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Just finished 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 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 parents were 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 a old 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.

Winter Journey by Diane Armstrong. Have you ever read about forensic dentistry? I sure had not, so I found it fascinating reading. It’s a debut novel for the author, and what a story. Halina, an Australian, with Polish roots, specializes in this obscure profession as a forensic dentist, and is asked to go to Poland, to help identify bone (and tooth) fragments, to put to rest a sad event in the story of this small town, when many, many people (Jews) were murdered. Was it the Nazis? Or was it the local townspeople who disliked the Jews. What a tangled web of intrigue, including Halina’s own mysterious past. I really enjoyed the read. The author does a great job of developing the characters (which I always like). This is no light read if you consider the subject matter, although it IS a novel (but based on fact). Nor is it a spy thriller – it’s more just an historical novel with lots of interesting people throughout. There’s a romance thrown in too, and a whole lot of angst about the discoveries found in the mass grave. But, the subject expanded my knowledge about forensics.

The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr. I just LOVED this book. I’ve never been much of a fan of Caravaggio’s paintings, although I’ve seen plenty of them (many are extremely large) in museums around the world. His paintings were dark, often with dark subjects. But as with many of the old masters, occasionally some obscure work surfaces, perhaps credited to another artist, even, that turns out to be one done by “the” master. In this case, Caravaggio. Although this book is written as a novel (with dialogue, etc.) it’s historical through and through. It begins with two young women art scholars, in Italy, who are asked to do a research project. One thing leads to another, and to another. All true.  If you enjoy books about art – I learned some things about the paint and the canvases of the time – you’ll be intrigued as I was.

Eye On the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press, by James, McGrath Morris. Each year my AAUW book club reads something related to Black History Month. This is a biography of a woman you’ve probably never heard of, Ethel Payne, and about her life-long journey in journalism, struggling to keep her head above water financially, but staying true to her purposes of telling the truth about the black stories and black racism of the day. Sometimes biographies aren’t all that riveting, but I found this one to be so, and I savored each new chapter. We had a really good discussion of the book, and the ups and downs of Payne’s life, especially during her years as a Washington reporter. You’ll not be sorry to have spent the time reading this book. It’s well-written, as well. I was thrilled when the author, Morris, left a message here on my blog, thanking me (and my group) for reading his book.

H Is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald. This one has been on the best seller list. It’s a memoir about a woman who takes on a personal challenge of taming a wild hawk. Prior to reading this book, I knew next to nothing about the entire subject of hawking, or taming any of the big, wild birds. The book is equally about the writer’s inner journey. She’s a consummate writer, and every page was a joy of words, for me. My only problem is my own – I found it hard, the more time that went by, and the more time the writer spent trying to tame this bird, to scream out “let the bird go.” Perhaps it’s because I spent time in Africa in 2015, seeing animals in the wild, that I felt more for the bird than I did with the writer’s discontent with herself and the taming process. Little did I know what a hard job it is to tame a hawk. I actually didn’t finish the book. It was a book club read, and highly recommended by several of our members. And I ended up not being able to attend the meeting as I had a cold. So perhaps there is some great ending to it that would have made me feel better. I haven’t gone to the end to find out. I just had to stop reading it. But I’m not NOT recommending it. If nothing else, read it for Macdonald’s sublime proficiency with words.

Also read George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, by Brian Kilmeade and Dan Yaeger. Here’s what it says on amazon: When George Washington beat a hasty retreat from New York City in August 1776, many thought the American Revolution might soon be over. Instead, Washington rallied—thanks in large part to a little-known, top-secret group called the Culper Spy Ring. He realized that he couldn’t defeat the British with military might, so he recruited a sophisticated and deeply secretive intelligence network to infiltrate New York. I won’t exactly call this book a riveting read, but it was interesting. Relating facts that few people knew about, this Culper Spy Ring. It’s a little chunk of American history researched in depth by the authors. An interesting read.

Also read The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel by Nina George. If you’re an avid reader, you probably have the same kind of longing as I do for a quaint, independently owned bookstore right around the corner. So few exist anymore. This novel is about a very unusual book store, and book store owner. In Paris. On a boat/barge. It’s not a typical book store, and the writer takes you on a journey of discovery about (likely) her own lifetime of book reading. You’ll learn all about a variety of existing books and why they’re a good read. But it’s all cloaked in a story about this book store and the owner. And the customers. Very fun. I’m reviewing it for one of my book clubs next month.

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 December 11th, 2015.

cookie_baking

On Monday, the 3 of us spent nearly all day baking Christmas cookies. What cookies, you ask? Read below.

Looks like I was the only one holding the glass of champagne and cassis we decided to share. Another friend, Sandy, stopped by with a bottle of champagne (thanks, Sandy). Sandy took the picture of us. Cherrie and I both made some of the cookie dough ahead of time so we had a leg up on the long day of baking. Here’s what we made – all recipes you can find here on my blog:

choc-alond-saltine-toffee

Chocolate Almond Saltine Toffee – seems like this cookie/candy thing made with saltine crackers, caramel, chocolate and almonds has made the rounds for several years now. It’s such a winner of a recipe. I particularly like these because they’re sweet, salty, crunch and chocolate all at the same time. Love the texture. I’m not much of a fan of chocolate or caramel, but this. Oh yes, love it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next on the list of cookies were Cranberry Noels. They’re a slice and bake type – a sugar cookie type with chopped dried cranberries inside, formed into long rolls, then gently rolled in unsweetened shredded coconut. They’re chilled for several hours or overnight, sliced and baked. One of my favorites, and I even make them at other times of the year than Christmas.

 

 

These are just the best Ginger Cookies – a recipe from my friend Ann N. They’re crispy and crunchy and very easy. They flatten out all by themselves in the oven – all you do is roll them, press them down with a fork and bake. Great with a cup of coffee, I can attest.

