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Here are the tastingspoons players. I’m in the middle (Carolyn). Daughter Sara on the right, and daughter-in-law Karen on the left. I started the blog in 2007, as a way to share recipes with my family. Now in 2023, I’m still doing 99% of the blogging and holding out hope that these two lovely and excellent cooks will participate. They both lead very busy lives, so we’ll see.

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BOOK READING (from Carolyn):

Under the Java Moon, by Heather Moore. Sometimes these WWII books are tough to read. This is a true story (written as fiction, though) about a few Dutch families who are taken prisoner on Java Island, by the Japanese. Certainly it’s a story about unbelievable deprivation and sadness, but also about resilience too. Not everyone survives, as you could guess, but you’ll be rooting for young Rita who takes on so many responsibilities far beyond her 6-year old’s abilities. I read this because a dear friend of mine’s husband (now deceased) was in the Army during WWII and spent a lot of his duty in Indonesia and had horrific stories to tell about the weather and environment (awful!). A period of his life he liked to forget. The book certainly brings that period and place to the forefront. I’m glad I read it.

Never in a million years would I have picked up Blind Your Ponies, by Stanley Gordon West. If I’d read the cover or flap that the bulk of the story is about basketball, I’d have put it back on the shelf. But oh, this book is – yes, about basketball, but it’s about a place in time in Montana, a few decades ago, when a tiny town supported their high school team. It’s about a dream. About the town who believed in them. About a tall young man who comes to lives in the town, and his deliverance, really, from a pretty awful background as he plays basketball, when he’d never played before. It’s about relationships, marriages, families and about how this little team makes it. Such a great story and SO glad I read it.

A Girl Called Samson, by Amy Harmon. I’m a fan of anything written by Harmon, and this one delivered as all her books do. 1760, Massachusetts. Deborah Samson is an indentured servant but yearns for independence. From being a rather tall, skinny kid (a girl) to faking it as a young soldier (a young man) in the Continental army. You’ll marvel at her ability to hide her true self. It’s quite a story. She’s thrown into the worst of situations in the war and comes through with flying colors. You’ll find yourself rooting for her and also fearing mightily that she’s going to either get killed, or be “found out,” by some of the men. Riveting story beginning to end. There’s a love interest here too which is very sweet.

On Mystic Lake, by Kristin Hannah. This is a book Hannah wrote some years ago, and tells the story of a woman, Annie, who finds out (on the day their daughter goes off to a foreign land for an exchange quarter) that her husband is in love with another woman and leaves her. Annie, who has been the quintessential perfect corporate wife, is devastated. She felt blind-sided. She cries and wallows, but eventually she returns home to her small town, where her widowed dad lives, in Washington. There she runs into many people she knew and at first feels very out of place. Slowly, she finds the town more welcoming and she helps a previous boyfriend, now widowed with his young daughter. A connection is there. Annie has to find herself, and she definitely does that. Her husband rears his head (of course he does!) after several months, and Annie has to figure out what to do. I don’t want to give away the story. Lots of twists and turns.

The Vineyard, by Barbara Delinsky. A novel with many current day issues. Husband and wife own a vineyard in Rhode Island. Husband dies. Widow soon (too soon) marries the manager, a hired employee, much to the consternation of her two grown children. Widow hires woman as personal assistant (much of the book comes from her voice) and she gets entangled into the many webs, clinging from the many decades the winery has tried to be successful. Really interesting. Lots of plot twists, but all revolving around work of the vineyard. Cute love story too. It wouldn’t be a Delinsky book without that aspect.

Consequences, Penelope Lively. I’ve always loved this author’s writing style. Have read many of her books. This one follows a rather dotted line family, the women, as they grow through worn-torn London and England. There’s poverty and both major events and minor ones that send the story’s trajectory in new directions. Riveting for me. Lively won the Booker Prize for Moon Tiger, her most famous book.

Below Zero, C.J. Box. Mystery of the first order. A Joe Pickett novel (he’s a game warden in Wyoming) with a family member thought dead is suddenly alive. Or is she? Joe’s on the hunt to find out. I don’t read these books at night – too scary. I love his books, though.

Consolations of the Forest: Alone in a Cabin on the Siberian Taiga, by Sylvain Tesson. I’m not sure what possessed me to read this book. About a late 30s guy who seems to crave solitude; he’s offered a 11×11 cabin in the cold/frozen Siberian outback, on a huge lake that freezes over in winter. Here’s a quote from the book: “A visit to my wooden crates. My supplies are dwindling. I have enough pasta left for a month and Tabasco to drench it in. I have flour, tea and oil. I’m low on coffee. As for vodka, I should make it to the end of April.” Vodka plays large in this book. Tesson (who is French, with Russian heritage) is a gifted writer, about the wilderness, the flora and fauna, about the alone-ness, the introspection. Mostly he ate pasta with Tabasco. No other sauce. Many shots of vodka every day. Drunkenness plays a serious role too – what else is there to do, you might ask? He lived there for about a year. I’d have lasted a week, no more.

The Auburn Conference by Tom Piazza. Another one, given my druthers I’m not sure I’d have picked up. For one of my book clubs. Excellent writing. 1883, upstate NY. A young professor decides to make a name for himself and puts on an event, inviting many literary luminaries of the day (Mark Twain, Frederick Douglass, Herman Melville, Forrest Taylor and a romance novelist [the outlier] Lucy Comstock). Part panel discussion, part private conversations, the author weaves a tale of discord, some moderate yelling, some rascism and much ridicule of the romance novelist. Also some words of wisdom, maybe not from the authors you’d have expected. Unusual book.

As Bright as Heaven, by Susan Meissner. 1918. Philadelphia. About a young family arriving with the highest of hopes. Then the Spanish Flu hits and dashes everything. You’ll learn a whole lot about that particular virulent flu and the tragic aftermath. Really good read.

Hour of the Witch, by Chris Bohjalian. Boston, 1662. A young woman becomes the 2nd wife of a powerful man, a cruel man. She determines to leave him, something just “not done” back then. Twists and turns, she’s accused of being a witch. Story of survival, and a redeeming love too.

My Oxford Year, by Julia Whelan. At 24, a young woman is honored with a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford. She’s older than most of her fellow classmates, and as an American, doesn’t fit in very well. She’s left a good job back home, but determines to try to work some for the political campaign job she’s left, and also do the work for her Oxford scholarship. She meets a professor. Oh my. Such an interesting book. I loved learning about the culture of Oxford, and there’s a fascinating romance too, somewhat a forbidden one with said professor.

Madame Pommery, by Rebecca Rosenberg. I love champagne. Have read a number of books over the years (novels) about the region (and I’ve visited there once). This is real history, though in a novelized form. Madame Pommery was widowed, and determined she would blaze a trail that was not well received (no women in the champagne business for starters). And she decides to make a different, less sweet version. She’s hated and reviled, but sticks to her guns, veering away from the then very sweet version all the winemakers were producing. Fascinating story.

The Wager, by David Grann. A true tale of shipwreck, mutiny and murder back in the 1740s. Not exactly my usual genre of reading, but once I heard about the book, I decided I needed to read it. This is a novelized version of the story, based on the facts of an English shipwreck, first off Brazil, then later off Chile. Of the men, their struggle to survive (and many didn’t). Yes, there’s murder involved, and yes, there’s mutiny as well. Those who survived stood trial back in England many years later. Riveting read.

Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate. 1939. A shantyboat in the backwaters of the Mississippi River. A 12-year old girl is left to care for her younger siblings when her mother is taken ill. A mystery ensues, and soon officials chase these youngsters to take them into an orphanage, one that became infamous for “selling” the children, weaving wild tales of their provenance. Dual timeline, you read about a successful young attorney who returns home to help her father, and questions come up about the family history. Fascinating read. You’ll learn about this real abominable woman, Georgia Tann, who profited by her “sales.”

The Vaster Wilds, by Lauren Goff. This tells the story of a young servant girl, in the aftermath of the starvation in Jamestown, the beleaguered town that virtually disappeared because the people weren’t prepared for the harshness of survival in those days. She escapes before the demise of the town and heads west, with nothing but the clothes she’s wearing. She survives longer than you might think, and encounters a lot of interesting experiences and people. Very interesting historical read.

