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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. I read this while I was in England just a week or two ago (as I write this) so could so identify with the characters, the homes, the life. 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 Uncategorized, on August 12th, 2018.

Without a doubt, the best photo I took on the whole trip.

This trip my family took was 16 days – 3 nights in London, 4 nights in Florence, 4 nights in Paris, 3 nights in Normandy and the last night at an airport hotel. Our Airbnb adventure began in Florence, at an apartment just 30 steps from the Piazza Santa Croce. In hunting for a place, I knew about what area I wanted us to stay, and it was difficult, 10 months before the trip, to even find anything available to sleep 8 of us. As I mentioned earlier, however, the only reason (I believe) this apartment was available was because it was up 4 flights of stone steps without an elevator. We all got used to the climb (my grandson John carried my luggage up and down for me – bless him!). With my workout routine (cardio) I was able to walk up the full 4 flights without stopping – the first time each day – but each subsequent climb I’d usually have to pause at the 3rd floor for about 3 breaths, then continued on up. 

The apartment was wonderful – and the best part – it was air conditioned. Florence was HOT. Hot in temps and high in humidity. We all complained of the heat, but then, we asked for it by traveling to Europe in July. It got worse after we left (in fact, Europe has been experiencing a heat wave since we came home). 

I’ve been to Florence multiple times – and my choice always is to be out in the hills, the small towns, the countryside – but this was the first time there for some of them and there are so many things to see in Florence, so we needed to be in the hub of things. The closest grocery store was about 3/4 mile away, and Karen, Sara and I made the trek the first afternoon to stock up. We ate all our breakfasts at the apartment, drinking copious cups of coffee and filling ourselves with wonderful fruit, bread and cheeses. Plus some lovely salumi as well. You know, in Italy, the custom is bread without any salt – salt was an expensive commodity somewhere back in the dark ages, and the Italians simply got used to bread without it. We were able to buy baguettes too (also without salt) so we enjoyed those every day. The cheeses and salamis were my favorite.

My family all had varying goals in mind – the Uffizi museum, the statue of David (by Michelangelo), the Galileo museum (a highlight for 10-year old Vaughan because of it’s interactive gadgets showcasing Galileo’s infinite scientific inventions), Fiesole (a hill town nearby the city), the Duomo, of course, gelato and more gelato. And pasta. I think the 3 children had pasta every day in one way or another. One of my goals was to eat at Il Latini, my favorite Florence restaurant. Karen’s uncle, who speaks a bit of Italian, was able to make a reservation for us weeks ahead (it’s a very popular restaurant) and we were whisked right in when the doors opened at 7:30. Another goal of mine was to visit Michelangelo’s tomb which is housed in the Santa Croce church. You have to pay to enter. 

Back last year when I knew we were going to make this trip I sent my granddaughter Sabrina a copy of one of my favorite books of all time – The Agony and the Ecstasy: A Biographical Novel of Michelangelo by Irving Stone. I read it when I was in my 20s and have never forgotten it. Sabrina brought the book along on the trip, and since she’s an artist (she’s the granddaughter going to Clemson, who now says, she thinks, that she wants to go to med school, not vet school) she was really interested. After going to see the statue of David, she came flying into the apartment, arms outstretched, to hug me and thank me for the trip, but also the joy she felt at seeing the David statue. I didn’t go with them as I was standing guard at the apartment, hoping young John’s luggage was going to be delivered, but it was deadly hot that day and I remembered from before that there is simply no air in the building that houses the statue. I was thankful to be in the apartment, in the A/C, pleasantly reading. 

The tomb of Michelangelo

There’s the Michelangelo tomb, inside the Santa Croce church. You can’t walk up to it – they’ve constructed an ornate railing and there are engravings in the marble floor in front of it, so they don’t want the general public walking all over it. Many exhibits in Florence have English and Italian captions.

One of the evenings we took taxis (two, obviously) to a hill on the south side of the Arno. It’s an open piazza, on a hilltop, and there were about 300-400 other tourists angling to get the best camera shot of the river, of Florence, of the Ponte Vecchio bridge (the one closest to the viewer) at sunset. And oh, that did not disappoint. I took about 30 photos. There was a collective sigh when the sun finally disappeared.