 

 

 

 

mex_wedding_cookies_sugaring

Mexican Wedding Cookies – the picture at left looks like they’re beige. No – I must have taken the photo under ambient light, not under my good lighting. So, they’re traditional and coated in powdered sugar that gets all over you and everything. But, they’re oh-so good. A must every Christmas.

viennese_choc_walnut_bars

Viennese Chocolate-Walnut Bars. What can I say – good and chocolatey, but not like fudge. It’s more like a thick cake on top then topped with another thin layer of icing, then chocolate and nuts.  It’s a Maida Heatter recipe if that gives you any clue as to how perfect these are. I hadn’t made these for several years, but I’m glad we did. I’ve had one piece two mornings in a row with my coffee.

baked_apricot_rosemary_bars

Baked Apricot Rosemary Bars – the filling does have to cook for awhile (dried apricots, white wine, sugar, honey, brandy and salt) then it’s whizzed up in the blender. It is spread on top of the baked shortbread type layer (that contains the fresh chopped rosemary) and topped with crumbs, then baked.

We had a really fun day – Jackie and Cherrie both kept the kitchen sink clean by washing several batches of cookie sheets, mixing bowls and utensils. I almost took a picture of my kitchen floor to show you what it looked like. Not a pretty sight. My cleaning gals came the next day so I just left it all there and they cleaned it up.

Posted in Uncategorized, on November 23rd, 2015.

mushroom_bacon_pork_tenderloin

You know you’ve been to a Phillis Carey class when the title of the recipe is almost as long as the recipe itself. Well, not really, but she does get teased about her titles sometimes. She doesn’t want you to be at all confused about what’s in the dish, so she puts all the important stuff in the title.

I think pork tenderloin is one of the new “darlings” of the foodie and entertaining circuit. It’s lean – and sometimes almost tasteless if you don’t do something to it. But it’s versatile. In this recipe the pork is kind of sliced to open it up a little bit and then pounded out flatter, so it’s big enough to enclose a filling. You will have made a bacon and crimini mushroom filling which gets rolled up inside the pork. Because the pork is lean and not strong on flavor, you want the filling to be bold (in this case with bacon, mushrooms, both umami flavors).

Phillis made a really flavorful sauce with shallots, vermouth, chicken broth, Dijon mustard, fresh thyme and crème fraîche. It’s a fairly thin sauce (as you can see on the plate in the picture). You can cook it down some, if desired, to make it a bit thicker. You could add a tiny bit of flour to the shallots and butter if you want to have the sauce thicken up a bit. I might do that next time. It would be wonderful with rice or mashed potatoes – to soak up that great sauce.

What’s really nice is this makes a pretty presentation – you can’t quite see the filling in the photo as the shallot sauce is covering it up. So this would make a great company meal. I usually can feed 3 people from a Costco pork tenderloin. If it’s smaller (as in regular grocery store types) then you may only feed 2 or 2 1/2 people. This recipe uses 2 pork tenderloins and it feeds 6 people. Because of the filling and the sauce (and the other sides) you may be able to stretch it a little bit. All depends on how hungry your family or guests happen to be.

The rolled up and tied pork is browned briefly in a skillet, then it finishes in the oven for just 15-20 minutes. This isn’t a 30-minute meal – sorry! You can make the sauce while the pork is baking, though, so it’s not much more than a 30-minute prep  and cooking time.

What’s GOOD: makes a really attractive company meal. If you’re into doing a filling for a weeknight family meal, it’s not all that hard or time consuming, and the pork cooks in no time flat (15-20 minutes in the oven plus browning time). It looks pretty and the mushroom and bacon filling is really, really good.

What’s NOT: only the time it takes to make the filling and the sauce. And fill and tie up the pork.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 14/15 file (click link to open)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Mushroom and Bacon Stuffed and Rolled Pork Tenderloin with Mustard, Thyme Creme Fraiche Sauce

Recipe By: Phillis Carey cooking class, 10/15
Serving Size: 6

PORK:
4 slices bacon — chopped
8 ounces crimini mushrooms — thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 clove garlic — finely chopped
1 tablespoon bread crumbs — plain, dry
6 tablespoons fresh parsley — chopped (divided use)
2 whole pork tenderloins — 1-1 1/4 pounds each
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
SAUCE:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup shallots — chopped
1/3 cup dry white wine — or vermouth
1 cup low sodium chicken broth
1/3 cup creme fraiche
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons fresh thyme — chopped

1. Cook bacon in a large nonstick skillet, until crisp, 8-10 minutes. Pour off all but 2 T. of bacon fat; add mushrooms, about 1/2 tsp salt and pepper to taste; cook until mushrooms are soft, about 4 minutes. Add garlic and cook one minute. Remove from heat and stir in breadcrumbs and all but 2 T. of the parsley. Let cool. (Can be made ahead.)
2. Trim pork of all fat and silverskin. With rounded side of pork down, make a long slit lengthwise down the center to open it up like a book. Do not cut all the way through. Lay a piece of plastic wrap and pound pork with a meat pounder (flat side) until the meat is about 3/8″ thick, starting from the middle and working outward. Spread the cooled mushroom mixture over the pork. Fold the narrower ends in about an inch or so, then starting with a long side, tightly roll up each tenderloin. Tie with kitchen twine in about 5 places to hold the roll together.
3. Preheat oven to 375°F. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the pork and brown well on all sides, about 6-8 minutes total time. Remove pork to a parchment-lined baking sheet and roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until internal meat temperature reaches 150°F. Remove pork to a carving board and let rest, tented with foil, for about 10 minutes. Remove strings and cut across (straight) in about 1-inch thick rounds.
4. While pork is roasting prepare the sauce. In the skillet used to brown the pork melt butter over medium heat. Add shallots and cook until tender, about 4 minutes. Add wine and bring to a boil, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add chicken broth and bring to a boil. Whisk together the creme fraiche, mustard and thyme in a small bowl. Add to the broth and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer and reduce down until the sauce thickens and barely coats a spoon. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon sauce over the pork slices and garnish with the reserved parsley. Note: if you prefer a sauce that is thicker, add about 2 teaspoons of flour to the shallot and butter mixture, cook it for about a minute over low heat, then continue with the recipe.
Per Serving: 267 Calories; 17g Fat (59.7% calories from fat); 21g Protein; 5g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 75mg Cholesterol; 275mg Sodium.

