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Just finished reading 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 Novelby 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.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant (she arrived after the birth, actually). Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the father is a wealthy man in the area who carries a lot of clout. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

On my recent road trip, I visited one of my local libraries and borrowed 5 books on tape. We listened to 3 of them. I’m a big fan of Craig Johnson, the author of a series of mysteries taking place in Wyoming, and a TV series on Netflix called Longmire. This book, A Serpent’s Tooth: A Longmire Mystery was really complex. Hard to explain, but it’s about graft and greed and oil. Worth reading, for sure. Also read Stone Kiss by Faye Kellerman, another complex mystery about Lt Decker, an LA cop who journeys to NYC to help out his family when a murder occurs. Lots of violence in this one.  Not particularly a fav book, I’d venture. Then read Leaving Time: A Novel by Jodi Picoult. I’ve read most of her books – always very riveting. In this book, you’ll learn a whole lot about elephants since the protagonist in it is a young girl whose mother disappeared when she was quite young. Her parents ran an elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire. In the ensuing years, Jenna has tried to find clues as to her mother’s whereabouts because she just cannot believe her mother would have up and abandoned her. There are a whole cast of characters (her mother, her father, employees at the sanctuary, a cop or two, and a psychic). All play fairly prominent roles. Fascinating book – I really liked it, almost as much for the education about the behavior of elephants as about the mystery. A great read.

Also on the trip, I read a book (on Kindle) for one of my book clubs, The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin. It’s about the relationship between Truman Capote and his “swans,” a group of middle-aged high society ladies, and specifically Beth Paley. I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not. Truman Capote was not a nice man, although the whole novel (vs. non-fiction, which this is not) is conjured from speculation about the years Truman was kind of adopted by the group of women. He cared about all of them (most were married/divorced, and wealthy) but in the end he betrays them all by writing a novella about their secrets, their marriages, their affairs (theirs or their spouses, information they’d all shared with him, thinking he could be trusted with their innermost secrets). It was scandalous, and yes, all that part is true. I finished the book, but almost felt like I’d read a “dirty book.” There is no graphic detail in this book – it’s just what Capote did to destroy these women, supposedly his dear, darling “swans.” He was the villain in the book, and in his old age . . . well, I won’t spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it.

 

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 Soups, on October 6th, 2017.

chilled_yellow_sq_soup_thai_flavors

Do you like Thai food? I sure do, yet I don’t have it often. There’s a tiny hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurant near me that serves very authentic (I think) Thai food with whatever degree of heat you can handle.

In this little Thai restaurant the husband works the front, and the wife does a lot of the cooking. I need to go there more often. I love their Pad Thai, probably the most common American Thai restaurant specialty. Lots of carbs, however.

So, I digress . . . I had decided to make some more yellow squash (cold) soup, and when I began I wanted to use up some fresh ginger I had, semi-withering in a kitchen counter bowl. With that, my mind turned to the Thai green curry paste I have in my refrigerator. Love the flavor it adds to things. So rather than repeat what I’d made before, I decided to make this version a little Asian. A little Thai.

The soup was so easy to make – onion in oil, added the squash, some garlic, Thai green curry paste, the fresh ginger, then some chicken broth (or you could use coconut milk) and I let it simmer for about 20 minutes until the squash was super-tender. Cooled it on my countertop for a little bit, then whizzed it up in my Vitamix blender until smooth. I added in some salt, pepper, lemon juice and sour cream. That was chilled down overnight and as I’m writing this I had it for my lunch today, that little bowl up top. Actually I had 2 bowls of it. It was so refreshing for a hot summer day. It’s still summer where I live in SoCalifornia.

You could use any kind of garnishes – cilantro is a must, however, then you could add toasted sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds. Or no seeds at all. Whatever floats your boat. The sour cream adds a lovely silkiness to the soup. You could add milk, or soy milk instead. Or some Greek yogurt too. Any of the above. This soup is versatile. I like just a little bit of texture to the soup, but not much. Use your own judgment about that too. If you’d like to, cut off the stems of the cilantro and add those into the soup at the beginning. It will add flavor without the green from the leaves. I didn’t think of it, or I would have! Altogether lovely soup. The curry paste doesn’t add enough flavor that you can distinguish curry (honest) and the ginger adds just a tiny bit of flavor AND a tiny bit of heat. Or maybe the heat was from the green curry paste. I’m not sure. Altogether good, though.