Posted in Uncategorized, on August 9th, 2018.

Our family + one, L-R: Shelby (friend), Sabrina, Vaughan (now 11), Karen, me, Sara, Powell, John, John Jr having dinner at a pub in London

Our last night in London we got ourselves to a well recommended pub (I think it was called the Grenadier). I have no recollection what I ordered. In the foreground, where I was sitting, you’ll see a drink – we had it several times in London – strawberry gin. I’d never heard of it – Karen ordered it first, and then Sara did, then I did, then Sabrina did. It’s mixed usually with soda or tonic, and I must say, it was really refreshing. Sabrina bought a bottle at the airport as we left England; Karen did too. I didn’t think I would have room in my suitcase (actually I did, but just thought I’d wait until I got home) so yesterday I went to Total Wine and they carry Linton Hill strawberry gin. I’ll enjoy it this evening, I think.

The other drink that we found was on many menus was Aperol Spritz. Aperol is an Italian apéritif made of gentian, rhubarb, and cinchona, among other ingredients. It’s not sweet in the least, and it’s mixed with soda water and sometimes not on ice, as many European drinks are. It was so hot in Europe that most of us adults enjoyed a cocktail before dinner to help us cool down. 

Obviously, Westminster Abbey. We had to wait in line for quite awhile.

I’d told everyone that Westminster Abbey needed to be high on the must-visit list. All of the kids used the tube one evening they were “out,” but the adults weren’t so enamored with the thought of it (hot and very crowded), so our last day we taxied over to the Thames and stood in line for about an hour. Everyone was in a bit of awe over the tombs of several English kings and queens, and the Poet’s Corner. We probably spent about an hour walking around. Photography is no longer allowed in Westminster Abbey, so I have nothing to show for being inside. The next morning we got ourselves to London’s “City” airport (closer than Heathrow) and flew to Florence. Next post . . .

Posted in Uncategorized, on July 14th, 2018.

tex_mex_albondigas

We’re certainly not going into soup season, but I eat soup year ‘round. And this one is very satisfying if you like Mexican style cooking, this one is sort of a Tex-Mex.

Where this recipe came from, I know not. I think it came from a Rachel Ray TV program some years ago. But since I evolved the recipe some, it’s no longer “original” anyway, so it’s my version, and what exactly made this Tex-Mex, I’m not sure. Maybe the chorizo? Or the seasonings in the meatballs? Well, never mind about that. It’s still a really good soup.

Varying this was my way of sticking to my low-to-no carbs diet. What I eliminated from this recipe were bread and carrots – the crumbled up bread in the meatballs, and the carrots in the soup. And I substituted ground turkey for the chorizo, although I probably could have had chorizo; I just didn’t have any lean chorizo on hand. I like the chorizo at Whole Foods – it’s very lean and super-tasty. But I didn’t have any . . . and I forgot to garnish the bowl with a slice of lime. Oh well.

Since I’ve been on this new eating regimen I’m trying to find more recipes that get in lots of vegetables and lean protein, but with tons of flavor. There are lots of herbs and spices in the meatballs, AND there are plenty of seasonings in the soup part as well. I’ve upped the volume of onions in the soup, and added some celery (likely not authentic) to give the soup more texture. And I added some diced avocado to the garnish. On this Gundry diet, avocado is beloved; we’re advised to eat at least a half of one a day. I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that for every 2 avocados I buy, at least one is rotten inside. My daughter Sara told me that she buys all her avocados at Costco and so far she’s had no throw-aways at all, but you have to buy a big bunch of them. Not sure I could eat them all before they’d go bad from over-ripening.

What’s GOOD: what puts it on the really delicious scale for me is flavor. I liked all the garnishes, and the meatballs, made with some ground turkey, are very tasty. You CAN discern the little tiny speck of cinnamon in the meatballs – that adds a lovely nuance to them. Might seem odd, but worth adding!