Posted in Chicken, Uncategorized, on November 11th, 2015.

oven_fried_chicken_prosciutto_cheese

Not exactly quick, but not hard, either. In any case it’s delicious and worth making.

My friend Cherrie and I were finally able to find another class we could take with our favorite cooking teacher, Phillis Carey. Since the cooking school in San Diego closed some months ago – the one we attended often, Phillis is trying to find new venues to teach. But she’s always taught classes in other places and one is in Orange County, about once a month. (The downside is that the class is in a very cramped little space, hard, folding chairs, with a tray on our laps – i.e., not ideal.) This class was about Italian cooking at home.

Phillis is the queen of chicken breast cooking. She’s written an entire cookbook about it (her website is the only way to purchase it). And she continues to develop new and better ways to eat chicken. I don’t know about you, but I eat a lot of chicken and I love new/better ideas of ways to cook it. This one is worthy of a company meal – I might not go to the trouble just for a meal on my own.

The idea behind the oven fried part is that you lay the chicken breast (coated in eggs and bread crumbs) into a very little pool of hot oil in a rimmed pan and it sort of “fries.” How? Well, first you make a long, deep cut in the center of the boneless, skinless chicken breast half and open it up like a book. You don’t cut all the way through. Anyway, you fill the chicken breast (more on that in the next paragraph) and fold it together. Kind of squeezing it so it sticks together. Meanwhile, you will have heated the oven to 425° F. That’s HOT. Then you use a older, less attractive rimmed baking sheet (one that you don’t care how it looks and how the oil will mark it) and you heat olive oil (a tablespoon of oil per chicken breast) in that pan in the oven. When Phillis demonstrated this, after she put the baking sheet of oil into the oven to heat – it took about 4 minutes. It was smoking. That’s what it’s supposed to do. If you used canola oil (with a higher flash point) it wouldn’t smoke, and you can do that. It’s just that olive oil will give you a bit more flavor (more Italian, obviously). In the interim you will have coated the chicken breasts (dipped in beaten eggs and then a breadcrumb mixture that contains some Parm) and once the oil is smoking hot, you pull the oven rack out and gently – very gently – lay the chicken breasts, smooth side down (first) – in the hot oil. It will sizzle. If it doesn’t sizzle, then the oil didn’t get hot enough. That’s what creates the crust – you can see how beautiful it is in the photo at top. The chicken is baked in that hot oven for 7 minutes, then the breasts are turned over and baked another 6-8 minutes and they’re done. When the cheese (she used Fontina – a good melting cheese) begins to ooze out of the edges of the chicken you know it’s done. And you can serve it immediately, while it’s still hot as a pistol.

The filling – well, you could improvise if you wanted to. If you don’t like basil, use a different herb (fresh, though). If you don’t like Fontina, use Provolone or what you have on hand. A soft cheese, though, but not Jack or cheddar (tasteless). If you don’t like sun-dried tomatoes (these are the oil packed ones, drained) use fresh, but oven dried roasted tomatoes. Don’t use regular dried tomatoes – they’d be too firm even if you reconstituted them. And don’t use fresh tomatoes as they would give off too much liquid (would steam the chicken and you’d lose the whole point of the oven frying technique). She used prosciutto. You could use pancetta, but it won’t have the smoky flavor of prosciutto. But do remember that both of those Italian deli meats are salty. Use it judiciously.

So, you lay on a nice big leaf of basil on the open chicken breast “book.” Stack the filling on one side. Then you add the prosciutto. I’ve added into the recipe to cut it up in bite-sized pieces before laying it in the chicken. Phillis just laid a slice on the breast, but prosciutto kind of shreds when you try to cut it, so I think cut into pieces makes it easier to cut and eat it. Then the well-drained sun-dried tomatoes are added. I’d cut those up in small pieces also. THEN, you divide up the cheese and kind of cup it in your palm and place it on top of the filling. The other chicken breast half is laid over, pulled slightly and you press down (to compress the cheese) and so the edges of the chicken stick together. If you really wanted to do it right, brush the outer edge of the chicken with a bit of the beaten egg (used in the coating) to seal the edges. But it’s not really necessary to do that step.

The nice thing is that you can stuff the chicken a day ahead (covered, in the refrigerator). And you can coat the chicken an hour ahead (and refrigerate). So if you’re having guests, everything is ready except heating the oil and baking them. See? Easy, really. And it makes a beautiful presentation. That top turns a perfect golden brown.

Now, just a note about the CHICKEN. I buy my chicken breasts at Costco, and they’re big honkin’ breasts. Those are just too big for this recipe. So either buy smaller breasts (ideally about 6 ounces per serving), or if you use the big, big breasts, cut off the tender (you’ll do that anyway) and cut off some of the outer edges so you do end up with about a 6-ounce portion. If you were to use a bigger breast it will take longer to cook through and unless you’re feeding football players, they won’t eat it all. The chicken is very rich and filling.

What’s GOOD: the flavors are wonderful – very Italian for sure. I loved the crispy crust. I loved the oozing Fontina cheese in it. The flavor boost from the sun dried tomatoes was lovely. When I make it I will be sprinkling on just a tiny little bit of salt ONLY on the outside edges (where the prosciutto isn’t), as whatever chicken doesn’t have any filling needs just a hint of salt. It’s a beautiful presentation – serve on a platter if you want to with a sprinkling of Italian parsley and a few whole stems for color. The chicken is very rich, and is high in calorie with all those goodies in it and the oil it’s cooked in, too.

What’s NOT: only that it does take a bit of prep. But it’s not hard to do. Just a bit of time. The chicken probably won’t be great as leftovers. You’ll not be able to get the crispy crust the 2nd time around, so plan to eat it at the first sitting, if possible!

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 14/15 file.

