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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leaving Blythe River: A Novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde. Almost a page turner. When one uses the phrase “coming of age,” it usually means (I think) love and loss/boyfriend/girlfriend, and in this case it’s somewhat that way. When Ethan, a 17-year old boy and his mother come home unexpectedly to find dad and his young secretary in a compromising position, all hell breaks loose. Separation happens instantly and just as his father moves out, his mother has to go take care of her aging mother. Ethan’s too young to be left in the NYC apartment alone, so Mom sends son to the father who is escaping from the world in Wyoming, living in a primitive A-frame house, and continuing his daily 20+ mile running journeys. Ethan and his father are barely speaking. They live in the middle of nowhere. Ethan feels betrayed by his father in every possible way, and somewhat by his mother for forcing him to live with his father for a temporary period. Then his father doesn’t return one day from his run. The authorities do a cursory search, but they are under the impression the dad wants to “get lost” on purpose. Ethan, although he thinks he doesn’t care, really does. What happens next is best left to you reading this book. Very interesting people (kind of loners) enter the picture and off they go to search. So worth reading.

The Girl With No Name by Diney Costelhoe. What a good book. Perhaps you’ve read before about the huge numbers of German refugee children who were sent to England before Hitler closed down any exits. This is a novel about one particular young girl, who is devastated when her mother puts her on one of the boats. She ends up in London, in an orphanage kind of place, and is eventually placed with a childless couple. She speaks no English. They speak no German, but they manage soon enough. Lisa (who eventually becomes Charlotte) is so homesick. She’s bullied at school, because most people and children don’t want any Germans there. A boy steps up to protect her, and as she grows up, she’s attracted to him. She shouldn’t be – he’s also German and from her own home town. He’s not a good match for her. You live with her through the blitz during all those war years and during one attack, she’s badly injured and loses her memory (and no ID on her). Through a series of mishaps she ends up in a village far from London, with a spinster woman who does eventually come to love her very much – they name her Charlotte and Charlotte she becomes. She goes to school there, still longing, though, for her mother and brother and her London foster family too. Then when she’s 16 she returns to London to help at the orphanage where she was originally placed and tries to find her foster parents. The story goes on from there, with the boy/man who “wants” her, the bad boy, and a good boy/man she befriends in the village in the country. Eventually she regains her memory. SUCH a good read.

The Girl with Seven Names by Hyanseo Lee. If you, like me, know little about North Korea and how it came to be what it is today, you’ve got to read this book. It’s a memoir written by a young woman who escaped from North Korea about 9 years ago. Her journey – and I mean JOURNEY – is harrowing, frightening, amazing, heart-rendering all at the same time. She chronicles the lives of the Kims (Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il to current Kim Jong Un), shares the strict propaganda that surrounds every North Korean citizen, the poverty and hunger, as well as the underground black market for food and goods. It took her awhile to get from North Korea, to China and eventually to South Korea, where she currently lives. She’s well educated and speaks English quite well. She was invited to be a speaker at a TED talk – you know about those, right? TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a media organization which posts talks online for free distribution, under the slogan “ideas worth spreading.” I listen to them as  podcasts now and then. Always very educational, if sometimes over my head when it gets very technical. She works diligently for human rights now, doing her best to help other North Koreans escape. You owe it to yourself to read this book.

Also just finished reading The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian. Another WOW book. I’ve always liked the author – many years ago I read his book, Midwives and really liked it. Don’t confuse this book with the one I recently read, The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas that I reviewed recently. I think we read it in one of my book groups. He’s a brilliant writer, and this one has a lot of characters and twists. It’s a novel, but based on a lot of truth regarding the Armenian genocide. Most of the book takes place in Aleppo, Syria with some good Samaritan folk trying to help rescue people (mostly children) following the forced long marches the Turks made prodding the Turkish Armenians to exit their country. But it also jumps to near present day as a family member is trying to piece together obscure parts of her grandparents’ former lives there. She uncovers some hidden truths (many survivors of the genocide never-ever-ever wanted to talk about it) and a bit more about her Armenian heritage. A riveting book – I could hardly put it down. Lots to discuss for a book club read. I simply must read more of Bohjalian’s books (he’s written many).

The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke. All I can say is “wow.” In a general sense, this book is based on the premise of The Pilot’s Wife. But this one has some totally different twists and turns. A young wife is met at the door by police, informing her that her husband has died in an auto accident. Then she finds out he died in Hawaii – not Kansas, where she thought he was, on business. Then she finds out there was a woman in the car. Then she meets the fiance of the woman passenger and the two of them embark on a fact-finding mission in Hawaii to discover the truth. Well, I’m just sayin’ . . . the plot thickens. And thickens. And thickens clear up to the last few pages. Hang onto your seat. A really, really good, suspenseful read.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. What a WONDERFUL book. It opens up a shameful part of America’s past, but one you might not have heard about before this. In the late 1800s thousands of Chinese workers were brought to the West Coast to help with a variety of construction projects and a myriad of other things where laborers were needed. Many settled, married and made a new life for themselves. But suddenly the white population didn’t want them here anymore and they summarily ordered them ALL out of our country. This book chronicles a young Chinese girl, who was on a ship that was supposed to take her family to China, but the ship’s captain decided en route to dump them all overboard, to drown. The girl’s father knew it was going to happen and in order to save her, he threw his daughter off the ship as they were passing Orcas Island (in the San Juan Islands west of Seattle). She was saved. The book switches from that time to current time as a woman is rebuilding her family’s home on Orcas and finds a beautifully embroidered silk Chinese robe sleeve hidden under a stair step. The book is about that sordid past and the young girl’s descendents, and about the woman who is rebuilding. Stunner of a novel. Good for a book club read, I think. It has a reader’s guide at the back with good questions for book groups.