Lady Tan’s Circle of Woman, Lisa See. Historical fiction, from 1469, Ming Dynasty, China. Based on the true story, however, about a young woman mostly raised by her grandmother who is a well known physician. Her grandfather is a scholarly physician, her grandmother, more an herbalist, or like a pharmacist of the day. Tan eventually marries into a family and is immediately subjugated by the matriarch, who won’t allow her to practice any of her healing arts. Quite a story, and also about how she eventually does treat women (women “doctors” were only allowed to treat women) as a midwife and herbalist. You’ll learn a whole lot about the use of flowers and herbs for healing and about the four humors.

Winter Garden, by Kristen Hannah. Quite a story, taking place in Washington State with apple orchards forming a backdrop and family business. Two sisters, never much friends even when they were young, return home to help care for their ailing father. Their mother? What an enigma. She took no part in raising them, yet she lived in the home. She cooked for the family, but rarely interacted. Yet her father adored his wife, their mother. How do they bridge the gulf between each other and also with their mother. Another page turner from Kristen Hannah.

Trail of the Lost, by Andrea Lankford. Not my usual genre. This is nonfiction, about Lankford who has plenty of credentials for rescue services, and is an avid hiker herself, determines to try to find some missing people who have disappeared off the face of the earth on the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s about how rescues work, everything from the disconnect between active citizens who want to help, and seemingly the unwillingness of authorities to share information. Not exactly a positive for law enforcement in this book. Really fascinating. There are hundreds of people who have disappeared off various long hike trails in the U.S. This is about four who were hiking (separately and at different times) on the PCT.

Tomorrow, Tomorrow and Tomorrow, by Gabrielle Zevin. I’ve never been a “gamer.” Not by any standard definition, anyway. Not like people who really get into games, adventure, killers, etc. And this book isn’t a game .. . but it’s a novel (and a great story, I might add) about how these games come into being. How they’re invented, how they morph. First there were two college students, then a third person is added, and they end up creating a wildly popular game. A company is born. And it goes from there. Mostly it’s about the people, their relationships, but set amidst the work of creating and running a gaming company. Not all fun and games, pun intended.

Remarkably Bright Creatures, by Shelby Van Pelt. Oh gosh, what a fabulous book. It’s a novel; however, much of the story is about the intelligence of octopus. In particular this one, Marcellus, who lives in an aquarium in a fictitious town in western Washington State. More than anything the book is about relationships, not only Marcellus with a woman (of a certain age) who cleans the aquarium at night, but the various people in this small town.

Trust, by Herman Diaz. This novel is an enigma in so many ways. It’s a book, within a book, within a book. About the stock market crash back in 1929, but it’s about a man. Oh my. It’s really interesting. This book won the Pulitzer. That’s why I bought it.

Cassidy Hutchinson is a young woman (a real one) who works in politics or “government.” She’s worked for some prestigious Washington politicians, and ended up working for Trump. The book is a memoir of her short spin working at the highest levels, and obviously at the White House. She worked under Mark Meadows and suffered a lot of ridicule when she quit. Truth and lies . . . when she couldn’t live with herself and subvert the truth. Enough, gives you plenty of detail leading up to and after the January 6th uprising. She testified to Congress about what she knew. Really interesting. I almost never read books about politics because I think many (most?) of our elected politicians succumb to the lure of power and forget who they work for, us, the public.

Becoming Dr. Q, by Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa, MD, is an Associate Professor of Neurosurgery and Oncology at Johns Hopkins University. This is his memoir about how he went from being a penniless migrant from Mexico to one of the world’s most renowned experts in brain tumors.

The Invincible Miss Cust, by Penny Haw.  In 1868 Ireland, a woman wasn’t allowed to attend veterinary school, much less become a veterinarian. It took  years of trying (to the horror of her aristocratic family) and finally someone took her under their wing, she enrolled using a pseudonym (a name not revealing her gender). This is a true story of Aleen Isabel Cust, who did just that.

Her Heart for a Compass, by Sarah Ferguson (yes), the Duchess of York. I was pleasantly surprised as I read this book that it wasn’t the usual romantic romp – there’s more to this story than you might think. Ferguson utilizes some of her family ancestors as real characters in the book. Sweet story but with lots of twists and turns.

Someone Else’s Shoes, by Jojo Moyes.Nisha, our heroine, is a wealthy socialite. She thinks her life is perfect. At the gym someone else grabs her gym bag, so she grabs the similar one. Then she finds out her husband is leaving her and he’s locked her out of their high-rise apartment. She’s penniless. No attorney will take her on. She has nothing but this gym bag belonging to someone else (who?).

The Eleventh Man, Ivan Doig. What a story. Ben, part of a Montana college football team in the 1940s, joins the service during WWII. So do all of his eleven teammates. After suffering some injuries in pilot training he is recruited by a stealthy military propaganda machine. His job is to write articles about his teammates as they are picked off at various battle theaters around the Pacific and Europe. Ben goes there, in person, to fuel the stories. Ivan Doig is a crafty writer; I’ve read several of his books, my favorite being The Whistling Season.

Wavewalker, by Suzanne Heywood. Oh my goodness. A memoir about a very young English girl who goes off with her besotted and narcissistic parents and her brother on a years-long sailing journey supposedly following the route of James Cook. A very old, decrepit 70-foot schooner. Four people, 2 sort-of adults and 2 children. Sometimes a helper or two. A seasick mother. A dad who is driven to the extreme, whatever the damage he creates. She spent 10 years aboard.

Claire Keegan wrote Small Things Like These. It’s won a lot of awards, and shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Takes place in Ireland. Some profound questions come up in this novella, about complicity, about restitution. There’s a convent nearby, and attached one of those places young girls were sent if they found themselves “in the family way,” and about how the church helped, supposedly, by taking the children and placing them in homes, without consent. It’s ugly, the truth of the matter. Really good read.

Nicholas Sparks isn’t an author I read very often because his books are pretty sappy, but daughter Sara recommended this one, The Longest Ride. It begins with Ira (age 93), stuck in his car as it plunges off the edge of a road, and it’s snowing. As the hours tick by, he reminisces about his life.

The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind, by Barbara Lipska. Interesting that I’ve read two books recently about the brain (see Doctor Q above). This is a true story about a woman, a neuroscientist, who developed a metastatic melanoma in the brain.

The Price of Inheritance, by Karin Tanabe. This is a mystery, of sorts. Our heroine is an up and coming employee at Christie’s (auction house). In bringing a large collection of expensive art to auction, she makes a misstep about the provenance of a desk. She’s fired. She goes back to her roots, takes a job at a small antique store where she used to work.

The Covenant of Water, by Abraham Verghese. Did you read Cutting for Stone, years ago, by this author? Such a good book, so I knew I’d enjoy this one, and oh, did I!. The book takes place in a little known area of southern India, and chronicles a variety of people over a few generations, who inhabit the place.

Finding Dorothy, by Elizabeth Letts. My friend Dianne recommended this book to me, and it was so special. Loved it beginning to end. It’s based on the story of 77-year old Maud Gage Baum (her husband Frank Baum wrote The Wizard of Oz).

The Bandit Queens, by Parini Shroff. It’s about a young Indian woman, Geeta, as she tries her best to make a living after her husband leaves her. Yet the community she lives in, thinks Geeta murdered him.

Attribution, by Linda Moore. We follow art historian Cate, as she struggles to succeed in her chosen field against sexist advisors. She finds what she thinks is a hidden painting.

The Measure, Nikki Erlick. Oh my goodness. This story grabbed me from about the third sentence. Everyone in the world finds a wooden box on their doorstep, or in front of their camper or tent, that contains a string. Nothing but a string. The author has a vivid imagination (I admire that) and you just will not believe the various reactions (frenzy?) from people who are short-stringers, or long-stringers.

The Book Spy by Alan Hlad. True stories, but in novel form, of a special Axis group of men and women librarians and microfilm specialists, sent to strategic locations in Europe to acquire and scour newspapers, books, technical manuals and periodicals, for information about German troop locations, weaponry and military plans of WWII. I was glued to the book beginning to end. Fascinating accounts.