* Exported from MasterCook *

Oven-Fried Parm-Crusted Chicken Breasts with Prosciutto and Cheese Filling

Recipe By: From a Phillis Carey cooking class, 9/2015
Serving Size: 4

4 pieces boneless skinless chicken breast halves
4 slices prosciutto — chopped
4 large basil leaves
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, oil-packed — drained and chopped
1 1/2 cups Fontina cheese — grated (or use Provolone)
CRUMB MIXTURE:
3/4 cup dry Italian seasoned bread crumbs
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated (or Pecorino)
1 tablespoon fresh Italian parsley — minced
COATING and BAKING:
2 large eggs — lightly beaten with 1 T. water
1/4 cup olive oil — for the baking sheet
1/4 cup Italian parsley — chopped (garnish)

1. Using a sharp knife, butterfly the chicken breasts by slicing in half, horizontally, but not all the way through; just open it like a book. Lay on the prosciutto, a basil leaf and a tablespoon of the sun dried tomatoes on one side of the opened breast. Divide the cheese among the pieces, then fold top side over the filling. Press together firmly and try to seal the edges (chicken meat against chicken meat). May be refrigerated at this point up to a day ahead.
2. Preheat oven to 425°F. Combine the bread crumbs, Parm cheese and parsley on a shallow plate. Dip the chicken bundles in the egg mixture (keeping the edges together so they don’t open up) and then in the breadcrumbs, coating well. (At this point the chicken can be chilled for up to an hour.)
3. Once oven is at temperature, pour the olive oil (approx 1 T. per chicken breast) into a rimmed large baking sheet. Use an “old” one as the oil and the baking may discolor the pan. Place pan in the oven to heat – about 3-4 minutes. It will be VERY hot and the olive oil may be smoking slightly. Add the chicken, top side down and bake for 7 minutes. Turn the chicken over (very carefully) and continue baking another 6-8 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. The chicken is done when the cheesy mixture begins to ooze out of the seam. If you are baking more than 4 of these, use a separate oven and another baking sheet to roast the chicken. If you have a convection oven that has a convection/bake cycle, use that, same temp and same amount of time. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve.
4. It is best to use smaller chicken breasts for this – don’t include the chicken tender. If you buy very large breasts, trim some of the edges (and use for something else) to bring the size down to about 6-7 ounces per breast.
Per Serving: 983 Calories; 51g Fat (47.9% calories from fat); 107g Protein; 18g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 380mg Cholesterol; 6745mg Sodium.

Posted in Uncategorized, on October 10th, 2015.

Hopefully all of you read Food52 already, that huge website, with contributors in legions, that covers the broadest possible spectrum related to food and the home. Amanda Sims did a piece recently about “Food Apps We ‘WISH’ Existed.” Certainly it’s tongue-in-cheek, but if nothing else it will give you a laugh. Here’s the link to the actual article. They invited commenters to add more (I’ve not included those).

Coffeeinate: an app that allows you to order a coffee from your favorite barista, pay for it through the app, then walk into the coffee shop and have it waiting to swipe off the counter.

The Fennel Detector: an app that saves you from eating foods you loathe (or are “allergic” to). Hold your phone over any food to scan for contaminant (like fennel) so you don’t mistakenly eat it. Settings allow you to customize for testing widely disliked foods such as cilantro and gluten.

Shop Map: maps out the shortest route to what you need in the grocery store based on your inputted grocery list. Saves time and feelings of insanity as you go back to the same aisle five times for different things.

One Dumpling: an app that delivers you just 1 dumpling, wherever you are, for when you’re not very hungry but sill want a dumpling; sister app One Scallion Pancake does the same for scallion pancakes. [Food52 originates from New York, and Chinese take-out is a daily staple.]

Lineo: choose any restaurant, coffee shop, or Trader Joe’s well-priced grocery store in your vicinity and view the status of the line or the average time of the current wait, without calling and speaking to someone who is going to lie to you anyway.

Chooser: an app for helping you decide what recipe to make from a cookbook. Open the app and see how many people have made which recipes from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (and what their results were!) so that it’s easier to choose!

The Secret Spotter: an app that tells you when you’re getting close to a hard-to-find, locals-only, word-of-mouth type place that never shows up in the right spot on a map (imagine a kind motherly voice telling you excitedly: “You’re getting warmer! Even warmer!”)

Hotty: turns your phone into a tiny heater that will keep your coffee warm for longer; doubles as a hand-warmer on cold days (and that will make you feel less bad about holding onto your phone even when it’s in your pocket because you’re so attached to it).

The Spice: an app that will keep track of all of your spices so that you don’t end up with 3 bottles of cinnamon and 5 bottles of red pepper flakes because you always think you’re out.

Dubious Rewards: this app chooses a workout for you and then suggests a beer to drink afterwards (since experts say that beer is a good recovery drink).

Pantreater: an app that would tell you which recipes from a cookbook you could make based on the ingredients you already have in your house.

You Cheap: app that tells you where to find [an] TK item (okay, mostly breakfast cereal) on sale at grocery stores. As in, where can I get the $3.99 box of Puffins as opposed to the $5.99 supermarket price?

Avocadwoes: scan in a picture of an avocado and this app will tell you if it has any brown spots, is perfect for consumption, needs 2 days and 1 1/2 hours to ripen, or is better off pickled. Can be set, alternatively, to tell you when certain produce will go bad.

Road Food: the show, in app form—oh wait that’s in production (yay!).

Eat it Anyway: an app that encourages you when you try something new in the kitchen: “That looks right, of course you were supposed to fold it that way!” “No, no, that’s great, I like the charred bits!”

Slimdr: dating apps that show ONLY the people who are in the same restaurant or bar as you. So: That guy across the room? Let technology help you with that.

Posted in Uncategorized, on August 29th, 2015.

There’s not been a lot of cookin’ going on in my kitchen lately. What with this being a food blog, and all, that’s kind of a problem, isn’t it? It’s been just too blooming hot. I heard it’s going to be almost 100° here tomorrow. Oh my goodness. I’m going to an anniversary party this weekend. My best friend Cherrie that you hear me talking about all the time, and her husband are celebrating 30 years, and their kids are throwing a big Hawaiian party for them. Bud was born in Hawaii so he asked for an Hawaiian theme. The party will be outside. 100°? Oh my gosh. Note to self: take my fan!