What’s GOOD: this soup is so easy to make, though it’s best if it’s refrigerated overnight. It will meld the flavors and get it plenty cold. Use your own choice of garnishes. This is not a thick, heavy soup at all – probably wouldn’t satisfy for a dinner, but it was fine for my lunch with a cookie afterwards. Low calorie, even with the sour cream. This soup isn’t going to knock your socks off with flavor – by that I mean the soup is subtle, mild, as you’d expect using yellow squash.

What’s NOT: nothing at all. You could serve this warm, but if you do, make sure you do NOT bring the soup to a boil – the sour cream will separate and make the soup curdle. Not attractive!

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Chilled Yellow Squash Soup with Thai Flavors

Recipe By: My own concoction
Serving Size: 6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 yellow onion — chopped
3 pounds yellow squash — chopped coarsely
2 garlic cloves — minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger — diced
5 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon green curry paste
1/2 cup sour cream — or full-fat yogurt
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup cilantro — minced
1/2 cup sunflower seeds — or pumpkin seeds (optional)

1. Saute onion in olive oil for 3-5 minutes until onion has softened. Add squash, garlic, green curry paste, fresh ginger and chicken broth. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 15-20 minutes until the squash is tender.
2. Set aside to cool for 15-20 minutes. Add sour cream and lemon juice, then pour the soup into a blender and puree until smooth. Taste for seasonings, adding salt and pepper as needed. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
3. Taste again for more salt or pepper, then pour 1 1/2 cups (each serving) into a bowl and garnish with cilantro and seeds, if desired. If serving warm, do not boil the soup or the sour cream or yogurt will separate and curdle.
Per Serving: 238 Calories; 16g Fat (58.4% calories from fat); 10g Protein; 16g Carbohydrate; 6g Dietary Fiber; 9mg Cholesterol; 657mg Sodium.

Posted in Uncategorized, on October 2nd, 2017.

me_aviara

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, we’ll talk . . . . .stay tuned.

Posted in Books, on September 30th, 2017.

Image result for my reading life

If you’re not a reader, you may want to skip on over this post, as it’s all about a book. A marvelous book. However, If you aren’t a reader, but know someone who IS a reader of literature, then buy the book as a gift.

Pat Conroy was not exactly a prolific writer – he wrote a number of books, but they took him years to complete as he threw so much of himself into all of his writing. There was always travail and angst with each one. Sadly, Pat Conroy died in 2016 of pancreatic cancer. His wife collected a bunch of his writings, speeches, articles, etc. and published a book posthumously, A Lowcountry Heart: Reflections on a Writing Life I’ve ordered that one, but haven’t read it.

To understand Pat Conroy means a journey through a very tumultuous military brat childhood being abused both emotionally and physically by his tyrannical father, a Marine fighter pilot. His mother and most of his siblings received the same. He wrote a novel about his upbringing, about his father –The Great Santini: A Novel – which angered legions of people in his life, including his family, because up to that point they’d all been stoically silent about the father’s abuse. To understand Pat Conroy means watching how he elevated himself out of the miasma of his childhood, not always successfully. He suffered from depression. He had a hard time writing sometimes, though he was gifted from the get-go. Teachers took him under their wings, mentors mentored him. He was married three times, and he suffered terribly from the breakup of the first two.

I don’t remember which of his books I read first. It might have been Beach Music: A Novel. Then I read several of his other books. I even owned his cookbook, The Pat Conroy Cookbook: Recipes and Stories of My Life, but I think I discarded it in my last iteration of giving away books (one of about 400 last year). His cookbook was fun to read, but I found that the Southern cooking style he used was too heavy and fat-laden for me to experience much in my own kitchen. But his novels. Oh my goodness. What treasures they are.

And this book, My Reading Life, is a treasure beyond compare. What Conroy did in this book was tell stories about the people in his life who influenced his reading. It began with his mother, who never got to go to college, but she was a reader and instilled it in her children. One of Conroy’s sisters is a poet and poetry looms large in this book too (sadly, I’ve never been much of a fan of poetry except for Billy Collins).  And it included early teachers, then later on men and women who came into his life and recommended books. As an example, he said that the first page of Look Homeward, Angel was the best first page of any book he ever read in his life. That got my attention and I’m going to look for a used copy of that book soon. The Russians also captured his attention – War and Peace (Vintage Classics) was a particular favorite of his because of the writing style. He read that book over and over during his life, gleaning gems to help him in his own writing (as have countless other authors). Conroy was a master story-teller. About his family and even his closest friends. I laughed out loud so many times as I read this book. I attached little plastic flags in many places so I can go back and re-read them. One was about a praying mantis he observed and his mother’s very clever one liner. Oh so very funny. Then about the Japanese man, Mr. Hara, who’d had his passport stolen (this was in Paris while Conroy was trying to finish one of his books) whose English was “velly bad.” I roared reading that one. And about a librarian in a Beaufort elementary school who was not a mentor (Conroy escaped into the library at lunchtime because he knew no one and wanted to hide – – and yes, he wanted to read). He got the last laugh with her too once he became a teacher at that school.