How It All Began: A Novel by Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

 

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Desserts, on February 16th, 2019.

caramel_apple_rose_final

So quick and pretty – just 15 mins from start to oven

This is a post from Sara: The recipe is from Phillis Carey.  I attended a class a few months ago and am now on her mailing list.  I saw these gems on her Valentine’s Day email and I thought; I can do that!  They are so simple and quick; just 3 main ingredients.  I had them ready for the oven in less than 15 mins.  I baked them while finishing the rest of dinner and served them warm with vanilla ice cream.

apple_rose_tart_stripsThe puff pastry is folded in thirds so just cut the thawed pastry on the crease lines then each third in half to get 6 equal strips.  I used a silicone pastry brush to spread the caramel sauce from end to end. The microwaving of the apple slices is imperative because they must be soft to roll.  Then line the strip of pastry with the apple slices skin side up 1/4” above the top of the pastry overlapping a bit.  Fold the bottom half of the pastry over the apple slices leaving skin side exposed.  Then roll from end to end forming a rose.

apple_rose_tart_before_bakingPlace in muffin tin and continue with remaining strips.  Sprinkle with course sugar and bake.  I drizzled more caramel sauce on top and served it with vanilla ice cream.  My family just loved them.

What’s Good: I love how quickly I put this together.  Valentine’s Day was a weekday this year and I was able to put this together after work no problem.  I also think they are pretty and look difficult to make.

What’s Not:  There is some time to allow for the puff pastry to thaw.  Also I found the Smucker’s brand of caramel sauce not intense enough.  I think I’d try the Mrs. Richardson’s Butterscotch Caramel or maybe Dulce De Leche for a more robust flavor.

printer friendly pdf

* Exported from MasterCook *

Caramel Apple Rose Tart

Recipe By: Phillis Carey’s recipe
Serving Size: 6

1 apple — Honeycrisp, Pink Lady or Gala work best
6 tablespoons caramel sauce — purchased and extra for garnish
1 sheet frozen puff pastry sheet — thawed
Coarse sugar
Vanilla ice cream

1. Preheat oven to 400F.
2. Cut apple in quarters and core. Then slice very thinly
3. Arrange apple slices on plate and microwave on HIGH for 45 seconds until soft and pliable, cool
4. Cut puff pastry into 6 equal strips. Brush each strip with 1T caramel sauce. Place apple slices lengthwise with skin edge up along the edge of the dough, sticking 1/4″ above the edge of the dough and slightly overlapping. Fold bottom half of dough over the apple slices leaving the skin edge exposed. Starting at one end, roll the dough up in a spiral to form a rose shaped pastry.
5. Generously butter or spray muffin tin and transfer a rose to each cup, apple edge up. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 30-40mins.
6. Cool in pan for 5 mins. Remove from pan and cool on rack. Serve warm with a scoop of ice cream and drizzled with more caramel sauce.
Per Serving 294 Calories; 16g Fat (47.7% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 36g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; trace Cholesterol; 175mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on February 6th, 2019.

apple_blueb_cobbler

Lovely dessert. Apples and blueberries.

Made this dessert last night for my bible study group. I ate a couple of bites of it, trying not to eat the cobbler part, just fruit. Thought it was great, and my group gave me raves.

apple_blueb_cobber_side

I used Envy apples, or were they Gala. Can’t remember what I bought, other than they were the red/yellow sweet, crisp type apples. They held their shape well, and were super sweet tasting. I adapted the recipe from Marie Rayner’s blog, The English Kitchen. I used different and more apples, more blueberries. The topping is easy but doesn’t really cover the fruit altogether. Just enough to kind of hold it together. The orange zest gives it an elusive flavor – nobody could identify it!

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Apple and Blueberry Cobbler

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from The English Kitchen blog.
Serving Size: 8

2 pounds apples — use sweet, crisp variety, peeled, quartered, cored, cut into thick slices
2/3 cup blueberries — fresh
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon water
TOPPING:
4 ounces unsalted butter — at room temperature (1/2 cup)
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
4 ounces self-rising flour — a scant cup
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
the grated zest of one small orange
powdered sugar for dusting on top
whipped cream for serving

NOTE: If you don’t have self-rising flour, use regular all-purpose and add a teaspoon of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
1. Preheat the oven to 350*F.
2. Place the apples in the bottom of a 9×9 or larger baking dish, at least 2 inches deep. Add blueberries on top, then sprinkle the sugar over top along with the water. Bake for about 10 minutes while you make the topping.
3. TOPPING: Using a mixer, add softened butter and sugar and beat for several minutes until mixture is creamy and light. Add eggs, self-rising flour and continue beating until no flour streaks appear. Add orange juice and zest and mix in gently. Remove the fruit from the oven and spoon the thick batter evenly over top. Return to the oven and cook for 40 to 50 minutes until golden brown and the top springs back when lightly touched.
4. Dust with powdered sugar and serve warm with whipped cream, lightly sweetened.
Per Serving (oops, wrong as it served about 10 people, original recipe said served 6): 428 Calories; 18g Fat (36.1% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 66g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 112mg Cholesterol; 267mg Sodium.