My Northern California family was down here a couple of weeks ago, and Dana (my daughter) made my salad dressing one of the nights we had dinner here at home – the Creamy Garlic Blue Cheese Dressing that’s probably my favorite. She just adores that dressing – I don’t know why she doesn’t make it for herself except that her family is pretty partial to loads of ranch dressing on and with everything. Anyway, there’s still some left, so I’ve been using it to dress salads and cole slaws I’ve made. I’ve fixed my Green Beans with Garlic and Olive Oil a couple of times. I’ve defrosted packages of my favorite chicken curry – the Murgh Khorma. I made a monstrous big batch of it a couple of months ago and froze it in smaller portions. I have a big bunch of chicken breasts left over from the party I threw some weeks ago, the Moroccan Spiced Chicken Breasts. I froze them, but now need to use them or throw them out because once they’re cooked and frozen, ice crystals form and I think the chicken dries out. I’ve defrosted a couple and chopped them up fairly finely in a green salad.

Image result for hershey's chocolate pudding instantThe other night I made a package of INSTANT Hershey’s chocolate pudding – see photo at right. If you haven’t noticed the box at the grocery store, you’re in for a treat. It’s actually VERY good. I’m shocked it’s so good! You literally pour 2 cups of cold milk (I used 2%), sprinkle in the pudding mix, whisk and it’s done. I’m a fan in one short trial. I used the dark chocolate version, but I’m sure I saw a milk chocolate box also.

My granddaughter Taylor went off to college last weekend. Oh my goodness, what a momentous event. I’m sorry I wasn’t there to share the excitement. Her whole family went along to move her in and meet her roommates. Her classes have started and she’s very happy. My college experience, lo these many years ago – I started college in 1959 – was a fantastic experience. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to major in, but settled on business and ended up with a bachelor’s degree in business administration (BBA). Although at the time I was anxious to get going with my real life, I enjoyed all of my years at college (I lived on campus even though my family home was a few miles away – my parents were convinced I needed the experience of living on campus – bless them for that).

Back here at the ranch I’ve been undergoing some major renovations on my house. When I started I wanted ONLY to redecorate my master bedroom. Perhaps I mentioned it here on my blog awhile back, but the décor in the bedroom was 17 years old and I needed a change. I also wanted to install a new front door. My front_doorDH Dave, bless his heart, always took care of the wood door – it required varnishing every other year – and he was an expert at it. But with him gone, I’m not going to varnish anything! and the front door needed a new look.

This new door, at left, is made of aluminum with the wrought iron in the middle and I swear it’s as solid as a bank vault and unless you touch the surface you’d not realize it’s metal. It’s black (the trim on the house is black) and it has semi-opaque glass in the center portion. The door was installed a few days ago. I just love it. It lets in a lot more light than the older door, which was stained glass and wood, and very much from the 1970s when this house was built. In case you’re interested, the door is made by JeldWen.

So, that’s what I started out to do, but my contractor – someone I trust because he’d done work for us before – noticed on his first visit to the master bedroom that I had a problem with the windows. Consequently, many of the windows in my house have had to be replaced (Millgard won’t honor any warranty unless it’s for the original buyer – take note – I’m down on Millgard, for sure!). The windows were faulty (long story I won’t bore you with). I’d not planned on replacing windows. But, when they began working on that, they discovered I had a problem with my roof. Here in California, back in the 1980s, the State handed down a kind of a directive about wood shingle roofs. Don’t install them anymore because of our serious fire problems. So, some previous owner of my house, way back, put on a Cal-Shake roof. They were cement and fiber tiles that looked like slate. But the roof tiles have failed, and Cal-Shake was sued into the ground, as well as the 2 other companies who manufactured similar roof products. The tiles on my roof had broken, cracked, fractured and some had actually fallen off. My contractor was amazed I hadn’t had any leaking. So, long story short, I’ve had to re-roof also. But in the process I’ve beefed up the insulation in the attic and added some attic fans to evacuate the summer heat that builds up. Also had a radiant barrier installed. It’s been 3 months since all this work started, and what a mess. They’re just finishing up, thank goodness, and I’ll be able to move into my newly redecorated bedroom sometime soon. I’ll take pictures when that’s done and post them. I’m waiting for the wallpaper to be put in right now, otherwise I’d be in there already. Do you remember grass cloth? Well, grass cloth wallpapers are now back in style. Mine is fairly tame – a kind of a plain taupe color. At right is the fireplace in the master. It’s been used about twice in the 12 years Dave and I lived here. It’s been revamped and I’ll have a remote control for the gas logs on cold winter nights.

Some outdoor fascia boards are having to be replaced – big beams actually – because they’ve got dry rot. My house is big, and I’m not very thorough about walking around it all the time to examine everything outside. Those were things I expected Dave to watch out for, and now it’s my job. I can tell you for sure I’ve talked to Dave in my head a lot of times in this remodeling process, wishing he could provide wise counsel on the decisions.

PhotoAnd, last but not least, I’m taking another trip soon. I thought I’d share with you a photo of the shots I had to have the other day. Does that give you a clue? Yup. Safari coming up. My first visit to the travel clinic cost me $865. Yikes. I had a shot for yellow fever, typhoid, Hepatitis A and B, and a new kind of pneumonia shot. Two shots in each upper arm. And oh, did they HURT. I’m a real wuss about shots. And there was considerable pain and discomfort for over 24 hours afterwards. I had a very hard time sleeping that night because I’m a side sleeper and when I moved in my sleep the pain woke me up many, many times. Last night was better thank goodness. Fortunately I didn’t have any side effects (headache is the most common, and fatigue) other than the arm pain.

Oh, I haven’t shared anything about my darling little (big) kitten, Oliver. I do think he’s grown at least 2-3 inches in the month I’ve had him. He’s chewed off all of his artificial nails – which did a really good job (while they lasted) of deterring him from using his claws to Photoclimb furniture – that’s the whole point. I’ll have to see if he tries to climb with his claws in the next couple of weeks – if he scratches furniture I’ll be taking him in for another set of nails until he gets a bit bigger/older/mature. He uses his scratching post and his cardboard flat scratching pad many times every day, so he’s got that part down pat. He’s an absolutely love. I tried to let him sleep with me twice, but he thinks beds are for playing, so that lasted about 30 – 40 minutes each time and into the bathroom he went (where he has a bed, a litter box, food and water).