I just can’t recommend enough that everyone who enjoys reading, should read this book. I must thank my friend, Jean P, who recommended we read this book in one of my 3 book clubs. I’m so sad that cancer has stilled Conroy’s voice forever.

Posted in Vegetarian, Veggies/sides, on September 26th, 2017.

baked_portobello_mashed_potatoes

Maybe it’s just that I love mashed potatoes, and I feel guilty every time I eat them! And yet these are somewhat redeemed because they’re blended with a lot of spinach (healthy) and mounded on a big portobello mushroom (healthy!).

In either case, this is a dish you will want to make. I can’t wait for the weather to turn a little cooler and I’ll be making this as my dinner entrée. It was served at a cooking class alongside a steak, but I was just taken with the mushroom. If you served a whole mushroom, it could easily be your dinner as I expect to do it that way.

You probably already know that when preparing portobellos (they’re also called baby bellas) you need to remove all those black gills on the under side. They contain a dark ink I’ll call it – and it turns anything that touches them black and ugly. So, use a spoon and scrape out all those gills until you get down to regular mushroom flesh. Do that first!

Then, next in order is to make a batch of mashed potatoes, and at the last you throw in a bag of baby spinach (cooked briefly) along with some grated Parm, sour cream, butter and milk. The potatoes and their accompaniments probably aren’t all that healthy, but everything else about this dish IS. The mushrooms are brushed with an oil/balsamic vinegar mixture and broiled briefly, then seasoned with salt and pepper. You do need to mop out the juices in the mushroom when you broil it on its underside (up). It creates too much fluid and would make the potatoes soupy. Just use a paper towel to remove the liquid that oozes out. Then you pile in the potatoes, top with green onions and bake for 10-15 minutes to heat them through, but still leaves the mushrooms solid enough that you can move it with a spatula. You could also sprinkle with some more green onions. Delicious. For a mushroom meal, use a big honkin’ mushroom, but if serving as part of a dinner, I’d buy smaller portobellos if you can find them. Otherwise, cut each big portobello in half to serve.

What’s GOOD: all the flavors in this dish are ever-so-tasty. But then, I am a sucker for good, flavorful mashed potatoes. The spinach gives it some pretty green speckled color, and some healthy elements. The mushroom is also a great “plate” for the potatoes and if you buy a big mushroom, it will easily be a meal.

What’s NOT: nothing really – a bit of fuss to make the mashed potatoes – but that’s about it!

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Baked Portobello Mushrooms with Parmesan Mashed Potatoes

Recipe By: From a cooking class with Susan Vollmer, 2017
Serving Size: 8

4 pounds Russet potatoes
4 ounces unsalted butter
3/4 cup milk
1 pound baby spinach
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup olive oil — use an herb flavored one if available
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
8 large Portobello mushroom caps
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 large green onions — minced

1. Peel potatoes and cook them in boiling, salted water until tender. Drain, then return potatoes to the saucepan. Add butter and milk and mash the potatoes.
2. In a large skillet, briefly cook the baby spinach in a little bit of olive oil so the leaves are wilted. Add it to the potatoes, then add the Parm and sour cream. Season mixture with salt and pepper to taste.
3. In a measuring cup, combine the oil and vinegar. Set aside.
4. Preheat broiler. Clean the mushroom caps of gills and stem. Brush the mushrooms lightly with the oil/vinegar mixture and season with salt and pepper.
5. Broil the mushrooms for about 2 minutes per side. Remove from the oven and use paper towels to mop up any brown juices in the center of the mushroom cap. Fill each mushroom cap with potato mixture and place in a baking dish. Reduce oven temp to 400F.
6. Top all of the mushrooms with some of the green onions and bake for 10-15 minutes just to heat through. Serve within about 5 minutes.
Per Serving: 462 Calories; 26g Fat (48.5% calories from fat); 11g Protein; 51g Carbohydrate; 7g Dietary Fiber; 47mg Cholesterol; 93mg Sodium.

Posted in Soups, on September 22nd, 2017.

green_minestrone1

Just plain vegetable soup, but all green, and with a modicum of Italian seasonings. And good Parmigiano cheese on top.

