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Just finished a quirky book, Goodbye, Vitamin: A Novel by Rachel Khong. She’s a new writer (newly published, I guess I should say) and this story is about Ruth, a 30+ something, trying to readjust to life without her fiance, who’s dumped her. She goes back home to help with the care of her father, who has Alzheimer’s. Written in a diary style, it jumps all over about her life, her mother, the funny, poignant things her father says on good days, and the nutty stuff he does on not-so-good days, her ex-, and her very quirky friends, too. Then a woman flits through who had had an affair with her father –  you get to observe all the angst from the mom about that. Mostly it’s about her father, as he’s relatively “together” early in the book, but then he disintegrates. Reading that part isn’t fun, although the author is able to lean some humor into it. I’m not sure I recommend the book exactly – I read it through – and felt sad. It doesn’t tie up loose ends – if you want that kind of book – you may not want to read this one.

Also finished Julian Fellowes’s Belgravia. You know Julian Fellowes, the producer and writer of Downton Abbey? He lends his mind to a story about a family or two from the similar time period as Downton, who live in London. There’s some amount of intrigue, romance, observations from within the halls of wealthy Londoners and moderately well off tradesmen and their families. There’s affairs, shady business dealings, an illegitimate child, the comings and goings of the “downstairs” staff too, etc. The characters were well done – I had no trouble keeping all of the people identified. The story is somewhat predictable, but it was interesting clear up to the end.

The Letter by Kathyrn Hughes. It’s a very intricate tale. At first it’s about Tina, a battered wife [at which point I paused and wondered if I wanted to read any further, but I’m glad I did]. She tries to get the courage to leave her husband. Then enters the letter she finds in a suit pocket in the thrift shop where she volunteers. It’s old – sealed and stamped, but never mailed. Then you learn about Crissie, decades earlier, a young pregnant girl who is sent off to Ireland to a distant relative by her father, then to a rigid (meaning horrible) convent [the book takes place mostly in Manchester, England and in rural Ireland]. The letter is addressed to her. Jump forward decades and William, the adopted child Crissie gave up, tries to find his birth mother. William meets Tina in Ireland [a serendipitous moment] as she’s trying to find the woman to whom the letter is addressed. This book is the #2 best seller on Amazon at the moment. It’s a riveting tale and I really enjoyed it.

The Muralist: A Novel by Shapiro. It tells the story of a young woman, an artist, who was part of the U.S.’s WPA mural project from the 1930s-40s (she is fiction, the WPA is not). As with so many artists, even today, they live in abject poverty through much of their lives. This woman, though, had family in France, desperately trying to escape before Hitler’s henchmen rousted them into concentration camps. The story, a bit of a mystery but not of the mystery-genre, is about Alizée Benoit, this young painter, who slightly captivates Eleanor Roosevelt’s help. It also skips into current time when the painter’s great-niece uncovers paintings she believes were painted by her aunt. The painter had disappeared into thin air in 1940, and her relative tries desperately to find out what happened to her. It’s a really good story including such Abstract Expressionist painters as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner well-woven into the narrative. It keeps you guessing right up to the end. A good read. The author also wrote The Art Forger: A Novel a few years ago.

Also recently read News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a free-lance job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her family was killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of an old (wild) west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many. Just read this one first!

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 Salads, Uncategorized, Veggies/sides, on July 28th, 2017.

pasta_abrazzese_salad

A pasta salad – served at room temp – with an unusual type of pasta, like little twigs. The salad is all about tomatoes.

It’s been about 6 weeks ago I went to a cooking class – I’m now attending a relatively new one for me, with a group of homemakers, offered in a home, and my friend Cherrie and I have been invited because the chef is our friend, and because the group has room to grow a little bit. Tarla Fallgatter is the chef, and we can always count on a really delicious meal to enjoy whenever she cooks.

This salad was really big on tomato flavor – it has what’s called a confit (kan-fee) added to it, which means a method of cooking food in fat, oil or a water syrup at a low temperature, usually cooked down to a soft pulp. Most commonly it refers to goose or duck, but in this case it’s about cooking and softening the sun-dried tomatoes and dried tomatoes both, in a flavorful mixture that coats the pasta well (see the orange/red color). What was unusual about this dish, though, was the pasta. Tarla passed around the bag of pasta – one of those more expensive, imported-from-Italy types.