In the evenings I’m often upstairs in my office/study, in my very comfortable chair (reading, watching TV, playing a game on my iPad mini, talking on the phone with my friends) and there’s room beside me where Oliver happily hops up to take a nap. When he falls asleep I can get in many, many long petting strokes without him noticing. When he is let out of his bathroom in the mornings he wants to be held – he’s very lovable – he lets me pet him, talk to him, purr-purr, but at other times of the day he has to be “in the mood” to let me do that for more than a few pets at a time. Otherwise he thinks I want to play. It’s amazing how this little thing has taken over my life. I love him to pieces. His favorite food is chicken and cheese cubes (a type of canned cat meat). He loves-loves his twice a day serving of meat.

Oh, one more thing – my brand spankin’ new computer (12 days old) had a big, bad black screen event, but after an hour on the phone with Dell, they resolved it (hopefully) having to do with Windows 10 installation. They actually have a utility that fixes Windows 10 “black screen” problems. We’ll see in coming days if I have any further problems. No, I still don’t know if I am able to retrieve my recipes.

Posted in Uncategorized, on August 24th, 2015.

If you don’t want to read my saga of one of my computers, you can skip this post. No food today. No pretty pictures of food (and I still can’t upload recipe files yet). Nothing but a text post.

A couple of weeks ago I posted a short little blurb about my computer having problems and that I wasn’t able to blog. Fortunately I had several food posts already scheduled to post, and as I write this, I still have 2 posts scheduled this week. Just in the nick of time, I’m tellin’ ya.

About 3 months ago now, I bought 2 new computers (my old ones were 7 years old) – I know – I’m only one person and certainly my kitten (who is as cute as button, by the way) doesn’t do anything with a computer except be ever-fascinated with the keyboard and occasionally the movement of the cursor across the screen. I have one computer upstairs in my office and another in the kitchen. More and more, I’m using the kitchen one for most of my computer tasks and even some game-playing. I’m not into “gaming,” just several variety of solitaire games. I do all of my posts from the kitchen computer.

So, I blithely went through the process of loading programs onto the new kitchen computer, getting my programs to run and work correctly, including MasterCook, which I use for storing all my recipes. It took a week or so to get everything working correctly. And here’s a foreshadowing comment: after restoring and setting up Carbonite to begin backing up my computer again, I forgot – totally forgot – to go tell Carbonite to back up my MasterCook files. Calamity. But that’s just the beginning.

I think I mentioned in my previous post that I was baking something, using the kitchen computer for the recipe. Just as I leaned over to read what was next, the monitor went to a blank screen (I don’t use a screen saver since I’ve had problems in the past with Dell computers and sleep mode and with screen savers, so I select “none” and whenever it reaches that time limit, it simply goes to a black, blank screen). Had been working fine that way. So I reached over with my flour-dusted hands and tapped the space bar to get the screen to open up and my computer went “sssst.” The screen didn’t come up. I tried several different things (ESC key for one, more taps on the space bar). Wash hands. Then I tried CTRL-ALT-DEL to see what was running. Nothing happened. No response to my request. I rebooted it, and funny thing – I was able at one point to get to a C: prompt and discovered that my entire MasterCook program was gone. Vanished from the hard drive. That was a bit perplexing, but at that point I hadn’t realized that I’d forgotten to tell Carbonite to back up everything. It was backing up most things, but NOT my recipe files.

Anyway, that began a long saga. I spent about 5 hours (over several days) on the phone with Dell/India trying to repair the problem. Nothing worked. One of the solutions was for them to send me a USB drive to take the system back to factory settings. But that meant it wiped out everything else on the hard drive. They thought the problem was the Windows program itself (I guess it was, but that was just the beginning of the problems). It took many days for the USB drive to arrive, and I finally took it back to factory. But it still didn’t run. Windows wouldn’t load. More hours on the phone with Dell/India. Then they decided I needed a new motherboard. First they updated the BIOS, hoping that would help. No. So I waited many days (with a frustrating lack of communication from Dell about when they were coming to do the work). Finally that happened, but Dell contracts with people to come and do the motherboard installation but not anything else. When the repair person turned on the computer after the install, my screen was seeing double. A full screen, side by side, but squished so the print was unreadable. The motherboard installer said I’d have to take it up with Dell. So, more hours on the phone with Dell/India. They did another session of remotely running my computer. Their end showed a normal screen, but mine was still seeing double. Many hours later with my cordless phone about to run out of juice because it had taken so long, he said well, we’ll need to schedule another motherboard install. I went non-linear. NO. Not doing that again. At that point I’d been without my computer for 2+ weeks. I simply said NO, I want a new computer. I guess they don’t normally do that, but after reviewing my Dell buying record, they relented and shipped me a new computer. And of course, on the day it was delivered I happened to be pouring some precious kitchen sink water onto the very thirsty outdoor plants on the patio and missed hearing the FedEx delivery person at the front door. They wouldn’t deliver without a signature. Talk about frustrated. Finally got it delivered a day later. That was last Tuesday, so I’ve been working ever since trying to get everything working correctly, loading a variety of programs I use for my blogging. But in that interim I’d realized that my MasterCook files were AWOL. What I do have is a copy of my recipes (contained in about 15 different cookbooks by category) that date to 2011, and I think I have another set dating from 2013. So I’ve lost all the recipes I’ve collected online, from cookbooks, for the last 2 or maybe 4 years.

Recipes on my blog are retrievable FROM the blog. Thank goodness! But, I probably had about 1000 recipes in my to-try file (in the MasterCook program) that are gone. SSSST. Just like that. Gone. But it’s totally my fault – I can’t blame anyone but myself. How many I’d added in the last 2-4 years I don’t know. And can I think of any one specific recipe to go look for, no. I haven’t started trying to figure out what I do have or don’t have. I haven’t integrated the old cookbooks with the ones I do have. It’s not a simple process, believe it or not. I’ll work on it eventually.