Posted in Breads, on February 4th, 2019.

2_ingred_bagels

A recipe from Sara

2_ingred_toppingsThis is an alternative to yeast breads that takes no time to make and has 10-11 grams protein per serving!  It’s my new favorite. I make this in double batches and my family goes through them within a few days. Always a good sign the recipe is enjoyed. 2_ingred_dough

The only negative is the self-rising flour, as it’s not something I normally use, so I had to buy some specifically for this recipe. And now I have to find a permanent home in my baking drawer!

Notes from Carolyn: you can make your own self-rising flour and store it that way, but if you don’t have self-rising flour and don’t want to have to buy it or store it, use this adaptation: for every 1 cup of all-purpose flour add 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.

bagels_raw

In writing up this recipe for Sara, and going online to verify instructions, I discovered this gem is now in a Weight Watchers recipe frenzy. “Everybody” is making it – you can make all kinds of things with it: bagels (Sara’s favorite), calzones, pizza dough, pretzels, bread sticks, and even cinnamon rolls. Sara had difficulty making pretzel shapes with the dough (it’s very sticky). If you’re interested, go online and search for “2 ingredient (insert type)” and you’ll find many websites with the same recipe and perhaps more instructions for making the other varieties.Sara used the recipe from a website called Recipe Diaries. You might want to go there and check out some of Jenna’s hints about handling the dough (refrigerate it before shaping). The complete recipe (4 servings) amounts to 11 WW points, in case you’re following their nutrition/diet style.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

2 Ingredient Dough

Recipe By: Recipe Diaries blog (follows Weight Watcher’s)
Serving Size: 4

1 cup Greek yogurt, fat-free
1 cup self-rising flour
1 egg — for wash

1. Mix flour and yogurt together in bowl. Either spray Pam on your hands or dust hands with more flour as dough is sticky. Knead dough until smooth.
2. Divide into 4ths and shape into whatever you want. (I’ve made sandwich rolls, bagels – my preference – pizza crust, hotdog buns…)
3. Place on parchment paper on baking sheet. Whisk egg and brush onto dough. Then sprinkle with whatever topping sounds good. I love the Everything Seasoning from Trader Joe’s or Costco. I’ve also sprinkled mini chocolate chips, herbs and parmesan…. be creative!
4. Bake at 350°F for 22 minutes.
Per Serving: 160 Calories; 2g Fat (8.9% calories from fat); 10g Protein; 26g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 53mg Cholesterol; 437mg Sodium.

Posted in Books, on January 15th, 2019.

Image result for where the crawdads sing

Oh my goodness. Where does one begin explaining this book. It’s positively mesmerizing. I could hardly put it down. I wanted to snatch up my Kindle at all hours or day and evening to find out what was going to happen next. My favorite kind of read.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is a treasure. Not only the story itself – about a girl (very young) who is basically abandoned by her mother first, then a couple of  years later by her drunken and abusive father, yet she survives by herself, living on the edge of civilization (in the hinter marshland in North Carolina near the ocean), yet only a mile or so from a small town. In a primitive shack. But that’s not really the story. From the time Kya was a child she was interested in the wildlife in the marshy lands near her home. She became one with nature – the birds would mingle like one with her. She collected things, she observed the birds, lizards and insects in how they lived, mated, died. She collected shells and weeds and flowers. And she learned to harvest some food. And sell mollusks to buy more food to survive. She didn’t go to school.

Oh, but I’m giving away the story, and I can’t do that. You just have to read this book. The author is a naturalist/scientist by profession and has written other books, like Cry of the Kalahari. Many years of Owens’ life she and her husband lived in Africa, as scientists, studying the desert. I have that book on my Kindle and haven’t ever read it. I bought it to read while I was on safari some years ago, and never got around to it. Shame on me! I will now.

The author has a way with words – they’re lyrical – they’re poetic – they’re haunting. I highlighted many paragraphs on my Kindle to go back and read again later. Such beautiful writing. If you enjoy that kind of read, you’ll be doubly happy reading this book.

It’s difficult to categorize this book – probably 60% of it is about Kya’s growing up, her coming of age, and she does make a couple of friends. I can’t tell you more. There is a murder mystery involved, but this book is nothing like a common mystery novel. There’s also some poetry intermingled in the text. I must thank my reader Peg K for recommending this book to me. Thank you so much, Peg, for the suggestion. This has leaped up in my own list of favorites. I almost want to buy the hardcover just so I have it in my book collection. The book was published in 2018, so it’s still pricey in any form if you purchase it. Maybe you can find it at the library. Put it on your amazon wish list. But you’ve got to read it. Reese Witherspoon is going to produce a movie – I can’t wait.

Posted in Cookies, on January 3rd, 2019.

prize_winning_coconut_caramel_bars

A recipe from Sara – a delicious bar she’s made a couple of times in the last few weeks and everybody just LOVED them.

So, Sara hasn’t yet learned how to post recipes, so I’m doing it for her, for the moment. She’s going to come visit me sometime soon and she’ll learn, get it down pat, then she can post recipes and the write-ups herself, from home. . . carolyn

Sara says: these were an easy-fix to take to a party, to serve to friends, especially with a cup of coffee in hand, or to provide for a kids’ event. These are sweet and chewy, and chocolaty. I love to make recipes like this because they are fast, easy to cut and pretty to display on a tray.

In reading the original recipe at King Arthur Flour, I found several complaints, and one in particular about the addition of the caramel layer (it worked for some and didn’t for many who tried it), SO, I made some adjustments.