What’s NOT: nothing really – the laundry list of ingredients might seem daunting, but a lot of them are seasonings of one kind or another. This would even work for a weeknight dinner – making the meatballs does take some time, but they’re not all that fussy to do.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Tex-Mex Albondigas

Recipe By: Adapted from a Rachel Ray recipe
Serving Size: 6

MEATBALLS:
2 tablespoons EVOO — divided
1 small yellow onion — very finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon fresh oregano
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 pinches ground cinnamon
Salt and ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic — finely chopped or grated
1 egg
1/4 cup cream — or half-and-half
1 pound lean ground beef
1 pound ground turkey — or use chorizo if preferred
SOUP:
3 tablespoons EVOO
2 large onion — chopped
2 medium carrots — chopped (optional, but authentic)
1 1/2 cups celery — chopped
1 large jalapeno chile pepper — seeded and chopped
28 ounces diced tomatoes
1 quart low sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 lime — sliced, for garnish
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro — for garnish
4 scallions — thinly sliced, for garnish
1/2 cup sour cream — for garnish
1 whole avocado — diced

1. Place a large pan over medium-high heat with about 2 tablespoons of EVOO. Add onion, cumin, oregano, coriander, cinnamon, some salt and pepper to the pan and cook until the veggies are tender and spices are aromatic, 3-4 minutes. During last minute add the fresh garlic. Remove the skillet from the heat and let the veggies cool. Don’t wash the pan.
2. In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg with the cream. Add the cooled veggies to the bowl along with the ground beef and turkey, some salt and pepper. Combine the mixture with your hands and form into 1-inch balls.
3. For the sauce, in the same pot, heat over medium-high heat with 3 tablespoons EVOO. Add the chopped onion, carrots (if using) and jalapeno to the pan, and cook until tender, 5-6 minutes. Transfer about HALF of the mixture to a food processor and puree with the tomatoes. Return the mixture to the pot and add the chicken stock and chili powder. Bring up to a simmer and add in the meatballs. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the meatballs are cooked through, about 10 minutes.
4. To serve, scoop about 1 heaping cup of meatballs into a soup bowl, add about 1 cup of the soup part, then garnish each bowl with cilantro, chopped green onion, a squirt of sour cream and diced avocado. (If you have them and want to use them, add some crushed tortilla chips to the top – not authentic but gives lots of texture.)
Per Serving: 656 Calories; 47g Fat (62.8% calories from fat); 39g Protein; 23g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 169mg Cholesterol; 561mg Sodium.

Posted in Uncategorized, on January 15th, 2018.

Every year I give you a short list of Carolyn’s best (this year it’s 12) I posted during the previous year. Click on the link if you’d like to go take a look again, or if you missed it the first time around! It’s interesting (to me anyway) to note that 2 of the 12 are sheetpan dinners! And one is a lowly, but elegant baked potato!

 

pumpkin_cheesecake_trifle_bowl_175

A very elegant dessert, a Pumpkin Cheesecake Trifle made with angel food cake, pumpkin stuff and whipped cream.

 

 

 

 

 


arugula_salad_peppers_stuffed_mushrooms_175

Lovely salad – for a special dinner, or could be an entrée salad: Goat Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms with Arugula.

 

 


pepper_onion_roast_indian_spices_175

Roasted vegetables – oh gosh are these good – nothing more than bell peppers and onions with some Indian type spices (not hot). Worth making: Bell Pepper and Onion Roast.

 


sheetpan_chix_cabbage_onions_175

The first of the sheetpan dinners for the year – this one with chicken thighs and wedges of cabbage. Cabbage never tasted so good. Sheetpan Roasted Chicken and Cabbage.

 


perfect_baked_potato_175

Did you think there could be such thing as a “perfect” baked potato? New techniques, but oh, so worth the effort. It may be the star of your dinner plate. The Perfect Baked Potato. After I posted this my friend Joan’s husband Tom made it for himself – he liked it!

 


georgia_cracker_salad_175

The photo is kind of blah – but the dish is NOT! A salad, that sort of, kind of, tastes like potato salad, but made with saltine crackers. I took it to a potluck and many of the folks thought it WAS potato salad. A southern tradition. Georgia Cracker Salad.

 


grilled_shrimp_garlic_butter_sauce_175

Scampi at its finest. Never had it so good. Done on the barbecue, believe it or not. Grilled Shrimp Scampi.

 

 


applesauce_bundt_cake_caramel_icing_175

A very tender applesauce cake to remember, made in a bundt pan and drizzled with icing. Oh so good. Applesauce Bundt Cake with Caramel Icing.