So, there’s the saga. My computer guru guy is coming tomorrow to help me get one of the programs linking up with my blog (the FTP file transfer which I can’t seem to get running correctly), and to set up the network so I can see my upstairs files, and my upstairs computer can see my downstairs files. I’m pretty savvy with computer stuff, but the FTP thing is beyond my ken. It’s probably something very simple I’m not doing right.

I’ll only add one more subject into this post. I’m so frustrated with passwords. I use a handy-dandy password program and mostly I’m consistent about adding to it and clarifying or correcting it when I make changes. But I’m password weary. Everything wants a password. Some insist on one or more numbers in it, and not consecutive ones. Others require at least one capital letter with lower case letters. Some insist on some oddball character also. And I’m really beyond comprehension about my apple ID and password. Unfortunately when I got my first iPhone, the salesperson told me to create an apple ID, which I did with an email address at @me.com. Well, I never use that, but even though I’ve changed it, some of my apple programs are still linked to that original email address. This confounds me. Just more complicated. I don’t want Windows to remember my passwords (that’s not so safe, in my book) and particularly anything that might be financially related. There has to be an easier way. I hope the techies in the world who work on this are doing so, finding an easier way.

And yes, in answer to your question, I went onto Carbonite yesterday and told it to begin backing up everything again, including my MasterCook cookbooks. I hope to goodness I never make THAT mistake again! Carbonite is a great program, but it’s only as good as the operator – ME!

Posted in Uncategorized, on August 13th, 2015.

oliver_aug_7_15

These days I’m a family of one – well, I was until about 2 weeks ago when I gave in to the urge to have a pet. One of my granddaughters (Sabrina) volunteers at a pet rescue center in San Diego, and she’s a huge cat lover, so she’s been chiding me, pleading with me, begging me to adopt a cat. I started off with all kinds of parameters – my want list was: adult cat, very lovable, talkative, preferably a snowshoe cat, and already declawed. Oh yes, and short haired. Spayed or neutered too, of course. She’d identified several cats over the last 9 months or so, but for a variety of reasons (like I was going on a trip in 2 weeks, or no, it’s long-haired, I don’t want that kind; or no, it’s not declawed . . . the list went on). Finally, though, I told her about a month or so ago that I was finally ready and within about 2 weeks she’d found the perfect cat for me. I set up to drive to San Diego the next day and get him, and no, my granddaughter wasn’t able to put him on a hold. Just before I drove out of my garage I thought I’d best check online to make sure he was still there. Oh, darn. He’d been adopted that morning. My granddaughter was heart-broken.

A week or so went by and my daughter called to say she and Sabrina were coming up to Orange County for the day (a trip to Knott’s Berry Farm was in the cards for grandson John and 2 of his friends). As soon as they arrived Sara was online looking at shelters in my area. Well, one thing led to another, and off we went to a cat rescue center. I looked at the adult cats and didn’t have any “feeling” for any of them and the only one I kind of liked nearly bit me. So much for that. On our way out we walked through the kitten room. Oh, I should never have let the employee there hand me a kitten. My downfall. This kitten is 4 months old, isn’t declawed (and if most vets and cat friends had their way no cats would ever be declawed, I understand) and he wasn’t a snowshoe, although he has sort of similar markings of one. He’s neutered, chipped, and has his shots. But oh my gosh, he’s a KITTEN. Kittens are a lot of work – they almost never slow down.

I love him to pieces. He’s very sweet and talkative. He does let me hold and pet him some, though only on his timetable, not mine. That’s normal, I know. Yesterday I took him to the cat vet and had “soft paws” put on his nails. It’s like acrylic nails for cats and they’re attached with super glue. They’re supposed to last 4-6 weeks, but I can tell you little Oliver has already, 24 hours later, chewed off 3 of them. The vet said I’d probably have to have them done a 2nd time – by then it’s hoped he’ll realize that he can’t use his claws for much. And I won’t have to declaw him. I had them do it to all 4 paws as he’s already using both front and back claws for climbing onto chairs and sofas. He’s pretty good about scratching on his cardboard scratcher and short sisal tree.

After returning from the vet’s office Oliver was glued to me. On the drive to and fro I had a hard time listening to his plaintive meows from inside his cat carrier – which he just HATED – the meowing was so pitiful as if he was in terrible pain.

I won’t even TELL you how much money I’ve spent on litter boxes, litter, toys, dry food, wet food, more toys and more toys. Two of the upscale dry food choices I’ve purchased he won’t eat. Gee, he’s only a kitten and he’s already pernickety about his food? Oliver gets very bored and I shut him up in a windowless bathroom when I go out somewhere – I feel sorry for him closed  up in that room for several hours at a time. But I’ve been told to never give him fish (too much mercury), even the canned cat type. I do have a fish-flavored treat type that’s tuna flavored and he’s all over that. Also learned that cats are lactose intolerant. But he craves milk – he nearly drags my coffee mug out of my hands every morning trying to get to it. I’ve given him a few little licks of yogurt. And did you know that cats don’t develop a taste for catnip until they’re 6 months old?

Posted in Uncategorized, on July 28th, 2015.

7000 SeriesTo say that I’m flummoxed is an understatement. I bought 2 new Dell all-in-one computers (as in blurry photo above) about 9 weeks ago. My kitchen computer, the one that houses my entire recipe collection and my photo software, the one I use for all my blogging etc. just quit working a few days ago. Hours and hours have been spent on the phone with Dell (of course, they don’t want to replace anything yet). They’re very reluctant to do a major fix until they have to. They want me to start from scratch. Am not sure I’ll do that – yet. I have a great local guy who works with me on computer stuff, networking, wi-fi, etc. when it’s beyond my ken, and his assistant is working today trying to see if she can restore the unit.

I have everything on my system backed up (files, recipes, but not the programs, of course) on Carbonite, so I HAVE everything, but it may be days or a week or more before I’m able to get back in operation. I use google photos, so fortunately not more than a few weeks ago I finally got all my photos linked up with that. And fortunately, I was completely up to date with the posts I’d completed. 