In the original recipe, people complained about getting them out of the pan – so I added the step of lining the pan with parchment; the recipe didn’t say light or dark brown sugar, so I chose dark; I prefer dark chocolate chips, but you can use semisweet, or even milk chocolate if that’s your preference; and the biggest change . . . I’ve started using canned dulce de leche for all of the recipes I make that call for baking the caramel. It’s just easier, period. And I’ve never had a failure. These cookies are very sweet, so a little bit goes a long ways – hence I cut them in 1-inch cubes. That’s truly enough!

What’s GOOD: this recipe is a definite keeper for me. All my friends enjoyed them and my kids went nuts over them. They’d be easy to ship to my daughter away at college (cookies = love from mom). I loved the sweetness of the caramel and the robust flavor of dark chocolate. These are easily frozen and brought out for unexpected guests.

What’s NOT: nothing except incorporating the changes I made to the recipe – all for flavor or for ease.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Grand Prize Coconut-Caramel Bars

Recipe By: Adapted from King Arthur Flour
Serving Size: 90

2 cups sweetened coconut flakes — toasted, reserving 1/2 cup for topping
1/2 cup butter — softened
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar — packed
1 large egg
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 can dulce de leche
2 cups dark chocolate chips

1. Toast coconut in 9×13 glass baking dish in a preheated 300°F oven, for 18-20 minutes. Stir coconut halfway through and watch carefully as it may burn quickly. Remove coconut and set aside to cool.
2. Line the same 9×13 dish with parchment paper that is higher than the pan edges.
3. Increase oven temp to 350°F.
4. In a large bowl beat butter, brown sugar, vanilla and egg. Mix in flour, salt, baking powder and 1 1/2 cups of the coconut.
5. Spread mixture into prepared pan and bake for 15 minutes. Just before the 15 minutes are up, put the entire contents of the dulce de leche in a glass measuring cup and heat in microwave in 20-30 second intervals until pourable. [It took me 90 seconds.] Remove crust from oven, pour caramel on top and smooth to all edges. Return to oven to continue baking for 10-13 minutes. Caramel will bubble up. Remove from oven. Sprinkle chocolate chips on top of hot caramel. Let stand about 5 minutes for the chips to melt. Spread evenly over top of bars, then sprinkle with the reserved toasted coconut. Set aside to cool completely.
6. Using the parchment paper “handles” lift the bars out of the pan and set on cutting board. Cut into 1″x1″ bars.
Per Serving: 62 Calories; 3g Fat (42.6% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 9g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 5mg Cholesterol; 32mg Sodium.

Posted in Uncategorized, on December 31st, 2018.

You know, I’ve been writing this blog for nearly 12 years. And as time has gone by, I’ve lengthened the interval between posts (at first it was every day, then every other, then every 3 days, and currently about every 4 days). With this diet I’m on, I don’t imagine you, my readers, have been all that interested in what I have to write. It takes a firm discipline to be on the Stephen Gundry, Plant Paradox diet. It’s restrictive, and isn’t a diet that you take on lightly, or even as a diet you’ll eventually get to the end of. It’s a life-long commitment, if you choose to continue. There are days when I’m quite frustrated with it, but I do believe in the basic premise of it – virtually no carbs.

I’m experimenting with a few recipes to make “breads” that are edible on this diet, but are they satisfying? Not much, so far. I long for a slice of whole grain toast now and then, and a simple tuna sandwich slathered with some mayo and on white bread. Or a potato, or some kernels of corn in a soup. All no-no’s. My eating style has changed so much in the 9 months or so I’ve been on this diet. Currently I’m having 2 hard boiled eggs for breakfast, with a little mound of fresh blueberries on the side. For lunch I have soup, something I’ve made that contains foods I can eat. I have a small handful of nuts and a raw carrot in the mid-afternoon if I’m craving a snack. For dinner mostly I eat a salad with plenty of vegetables in it and tossed with a homemade dressing I’ve prepared. And at some point in the day I do indulge in some very dark chocolate (an ounce a day, which is allowed). That’s it. I can have a bit of wine if I want it, and I’ve been enjoying eggnog this month if it’s made with heavy cream. I do go out to eat some (with friends) and order meat and a veg mostly. Or a salad if they have one that’s got food I can eat.

On occasion I still cook “regular” meals, with carbs. But they’re for guests. Usually very little of it that I can eat. And yes, it’s difficult doing that. I have so many wonderful recipes on my blog and I’m sad I can’t have most of them anymore.

So, all that said, I’m giving myself permission to quit writing posts for the time being. Or at least not on the schedule I’ve been on. Or, unless I make something that I am really enamored with and feel a strong need to share with you. I’m not going away. My plan is to devote some of this extra time to my art, something I haven’t done in many years and I’d like to get back to it. Drawing and watercolor mostly. I’ll keep the blog up (it costs me about $12/month to keep it on the ‘net and an annual fee for the domain name). Maybe I’ll come back to it. I don’t know. I’ve never accepted advertising, nor guest posts (other than my daughter’s). Daughter Sara would like to take over this blog, and perhaps she will – she says she want to. There’s a certain discipline that’s needed when you write a blog, and I’m not sure with her so-very-busy life (full time job and family) that she has the time. But she took photos of 2-3 recipes on December 24th, and she wants to share them. I need to teach her how to do it all, however, so the plan is that sometime in the next few weeks she’s going to come here to my house and I’ll spend time with her doing that.