The pasta shapes look a lot like pale twigs, and the only thing I’ll say is that it’s important to cook them to the right consistency. If you sample one of the tiny twig ENDS, it might be done, but the thicker center of the twig pasta will still be too firm. So test it by eating the center, thicker part. And when it’s done, the narrow ends are actually overcooked, but it can’t be helped.

The confit is easy enough to make – the two types of sun-dried tomatoes, shallot, basil, some spices, olive oil and red wine. You could easily make this ahead and set aside. Toast the pine nuts and set aside and cut up the little heirloom tomatoes to add in later.

Cook the pasta – you can use any kind of pasta you want, but Tarla thought this abrezzese was just so very fun (and different). Otherwise, orzo would be good with this too. Cook it, drain it, then add the tomato stuff, add the chopped tomatoes and pine nuts. Donabrazzeze_pastae. Taste for seasoning. Make this as a side dish for an outdoor dinner, or a potluck lunch. Whatever.

What’s GOOD: this has a different flavor – intense with the sun-dried tomatoes in it, but also because of the pasta shape. Delicious salad. Nothing extraordinary, but really good nonetheless. Easy to make – takes a bit of chopping here and there, but not hard.

What’s NOT: nothing at all. Don’t stress if you can’t find the abrezzese pasta – just use orzo.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Pasta Abrazzese with Sun-Dried Tomato Confit

Recipe By: From a cooking class with Tarla Fallgatter, 2017
Serving Size: 6

2 cups cooked pasta — abrazzese or orzo
SUN-DRIED TOMATO CONFIT:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 whole shallot — peeled, diced
1 teaspoon spice rub — Blackened, Cajun or your choice
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, oil-packed — drained and julienned
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes
1/4 cup red wine
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 large basil leaves — julienned
1 cup tomatoes — heirloom, mini-sized, quartered or halved
1/3 cup pine nuts — toasted
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Heat olive oil in saute pan; add shallot and cook until translucent. Stir in spice rub. Reduce heat to low, then add oil-packed and regular sun-dried tomatoes plus the red wine. Simmer until wine is reduced by about half. Add balsamic vinegar and basil leaves off the heat.
2. Place hot, cooked pasta in a medium bowl and stir in the tomato mixture, then the fresh tomatoes and toasted pine nuts. Garnish with minced Italian parsley, if desired. Taste for seasonings. May need additional salt.
Per Serving: 169 Calories; 8g Fat (41.6% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 78mg Sodium.

Posted in Uncategorized, on May 2nd, 2017.

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What a lovely day and lovely event!

Months ago I signed up in my PEO chapter to host an event here at my home. A wine tasting (all wines contributed from my cellar) with food pairing. Two other gals agreed to co-host with me, and it was 2 days ago, on Sunday afternoon. What a nice time we had. Just wonderful food, and about 14 bottles of wine from my cellar. Each person paid $35 apiece (toward a charity within PEO) and the 3 of us coordinated the tasting of a bunch of lovely food. I worked hard at finding the right kind of combination of food to go with each of the wine courses.

As the folks were gathering on my patio, we served Trader Joe’s Secco Peach Bellini (pictured). It’s a very light sparkling wine with a bit of peach puree in it – it’s $4.99 at Trader Joe’s. We had some honey chevre out with crackers to go with that. We also had some delish hummus with pita bread too, although I don’t know that hummus necessarily goes well with peach Bellini, but one of my co-hostesses had a friend prepare the home made stuff and really wanted to bring it. It was very good and disappeared quickly enough.

Then we moved on to Chardonnay. Two different bottles were brought out from my cellar, and we had a cute Belgian Endive spear filled with a chicken salad with mango. Perfect with the dry, oaky chardonnay. (I don’t drink chardonnay, but I had two bottles in the cellar. There’s only one more bottle of chard in the cellar.) We also had some spinach turnovers to serve with the Chardonnay.