When I got home from my road trip a week ago, I didn’t crave salads (my usual lament) because I’d had lots of salads on the trip. What I craved was soup. And vegetables. Eating out almost 3 meals a day (a couple of times Cherrie and I had an ice cream cone for lunch when we’d had an ample breakfast) you learn soon enough that most restaurants don’t serve vegetables. A few here and there, but mostly restaurants serve carbs along with protein. We ordered a side veg a couple of times (to share) and often Cherrie and I shared an entire meal (a salad and entrée both) which worked really well. We enjoyed dessert just a couple of times, aside from the aforementioned ice cream cone treat we had twice.

So, once home, a trip to the store gave me all the makings of a green minestrone, a soup I’ve been wanting to make forever.

This soup – I had it once, in northern Italy, at least 25 years ago. I’d gotten a bout of food poisoning, actually, and was really quite sick (from some fresh mozzarella at a roadside diner). I visited a pharmacy and they’d given me something which helped, but they confirmed my food poisoning diagnosis and suggested it would take about 2 weeks to work itself through. About 10 days later, we got to Northern Italy, and I finally thought I could tolerate some soup, and the waiter suggested their green minestrone. Oh my, was it ever delicious. Except for 7-up, toast and yogurt, I’d hardly eaten a thing, so maybe it was my frame of mind, or just that I was feeling slightly better. That soup – that glorious fresh green taste – has stayed with me all these years. I’d researched green minestrone recipes some years back and found a couple, and just hadn’t gotten around to trying either of them. Until now.

green_minestrone2As is usually the case, when I start making soup, I improvise. I used the recipe only as a guide to add my vegetables of choice. Maybe this soup should be titled Green and White Minestrone, because there are lots of white ingredients in it (onion, nearly white carrots, fennel and the mostly white leeks).

parmesan rindsOne thing that’s unique in this recipe is the addition of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese rinds. You save those, don’t you? I have about 2 years’ worth of them in my cheese bin (probably better to freeze them, but I might never find them again if I did that), and two of them went into this soup. Once they’ve expended their lovely essence to the soup, you scoop them out and throw them away.

I tried to time the vegetables so they’d all be perfectly cooked through (barely). Generally it worked – if you are so inclined, remove the vegetables when they’re nearly done, then add the others, until you have everything to the perfect point of done-ness, then add them back in just long enough to warm through. There’s a little bit of pasta in this soup – you can add however much you’d like. I guessed mostly at the quantities of each item. I like the frozen peas to be bright green – they add a nice fillip to the top of the soup – I always add them almost like a garnish. If you rinse them under the hot water tap, they’ll all defrost and be warmed through.

Once you’ve scooped portions into bowls, add the hot peas, the minced parsley, the grated cheese, and lastly a little drizzle of EVOO. Perfecto!

What’s GOOD: well, if the flavor wasn’t good, I wouldn’t be posting it – I loved all the green veggies, and the broth was extra special because of the Parmesan rinds in it. Just remember – a vegetable-laden soup will be only as good as the broth you cook it in. I use Penzey’s chicken broth concentrate, which I think has tons of good flavor. Altogether good soup. Even though it’s still like summer here in SoCal, I gulped down the hot soup and savored every bite. I love the toppings too.

What’s NOT: hmmm. Lots of chopping and mincing, I suppose, but get someone to help and it’ll be done in no time.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Green Minestrone

Recipe By: Loosely based on several online recipes for this kind of green minestrone
Serving Size: 8

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large leeks — white and pale-green parts only, chopped
2 large fennel bulbs — finely chopped
1/2 large yellow onion — finely chopped
2 celery stalks — thinly sliced
1 1/2 pounds zucchini — trimmed, diced
1/2 pound brussels sprouts — cleaned, quartered
12 ounces fresh asparagus — trimmed, chopped
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 Parmesan rinds — (for flavoring)
2 small carrots — use yellow, if possible
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon dried oregano — crushed in your palms
1/2 cup pasta — your choice (small)
1 cup frozen peas — defrosted
1 1/2 cups Italian parsley — (lightly packed) very finely minced
Shaved Parmesan (for serving), use ample
A drizzle of EVOO on top

1. Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Cook leek, fennel, yellow onion, and celery, stirring occasionally, until softened but not taking on any color, about 5 minutes. Add broth and Parmesan rinds, then add the dried oregano, brussels sprouts, zucchini and carrots; bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until vegetables are not quite tender, about 5 minutes. Add asparagus and pasta and cook for about 5 minutes.
2. Taste vegetables to make sure all are tender; season well with salt and pepper. Remove Parmesan rinds and discard. Rinse the frozen peas under hot water and add to the soup, just long enough to warm them.
3. Taste soup for seasoning, scoop 1 1/2 cups per bowl and garnish with fresh parsley and lots of grated Parmesan. Then drizzle the top of the soup with EVOO.
Per Serving: 172 Calories; 6g Fat (24.9% calories from fat); 15g Protein; 27g Carbohydrate; 7g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 117mg Sodium.