I’ve been retired since 1995 – gee whiz – that’s 23 years ago – and I’ve actually accomplished all of the goals I made for myself when I did so. (Those goals: 1. write a cookbook for my children [I started this blog first, but I did print a cookbook that I gifted to all of my kids and close friends]; 2. start an investment club [did that for 11 years, I think it was]; and 3. learn to paint [yes, did that one too]. I hadn’t planned on becoming a widow, however. At least not this soon. In March, it’ll be 5 years since Dave passed away. But I’m so grateful he and I did lots and lots of traveling in the years of our marriage and especially so after we both retired. We visited every place we’d put on our travel list and then some. I’m still living in a great big house, and I truly love my home, but there are days when I get overwhelmed with keeping watch over everything. In the last year I’ve had a leak – sprinklers that were spraying the house rather than the garden and it caused a $10,000 repair bill to replace hardwood flooring inside, dry wall, stucco outside, treat for subterranean termites, paint inside and out, etc. It was a big job and fortunately there was no mold. Currently I have a roof leak of unknown origin. Fortunately, during our heavy rains last month it only leaked onto my glass-topped coffee table (family room) and nowhere else. Now a big towel and a wide bowl sit smack-dab in the middle of that table all the time. Heaven forbid that we’d have a rain and I’d have forgotten to put the bowl on the table, so it’s safer to leave it there all the time. Next step is to contact a leak detection company and have them make a go of it.

Recently I’ve subscribed to MasterCook’s online sync (currently $35.00/year), which gives me the ability to access all of my recipes from my phone because all the recipes that live on my kitchen computer as synced to the ones at the MasterCook website – those 4,000 recipes (and counting – I think yesterday I input about 12 recipes) I’ve input into the MasterCook program. Previously, if I was out, I could access only my blog to look up my recipes, but of course I couldn’t get to all the recipes I have in my to-try file. Now I can do that when I’m at the grocery store and forgot to bring the recipe with me, or forgot to make a shopping list. I use Alexa to add items to my shopping list, but sometimes I simply forget to do even that!

I’ll keep my blog up and available for awhile. And maybe in a month or so I’ll miss it so much I’ll start back up again. You never know! But if you’ve ever planned to go back and look at older recipes and download them, you might want to do it. But for now, the blog will just “be there.” You’re welcome to email me with questions.

carolyn AT tastingspoons.com

Posted in Appetizers, on December 24th, 2018.

gorgonzola_fig_terrine

Another one of those . . . do you trust me? Make this. So delicious and not difficult, though there are several steps to getting this done. You can use prepared fig jam, but I’d recommend making the sauce/jam from scratch, which uses an entire bottle of Port.

One of the cooking class groups I attend is maybe going to close down. Just can’t quite get enough people to be there on a regular basis, and lots of the attenders don’t want to host the class in their homes. Some homes are more conducive to a class setting than others. My friend Cherrie hosted the group a week or so ago, and Tarla Fallgatter, the instructor, made a super varied menu of holiday sides. I’ll be posting some of the recipes from the class, even though I couldn’t eat the dressing (stuffing), or the cake dessert. I had one bite and determined the cake was a winner, though. And I nibbled on the mushrooms and sausage in the dressing.

So, this appetizer . . . it’s a gorgonzola cheese mixture (mellowed with cream cheese), layered in a round bowl with the fig/port mixture (made from dried figs) in between. You serve it with walnuts on the side (a real great taste companion) and crackers.

What’s GOOD: the flavor, first and foremost. The port-sweetened fig jam is just stellar in this dish, and the creaminess of the cream cheese/gorgonzola layers, the crunch of the walnut with each bite. Altogether wonderful.

What’s NOT: nothing, other than taking the time to reduce down the Port mixture until it becomes a kind of syrup – don’t let it burn up because you’re not watching it!!

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Gorgonzola and Fig Terrine

Recipe By: Tarla Fallgatter cooking class, 2018
Serving Size: 12

1 bottle Ruby Port — (750 ml)
1/2 pound mission figs — dried, stemmed
4 strips orange peel. (orange part only) — about 2″ long
1 1/2 cups Gorgonzola cheese — (about 12 ounces) crumbled, packed
5 1/2 ounces cream cheese — room temperature (about 2/3 cup)
1/2 cup walnuts — toasted halves
Assorted grapes and crackers

1. Combine Port, figs, and orange peel in heavy medium saucepan. Simmer over medium heat until figs soften, about 20 minutes, Discard peel. Using slotted spoon, transfer figs to processor along with 3 Tablespoons Port poaching liquid, puree to make fig jam. (At this point, I tasted the mixture and it was not to my liking. I added about 1/4 cup of preserved figs that I had in my refrigerate. It enhanced the flavor and the consistency). Transfer to small bowl to cool. Simmer remaining liquid over medium heat until reduced to 1/4 cup, about 30 minutes, Cover and refrigerate syrup.
2. Line a small loaf pan (or a bowl or a mold) with plastic wrap bringing up edges over the side of the pan. Using an electric mixer, beat Gorgonzola and cream cheese in medium bowl to blend. Spread 1/2 cup cheese mixture evenly on bottom of prepared pan. Spread 1/4 cup jam, another 1/2 cup cheese mixture, then 1/4 cup jam. Top with remaining cheese mixture. Cover terrine and remaining jam with plastic wrap and refrigerate separately. Chill until firm, at least four hours. (Reduced Port syrup and terrine can be made one week ahead. Keep refrigerated.)
3. Remove terrine from refrigerator 30 minutes before serving. Unwrap terrine on to serving platter, and carefully remove pan. Run spatula under hot water, wipe dry, and use to smooth the edges of terrine. Drizzle port syrup over terrine (if too thick, microwave 20 seconds to thin.) Garnish with toasted walnuts and grapes.
Per Serving: 197 Calories; 18g Fat (73.5% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 6g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 41mg Cholesterol; 451mg Sodium.