Next was sherry. I really enjoy Sherry, and hadn’t had any for years! It’s not much of a popular drink. I researched a bit about the bottles I had. Did you know that the dry, fino sherry should be consumed within 2 weeks, once opened? I sure didn’t. But then, I didn’t have any fino anyway. I had medium sherry, 3 different types, and we tried them all. Also had two dulce or sweet sherries too, which also got sampled along with almonds and Manchego cheese and crackers. I asked everyone to roll the wine on their tongues, then take a taste of the Manchego to taste the difference. Same thing with the almonds. Many of my guests were surprised they enjoyed sherry so much. The winner of the evening was Osborne Medium, in case you’re interested. I preferred Savory & James Amontillado (a medium). Most of the bottles I had on hand (all opened) were just fine – they tasted great, even though they’ve been there for years and years. Sweeter sherries have a stable shelf life even once opened. Except for one bottle, all the sherries were imported from Spain.

Next up was both Riesling and Gewürztraminer. I had a few bottles of each in the cellar, so chose the older vintages. Everyone was offered some of both wines to drink with some delicious pea, yogurt and lemon crostini (recipe will be up in a few weeks). I’d made that dish over Easter and felt it was a great success, so I asked one of my co-hostesses to make it. She did. It went really well with both wines.

Then we moved on to reds. My cellar has mostly red wine, so there was a big conundrum as to which ones to choose. I finally decided on pinot noir and cabernet. With the Pinot Noir we served a beautiful platter of home cold smoked salmon with crème fraiche, capers and fresh dill. I served Stephen Ross Pinot Noir (a really wonderful vintner in California). One was a 2004 and the other 2005. Both stellar bottles.

Next was Cabernet Sauvignon, a favorite of mine, though I think it needs to be drunk with food. I’d not ever sip a Cab before dinner – it’s too heavy and needs food to go with it. With that I grilled some sausages on my nearby grill (Polish sausage and some chicken Italian sausage). I cut them up into small bite-sized pieces and passed them, hot with toothpicks, as folks sipped the wine. And one of my co-hostesses had a friend prepare Tabbouleh, which was really great with the Cab. It was made the way it’s supposed to be – mostly parsley and very little cracked wheat. It was wonderful.

While all that wine and food settled, I went into the kitchen and started on the dessert. The recipe won’t be up here on my blog for awhile (June – I’m that far ahead with posts) but it’s a real winner and super-easy. It was a Raspberry Brown Sugar Gratin (find the recipe on Smitten Kitchen if you’re anxious to try it). I asked everyone to save a bit of the red wine in their glasses and we passed a platter of Humboldt Fog. That cheese is just to-die-for, in my opinion, and is such a winner to eat with a complex red wine. Most of my guests had never had Humboldt Fog, and I think everyone was a convert!

Then came the dessert – to serve with after-dinner wines. I had two half-bottles, one a French Sauternes, (a 2001 Chateau Lamothe), and I had a bottle of something called Chocolate Splash. It’s a red wine impregnated with chocolate. It’s very unusual – from Narrow Gate Vineyards, in case you’re interested. With THAT wine we served some milk and dark chocolate, just a bite for each person. The dessert was served with the Sauternes. Both winners – the dessert and that wine. I have about half a cup left of that in the bottle. I’ll enjoy it in coming days.

Lastly, I served coffee. It was a very warm evening and was surprised anyone wanted coffee, but several did! A lovely evening from beginning to end. I expected that some of the bottles I opened might have been “over the hill,” but every bottle was exceptionally good. I’m so glad. I certainly hope that my DH, Dave, happily in heaven, liked the fact that I contributed some of his wine collection to the event.

Posted in Uncategorized, on February 20th, 2017.

Once in awhile I read about what new words are added prior to the annual reprinting of the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Over at Food52, they provided the newest list, noting that some people don’t even know how to pronounce a few of them. The links go to the online dictionary where you can read all about it/them. EVOO – that’s a word that Rachel Ray coined, I’m sure. I use it now in my own recipes – so much easier than typing the full 4 words. For years, I’ve been mispronouncing #1.