Posted in Travel, on September 18th, 2017.

cherrie_and_me_sooke

That’s me (on the right) with my friend Cherrie, in British Columbia, having breakfast.

A few days ago I got back from a road trip. A 2+ week, 3500 mile road trip. I had posts all set up while I was gone (so you wouldn’t miss me). I have a new car, and I wanted to take her on a nice, long “spin.” Originally I was going to go by myself, because I had lots of places I wanted to stop, to do my own thing, but the end destination was to stay at Sooke Harbour House, in Sooke, British Columbia. This inn, an elegant, old, cozy place holds a warm place in my heart because Dave and I stayed there at least twice, maybe three times over the years. It has a nautical theme, situated right on the Straits of Juan de Fuca, facing south, toward the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. It’s on Vancouver Island, about 20+ miles west of Victoria. The inn has a lovely old knotty-pine trimmed dining room overlooking the views. There are lots of places to sit around the property (providing it’s warm enough and not raining), and most rooms have a small deck or patio to enjoy the view, to listen to the bird calls, with distant fishing boats plying the waters. All the rooms have fireplaces, and many have hot tubs on the decks, outside, or somewhere close by. It’s a very romantic place to stay.

To tell you the truth, though, I wasn’t sure how “happy” I would be staying there. By myself, without my DH. In this very romantic place. But, I really did WANT to go. Dave and I had been planning a trip up the West Coast for a few months off, when he had his stroke and died so suddenly. That’s been 3 1/2 years ago now. I thought I was (maybe) ready to do that kind of trip.

But when my BF Cherrie heard about it, she said she’d like to go with me. Oh, happy day! She and I travel well together – we’ve done numerous trips over the  years (twice to England without our husbands). I knew I’d have a grand time if she shared it with me. And indeed, we did have a great trip.

We drove from where we live in Orange County, California, up the west coast to San Luis Obispo, then Paso Robles, then we kind of whizzed through the Bay Area (except to have lunch with my cousin Gary) and went to Santa Rosa (to eat at a specific restaurant), then we drove to the coast, Old Highway 1, and stayed on it all the way to Port Angeles, Washington. In that interim of northern California, Oregon and Washington coastline we encountered terrible air from the forest fires still burning in many places. Sometimes we couldn’t even see the ocean (part of the reason for the Hwy 1 slow road). Eventually we took a ferry across the Straits to Victoria.

After our stay at Sooke, we took a different ferry through the San Juan islands to Anacortes, and onto Whidbey Island. It’s a place I used to live (in a former life) and I wanted to revisit what I could of where I’d lived there. We stayed at another old, charming inn, before taking another ferry off the south end of Whidbey to Mukilteo. We bypassed Seattle except via freeways and headed for Portland. Stayed in an AirBNB there (more on that later) and just went all over there, enjoying the good food and Powell’s Books. Cherrie flew home from Portland since she’d been gone for about 12 days by that time (and her husband missed her!), and I did the rest of the trip by myself. I drove down through Oregon and stayed with a friend of Cherrie’s JaneAnn, in Rogue River, then hightailed it to Placerville, where my daughter Dana lives with her family. Two days there and then I did another straight shot home.

I’ll be sharing more of the trip in the next week or so, but just thought I’d give you an overview of what we did. I’m very happy to be back home, in my own bed, enjoying my own shower, and petting my kitty, Angel.

When Cherrie and I were up north, it was cool, even a little drizzly in a few places, and we both talked about how we couldn’t wait to get home and make some tummy-warming soups. That’s my goal today (I’m writing this on Thursday), to make some vegetable soup. I have it in my head that I want to make a green minestrone – a soup that I had once in Italy, and I have a recipe for one, but just haven’t ever gotten around to making it. That’s going to happen today, so if it’s as good as I remember, I’ll share it here!

Posted in Pork, on September 14th, 2017.

bbq_pizza

Ever done pizza on a grill? I did once years ago. It’s easy, really. This one has leeks on it, and that makes a difference – leeks just add a depth of flavor to things.

As much as I love pizza, I know it’s not exactly a healthy meal. I really do eat few bread-type carbs. I seem to make up for the calories in other ways – I don’t do this to diet. I know a lot about diabetes since my DH was a Type 1. And it was only in his last 25 years, I’d guess, that doctors figured out that blood sugar was directly related to carb consumption (whether they be bread, potatoes, rice, fruit or sugar or any kind). I began preparing a low-carb diet for us starting way back then, but even more so once we both retired. Dave loved pizza too, but he couldn’t stop eating it if is was put in front of him, so we kind of banned it from our menu. Ready-made pizza (like frozen from the grocery store) has never been all that great tasting – once in awhile I succumb getting a thin crust one. So that leaves making it from scratch.