Posted in Breads, lectin-free, on December 21st, 2018.

LF_GF_bishops_bread

Most of you won’t appreciate what a masterpiece I think this is. Those of you who are willing to eat wheat and lectins, etc. can disregard this post.

It’s only been in the last 4-6 weeks that I’ve been feeling a frustration with my Plant Paradox diet, the one that doesn’t allow beans, rice, potatoes, winter squashes, bread, corn, tortillas, peas, corn, wheat flour of any kind, etc. For about 8 months I’ve been following the Stephen Gundry diet, and it’s still working, albeit very slowly. But as Christmas was approaching, I was feeling a lot of sadness that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy my favorite Bishop’s Bread since it contains a flour-based batter. I decided I was going to “fix” that. I began researching online at several websites that offer recommendations about how to adapt a recipe to GF or LF (lectin-free) or both.

Initially I began with creating a combination of alternate “flours.” It’s 2:1:1 of almond flour, coconut flour and cassava flour (the latter is a flour made from yuca, a tuber, which also produces tapioca). These flours are readily available now at some mainstream grocery stores. I buy the almond flour at Costco, and the other two I bought locally, but have also purchased on amazon. I also purchased xanthan gum, an ingredient you’ll often find in GF foods – it’s not a requirement, but it helps hold things together – baked goods mostly. I also learned that it’s best to double the amount of leavening – in this case it was baking powder, since the rising agent has to work harder in GF mixtures to accomplish the same amount of lift.

With trepidation I began mixing up my bread. First I mixed up my alternative sugar too – I used half Swerve and half regular sugar – with eggs. You don’t get the same kind of lemony smooth texture from Swerve, but I mixed them well enough. I’d added the xanthan gum and baking powder to the flour mixture. And just before combining everything I tossed in the halved maraschino cherries, chocolate chips (Ghiradelli dark) and chopped walnuts into the flour mixture. Technically I shouldn’t have sugar, the sweetened cherries or any chocolate less than 90% cacao. But to enjoy this treat, I figured I wouldn’t be using all that much of it. Or eating all that much of it.

The batter was scraped into a bread pan – I used a 9” loaf pan, but next time I might try to use one of my narrower pans instead as this loaf isn’t as high as usual. In the photo at top, those are 2 slices of the bread you can see, each about 1 1/2 inches high. I baked the loaf for 45 minutes and it was almost over done, but it seemed good as it cooled. I couldn’t wait to upend it and slice off a piece. I waited about an hour and was just thrilled when I took my first bite. Oh, heaven!

When I make this again, I will increase the amount of batter, but leave the additions the same, which will take longer to bake, of course. But I’m a happy camper enjoying a narrow slice of this every other day or so. I mixed up a bigger batch of the alternative flours so I can try it in some other recipe, maybe for a biscuit kind of thing.

What’s GOOD: this means I can enjoy this treat during December after all, although I should be limited on how much. I’m rationing it out to myself so it won’t be gone by Christmas. The bread tastes every bit as good as the regular version and I was happy with the light crumb of the bread/batter aspect. It’s not heavy at all.

What’s NOT: only the acquiring of the oddball alternative flours. Otherwise, this was a cinch.

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

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LF GF Bishops Bread

Recipe By: my own recipe, 2018
Serving Size: 14

FLOUR SUBSTITUTE MIX:
1 cup almond flour
1/2 cup cassava flour
1/2 cup coconut flour
BREAD:
3/4 cup flour substitute (above)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/4 cup sugar — scant
1/4 cup Swerve — scant
1 cup walnuts — chopped
1/2 cup Maraschino cherries — halved, drained
3/4 cup dark chocolate chips

FLOUR SUBSTITUTES: Combine in a bowl the almond, cassava and coconut flours. Mix well so there are no lumps. Store unused flour at room temp.
1. Combine in a bowl the 3/4 cup of the substitute flour mix, baking powder, xanthan gum and salt. Use a whisk or your hands to mix this well. Set aside.
2. Preheat oven to 325°F. Prepare bread pan by placing a piece of cut-to-fit waxed paper in the bottom. Use an 8″ bread pan if you have one.
3. Using a mixer, combine the eggs, Swerve and sugar. Mix well. Using Swerve won’t give you the same consistency as you’re used to with eggs/sugar. Just mix it well.
4. Add the maraschino cherries to the bowl of flour and toss so the wet cherries are coated in the flour mixture. Add walnuts and chocolate chips and mix thoroughly. Pour the egg mixture into the flour/fruit mixture and stir well to combine, making sure there are no lumps of flour.
5. Scrape into a bread pan, smooth top and bake for about 40-45 minutes. When the sides of the bread turn golden brown, the bread is done. Remove to cool on a rack for about 30-45 minutes, then invert and set back right side up to cool completely. Wrap in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator. Use 1/4″ or slightly thicker slices to serve. Using a serrated knife may be useful.
Per Serving (not quite accurate as the alternate flours aren’t included): 147 Calories; 9g Fat (47.9% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 19g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 30mg Cholesterol; 144mg Sodium.