1. acai

2. Alfredo sauce

3. American chop suey

4. arancini

5. artisanal

6. calamondin

7. chef’s knife

8. chicken mushroom

9. chicken of the woods

10. circus peanut

11. coconut milk

12. coconut water

13. d’Anjou

14. elderflower

15. EVOO

16. farro

17. flatbread

18. food secure

19. food insecure

20. food truck

21. immersion circulator

22. macaron

23. Minneola tangelo

24. noni

25. olericulture

26. red bliss

27. santoku

28. secret sauce

29. Shirley Temple

30. strata

Posted in Uncategorized, on January 20th, 2017.

No, this isn’t a repeat from yesterday – these are the best-est recipes I posted last year. Yesterday’s post was for 2015. Sorry if this is confusing. Altogether different recipes here. For 2016 I had a total of 8 recipes. In years past I’ve had more best-est recipes, but I used to post every 2-3 days then. These days I’m posting every 4-5 days. Here’s 2016 best-est recipes:

 

spinach_jicama_orange_salad_175

Spinach, Jicama, Red Onion and Orange Salad with Pomegranate Vinaigrette

 

 

 

 

 


pork_enchilada_casserole_serving_175

Pork Enchilada Verde Casserole

 

 

 


buttermilk_brined_pork_tender_cilantro_pesto_sauce_175

Chile-Buttermilk-Brined Pork Tenderloin

 

 

 

 


safari_seeded_cookies_175

Safari Seeded Cookies

 

 

 


blueberry_buckle_serving_175

Blueberry Buckle

 

 

 


apple_bread_crumb_pudding_175

Apple Bread Crumb Pudding

 

 

 


best_almond_cake_175

Best Almond Cake

 

 
   Cinnamon Chocolate Cake

 

Posted in Uncategorized, on January 19th, 2017.

Last January, apparently, I forgot to post a list of my best-of-the-best recipes from the previous year. So, I’m rectifying that now. Tomorrow you’ll see the best of 2016.

There were only 7 best-est recips in 2015. And here they are. Click on the link to go to the original post about the recipe.

cranberry_jalapeno_salsa_appetizer_175

Cranberry Salsa with Cream Cheese

 

 

 

zuni_cafe_roast_chicken_easy_175

Roast Chicken Salad (simplified Zuni Café recipe)

 

 


braised_lamb_shanks_carrots_175

Braised Lamb Shanks with Carrots

 

 

 

breadfarms_grahams_175Breadfarm’s Homemade Graham Crackers

 

 

 


berry_cobbler_sublime_175Sublime Berry Cobbler

 

 

 


no_bake_holiday_cookie_cubes_175

 No-Bake Holiday Cookie Cubes (Dorie Greenspan)

 

 

 


peach_blackberry_almond_crisp_175Peach & Blackberry Almond Crisp

Posted in Uncategorized, on January 4th, 2017.

Cookie Science via @kingarthurflour

There’s a fascinating article over at Flourish, the blog written by the bakers at King Arthur Flour. I subscribe to their blog (have for years) and this particular one is so interesting. But then, I’ve always been interested in how a little tiny change in a recipe for cookies can make such a huge difference. Photo: King Arthur Flour

 

Have you ever wondered what would happen:

If you added 2 T of milk to the cookie batter?

If you added a little extra white sugar?

If you added brown sugar instead of white?

What if I used water instead of milk?

 

Head over to this blog piece, then, to get all the answers and the chemistry behind each one.

Posted in Uncategorized, on December 31st, 2016.

carolyn_and_gary2016

I don’t much like pictures of myself. Janice, a family member, took this photo of my cousin Gary and me on Christmas Day. We were staying at my son’s home near Pasadena, and I think that was just some morning coffee in my hands! My cousin is very dear to me. He’s single, lives in Northern California, and has spent Christmases with me for years and years. He’s gone back home now, but I sure enjoyed having him here for the 10 days he visited. He did a whole bunch of “honey-do” items for me since I don’t have a “honey” anymore. He’s a tech wizard, and we managed to get nearly all the items accomplished. He’s my GF (gluten-free) relative, and I made a fabulous GF angel food pumpkin cheesecake trifle for Christmas Eve and Day. You’d not have known it was GF. Recipe coming up sometime soon.