Here on my blog I have one favorite pizza – I’ve mentioned it before – it’s one our daughter Sara introduced us to when she was visiting one weekend (when she was in college). There are other pizza recipes on my blog (just type in “pizza” in the search box top left), but this one, Pizza with Chicken, Red Onion, Pesto & Olives, is one I’ve returned to many times over the years. My mouth is watering as I type.

But I digress . . . pizza isn’t something I make much as a widow – I have my DH’s problem of not being able to stop eating it. But this pizza I’m writing about today, was really good. Really easy and worth the trouble to make your own dough. It’s from a cooking class with Susan V a few weeks ago. She made the dough earlier in the morning, so it had had a chance to do one rising before all the students arrived for the class.

She punched it down and let it rest another hour or so, then began working with it. She used cornmeal underneath the dough so it wouldn’t stick and used a pizza peel very successfully. Susan doesn’t like Trader Joe’s pizza dough – she says it sticks and she simply can’t roll it out. So she chooses to make her own, always.

Meanwhile, she sliced the tomatoes (I’d slice them thinner than you see in the photo above) and set them in a colander to drain. You don’t want lots of juices – save them, though, and put them in something else as the juice of tomatoes contain a lot of flavor. Add it to soup or a stew, or even a salad dressing. The leeks are sautéed in a little oil and cooked for 15-20 minutes until they’re very soft. You remove them, then sauté the pancetta until the pieces get lightly brown on the edges. Drain them on a paper towel and set aside.

bbq_pizza_doughThis recipe makes 2 pizzas – enough for 4-5 people, unless they’re really hungry. Susan divided the pizza dough in half and rolled them out to about 12” rounds, I’d say. Onto the peel it went and she placed both on the heated grill (medium-high). She cooked them until the TOP of the dough began to puff up – it gets these lovely little peaks and valleys. That took about 2 minutes! She brought them inside, turned them over (see photo) and patted them down, to break the puffy peaks underneath. She only cooked them on one side up to this point. Then she put all the toppings on to cooked side (leeks, pancetta, mozzarella, olive oil and lots of sliced basil, and lastly the sliced tomatoes). Back to the barbecue for only a few minutes (max 3-4). It doesn’t cook anything on top (the toppings) but merely cooks the dough on the other side and heats up everything and melts the cheese. Remove, slice immediately, and serve.

What’s GOOD: everything about this pizza was good. I wanted more (my downfall when it comes to pizza) than the one slice I got. It looks like fun making it – get your family involved – they can use their own selection of toppings. It’s easy (except for the 2 risings of the dough which takes awhile).

What’s NOT: just that making your own dough takes awhile. Nothing about this was difficult, though.

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Barbecued Pizza with Tomatoes, Basil, Leeks, Pancetta & Mozzarella

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

PIZZA DOUGH:
2 envelopes active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
TOPPING:
1/2 pound Roma tomatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 leeks — rinsed well, thinly sliced, drained well
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 pound pancetta — diced (could substitute bacon)
1 1/2 cups mozzarella cheese — shredded
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh basil — sliced

1. Slice tomatoes and place in a colander to drain for 30 minutes.
2. Heat oil in a medium skillet and saute the leeks, stirring occasionally, for about 15-20 minutes, until wilted. Season with salt and pepper. Remove and set aside.
3. In same skillet cook the pancetta until it’s crisp and slightly brown. Drain on paper towels.
4. DOUGH: In a small bowl sprinkle yeast over the warm water. Let stand for about 10 minutes until it looks creamy and foamy on top. Stir to dissolve all the yeast.
5. In a food processor, combine the flour and salt and pulse briefly. With motor running add olive oil and gradually pour in the yeast mixture. Process for about one minute to knead the dough. Transfer dough to an oiled bowl, cover with a damp towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about an hour.
6. Punch down the dough and knead briefly on a floured surface. Return dough to the bowl, cover again and allow to rise until doubled in volume, about 30-45 minutes.
7. Divide dough in half. (If possible, allow dough to sit on your board for about 10 minutes to rest – it will make it easier to roll out. Pat or roll each piece into a 9″ round shape on a floured board. Brush the tops of both pizzas with olive oil. Place rounds on a pizza peel and transfer to a medium-high heated barbecue grill. Place pizza over direct heat (BUT, watch it like a hawk!) and cook until the dough begins to puff in places and the bottom is showing brown on the edges. Don’t overdo it!! Remove pizza from the grill and close lid on the grill to retain heat. Back in the kitchen, gently press down on the puffed-up parts of the dough, then turn grilled dough over (so the uncooked side is on top). Brush top with more olive oil. Divide the leeks between the two crusts, sprinkle each with about 3/4 cup of shredded Mozzarella. Divide and arrange the pancetta on both, then overlap tomato slices. Sprinkle top with basil.
8. Place pizzas back on the grill and cook for just a few minutes – only until the cheese is melted. Watch very carefully so they don’t burn. Remove from the grill, cut into wedges and serve immediately.
Per Serving: 629 Calories; 34g Fat (47.9% calories from fat); 24g Protein; 58g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 56mg Cholesterol; 1695mg Sodium.