A Dangerous Business, Jane Smiley. What a story. 1850s gold rush, story of two young prostitutes, finding their way in a lawless town in the Wild West. There’s a murder, or two, or three, or some of the town’s prostitutes, and the two women set out to solve the crime.

Storm Watch, by C. J. Box. I’m such a fan of his tales of Wyoming Game Warden Joe Pickett’s adventures catching criminals. Loved it, just like I’ve loved every one of his books.

Defiant Dreams, by Sola Mahfouz. True story about the author, born in Afghanistan in 1996. This is about her journey to acquire an education. It’s unbelievable what the Taliban does to deter and forbid women from bettering themselves.

Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. This is fairly light read, a novel – but interesting, about the meaning behind many flowers.

The Rome Apartment, by Kerry Fisher. Such a cute story. Maybe not an interesting read for a man. It’s about Beth, whose husband has just left her, and her daughter has just gone off to college. Beth needs a new lease on life, so she rents a room from a woman who lives in Rome.

All the Beauty in the World, a memoir by Patrick Bringley. Absolutely LOVED this book. Bringley was at loose ends and accepted a job as a guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. He’d been a journalist at The New Yorker magazine, but after his brother was ill and died, he needed refreshing. After his training at the museum, he moves from room to room, guarding the precious art, and learning all about the pieces and the painters or sculptors.

The Queen’s Lady, by Joanna Hickson. I love stories about Tudor England, and this one didn’t disappoint. Joan Guildford is a lady in waiting to Queen Elizabeth. Oh my goodness are there twists and turns.

Once in awhile I’m ready to read another Louise Penny mystery. This time it was World of Curiosities. Usually I’d write something wonderful regarding “another tome about Three Pines.” Not going to say it this time. Three Pines becomes a sinister place. Murders (many).

Over the years I’ve read many of Jodi Picoult’s books. This, her newest, or very new, is called Mad Honey. Oh, my. This book is beyond Picoult’s usual borders, but then she always writes edgy books. That’s her genre. This one is written with a co-author, a woman who is gay (I think) and also a trans-gender.

Philippa Gregory is one of my fav authors. Just finished her 3rd (and last, I think) in the Fairmile series called Dawnlands. If you scroll down below you’ll find the 2nd book in the series, Tidelands. Very interesting about English history, but about the same families from the first book in the group. Loved it, as I loved all of them.

Am currently reading Rutherfurd’s long, long book, Paris. I love these involved historical novels about a place (he’s written many about specific places in the world). It’s a saga that goes back and forth in time, following the travails of various people and families, through thick and thin. Some of it during the era of the King Louis’ (plural, should I say Louies?). Very interesting about some of the city’s history and royalty.

Although this book says A Christmas Memory, by Richard Paul Evans, it’s not just about Christmas. A young boy is the hero here, but really an older widower man who lives next door plays a pivotal part of this book.

Wish You Were Here, by Jodi Picoult. Another page-turner. I loved this book. A thirty-something woman, about to take a trip with her boyfriend, when Covid breaks out. Covid plays a major role in this book, beginning to end. She decides to go anyway as her boyfriend is a doctor and cannot leave. She ends up on a remote Galapagos island, and you go along with her – with people she meets, the life she leads, the isolation she experiences, the loneliness she feels, but the joy of nature is a sustaining aspect.

Not everyone wants to read food memoirs. When I saw Sally Schmitt had written a memoir, titled Six California Kitchens, I knew I wanted to read it. I met Sally a few times over the years when I visited Napa Valley, and bought some of her famous pickled items, chutneys, jams, etc. She was the original chef at The French Laundry, before it became truly famous by Thomas Keller.

Being a fan of Vivian Howard (from her TV show), when I saw she’d written another book, I knew I should buy it. This Will Make It Taste Good is such an unusual name for a cookbook, but once you get into the groove of the book, you’ll understand. What’s here are recipes for some “kitchen heroes” she calls them. They’re condiments. They’re food additions, they’re flavor enhancers.

As soon as it came out, I ordered Spare, by Prince Harry. I’ve always been interested in the Royal Family.

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri. Usually I don’t seek out short stories. I might have purchased this book without realizing it was. There aren’t that many stories – each one gets you very ingrained in the characters. I love her writing, and would think each story in this book could be made into a full-fledged novel.

A Lantern in Her Hand, by Beth Streeter Aldrich. A very interesting and harrowing story of early pioneer days in the Midwest (Nebraska I think); covered wagon time up to about 80 years later as the heroine, Abbie Deal, and her husband start a family in a small town.

The Messy Lives of Book People, by Phaedra Patrick. From amazon’s page: Mother of two Liv Green barely scrapes by as a maid to make ends meet, often finding escape in a good book while daydreaming of becoming a writer herself. So she can’t believe her luck when she lands a job housekeeping for her personal hero, mega-bestselling author Essie Starling, a mysterious and intimidating recluse.

Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr. I’m a fan of this author and relished reading his book about a year in his personal life, with his wife and very new, newborn twins. Doerr was given an auspicious award – a year of study in Rome, with apartment and a stipend. There are four chapters, by season.

Kristin Hannah’s Distant Shores is quite a read. Some described it as like a soap opera. Not me. Interesting character development of a couple who married young. She put her own career/wants/desires aside to raise their children. He forged ahead with his life dreams. The children grow up and move on. Then he’s offered a huge promotion across the country. She’s torn – she doesn’t want to be in New York, but nothing would get in the way of his career.

Oh, William! by Elizabeth Strout. Lucy Barton is divorced. But she’s still sort of friendly with her ex. It’s complicated. Out of the blue he asks her to go on a trip with him to discover something about his roots.

Tidelands,  by Philippa Gregory. It tells the tale of a peasant woman, Alinor (an herbalist and midwife), who lives barely above the poverty level, trying to raise two children, during the time of great turmoil in England, the rancorous civil war about Charles 1.

Read Reminders of Him, by Colleen Hoover. A page turner of a story. A young woman is convicted of a crime (young and foolish type). Once released her sole purpose is to be a part of her daughter’s life.

The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty. Oh my goodness. The wicked webs we weave. How in the world did the author even come UP with this wild story, but she did, and it kept me glued. Sophie walked away from her wedding day, and always wondered if she made the wrong decision.

Very funny and poignant story, Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, by Elizabeth Taylor (no, not that one). Mrs. Palfrey, a woman of a certain age, moves into an old folks’ home in London. It’s a sort of hotel, but has full time elderly quirky residents.

For one of my book clubs we read Lessons in Chemistry, by Bonnie Garmus. This book is so hard to describe. Elizabeth is a wizard at chemistry and struggles to be recognized for her intelligence and research. She meets a man at her company who is brilliant too. They make quite a pair. They have a child, then he suddenly dies. Her work isn’t taken seriously, so she leaves her employment and becomes an overnight phenom on a cooking show where she uses the chemical names for things like sodium chloride, etc. You go alongside her struggles, and her raising of her daughter. LOTS of humor, lots to discuss for a book club.

Horse. Oh my, is it a page turner. Loved it from the first page to the last. Sad when it ended. It’s a fictional creation but based on a real racehorse owned by a black man, back in the 1850s. Technically, the story is about a painting of the horse but there are many twists and turns. If you’ve ever enjoyed Brooks’ books in the past, this one won’t disappoint.

The Book of Lost Names, by Kristin Harmel (no, not Hannah). Certainly a little-known chunk of history about a woman who becomes a master forger during WWII to help get Jewish children out of France. Not easy to read, meaning the difficulty of anyone finding the means and place to DO the forgery and right under the noses of the Nazis. Really good read.

Liane Moriarty’s first novel, Three Wishes, follows the travails of adult triplets, so different, yet similar in many ways. Two are identical, the third is not. So alike, and so not. It takes you through a series of heart-wrenching events, seemingly unrelated, but ones that could bring a family to its breaking point and test the bonds of love and strength.

Recently I’ve read both of Erin French’s books, her cookbook, The Lost Kitchen, and since then her memoir, Finding Freedom. About her life growing up (difficult) about her coming of age mostly working in the family diner, flipper burgers and fries (and learning how much she liked to cook). Now she’s a very successful restaurant entrepreneur (The Lost Kitchen is also the name of her restaurant) in the minuscule town of Freedom, Maine. She’s not a classically trained chef, but she’s terrifically creative. See her TV series on Discover+ if you subscribe.