Meanwhile, I hope all of you have a lovely New Year Holiday. I’m not doing anything special, just me with my little blind kitten, Angel, who’s been a great companion for me since I got her. She now knows her way around my downstairs, knows where her litter box is, and for now she spends nights in a downstairs bathroom. I’ll introduce her to my upstairs eventually, and likely she’ll sleep with me in time. She can’t go through the night without using her litter box, so I’m not ready to have her wake me up throughout the night. Why would she wake me up, you ask? – because as a blind kitten she can’t find her way off the bed – I’ll have to train her how to do that – the same thing training her how to get up on the bed – with a footstool and a pillow for her to climb and get down on, but because she can’t see her destination, it takes repetitive training to teach her – she’s very smart, so I know she’ll get it soon enough. She’s about 11 weeks old now. Here she is curled up in the cat tree beside me at my kitchen computer. Her eyes are recessed and if you look at her straight on, you know she’s blind, but gosh, she sure has acute hearing and smell. She’s a sweet little thing – when I don’t call her Angel I call her “sweet pea.”

Posted in Uncategorized, on December 18th, 2016.

A pool of melted chocolate. Using the best baking chocolate is important when making holiday desserts.

Photo: Consumer Reports

I read about this on another website (I think it was Eat Your Books). It was a link to a site at Consumer Reports where you can read just about everything you’d ever want to know about baking chocolate. It’s a great resource – one I should print out or at least save to my computer. Here’s the link:

http://www.consumerreports.org/holiday-food/best-baking-chocolate/

Posted in Uncategorized, on December 6th, 2016.

angel_dec4_2016

I have a new kitten – isn’t that just the cutest photo?

Not that all of you keep track, but I had a cat, Oliver, for about 1 1/2 years. He was a good cat until a few months ago when he started biting me. Badly. Not just a friendly, playful nip. I had to make a very hard decision about him after he bit me so badly I had to go on antibiotics because my arm swelled up with infection. I tried training him with suggestions I read on the ‘net  – I could tell when he was going to leap and bite – his eyes dilated and he got into a stance to leap (and bite). He began to view my right arm as a predator, for some reason. I don’t know what was wrong with him – I never abused him or anything like that. But he had to go. It was heart-breaking – truly it was. I cried about it, but knew that no one else should adopt him if he had “issues.”

My thought was that  I wasn’t going to have another cat for awhile. Then, a few days ago I had a kind of a hard day – my house is all decorated for Christmas – I had Christmas carols playing – I felt cozy and warm inside, especially since I had the fireplace on too, and I just felt very lonely. And very sad. And I was grieving over my husband and my little Oliver too. Then out of the blue I got a phone call the next day from a friend who had known Oliver and what had happened. He called me about this little kitten. She was found on the side of the street, cold, wet (it was raining) and she couldn’t figure out how to get from the gutter up onto the curb. What her story is, we don’t know. But she wasn’t at all frightened of people. Her hearing, of course, is acute. The vet says she was likely born blind. I went online and read what I could about blind cats and it says they adapt extremely well – with suggestions like not moving furniture around too much, and they can’t ever go outside. Well, I couldn’t do that anyway, because I live in coyote country, and this little muffin would be a coyote’s snack in a minute.

The family who found her took the photo at top. How could you NOT love this little thing. She’s tiny, though she’s about 7-8 weeks old. She’s figured out in a little over a day and a half how to navigate around my downstairs (LR, DR, FM, kitchen). I’ve kept other doors closed so as not to confuse her. As I write this, she’s still trying to learn where her litter box is – since I’m not sure she does, I’m ever-vigilant to waltz her down the hall to her box on a regular basis. What I am is tired – because she’s like having a toddler in the house. But she’s sweet and the vet, today, says she’s fine and should have a happy life.

Posted in Uncategorized, on November 7th, 2016.

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