Posted in Beef, Grilling, on September 10th, 2017.

top_sirloin_cheesy_herb_sauce

Plenty of flavor here, and you just won’t believe how easy the cheese sauce is.

At a recent cooking class, the instructor, Susan, said she prefers top sirloin steak to any other kind. So I had to stop and think . . . when I first met my DH, he wouldn’t even try anything else except top sirloin. I thought it was too chewy and sometimes tough. Eventually, I lured him to ribeye (my favorite) and he never went back. When we’d have Sunday night family dinners (mandatory for the teenage kids to be home) we often had a big one that Dave did on the grill. His favorite way was with Bearnaise sauce on the side, but for me, that sauce was a lot of work to make, and sometimes it failed, so I gave up on that. But oh, THIS sauce. You won’t believe it!! It’s nothing but a container (or two) of Boursin or Rondele cheese, very gently heated until its melted. That’s IT!

But, there’s one other unusual item in this steak preparation – it’s marinated with oil, balsamic vinegar and a little bit of FIG PRESERVES. Interesting, huh? The marinade doesn’t penetrate the meat very much, but it does leave a little residual of the fig on the outside, and that gets nicely caramelized when it’s grilled. Altogether delicious. This steak is so cinchy easy, you won’t believe it. The key to the meat is cutting it into thin slices – I’d probably slice it even thinner than shown above – that way if there are any tougher bits, they’re manageable. Or, you could certainly make this with a ribeye, New York, filet mignon, or even flank steak. I’d put a tenderizer on the flank, but the others don’t need it.

Once the steak is off the grill and resting for a few minutes, heat the cheese and pour onto the individual servings. Or, you could serve it on the side. The sauce is not overwhelming at all – you might think it would be, but no. Altogether delicious.

What’s GOOD: how easy this meal is to make – marinating for a couple of hours, draining, grilling, then melting the cheese. How much easier could it be?

What’s NOT: nothing whatsoever.

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

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Grilled Top Sirloin Balsamico with Garlic-Herb-Cheese Sauce

Recipe By: From a cooking class with Susan Vollmer, 2017
Serving Size: 4

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup fig preserves
1 1/2 pounds top sirloin steak — or ribeye
6 1/2 ounces Boursin cheese — garlic-herb type or Rondele

1. Process vinegar, oil, salt, pepper and fig preserves in a blender until smooth. Place in a ziploc plastic bag. Add steak and squish it well so all the steak is covered. Refrigerate for 2 hours (more isn’t needed).
2. Remove steaks from marinade, drain on paper towels, and discard marinade.
3. Preheat grill to medium-high and grill steak for 5-7 minutes per side, until it reaches about 125°F, for medium rare. Remove steak and allow to rest about 5-7 minutes, loosely covered in foil.
4. Place cheese in a small saucepan and VERY gently heat it until it’s hot.
5. With a sharp knife, cut steak across the grain in about 1/4″ thick slices. Nap the slices on serving plates and drizzle each with some of the cheese sauce.
Per Serving: 670 Calories; 54g Fat (71.1% calories from fat); 37g Protein; 12g Carbohydrate; 0g Dietary Fiber; 152mg Cholesterol; 414mg Sodium.

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

chilled_yellow_squash_soup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chilled Yellow Summer Squash Soup

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

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

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

Posted in Veggies/sides, on September 2nd, 2017.

bacon_hasselback_potatoes

I’ve been slow to get on the Hasselback Potato bandwagon. Now I’m definitely on the train! Gosh were these fun and tasty!