Jo Jo Moyes has a bunch of books to her credit. And she writes well, with riveting stories. Everything I’ve read of hers has been good. This book, The Girl You Left Behind, is so different, so intriguing, so controversial and a fascinating historical story. There are two timelines here, one during WWI, in France, when a relatively unknown painter (in the style of Matisse) paints a picture of his wife. The war intervenes for both the husband and the wife.

Eli Shafak’s Island of Missing Trees. This book was just a page turner. If you’ve never read anything about the conflict in Cyprus (the island) between the Turks and the Greeks, you’re in for a big history lesson here. But, the entire story centers around a fig tree. You get into the head/brain/feelings of this big fig tree which plays a very central part of the story. You’ll learn a lot about animals, insects (ants, mosquitos, butterflies) and other flora and fauna of Cyprus.

Also read Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty. Ohhh my, such a good book. I couldn’t put it down. Whatever you do, do not read the ending before you start the book. I’ve never understood people who do this. The book chronicles the day a mom just ups and disappears. The grown children come back home, in panic. The dad isn’t much help, and he becomes the prime suspect of foul play. There is no body, however.

If you’d like a mystery read, try Dete Meserve’s The Space Between. It’s just the kind of page-turner I enjoy – a wife returns to her home after being away on business for a few days, to find her husband missing and what he’s left for her is an unexplained bank deposit of a million dollars, a loaded Glock in the nightstand, and a video security system that’s been wiped clean.

Read Alyson Richman’s historical novel called The Velvet Hours. Most of the book takes place in Paris, with a young woman and her grandmother, a very wealthy (but aging) woman who led a life of a semi-courtesan. Or at least a kept woman. But this grandmother was very astute and found ways to invest her money, to grow her money, and to buy very expensive goods. Then WWII intervenes, and the granddaughter has to close up her grandmother’s apartment, leaving it much the way it had been throughout her grandmother’s life, to escape the Nazis. Years go by, and finally answers are sought and found. An intriguing book, based on the author’s experience with an apartment that had been locked up similarly for decades, also in Paris.

Susan Meissner is one of my favorite authors. This book, The Nature of Fragile Things tells a very unusual story. About a young Irish immigrant, desperate to find a way out of poverty, answers an ad for a mail order bride.

Also read Rachel Hauck’s The Writing Desk. You could call this a romance. A young professional, a writer of one successful book, has writer’s block. Then she’s asked to go to Florida to help her mother (from whom she’s mostly estranged) through chemo. She goes, hoping she can find new inspiration.

Also recently finished The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish. The book goes backwards and forwards in time, from the 1600s in London with the day-to-day lives of a group of Jews (who had to be very careful about how they worshiped) to current day as an old house is discovered to hold a treasure-trove of historical papers.

Colleen Hoover has written quite a book, It Ends with Us: A Novel, with a love story being the central theme, but again, this book is not for everyone – it can be an awakening for any reader not acquainted with domestic violence and how such injury can emerge as innocent (sort of) but then becomes something else. There is graphic detail here.

Nicolas Barreau’s novel Love Letters from Montmartre: A Novel  is very poignant, very sweet book. Seems like I’ve read several books lately about grieving; this one has a charming ending, but as anyone who has gone through a grave loss of someone dear knows, you can’t predict day to day, week to week. “Snap out of it,” people say, thinking they’re helping.

Another very quirky book, that happens to contain a lot of historical truth is The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World: A Novel by Harry N. Abrams. Set in Japan just after the tsunami 10 years ago when 18,000 people died. At a private park miles away, some very special people installed a phone booth, with a phone (that didn’t work) at the edge of the park, and the survivors of the tsunami began wending their way there to “talk” to their deceased loved ones. Very poignant story.

No question, the most quirky book I’ve read of late, a recommendation from my friend Karen, West with Giraffes: A Novel by Lynda Rutledge. Back in the 1930s a small group of giraffes were brought across the Atlantic from Africa to New York, destined for the then-growing San Diego Zoo. The story is of their journey across the United States in the care of two oh-so-different people, both with a mission.

Could hardly put down Krueger’s book, This Tender Land: A Novel. Tells the harrowing story of a young boy, Odie, (and his brother Albert) who became orphans back in the 30s. At first there is a boarding school, part of an Indian (Native American) agreement, though they are not Indian. They escape, and they are “on the run.”

Just finished Kristin Hannah’s latest book, The Four Winds: A Novel. What a story. One I’ve never read about, although I certainly have heard about the “dust bowl” years when there was a steady migration of down-and-out farmers from the Midwest, to California, for what they hoped to be the American Dream. It tells the story of one particular family, the Martinellis, the grandparents, their son, his wife, and their two children.

Also finished reading Sue Monk Kidd’s recent book, The Book of Longings: A Novel. It is a book that might challenge some Christian readers, as it tells the tale of Jesus marrying a woman named Mary. I loved the book from the first word to the last one. The book is believable to me, even though the Bible never says one way or the other that Jesus ever married. It’s been presumed he never did. But maybe he did?

Jeanine Cummins has written an eye-opener, American Dirt. A must read. Oh my goodness. I will never, ever, ever look at Mexican (and further southern) migrants, particularly those who are victims of the vicious cartels, without sympathy. It tells the story of a woman and her young son, who were lucky enough to hide when the cartel murdered every member of her family – her husband, her mother, and many others. It’s about her journey and escape to America.

Also read JoJo Moyes’ book, The Giver of Stars. Oh gosh, what a GREAT book. Alice joins the Horseback Librarians in the rural south.

Frances Liardet has written a blockbuster tale, We Must Be Brave. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Although the scene is WWII England, this book is not really about the war. It’s about the people at home, waiting it out, struggling with enough food, clothing and enough heat.

William Kent Krueger wrote Ordinary Grace. From amazon: a brilliantly moving account of a boy standing at the door of his young manhood, trying to understand a world that seems to be falling apart around him. It is an unforgettable novel about discovering the terrible price of wisdom and the enduring grace of God. It’s a coming of age story.

A Column of Fire: A Novel by Ken Follett. It takes place in the 1500s, in England, and has everything to do with the war between the Catholics and the Protestants, that raged throughout Europe during that time, culminating in the Spanish Inquisition.

My Name Is Resolute by Nancy Turner. She’s the author of another book of some renown, These is my Words:

The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape by James Rebanks. This is a memoir, so a true story, of a young man growing up in the Lake District of Northern England, who becomes a shepherd. Not just any-old shepherd – actually a well educated one. He knows how to weave a story.

 

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 Fish, on May 24th, 2024.

Ooooh, lovely shrimp in a tasty herb butter. Divine.

One day a couple of months ago I was going to my daughter Sara’s home in San Diego. I had a couple of hours to kill before they got home, so Sara suggested their local library. Great idea. Went immediately to the cookbook section and found 2-3 newer cookbooks I wanted to peruse. I took several photos from pages in the books. This was one of them, from Melissa Clark’s newest book, Dinner in French.

I don’t eat much shrimp – it’s a shellfish, like scallops, crab, lobster, etc. and I’m supposed to be careful how much of those critters I eat. I’m not allergic to them like my grandson is. Thank goodness! Anyway, I had a big bag of lovely shrimp in the freezer and was happy to make the whole batch.  My  friend  Linda T and I enjoyed this over Easter  weekend.

The shrimp need to be shelled and deveined, though very little debris was contained in them.

But first, you need to make the herb butter. It contains parsley, fresh tarragon, garlic, pepper and lemon zest, along with the butter. That was done in the food processor and set aside until I needed it. Have everything ready to go (table set, water poured, wine glasses ready) before you begin cooking as it comes together quite quickly.

Into a big pan you add some of the herb butter, then the mushrooms. Leave the mushrooms fairly large. I don’t know that I would have jumped to mixing shrimp and mushrooms, but they were good, and the mushrooms swimming in the herb butter was awfully good too. Anyway, once the mushrooms are mostly cooked you add the shrimp, along with more herb butter. I used it all because I made a bigger batch. Shallots are added and some dry white wine. The recipe calls for Pernod. I’m not a fan of it (a licorice liqueur), so didn’t use it. I didn’t have any, anyway! Pernod is very (veddy) French, which is why Melissa Clark added it to this recipe. Substitute more white wine if you choose not to use Pernod. At the end garnish with parsley, tarragon, chives and lemon juice.