Posted in Brunch, on December 19th, 2018.

bacon_egg_breakfast_tart

Every December a group of girlfriends get together for breakfast at one of our homes. It was my turn.

The rest of the year, every couple of weeks, we meet at a Corner Bakery and catch up with our lives, our children, grandchildren, our dogs and cats, our travels, our reading and just general “life.” We’ve been meeting for about 35 years. Since we meet quite early, I needed to make something that I could complete likkety-split. This seemed like a good recipe to make that happen.

First you begin with a sheet of defrosted puff pastry. It is rolled out a little bit more than it is as it comes in the box, but didn’t require much to get it to an 8×10 size. Onto the baking sheet it went. With a sharp knife you score a line all around the outside edge of the puff pastry – this allows the edge to rise up (and kind of become a ridge/rim so the filling doesn’t leak out). Then I mixed up some crème fraiche and a bunch of grated Gruyere cheese. That was spread all over the interior of the puff pastry. Into a hot oven it went for about 14 minutes. I waited until all of my friends were here before I put this in the oven. When it came out of the oven at that point the filling part was golden brown all over and smelled lovely! Onto the top I placed about 4-5 slices of already crisped bacon, cut into little pieces, then I cracked 3 eggs. At this point you time it carefully – 7-10 minutes back in the oven to make the eggs sunny-side up. At 7 minutes the whites were still not cooked. At 9 minutes they were done, maybe even over-done. Then you use a knife to cut kind of irregular pieces, giving each person a bunch of the pastry/bacon part and one egg. Oh, I hadn’t sprinkled the top with chives when I snapped the photo.

bacon_egg_tart_before_baking_eggsThere’s a photo after I’d cracked the eggs onto the tart. One yolk broke and it wasn’t very pretty (I ate that one). If I did this again, I’d probably try to get 4 eggs onto the piece – the recipe said it fed 4, but you only put 3 eggs onto the sheet. Strange. I’ve adjusted the recipe below for that. I’d recommend large or even medium eggs and do try to get 4 onto the tart. I made both sheets of puff pastry and then had 6 eggs altogether – should have done 8. And no, I didn’t eat any of the puff pastry – I ate the egg and bacon only and got some of the cheesy mixture too underneath the eggs. All the guests enjoyed it. The cheese added just a great flavor to the whole tart. This could be something you’d make on Christmas morning. Grate the cheese the night before and mix it  up with the crème fraiche. You could even do the bacon the day before too. Then it’s just a matter of rolling out the pastry, chilling it for 15 minutes, it said, then you put the toppings on and bake. The other thing I would do – making this again – I have 2 ovens – I would have used both, because even with switching the 2 pans halfway through and turning them around, one sheet didn’t cook up as nicely golden brown.

What’s GOOD: easy to make, really. Lovely presentation. It looked better once I had the chives sprinkled all over the top. Some of my guests didn’t eat the egg yolk, but they ate everything else around it and the pastry. I served this with fresh fruit (blueberries, raspberries and blackberries) and I had some slices of Dario’s Olive Oil Cake with Rosemary and Pine Nuts in the freezer, and since it’s not a very sweet cake, I thought it would work well with the breakfast. It did. I served mimosas and hot coffee.

What’s NOT: nothing really, except planning ahead to defrost the puff pastry for 24 hours before making this. And don’t use extra large eggs – even medium eggs would be good. I used large. Watch the eggs carefully during the 7-10 minute cooking time. Mine went from not done at 7 minutes to over-done at 9 minutes. But then, everyone’s oven is different.

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

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Bacon and Egg Breakfast Tart

Recipe By: adapted slightly from Williams-Sonoma
Serving Size: 4

1 sheet puff pastry
1 egg — lightly beaten with 1 tsp. water
3 ounces crème fraîche
2 ounces Gruyère cheese — shredded
Salt and freshly ground pepper — to taste
8 bacon slices — cooked until crisp
4 large eggs — or medium sized if you have them
10 fresh chives — cut on the bias into 1/2-inch lengths

1. Thaw puff pastry dough according to package instructions, usually 24 hours, left in the box.
2. Preheat an oven to 425°F. Lightly grease a baking sheet.
3. On lightly floured surface, roll out the puff pastry to 1/4-inch thickness and to a 10-by-8-inch rectangle. Place the pastry on the prepared baking sheet. Using a paring knife, score a border 1/2 inch in from the edge of the pastry. Using a fork, prick the center of the pastry. Brush the border with the egg wash and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
4. In a small bowl, stir together the crème fraîche and cheese, and season with pepper. The bacon will add enough salt, but you can also sprinkle salt on top at the end.
5. Spread the crème fraîche mixture on the pastry, keeping the border clean. Lay the bacon pieces on top, scattered all over. Bake the tart for 14 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through baking.
6. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and place it on a level heatproof surface. Using a fork, prick any large air pockets in the pastry. Crack the eggs onto the tart, spacing them 2 inches apart. Bake until the egg whites are set and the yolks are still soft, 7 to 10 minutes.
7. Transfer the tart to a platter, garnish with the chives and serve in irregular pieces so each person is served an egg.
Per Serving: 625 Calories; 47g Fat (67.5% calories from fat); 21g Protein; 29g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 311mg Cholesterol; 500mg Sodium.

