duo. And she offhandedly said – you’ve gotta try carrots in the pressure cooker. Really, I thought? Carrots?

I haven’t had a pressure cooker for years. The one I was given in 1962 long ago bit the dust. Since I’m retired, I argued to myself that I really didn’t need one. Until I tasted the results of that recipe (the short ribs) I had kept that interest at bay. Then, my friend Cherrie loaned me her Fagor P.C. for a few weeks. I made three dishes in it and decided I wanted one. I bought mine on eBay – it was a Fagor Duo combi set – it comes with two base pots (a 4-quart and an 8-quart), one pressure cooker lid, a steamer insert, and a glass lid. The one I acquired was NIB (in eBay language that’s New-In-Box). Did I get a bargain? Well, after shipping I saved about $20, I think. I do not have an eBay addiction – in fact I’m not very good at keeping on top of the bid process on the few occasions when I’ve tried to buy something that way. I bought mine as a Buy Now, which bypasses the whole bid thing. Likely my set came from a Fagor outlet store as I discovered a black mark inside the lid. It won’t come off. But who cares?

My next project is to decide which cookbook(s) to buy. Nothing came with the pressure cookers except a tiny minimally informative booklet and a DVD. I did watch the video, though, which helped explain the procedures. I’ve got that down pat.

I went to the web, then, and researched the books. I think I must have two, so am going to add them to my wish list (my birthday is coming up). In the interim, though, I went to the internet to find recipes online. There’s one definitive site – Miss Vickie’s – with lots and lots of recipes. I chose one for mixed vegetables (Brussels sprouts, one small potato, onion and several carrots). I sautéed the onions first, then piled into the pot the fresh chopped vegetables (with the potatoes and carrots cut smaller than the Brussels sprouts – otherwise they won’t get done at the same time). I added some chicken broth and a bit of butter, plus some thyme, salt and pepper and it was done. Took 4 minutes. FOUR MINUTES! Meantime I had sautéed some orange roughy, and my dinner was completed. All within about 15 minutes. Love it! And the vegetables? I thought they were terrific. And would you believe the best part was the carrots!

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