I didn’t end up with much juice at the bottom, so there wasn’t much in which to swipe the little torn bread pieces she recommends you serve with it. But there is some, which is also flavored with the herb butter.

What’s GOOD: Linda and I both enjoyed it. There is lots of garlic in it – which is good in my book! Loved the flavors with the fresh herbs, both in the herb-butter and the garnish.

What’s NOT: nothing really – easy meal to fix once you get the herb butter done. Make that a day ahead if you prefer.

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Shrimp and Mushrooms with Garlicky Herb Butter

Recipe: Melissa Clark, Cooking in French
Servings: 5

HERB BUTTER:
2 tablespoons parsley — chopped, plus more for garnish
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon — or basil, chopped
1 tablespoon Pastis — such as Pernod (I did not use this)
2 large garlic cloves — grated or minced
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
6 tablespoons unsalted butter — at room temperature
SHRIMP:
12 ounces oyster mushrooms — chopped, 1″ pieces, or button/cremini mushrooms, left fairly large
1/4 teaspoon sea salt — plus more as needed
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 large shallots — thinly sliced
2 pounds large shrimp
2 tablespoons dry white wine
2 tablespoons Pastis — such as Pernod [I did not use this] or substitute more white wine
GARNISHES:
2 tablespoons parsley
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon — or basil
2 tablespoons fresh chives — chopped lemon juice, to taste
torn baguettes or rice, for serving

1. HERB BUTTER: in a small food processor or blender combine parsley, chives, tarragon, pastis, garlic, salt, pepper and lemon zest and pulse well. Add butter and process until you have a smooth, green-flecked paste
2. In large skillet heat 2 T of herb butter over med-high heat. Stir in mushrooms and cook until liquid has cooked off and mushrooms are breowned and crispy, 8-12 minutes. Try not to disturb the mushrooms as they cook – the less stirring means the browner they will get. Season mushrooms with salt and pepper. Add shallots and cook until they are tender and translucent, 3-5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium.
3. Add shrimp to skillet and season with salt and pepper. Add wine, pastis (or Pernod, if using) and another 2 T of herb butter and cook, stirring until shrimp are just pink, 3-7 minutes. Stir in another tablespoon or two of herb butter and more salt to taste. Any extra herb butter may be frozen. Transfer mixture to a hot platter and scatter parsley, chives and tarragon on top. Drizzle with lemon juice and serve with baguette chunks or rice to soak up the sauce.
Per Serving: 289 Calories; 16g Fat (50.0% calories from fat); 28g Protein; 8g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 265mg Cholesterol; 1161mg Sodium; 1g Total Sugars; 1mcg Vitamin D; 129mg Calcium; 2mg Iron; 578mg Potassium; 541mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Cookies, on May 17th, 2024.

Oh so good, peanut butter cookies but with added chopped peanuts.

Some weeks ago my friend Linda T visited me at the desert, and she’s always so sweet to bring something along. These cookies, this time. We ate several of them over the weekend, and I stuck the remainder of them in the freezer. As I’m writing this, last weekend my daughter Sara and her husband John were at the desert house and she found those cookies in the freezer and told me today they just plain disappeared. All gone. I loved them, and so did they.

The recipe comes from America’s Test Kitchen, although Linda altered the recipe just slightly, by adding more chopped peanuts in the finished cookie dough. She thought they needed more. These were just right, IMHO. These aren’t like the traditional peanut butter cookies that are lighter colored and more sandy in texture. These are chewy and crunchy all at the same time, and certainly peanut-buttery.

Just so you know, the finished cookies are fragile – They were in perfect condition when Linda arrived, but as they sat on the counter for a day, and the bag got moved, a couple of them broke apart. So, when freezing them (which I did) lay the bag flat with no cookies bending.

What’s GOOD; these are certainly strong on peanut and peanut butter flavor. Very chewy and crunchy. Not the typical sandy-style peanut butter cookie you may be used to. A keeper.

What’s NOT: nothing that Linda said to me – she followed the recipe to a T except for the addition of more chopped peanuts.

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Chewy Peanut and Peanut Butter Cookies

Recipe: Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen
Servings: 24

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour — (71/2 ounces/213 grams)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon table salt — be careful, peanut butter is often salty and cookies may not need additional salt
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar — packed
1 cup creamy peanut butter — do not substitute crunchy peanut butter
2 large eggs
4 tablespoons unsalted — melted and cooled
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup dry roasted peanuts — unsalted, finely chopped

Note: To ensure that the cookies have the proper texture, use a traditional creamy peanut butter in this recipe; do not substitute crunchy or natural peanut butter. The recipe was developed with Skippy Creamy Peanut Butter. For the best results, be sure to weigh the flour, sugar, and peanut butter. You can substitute light brown sugar for dark, but your cookies will be lighter in color.
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line two 18 by 13-inch rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt together in medium bowl.
2. In large bowl, whisk sugar, peanut butter, eggs, melted butter, honey, and vanilla until smooth. Add flour mixture and stir with rubber spatula until soft, homogeneous dough forms. Stir in peanuts until evenly distributed.
3. Working with 2 tablespoons dough at a time (or using #30 portion scoop), roll dough into balls and evenly space on prepared sheets (12 dough balls per sheet). Using your fingers, gently flatten dough balls until 2 inches in diameter.
4. Bake cookies, 1 sheet at a time, until edges are just set and just beginning to brown, 10 to 12 minutes, rotating sheet after 6 minutes. Let cookies cool on sheet for 5 minutes. Using wide metal spatula, transfer cookies to wire rack and let cool completely before serving. Cookies are fragile even after cooled.
Per Serving: 148 Calories; 5g Fat (29.9% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 23g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 16mg Cholesterol; 149mg Sodium; 16g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 21mg Calcium; 1mg Iron; 77mg Potassium; 17mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Appetizers, Vegetarian, on May 10th, 2024.

Nostalgia here. I used to make these over and over again, back in the 60s and 70s. Do you remember them too?

A few weeks ago two friends of mine and I hosted a luncheon for a group of 10 of us ladies, a fundraiser that the guests all paid money to attend. We decided to do a dip into the past, the 50s and 60s. You’re going to see a few recipes from this event in coming weeks. This appetizer, a salad, and an entree too. Lois made some meatballs (I forgot to take a picture or I’d post that recipe too) cooked in chili sauce and grape jelly (remember those variations?). Linda made the lime Jell-O salad which I just loved, almost identical to the one I used to make. We also made my mother’s crisp apple pudding with whipped cream, which harkens back to the 1930s I would guess, but I grew up with having it in the 50s.

These little cocktail appetizers are not hard to make, though you do have to mix up the dough, flatten a teaspoon or so of it to enclose a pimiento-stuffed olive, chill them in the frig for an hour or so, then bake them. When I made them years ago I’d double the recipe and once baked I’d freeze them on a cookie sheet, then pile them into a freezer container, all ready for some dinner party when I’d pull them out and re-bake them.

The recipe I had differed a little from Lois’s recipe here, but they tasted much the same, so I’m using hers except for the addition of paprika to the dough. At the time (the 60s), these were quite the “thing,” and because some people didn’t like fussing with a dough, they were very special. Truly, they’re not difficult to make, and you’ll hear raves from your guests. They can be served hot or at room temp.

What’s GOOD: the contrast of the cheese dough and the astringency of the stuffed olive are a good balance. Cheesy, briny all in one. These are a winner and here we are 60+ years later, making them again, and they’re still just as good as in the 1960s. Great to freeze and have on hand.

What’s NOT: only that you do have to “fuss” a bit with the dough, flattening it out to encircle the olive. You don’t want olive juice in there either or the dough won’t seal well.