 

 


raspberry_gratin_175

A dessert so easy you just won’t believe it. Fresh raspberries and brown sugar made into a quick gratin. Raspberry Brown Sugar Gratin.

 

 


eat_your_greens_soup_175

A soup of green stuff, but enhanced with some Parm. SO very delicious and healthy. From my friend Darci who had never given it a name, so I call it Eat Your Greens Soup.

 

 


sheet_pan_chix_thighs_bacon_sourdough_sw_potatoes_175

The second of the sheetpan dinners. I made this twice and want to make it again. Soon. Sheetpan Chicken Dinner with Bacon and Sourdough Croutons.

 


mushroom_soup_wo_cream_175

And last but not least, a so-flavorful mushroom soup, made with tons of umami flavor, but without a speck of milk or cream. And you won’t miss it. Mushroom Soup without Cream.

Posted in Uncategorized, on December 24th, 2017.

xmas_angel_2017

A beautiful, ethereal looking angel on a Christmas card I received this year. It was so pretty, I thought I’d share it. I hope you’re enjoying a lovely Christmas today.

Posted in Uncategorized, on October 28th, 2017.

freezer_after_tenting

Did I happen to mention in the midst of my termite tenting that I have a lot of NUTS in my freezer. Oh gracious. Maybe I’m part squirrel, because I’ve got a pound or two or three of nearly every imaginable nut in existence.

I didn’t discard any of them, so am determined that I will not, I swear, buy any nuts for at least a year, unless I’ve run out. I use more walnuts and almonds than anything else, but I have plenty of those as well!

It may not mean much to many of you, but to look at my freezer now, pictured at left, it’s manageable. It’s not chock-a-block full. I actually have places where I can SEE the shelf. The white bin (bottom left) is full of nuts, as are 2 drawers down below. I had some soup the other day that I defrosted from 2015. Hmmm. It had a lot of freezer burn in it, so wasn’t one of my better ones. But just about everything else in there is worth keeping and I’m slowly winnowing away at the contents.

I had the flu last week (guess it could have been worse had I not had a flu shot) and I dug into the soups for 2 meals once I was able to keep food down. I ate nothing for the first 24 hours except Sprite and sparkling cider.

Also, ERRATA – if you copied or printed out the recipe for the Pan-Roasted Brined Pork Chops I posted early this week, there’s a typo in it. (Thanks to my reader/friend Donna who noticed the error.) The ingredient list calls for 2 cups apple cider – no, it’s 2 cups apple cider vinegar. I’ve corrected the recipe online, the pdf and the MasterCook file in case you want to re-enter it or download the corrected versions.

Sara_375AND, big news, my daughter Sara, has asked me if I’d like her to write some posts on my blog. I’m thrilled. There are umpteen recipes already here on my blog that are hers. She’s a very good cook, and she absolutely loves-loves to bake. Her two kids (Sabrina is the daughter who’s at Clemson University and young John is still at home, in high school still) are her greatest fans. Her husband (also John) is too, of course. She’s the best sports-team mom there is as she loves to bake goodies for all the kids. She brought two delicious items to a family get-together last weekend (a stunning cocktail with Prosecco in it, and a delicious, healthy appetizer) but she says she really wants to share HER recipe for chocolate chip cookies. She promises this weekend she’s going to spend some time writing up some things.

Posted in Uncategorized, on October 11th, 2017.

I’m thanking my lucky stars, and praising God that my home is intact. You may have read or seen clips on TV about the fires here in California. The Northern California fires have been far worse (homes, shopping centers and many people still missing and many lost) than our one here in Southern California, but devastating nonetheless. I was evacuated on Monday. They finally lifted it last night (Tuesday). I actually returned home late Monday night because I felt safe enough to return, although technically I was in a mandatory evacuation area. The road I used to get home wasn’t blocked off as many others were. I live south of that red blob above and as the fires spread, destroying homes and stables and outbuildings in an area called Orange Park Acres, they extended the evacuation zone, and I was in it. I grabbed a few things: 3 of my paintings, some valuables, my kitty, some clothes, my favorite pillow, medications, passport, cat food, litter box, kitty’s favorite blanket and went to stay with my daughter-in-law’s sister and her husband, who live about 15 miles away, south and west, far from the smoke and raging fire.