My granddaughter Sabrina was visiting with me (before she flew back to So Carolina to return for her sophomore year at Clemson University). She loves to cook (we also do art together – I worked on a Zentangle design, and she used acrylics to paint a sunset/landscape), so we worked in the kitchen together and she helped me slip the bacon in between the slices, and she made some squash for us for our dinner. We also had some of that Chili-Rubbed Salmon I made a few weeks ago, that was so good. These potatoes were a great side dish for the salmon.

These little beauties, these potatoes, are on the small side, but I THINK they’re better if they’re smaller. I suppose you could do a big potato using this method, but the smaller ones are just so CUTE! These were a Yukon Gold type and about 3” long. I had figured she and I would each eat two of them, but no, we just had one. They’re rich. And decadent. But the bacon – oh gosh, the bacon – they “make” this dish, IMHO.

hasselback_cutsFirst, you cut the potatoes – use two wooden style spoon handles, one on either side of the potato, so when you make the cut, you don’t cut all the way through. That, of course, is the whole thing about Hasselbacks – the little thin cuts. So the photo at left you can see the cutting. About 1/16” or 1/8 inch. At right you can see the two spoons on either side so you don’t slice all the way through.

hasselback_with_spoonsIt’s actually pretty easy to do. I used the back of my left hand to hold the spoons in place and used my fingers to anchor the potato. Requires a bit of dexterity, I suppose. If you have a kitchen helper, have them hold the spoons. Then, the next step is to partially cook the potatoes. Bring a pot of water to a boil and slip these already cut potatoes in it for FOUR MINUTES only. Remove boiling_hasselback_potatoesand set aside to let them cool.

Meanwhile, you will have used a few slices of thick-sliced bacon and frozen them on a flat surface (a pan), then slipped them into the freezer so they stay super cold/frozen. You know, fat doesn’t actually freeze clear through, but it’s good enough. Then you put the little slips of frozen freeezing_bacon_chipsbacon into the slices, pushing them down gently. You don’t want to “break” the potato’s back so it’s important that you slide the bacon in carefully.

Then you melt some butter and slather some on the potatoes with a brush and into an oven they go. Now I veered off a little bit from the original recipe I found (at Food Network) because it said cook the potatoes at 350° for 2 HOURS. I didn’t have 2 hours of time to devote to that, so I cranked the oven up to 400° and baked them for 6_hasselback_bacon_potatoesabout 35 minutes. They certainly weren’t as dark-brown-crispy looking as the originals were, but they were cooked through. The bacon was brown. They came out of the oven, I then brushed more melted butter (with green onions and garlic) on top and stuck them back in the oven for about 10 minutes. Perfectly done. I”ll be making these again for sure!

What’s GOOD: these were so fun, different. Very tasty – of course, the butter helps a lot. A lot of the butter oozed out onto the baking sheet, unfortunately. See all the fat on the Silpat lined pan above. But the bacon slowly oozed into the potatoes too, so they had plenty of fat to make it delicious. For me, the bacon was the star of the dish, but also loved the soft consistency of the potatoes too.

What’s NOT: only that they take a bit of work to get them ready to go. But not difficult, and if you have anyone to help, it’ll get done in no time.

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

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Bacon Hasselback Potatoes

Recipe By: Food Network Kitchens
Serving Size: 6

2 slices thick-sliced bacon — each cut crosswise into 9 pieces
Kosher salt
6 medium Yukon gold potatoes — peeled
1/2 stick unsalted butter
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 whole green onion — finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
1/2 clove garlic — finely chopped

NOTE: Use more bacon in each potato if you don’t mind the calories & fat.
1. Lay the bacon pieces on a baking sheet and freeze until hard, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
2. Using a sharp knife, make crosswise cuts in each potato, about 1/8 inch apart, stopping about 1/4 inch from the bottom.
3. Add the potatoes to the boiling water and cook 4 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and carefully transfer to a baking sheet; let cool slightly. Pat the potatoes dry, then insert 3 pieces of the frozen bacon into the cuts of each potato, spacing the bacon evenly and letting it poke out of the top. Melt a few tablespoons of butter and brush generously over the potatoes and in the cuts. Reserve any excess butter for basting. Season the potatoes with salt and pepper.
4. Transfer the potatoes to the oven and bake until the outsides are browned and crisp, about 2 hours, basting halfway through with the reserved melted butter. (Note: I increased the temp to 400° and baked them about 35 minutes – they won’t be as brown and crispy as doing them for 2 hours, but they’re cooked through.)
5. When the potatoes are almost done, melt the remaining butter and mix with the scallions, parsley and garlic. Spoon over the potatoes and roast 5-10 more minutes. Transfer to a platter and season with salt and pepper.
Per Serving: 163 Calories; 10g Fat (53.9% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 15g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 24mg Cholesterol; 74mg Sodium.

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