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Olive-Filled Cheese Balls

Recipe: An old 1960s recipe from my friend Lois
Servings: 20 (two per person)

2 cups sharp cheddar cheese — grated
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon paprika
1/2 cup butter — melted
40 green olives — stuffed with pimiento, jarred, drained

1. Mix cheese, paprika and flour together. Add melted butter and mix thoroughly. If dough seems dry, mix with your hands – the warmth of your hands will help bring the dough together.
2. Meanwhile, place olives on a few paper towels to drain and kind of dry. You don’t want a wet olive or the dough won’t seal correctly.
3. Mold a teaspoon of dough around an olive, shaping it into a ball. Place about 2″ apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Cover and chill for about an hour.
4. Preheat oven to 400°F. Bake olives for about 15-16 minutes. They do not need to get brown around the edges. Allow to cool a few minutes before serving. Or cool to room temperature and serve. You can freeze the balls, once they’ve been baked and cooled, and reheat from a frozen state for 15 minutes at 400°F.
Per Serving: 174 Calories; 13g Fat (69.5% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 7g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 36mg Cholesterol; 273mg Sodium; trace Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 174mg Calcium; trace Iron; 30mg Potassium; 119mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Lamb, Miscellaneous, on May 3rd, 2024.

This was Easter dinner – lovely, tasty leg of lamb with Vivian Howard’s Herbdacious spread, on the lamb and on the side.

It’s been some months ago that I wrote up a post about a meatloaf using Vivian Howard’s little back-pocket wonder, and also all about the mixture itself: Herbdacious. If you skipped by it then, you might want to reconsider. All of mine was gone (the 2 cups I made a few months ago), so made a new batch. It comes together easily – mostly it’s herbs with some EVOO. It keeps in the frig for several months. Down below I’ve given you a revised recipe of it, making just ONE cup, not two. Personally, I’d make two cups, but if you’re not sure about it, use this smaller version.

Meanwhile, I had purchased a tiny boneless leg of lamb (at Trader Joe’s). I think it weighed about 1 3/4 pounds, maybe less. My friend Linda joined me at the desert for the weekend and we cooked quite a bit. We made a salmon dish one night, shrimp dish another and then this lamb. You do need to know – providing you’ve already made the Herbdacious – this recipe is cinchy easy. Just mix up the yogurt-based marinade, slather it on the meat, let it rest in the frig overnight and roast for a little over an hour. Linda and I are both watching carbs, so we had a little bit of a roasted sweet potato, and some fresh asparagus along with it.

The leftovers: I sliced it thinly and made half sandwiches with it on some lovely soft bread. I used a bit of the Herbdacious on the bread, along with mayo, and on another I added some of the Tomato Jam I have from the batch I made a couple of months ago. That was just wonderful on the sandwich, along with some lettuce and sliced tomato.

There on the right is a recent picture of me. That was taken a few weeks ago at the Annenberg Estate in the desert.

What’s GOOD: Oh goodness, this lamb was delicious. Just wonderful. I’d definitely make this again on whatever size leg of lamb I had. I don’t think it would be good to barbecue this – don’t know what the yogurt/herbdacious would do – i.e., not sure how the barbecue smoke part would taste absorbed into that herbdacious topping. But roasted in the oven, it was divine. And the sandwiches from the leftovers were something to write home about.

What’s NOT: only that you have to start this the day before. And you must have some of the Herbdacious mixture to make it.

Leg of Lamb: printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook file (click link to open recipe)
Herbdacious one cup: printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook file (click link to open recipe)

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Leg of Lamb – with Herbdacious

Recipe: Vivian Howard, This Will Make It Taste Good
Servings: 4

1/8 cup Greek yogurt, full fat — [or nonfat]
1/8 cup Herbdacious
1 3/4 pounds leg of lamb — boneless
3/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. The day before, whisk together yogurt and herbdacious. Rub lamb with Salt & Pepper, then the herb yogurt mixture. Place in plastic bag and marinate up to 12 hours.
2. Remove lamb from frig an hour before cooking. Preheat oven to 350°F.
3. Place lamb, fat cap up, on baking sheet fitted with a wire rack.
4. Roast on middle rack for 1 hour to an hour and 15 minutes, or until internal temp is 130°F. Remove from oven and let rest for 10 minutes, loosely covered with foil. Slice and serve with additional Herbdacious on the side.
Per Serving: 446 Calories; 39g Fat (69.3% calories from fat); 38g Protein; 1g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 138mg Cholesterol; 411mg Sodium; 1g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 40mg Calcium; 3mg Iron; 521mg Potassium; 361mg Phosphorus.

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* Exported from MasterCook *

Herbdacious – ONE cup

Recipe: Vivian Howard, This Will Make It Taste Good
Servings: 6

1 head garlic — peeled
1/3 cup EVOO
1/2 cup fresh basil — packed
1/8 cup fresh parsley — packed
1/8 cup fresh dill — packed – or mint, chervil or cilantro
1/8 cup green onions — roughly chopped, green parts only
1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated (use a Microplane)
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons lemon zest
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

NOTES: How to use it: mix with mayo for a BLT, slather on corn on the cob, drizzle on bean soup, grilled or sauteed veggies, over a baked potato, add to guacamole or avocado toast, dot on a tomato or watermelon salad with creamy cheese, slather on bread with cheese for garlic bread, as a green base for pizza, to dress pasta or grain salads, deviled eggs or egg salad, toss with stale bread to make croutons.
1. In a small saucepan, bring the garlic cloves and olive oil up to a simmer over very low heat. If it begins to sizzle and boil, pull it off the heat and allow it to cool slightly before you return it to the hot eye of the stove. The idea is to slowly poach the garlic in the oil rather than fry it. This could take as long as 20 minutes if you keep the heat extremely moderate. When the garlic is done, it will be soft and just slightly browned.
2. This garlic confit plus its oil are kitchen heroes in their own right and can be used anywhere you want mellow garlic notes. You could stop this recipe right here and save those little garlic bombs in the fridge for a month, as long as they are submerged in oil. Pureed, the cloves are especially useful as a means to thicken and add flavor to sauces.
3. But you don’t get to herbdacious by calling it quits early. Once the garlic confit is completely cool, put it and all the remaining ingredients in the most powerful blender you have and let it rip until the mixture is smooth and green. Store herbdacious in a sealed container in your fridge for up to 2 weeks or in your freezer for up to 3 months.
Per Serving: 3 Calories; trace Fat (9.9% calories from fat); trace Protein; 1g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 291mg Sodium; trace Total Sugars; 0mcg Vitamin D; 9mg Calcium; trace Iron; 25mg Potassium; 4mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Appetizers, on April 26th, 2024.

Really tasty stuff. It’s like that ubiquitous onion dip from a box, but made yourself and it tastes like it’s on onion steroids.

Having been invited to an 80th birthday party for Peter, my friend Kathy’s husband, I asked what could I bring? Kathy said, oh, you always make such good appetizers. Okay, will do. This dip stood out from my untried recipes. It came from Sunset magazine –  they call it just “spring onion dip,” but I’ve added the word shallot because those little bulbs are a significant part of the ingredients. Their recipe has you buy fried shallots. Having never seen them (or maybe I’ve just not noticed) I made my own, although they’re really just caramelized, not fried crispy exactly.

The recipe also calls for Kewpie mayo. I wrote up a post last year about that, for Japanese egg salad sandwiches. I’m now noticing Kewpie in my regular grocery stores. If you don’t have it, I truly don’t think it would matter if you used regular mayo (just don’t use Miracle Whip as it’s sweetened). Kewpie uses only egg yolks (not whole eggs) and it uses rice vinegar, so it has a bit of a different tanginess.

Depending on the size of the shallots you buy, you want just 1/2 cup of finished “fried” shallots, so for me that was about 5 of them. They need to be cooked, then cooled before they’re added to the dip mixture. For the dip you combine mayo, sour cream and a bunch of flavorings, then the shallots are added. When I made it, it was way too salty (for me, anyway) so I’ve reduced the amount of salt in the recipe below. Taste it to make sure – add more to suit your palate. The recipe calls for buttermilk to thin the dip if needed. I didn’t think it was needed.

Note that there is a substantial amount of green onions needed, and chives, so make sure you buy enough.

If you’re a potato chip aficionado, then you’ll appreciate that the recipe indicated to serve with Ruffles brand chips. That’s what you see in the photo above.