Maybe you won’t notice anything different – maybe by the time recipe posts I’ve already done go live (there are a few in the bank), my computer will be back in operation. I could try to restore everything onto my upstairs office computer, but it’s awfully hard to run up and down the stairs all the time. I suppose I could move the upstairs one downstairs. For now. I’ll wait a day or two I think. 

Posted in Uncategorized, on June 28th, 2015.

grilling_veggies_pork_chop

So what’s this, you’re thinking? Huh? Veggies and a pork chop? Well, no, it’s probably not all that significant to most people. But it was significant to me. In the last 15+ months since Dave passed away, my darling DH, I’ve done a bit of grilling – a few times I’ve done meat and once or twice I did some veggies. When friends have visited, I asked them to “man” the grill. It’s been awhile, though, since I’d done it myself. I wanted to grill the yellow squash, but it seemed like a waste to fire up the grill for just veggies. The same could be said for a pork chop. It could be done on the stove top.

I know the mechanics of grilling. I know about how hot the grill should be to sear meat, and how it needs to be lower to do veggies. I know about searing, then pulling the meat aside so it’s not over direct heat, but still leaving the grill up medium-high. But I’d never really done it. I own a bunch of barbecue/grilling cookbooks, and I’ve attended my fair share of grilling classes. But there’s a difference between book learning and actually hovering over the hot grill with tongs or a long-handled fork in hand. This time I did it. For me, that was a hurdle I needed to get to, up and over.

With Dave, I just gave him the instructions and reminded him of the finished temperature of the meat and he went with it. The grill was his friend. I don’t know that I can say that – yet – that the grill is my friend. I’m not exactly afraid of it, but it’s a big-honkin’ thing – it has enough surface to grill about 30 steaks, for sure. I used just two sections for this dinner – one for the veggies and one for the pork chop. But before I took them off the grill I snapped a photo. To say I’d done it. To savor the accomplishment. Maybe not a big thing for you, but it was for me!

And yes, the pork chop was cooked perfectly (yes, I was a bit proud!) and the veggies were just barely soft and had lots of grill marks. That basket made it very easy – I just stirred them every few minutes. I feel like I’ve graduated from grilling boot camp.

But then after I was done I turned the burners to high and put down the lid, with the intent to return in an hour to vigorously brush off the grates and turn off the burners. That was a trick Dave used to do. Guess what? I forgot all about it – discovered 24 hours later that the 2 burners were still on high. Gosh darn. Maybe I didn’t graduate from boot camp after all.

Posted in Uncategorized, on April 30th, 2015.

red_ceramic_pots_puglia

I’ve always loved ceramics. And many years ago I took classes (this was about 50 years ago) learning only how to paint them, not form them with the clay. These pots above I thought were particularly beautiful. They were sitting in a window sill at the Masseria Cervarolo.

Puglia is known for its ceramics. Umbria is also, and is probably the more well known for the town of Deruta, where most of the world-famous plates and dishes are made. So it was a surprise to find that Puglia has its own reputation for ceramics as well.

ceramic_cactus_masseria_cervaroloThe Masseria had a number of lovely things sitting around, and we found out that the town where most of them are made, Grottaglie, was about 15+ miles away. So on one of our forays out to nearby towns to tour, we made a detour to visit the ceramics shops.

The photo at left is a large piece (probably 2 1/2 feet high) that sits in the living room of the Masseria. I’m not a fan of cactus, but I’d suppose some people must be, otherwise nobody would make such ceramic sculptures! I found it so interesting that they’d make one, and also that it would be white.

ceramic_pots_masseria_carnavaloThere at right is a grouping of 3 very tall vases (the tallest one is probably 2 1/2 feet tall). It sat in a corner in the same living room at the Masseria.

We found out who the ceramicist was (name and shop name) and went in search of his workshop in Grottaglie. Imagine our dismay when we discovered the shop was closed. It was Friday afternoon, Good Friday, so we supposed all the shops must be closed for the holiday. We walked around some more, did find a couple of shops open, but they had nothing like what I was looking for. I wanted to buy one piece, or maybe 2 or 3 in a grouping that will sit on my very large kitchen island. I’d also seen a particularly cute artichoke at the Masseria that I wanted to find.

masseria_cervarolo_steps_ceramicsThere at left are two steps at the Masseria where they’d set out some fresh flowers. Note the very rustic walls. So simple, but yet so pretty.

Well, anyway, we wandered into another shop and I knew immediately this one would probably have something I’d like. The proprietor came towards us and after saying hello, I asked: “do you ship to the United States?” He was so very funny – he said “of course, is Nordstrom good enough?” We all laughed. He spoke very good English and had a beautiful store. Fasano Ceramiche.

mosaic_plattersWandering all over the large store, I found lots of things I liked. If I could have, I’d have purchased about 100 things and shipped them all. Puglia is known for one particular shaped thing, called a pumi. It’s egg-shaped with a flared base so it will stand. All over the region we’d see them on the top corners of buildings. On the top of walls, on patio fences. Sitting on front steps, in windows. I asked about them, and was told that they’re a Puglian good luck symbol, and often women use them as a fertility good luck charm, so to speak. Well, the things I bought aren’t pumi, but they are similarly shaped.

The shop had dozens of pumi in different colors and sizes. This was a distant shelf with them in many sizes. The pumi always is shown with leaves around the bottoms.pumi_white_wide

What I bought is a bit different – they’re ceramic egg shapes with decorated tops, in a mosaic kind of loose pattern.  And no leaf patterns.pumi_mosaic See photo below.

I purchased the lower set of 3, but they’ll be in a gold/mustard color in the mosaic design (which will blend in with the streaky granite I have on my kitchen countertop). I also bought one artichoke. It’s so cute. I have no specific idea where the artichoke is going to go in my house, but I wanted it, that’s all I knew. The artichoke is about 11 inches high, I’m guessing. Photo below.

artichoke_ceramicI’m supposed to receive them in the next week or so. Customs inspection permitting.

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