I stayed put at home yesterday, all day, watching news reports and refreshing the online fire map on my computer. If I’d left, I wouldn’t have been allowed back to my house. This fire spread so fast, they couldn’t update the maps fast enough. Dozens of my friends were evacuated also, and they’d spread far and wide to friends so they didn’t have to go to a shelter. High praise goes to all the firefighters who risked their lives to save homes. I think I heard that only 8 homes were totally destroyed, but hundreds are damaged and partially burned. The fire started up at the top right corner of that red zone (cause unknown at this point). It was a hot day, we had Santa Ana winds (high winds that blow in from the desert), the temperature was in the low 90’s, and the humidity was under 10% – prime conditions for a brush fire, perhaps from a thrown cigarette butt, since the origin was just beside a freeway, a main east/west artery in our region. The fire is still raging, but it’s going east, into the Cleveland National Forest, off to the right of that red blob. A favorite wilderness park was totally destroyed, along the eastern edge of the red blob. It’s a favorite for hikers and walkers. There is still residual smoke in the air

So, I lost more than a day in my quest to put away stuff from my termite tenting. I’m going to get on that today, I hope. But I’m feeling quite overwhelmed, actually with that task. And to make matters worse, my hot water heater that supplies hot water to my kitchen, has died. My plumber is going to install a small tankless one, but not until next week. Sigh. So I’m keeping my electric tea kettle going as I need to do dishes. Paper plates are the name of the game this week.

Thankfully, I’m fine, and my house is fine. My kitty still feels a bit discombobulated, though, as he’s “off” his food a bit and wants more attention than usual. But we’re alive and well, all things considered.

Posted in Uncategorized, on October 8th, 2017.

termite_bagging_food

So, the tenting for termites is done. My kitty and I stayed at a pet-friendly hotel for about 48 hours while the poisonous gas did its job killing all the mini-critters. Hopefully it also killed the ants that have been plaguing me all summer! My kitty, Angel (remember, he’s blind) was not happy in the temporary quarters. In fact, for 2 days he barely ate anything. He slunk around the rooms (living room and kitchen combo, bathroom and bedroom) trying to find places to hide. The last 4-5 hours before I left there he’d finally adjusted a little bit – he’d learned his way around all 3 rooms and knew where his litter box and water bowl were, although he still wouldn’t eat anything. The first night he woke me up innumerable times yowling. Fortunately, the 2nd night he had adjusted enough that he didn’t wake me up much.

Once they removed all the tents, I was able to get back into my house, close up all the doors and windows, then release the kitty from his cage. Then I turned on the A/C (it was about 90 yesterday).

termite_bagged_freezerWhen you do have to tent for termites, all foodstuffs have to be specially bagged (picture above and at left). They provided me with the heavy-duty, gas-impermeable bags, and anything that is edible must be double-bagged. I had a couple of cleaning ladies who helped me pack up the refrigerators and freezers. And my pantry, PART of the contents in the photo at top. Canned good and jarred things with a seal can be left out, as the gas can’t penetrate them, but everything else must be bagged. I have a big walk-in pantry. It was a must when I designed my kitchen 11 years ago, and I still love the little room, but it was absolutely jam-packed with stuff. Those 11 bags you see in the picture are only SOME of them – there are another 5 bags in my foyer.

Because the exterminating company was going to charge me $100 if I used another box of the bags, I decided at the last to move a lot of things into my car. A friend took my big box of chocolate I use for baking (about 20 pounds worth, I’d guess) and I unloaded about 30 plastic boxes and bins in my neighbor’s garage (boxes full of pasta, grains, herbs from Penzey’s, and bins for pastry flour, self-rising flour, oatmeal, cream of wheat, risotto rice, etc.). The remaining is in the back seat of my car. As I write this (Sunday), my car is still packed.

In the 2nd photo, that’s my kitchen freezer. Some shelves removed and all the contents piled into bags and stuffed back into the void. I haven’t even started on that yet. Last night I did get 3/4 of my kitchen refrigerator unpacked and replaced. Still 2 bags in there that are so darned heavy I don’t know if I can lift them out to unpack them.