The dip was really delicious. VERY onion-y, or shallot-y, whatever  you want to call it. I made a double recipe and left the rest of it with my friend Kathy, along with the beloved Ruffles chips, which she said was their favorite brand anyway. As mentioned, the original recipe had more salt, so I thought it was overly salted, yet everyone ate it and no one else noticed. I do recall that the box-mixed onion dip was also very salty, so perhaps the recipe developer was trying to mimic that brand.

What’s GOOD; really tasty onion flavor. The shallots add a good umami taste, but it’s not distinguishable from the other onion flavors. I’d make it again, for sure. So much better than the box mix type.

What’s NOT: nothing, really, unless you hate to peel, chop and sauté shallots since there are a few in the recipe. Otherwise it’s just a matter of a bunch of chopping, mincing and stirring.

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

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Spring Onion Shallot Dip

Recipe: Adapted slightly from Sunset Mag
Servings: 8 (or more if you have other appetizers you’re serving)

5 whole shallots — about 1/2 cup, peeled sliced and chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup Kewpie mayonnaise — or regular mayo
1 3/4 cups sour cream
2 large garlic cloves — microplaned or minced
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon kosher salt — or more to taste
1 tablespoon onion powder — don’t use onion salt
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup green onion — thinly sliced
1/3 cup fresh chives — thinly sliced (about one package)
1/4 cup buttermilk — may not be needed
salt and lemon juice to taste
1 large bag potato chips — Ruffles preferred

1. In a small skillet melt butter and add the sliced, chopped shallots. Cook over medium to med-low as shallots begin to brown, about 15 minutes. Do not let them burn. Set aside to cool.
2. In a medium bowl, combine mayonnaise, sour cream, garlic, mustard, salt, onion powder, lemon zest, lemon juice, green onions, chives. Lastly add the shallots. If the mixture seems thick, add buttermilk by the tablespoon until it’s your desired consistency (I didn’t add any).
3. Whisk everything together until thoroughly combined. Season to taste with salt and lemon juice. Allow to chill for several hours to meld flavors. Serve with your favorite potato chips Ruffles are recommended.
Per Serving: 289 Calories (and yes that includes the potato chips); 28g Fat (89.7% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 5g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 70mg Cholesterol; 472mg Sodium; 3g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 67mg Calcium; trace Iron; 123mg Potassium; 51mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Fish, on April 19th, 2024.

Really simple preparation – make the glaze ahead if you have time, then brush on top. 

Found an old-old recipe from the 1990s, from Cooking Light that I’d never made. So good. Pretty easy, although you do have to boil down the sauce to make a glaze. You start with a can of Kern’s apricot nectar. Add in some freshly grated ginger, 2 cinnamon sticks, a jot of soy sauce (I used low sodium). Simmer that for about 20 minutes at a fairly rapid bubble and it reduces way down. The recipe indicated you’d end up with 3/4 cup. I think I ended up with more like 1/2 cup, but it was relatively thick. Kind of like thinned out jam. Once it’s done you strain out the cinnamon sticks and the ginger pulp and it’s ready to use. Then I added about a teaspoon of toasted sesame oil.

I used a silicone brush to slather the glaze on the salmon (placed on a parchment lined sheetpan). I roasted the salmon in a 400°F oven (I also added some oiled broccoli and cauliflower florets to the sheet pan – see in the rear of the photo). It took about 13-14 minutes, I’d say. Using an instant read thermometer was crucial here. I swear once salmon reaches 110° internal temperature it zooms to 125° in no time at all. My friend Linda told me recently that salmon should never be cooked to more than 125° which is lower than for most fish. Oh gosh, it was perfect. So moist.

Once out of the oven I brushed on some more of the glaze. Then I added some fresh herbs I had on hand and served it immediately. Definitely a keeper of a recipe.

What’s GOOD: so tender, delicious with the apricot flavored glaze on top. You could easily make more of this sauce to have it on hand in the freezer. Or it would be good on chicken too. The 12-ounce can of apricot nectar make enough for 4 servings. I had a guest, so made enough for two, and the rest of the sauce went into the freezer for another day.

What’s NOT: only that you need to have some Kern’s apricot nectar on hand. And fresh ginger.

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

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Roasted Salmon with Apricot Ginger Glaze

Recipe: Adapted from Cooking Light, June 1998
Servings: 4

2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon fresh ginger — peeled, grated
2 cinnamon sticks — (3-inch)
12 ounces apricot nectar — Kern’s
1 pound salmon steaks — cut into portions
1 teaspoon sesame oil — toasted type
Garnish with chopped Italian parsley, chives and sliced green onions

1. Combine the first 4 ingredients in a saucepan, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer mixture until reduced to 1/2 cup (about 20 minutes). Strain the apricot mixture through a sieve over a bowl, and discard solids. Add the sesame oil to the apricot mixture and stir to combine.
2. Preheat oven to 400°F. Line with parchment paper. If desired, add broccoli and cauliflower florets to the sheet pan to round out the dinner. Toss vegetables with oil, salt and pepper. Brush fish with about half of the apricot mixture. Roast salmon for 12-14 minutes. Use an instant read thermometer to assure you don’t cook the fish higher than 125°. Remove from oven and brush more apricot glaze on the fish. Sprinkle with fresh herbs. Serve immediately.
Per Serving: 202 Calories; 6g Fat (26.2% calories from fat); 24g Protein; 13g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 84mg Cholesterol; 319mg Sodium; 11g Total Sugars; 0mcg Vitamin D; 37mg Calcium; 1mg Iron; 581mg Potassium; 339mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Pork, Veggies/sides, on April 12th, 2024.

Such a quick meal but really delicious. 

Funny story. I was out running an errand and had a hankering for an In-N-Out burger. Glanced at my phone to see exactly where it was (I was out in the desert and knew I’d seen one in La Quinta). Thought I knew where . . . nope . . wasn’t where I thought it was. Should have stopped and done a search on my phone or the car GPS, but didn’t. Decided to just go back home and find something to make. I had cabbage. I had onion. I had one of those u-ring-shaped packages of smoked sausage. There it was. Lunch. But I added a bunch of other stuff too.

First I sauteed some onion and celery in a bit of olive oil, then added garlic powder, some herbs, then a few cups of chopped up cabbage. Poured in about 1/2 cup of white wine that was languishing in the refrigerator. Use vermouth if you don’t have any regular drinking wine. Dissolved some Dijon in the wine, stirred, added Italian seasoning, the smoked sausage cut up in diagonal coins, then at the last, added a bit of butter.

What I realized was how EASY this meal was to make. It couldn’t have taken me more than 20 minutes to throw it together. I could have added some carrots, which I had, or broccoli, but I wanted the typical German style with the sausage, cabbage and onions. The butter was the icing on the cake, so to speak. I could taste it, which gave the dish a lovely silkiness. You could probably use a bit less butter if you want to. This makes enough for two. I had the second portion the next day for lunch and enjoyed it every bit as much as I did the first time. If I’d wanted to be decadent I’d have served it with a side of creamy mashed potatoes. I had this dish in Germany a couple of times, and it was outstanding. That would add a lot of calories, but the flavors are really good.

What’s GOOD: loved the combo of flavors – the sausage, the slight crunch of the cabbage. The butter added a smooth finish. The herbs were super, and the wine added some nice flavor too. I’m absolutely buying another ring of sausage to have on hand for another one of these skillet dinners.

What’s NOT: only if you don’t have all the ingredients on hand.

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Easy Skillet Sausage and Cabbage

Recipe: My own concoction
Servings: 2

2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 large yellow onion — sliced
1/2 cup celery — chopped
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme — crushed between your palms
3 cups cabbage — sliced and cut crosswise
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon Italian herbs
7 ounces smoked sausage — or Italian sausage, crumbled
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons butter, or less (and optional)

1. In a large skillet add olive oil to pan and heat over medium. Add onion, then celery. Cook for 3-5 minutes until softened and beginning to brown. Reduce heat some then add cabbage, white wine. Scoop Dijon into center of pan and swirl to dissolve in the wine, then stir into everything.
2. Add sliced sausage and stir. Allow to sizzle a bit then cover with a lid and lower heat to a simmer. Add butter and stir through until melted. Cook for about 5 minutes until sausage and cabbage are cooked. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately in a wide soup bowl.
Per Serving: 555 Calories; 43g Fat (74.7% calories from fat); 17g Protein; 16g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 97mg Cholesterol; 1345mg Sodium; 6g Total Sugars; 0mcg Vitamin D; 96mg Calcium; 3mg Iron; 575mg Potassium; 179mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Desserts, Miscellaneous, on April 5th, 2024.