Posted in Soups, on December 13th, 2018.

burmese_inspired_chix_soup_w_sweetpotato_coconut_milk

Really I’m not certain what parts of this soup make it Burmese-inspired, but what it is, is a 10 in flavor! MAKE THIS!

This recipe came from Food52, that website that is just chock-a-block full of recipes and ideas, posting about 8-10 new things every day, almost. Since sweet potato is something I can have on my diet (in small amounts) I decided to use up a sweet potato I’d purchased some weeks ago and needed to be used! I had a package of boneless chicken thighs in the freezer, so those were defrosted first, then they were marinated for a day in a mixture of turmeric, powdered ginger, ground coriander and a dash of oil.

Once I was ready to make the soup (which didn’t take all that long to do) I whizzed up in the food processor a handful of cilantro STEMS, some fresh garlic and a shallot. I was supposed to add a hot chile, but I forgot! Meanwhile, I used a big deep pot and I browned the sweet potato (peeled, cubed) in a bit of EVOO until at least 2 sides were golden-browned. It took 3 batches as you don’t want to crowd the pan (would steam rather than brown) and those were set aside. Then the chicken was added in and the pieces nicely browned for about 4-6 minutes, then that mixture I’d done in the food processor was added and allowed to cook a bit. Wow, the flavor wafting from the pan had my mouth watering. Then in went chicken stock and the sweet potatoes were added back in. Pan was covered and it simmered for about 15 minutes. The can of coconut milk was added, some fish sauce, broccoli and bok choy plus a bit of salt too. It simmered just long enough to smooth out. I didn’t eat it that day – I cooled it and refrigerated it overnight (and the coconut milk “fat” congealed on the top – but put that back into the soup – do NOT throw it out thinking it’s not healthy). I heated it up in the microwave and added some cilantro on top. I was supposed to add a quarter of a lime – I forgot to do that, too. I also didn’t make the fried shallot topping just because.

What’s GOOD: I just love-loved this soup. Everything about it. The broth is super-flavorful from the spices and the garlic and cilantro. The broth is thin – don’t expect a thick soup – it’s not. (Although you certainly could add rice or whiz up some of the sweet potato in the broth to thicken it some.)  The pieces of chicken thigh were flavorful and tender. The soup was outstanding. I have a friend who is 75% Burmese – I asked her what veggies she would add – she suggested adding the broccoli and bok choy (not in the original recipe), so I’ve added those into into the ingredient list.

What’s NOT: only that it’s best to start this a day ahead, or two, because the chicken needs to marinate overnight, and the soup is best made a day ahead, as with all soups. Otherwise, the time to make the actual soup was only about 35-45 minutes total.

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

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Burmese Inspired Chicken Soup with Coconut Milk, Sweet Potato, Broccoli and Bok Choy

Recipe By: adapted slightly from Food52, 2016
Serving Size: 7

SOUP:
1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon turmeric
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil — or EVOO
2 cloves garlic
1 piece ginger — peeled (1 inch)
1 whole shallot — peeled
1 chili pepper — on the hot side (de árbol)
1 bunch cilantro
1/4 cup grapeseed oil — or EVOO
2 cups sweet potato — peeled, cubed
3 cups chicken stock
1 cup broccoli florets — (cut small) (optional)
1 1/2 cups baby bok choy — chopped small (optional)
3 cups unsweetened coconut milk
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 limes — 1 juiced and 1 quartered
Salt to taste
SHALLOT TOPPING: (optional)
1 shallot — peeled, sliced thinly
1 cup grapeseed oil for frying the shallot

1. Cut the chicken thighs into about 1-inch pieces and marinate overnight with the dried ginger, turmeric, coriander, and 1 tablespoon of oil. If time doesn’t permit, simply toss the chicken pieces with the spices before you start cooking.
2. In a food processor, mince the garlic, ginger, shallot, dried chile, and the roots and/or stems of the bunch of cilantro.
3. In the bottom of a heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat, heat the oil. Then add the cubed sweet potato. Fry until golden brown on at least 2 sides of each cube. Scoop out of the pan, leaving the oil, and set aside. Add the chicken pieces (a few at a time so you can brown them without having them cool the pan down) and let them begin to brown. Season with a pinch of salt. When they are mostly browned, add the minced shallot-ginger-garlic-cilantro stem mixture and let cook out a little. Add a couple tablespoons of the chicken stock and let reduce until the mixture is soft and cooked. Add the rest of the chicken stock and the reserved sweet potatoes and bring to a simmer.
4. Meanwhile use the method below to fry the crispy shallots (this can also be done as much as a week ahead of time, as the shallots will keep in a closed container at room temperature for a week at least). Simmer the soup for about 10 minutes, until the chicken and sweet potatoes are close to tender. Add broccoli and bok choy, if using and simmer until vegetables are barely tender. Stir in the fish sauce, lime juice, and coconut milk and bring up to a simmer. Stir in a quarter cup of cilantro leaves and taste for salt. Serve garnished with the crispy shallots, a couple of sprigs of raw cilantro, and the lime wedges
6. SHALLOTS: In a sauté pan over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the shallots and stir frequently. As the oil continues to heat, the shallots will start to color. When they get to golden brown, scoop them out of the oil and drain on a paper towel. You want to pull them out of the oil a little before dark brown, as they’ll continue to cook and crisp up on the paper towel.
Per Serving: 302 Calories; 18g Fat (52.4% calories from fat); 19g Protein; 17g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 74mg Cholesterol; 1112mg Sodium.

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