My vow, when I start putting things away in my pantry, is to get rid of a lot of the stuff. Some things have been in there too long and need to be jettisoned. Probably the same thing for the freezer. I still have a freezer in the garage to do also and a refrigerator/freezer in the garage, all of them full. You’d think I was preparing for a plague.

One bag I discovered the ladies had put into my kitchen refrigerator was actually freezer contents, but fortunately, lots of it was nuts and they’re still sitting out on my counter, waiting for me to unpack the freezer so they can be put away. There were only a few pounds of ground beef, ground Italian sausage and 2 servings of Mexican Lasagna that I can’t re-freeze. I’ll need to use (cook and eat) those things in the next few days.

It’ll still be days until I can get back to normal, but I thought all of you cooks out there would laugh at me if you could see my stash of food. Pray you don’t ever have to do this! Usually houses are empty when they tent, but the termites were doing a lot of bad stuff to my inaccessible attics. My house has a mansard roof and although I do have 3 attics, they’re not big and the termites had found many other places to feed. When my general contractor walked my interior roof area, when I had my house re-roofed last year, he was the one who found all the termite damage that would be invisible to even a termite inspector.

Posted in Uncategorized, on October 2nd, 2017.

me_aviara

At the Park Hyatt Aviara Resort, in Carlsbad, CA. I’m squinting, because I’m looking toward a bank of windows facing the ocean.

This last weekend I stayed at the resort for 3+ days and nights to attend a conference held by Wycliffe Associates. They’re known the world over for Bible translation. In years past, translating the Holy Bible into somewhat obscure languages involved a missionary couple (usually) immersing themselves into the village of a remote tribe, then spending 10-20 YEARS learning their language well enough to then translate it and get it printed.

Now, there is an altogether new method – innovative for sure, called MAST (mobilizing assistance supporting translation) – created by a brilliant guy at Wycliffe Associates who designed a 2-week training which includes a small group of Wycliffe volunteers, a bucketload of Android computer tablets, then bringing together volunteer tribal people who are (usually) literate and they translate  some or all of the New Testament in that 2-week period and get it onto a tablet for anyone to read (or read out loud for those who are illiterate, but it’s in their home language). It’s amazing. Absolutely amazing. They’re also using the same technique for translating oral languages as well as beginning to work on sign language translation too.

You know me mostly for my cooking/writing/reading face, the things I share here on my blog. I don’t much talk about my churchgoing life, which is vitally important to me. I’m a Presbyterian and have been a member of my church for about 35 years. I’m active and involved in many things at my church. I’m not singing in the choir at the moment – after Dave died my heart wasn’t in it because it was something we did together. I co-lead a bible study group in my home, and I volunteer to help at memorial services whenever there is one held at our church, and I also volunteer in the Samaritan Care Center – calling people who are ill, grieving, house-bound or those who just need a word of encouragement.

Anyway, this conference was so very important, and I’m committed to helping Wycliffe Associates financially to accomplish their goals of translating the Bible into many – hundreds and hundreds – in the next year. By 2025 they hope to have translated the Bible into every known language in the world. There are many other bible translation organizations who are doing translations the old fashioned way. This is just a new method and light years faster!

More update – – – I’m having my home tented for termites. Oh, what a job it is, getting ready for that to be done! Everything in my house that’s consumable (except canned goods, jarred food, my wine cellar contents and other items with a sealed lid) have to be put into special bags. I do have to do everything in my 3 refrigerators and 2 freezers and my big walk-in pantry. Huge job. I just don’t think I’m going to be able to blog for a bit, which is why I thought I’d write this post, explaining why you probably won’t hear from me until late next week sometime.

After I returned from my driving trip last month, I came down with an intestinal bug (doctor said it was bacterial). I was really, really ill. For 7 days I was prostrate and was eating the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce and toast). While all that is fine, what’s not fine is that you’re not getting any protein, so I was really weak. It’s now been 2 weeks, and I’m back to normal (my doctor put me on an antibiotic which worked). But during that 7 days I didn’t do any blog writing, and still haven’t, sorry to say. I haven’t even begun working on my photos from the trip. But I will – – – it’ll just be a bit delayed. I think I have one more post in my “post bank” from a cooking class I took a couple of months ago. I’ll probably get that one up, then you’ll just have to be patient until I can re-group and get back on track. I’m feeling fine now, and thoroughly enjoyed all the good food at the Aviara, but I’m pressed for time working at bagging up stuff in my house.

So, we’ll talk . . . . .stay tuned.

Posted in Soups, Uncategorized, on September 6th, 2017.

chilled_yellow_squash_soup

Uh, huh! More chilled soups in my repertoire. This one using yellow squash and chicken broth. With so few ingredients I was amazed at how flavorful it was.

My new favorite thing – chilled soups from easily accessible summer produce. As I write this I’m still finishing up eating a batch of chilled zucchini soup (my second batch in recent weeks). In the interim I attended a kind of a cooking class (sans recipes, what’s up with that?) where they made a raw cucumber soup. I’m not quite so fond of that kind (raw) – I prefer the cooked one.

This soup, though, came from a class taught by Susan Vollmer, who used to own a cookware store here in my county, but she closed it down (mostly, she says, because Amazon cut into her business too much) and is retired. But occasionally she gives a class in her home. It was a very warm day, and Susan was in and out of her kitchen door many times tending the barbecue, but first she showed us how she made this soup and then gave all of us a bowl. I have all the ingredients in my refrigerator as I write this, to make a batch.

It’s a very simple recipe, and yet it has plenty of flavor. Perhaps it depends on what kind of chicken broth you use – the more flavorful – the better the soup. Yellow squash doesn’t have a ton a flavor (does zucchini have a little more flavor? I don’t know . . . just wondering) so you need the other ingredients (chives, chicken broth, sour cream) to have enough. I don’t mean to sound “down” on this soup – I actually liked it a lot, and I love yellow squash. Someone mentioned in the class – have you noticed that you no longer see the crookneck – apparently the growers have bred that aspect out of it – now you see both zucchini and yellow squash lined up like soldiers. Usually next to each other.

So, this soup – yellow squash and white onion cooked together in some olive oil, then the chicken broth is added and the mixture is cooked for a brief time – it doesn’t take squash long to cook anyway. Susan had made the soup ahead of time and had used her immersion blender to puree it. She prefers it just slightly chunky, so the immersion blender did a fine job of it. Then she added lemon juice (plus more later on when she tasted it), sour cream, salt and pepper. It was chilled down for several hours (OR, you can eat it hot) and served with a little dollop of sour cream and more bright green chives on top. I slicked the bowl clean.

What’s GOOD: the overall taste is lovely – good for summer, or good even in the winter, served hot. The toppings kind of make the dish, and the lemon juice is an important aspect of the flavor profile. Be sure to use enough. Keeps for about a week, too, and it should freeze just fine. For me, a 2-cup portion makes a really nice lunch (it’s very low in calorie, too).

What’s NOT: nothing that I can think of.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Chilled Yellow Summer Squash Soup

Recipe By: From a cooking class with Susan Vollmer, 2017
Serving Size: 6

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 pounds yellow squash — grated
2 tablespoons chives — chopped
2 tablespoons white onion — minced
2 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup sour cream — or full fat yogurt
1 tablespoon lemon juice — (may need more)
salt and pepper to taste
GARNISH:
1/4 cup sour cream — or full-fat yogurt
1 tablespoon chives — minced

NOTE: This soup may be served either chilled, or hot. If heating it, do not allow it to boil after you’ve added the sour cream, but keep it just below a simmer.
1. Heat oil in a large saucepan. Saute the squash and white onion for 3-5 minutes. Add broth, chives, then bring to a boil and simmer for about 5-10 minutes.
2. In two batches, puree the soup in a blender or preferably use an immersion blender in the pan itself.
3. Refrigerate soup until well chilled, at least 3 hours. If serving this hot, the soup will benefit from sitting a few hours in the refrigerator to blend the flavors, before reheating.
4. Whisk in the sour cream, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Taste for seasonings – add more lemon juice if needed. Ladle into small bowls and garnish with a dollop of sour cream and chives on top.
Per Serving: 118 Calories; 10g Fat (61.0% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 7g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 13mg Cholesterol; 34mg Sodium.

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