Oh, I’m in love. Never again will I make it on the stovetop!

You’ve read it here before – I have a lovely Meyer lemon tree. It’s probably 30 or more years old, and it just keeps on producing the most wonderful lemons. The first crop each year, the biggest crop, is always the one that is in full fruit in about February each year. I get 3-4 crops/year on this tree. Just amazing. But none is as big as this one. I’ve probably got 60 lemons on it right now, and I’ve already used 15-20 already.

My friend Dianne, who is a home economist, happened to mention to me recently about making lemon curd in the Vitamix. I’m sure I looked askance at her. She said, yup, look it up. Sure enough. I read comments – there were a number. Knowing that Meyer lemons are sweeter than regular ones, I knew I’d need to reduce the sugar. Several people had commented they thought the recipe had too much sugar in it. Fine with me . . . and I needed to adjust the recipe to make a smaller amount. Their recipe makes something like 4 cups. This one makes 2 cups. With 4 cups,  I’d never use it up in time before it would spoil.

I have a second, smaller (Vitamix) container (than the standard that comes with the Vitamix) and so I adjusted the recipe some. So my recipe not only includes a bit more egg, but also reduces the amount of sugar by a lot. If you use a non-Meyer, you will need more sugar.

Into the blender container you place the zest, juice, eggs and sugar. Oh, and a bit of salt. What makes this unique is that the Vitamix blender heats when you blend on high speed. So after increasing the speed, you blend for 5 full minutes at high speed. That mixes the lemon curd completely AND heats it. Then you remove the plug in the lid and add butter – slowly, piece by piece while it’s running – and because the curd is hot, it melts instantly. You continue to blend for another 30 seconds, and the lemon curd is done. Hooray. Yippee! No standing over the stove stirring for awhile.

What’s GOOD: this lemon curd is every bit as good as any I’ve ever made. My previous favorite lemon curd was from America’s Test Kitchen. I’ve been making it that way since 2012. But now I have this one. New favorite. So easy to make.

What’s NOT: well, if you don’t have a Vitamix blender you can’t make it. Sorry about that.

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Lemon Curd in the Vitamix

Recipe: Adapted some from Vitamix website
Servings: 28

Zest of 3 Meyer lemons
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice — from Meyer lemons
3 large eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar — heaping
1/2 teaspoon salt — optional
1/4 cup unsalted butter — cut into pieces

NOTE: This recipe varies slightly from the original on the Vitamix website. This one makes a smaller quantity, uses slightly more egg, and a lot less sugar because I used Meyer lemons.
1. Place lemon juice, eggs, sugar, salt and zest into the Vitamix container in the order listed and secure lid. Turn machine on and slowly increase speed to Variable 10, then to High.
2. Blend for 5 minutes.
3. Reduce speed to Variable 5 and remove the lid plug. Add butter, 1 piece at a time, through the lid plug opening incorporating butter completely between additions.
4. Replace the lid plug and increase speed to Variable 10. Blend for 30 seconds. Mixture may seem too thin, but it thickens as it chills.
5. Chill before serving or allow to cool slightly and serve at room temperature.
Per Serving: 50 Calories; 2g Fat (37.6% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 7g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 24mg Cholesterol; 49mg Sodium; 7g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 4mg Calcium; trace Iron; 10mg Potassium; 11mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Cookies, on March 29th, 2024.

What a revelation these cookies are. So tender and crispy. The texture is sublime.

Some months ago I put Claire Ptak’s baking cookbook, The Violet Bakery Cookbook, on my Christmas wish list and oh-happy-day, I received it as a gift. I don’t feel so guilty acquiring another cookbook if it’s a gift. Since there is no way that I need another cookbook. No way, Jose. Once Christmas was over with, I couldn’t wait to get into reading it. I do love reading cookbooks, but more than anything I enjoy reading the headnotes about the recipes. I keep a stack of those little plastic sticky-back flags nearby when I’m devouring a new cookbook. I have about 12 flags on the top edge of this cookbook. This is the first recipe I’ve tried. If this is any indication of what’s to come, I’m going to love a lot of the recipes.

What’s different about this recipe: (1) it uses only egg yolks; (2) it has a higher proportion of butter/fat in ratio; (3) you don’t overly mix the dough; (4) the dough must be frozen or refrigerated; and (4) I added walnuts, because I like them in chocolate chip cookies, always.

Also, I veered away from the original recipe – Ptak wants you to roll the batter/dough cookie balls and place them on cookie sheets, then freeze them for hours or overnight before baking. Well, no way do I have room in my freezer for trays of cookies. Instead of freezing them, I refrigerated the dough overnight (in the mixing bowl) and made the balls just before baking.

A caution: because of the amount of butter in this recipe, you can’t just remove the bowl from the refrigerator and begin scooping the dough into balls. Why? Because of the amount of butter in these and it’s not whipped-up butter as you don’t overly mix the butter and sugar as you do with lots of cookie doughs, the dough is just-about hard as a rock. You need to allow the bowl to sit out for about 30 minutes (or more) before you begin rolling the dough into balls. I used a kitchen knife to poke big slices into the dough to break it apart (not exactly easy).

The other change I made was to add some unsweetened cocoa powder to the dry ingredients (and removed an equal amount from the flour quantity). I doubled the recipe below, so I used 2 T of unsweetened cocoa powder. It didn’t change the flavor profile at all, but the cookies themselves are slightly darker in color.

For the bakery, she makes these into gigantic 4-5″ diameter cookies. I never do that, so these are more standard size, using balls that are about 1 to 1 1/4″ in diameter. My cookie scoop couldn’t cut through this dough, it was just too solid, so I used the knife to break apart pieces and formed them by hand into sort-of balls. The cookies are baked on parchment paper. Hers take 18 minutes, but mine took 14 minutes. In the recipe below I suggest 13-14. If  you want a softer center, remove them earlier. I love crispy crunchy, so I did the full 14 minutes.

What’s GOOD: oh my goodness, everything about these are wonderful. These may become my new favorite. Not sure until they are cooled, frozen, and I eat them from a frozen state. Do try them if you’re a fan of chocolate chip cookies. The texture is so different – you CAN tell they use egg yolks. It’s a lovely, rich dough and finished cookie.

What’s NOT: nothing that I can think of, unless you only like soft cookies; if so, these won’t be winner for you.

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Egg Yolk Chocolate Chip Cookies

Recipe: Adapted slightly from Claire Ptak, Violet Bakery
Servings: 52

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour — less one tablespoon
1 tablespoon cocoa powder — unsweetened
1 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup unsalted butter — plus 2 tablespoons, at room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar — lightly packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 large egg yolks — at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup chocolate chips
3/4 cup walnuts — chopped

1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and baking soda.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter and sugars. Beat on medium-high until combined. You are not looking for light and fluffy, just until the dough is thoroughly mixed through, 1-2 minutes, using a rubber spatula to scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl as necessary. Reduce the mixer to low and add the egg yolks, scraping down the bottom and sides. Add the vanilla and beat until just combined.
3. With the mixer on low, gradually add the dry ingredients and beat until combined. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl once more, and beat on low for an additional 30 seconds. Increase the mixer to medium-low, add the chocolate chips and walnuts all at once, and beat until both are evenly distributed throughout, about 1 minute.
4. Chill the cookie dough for several hours or overnight. Remove bowl from refrigerator and allow to sit for 30 minutes before you begin scooping the dough (otherwise it’s almost impossible to scoop as the butter in the dough is rock-hard).
5. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Form dough into about 1″ or 1 1/4″ balls and place on prepared pans.
6. Position rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 355°F. Line two half sheet pans with parchment paper. Place the cookie balls about 2″ apart on the prepared sheet pans.
6. Bake one pan at a time for 13-14 minutes, or until the edges have set but the centers are still gooey. Cool the cookies on the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes, or until the edges and bottoms of the cookies have set and feel firm to the touch. Repeat with the remaining cookie dough (or freeze it to bake later).
7. Serve warm or at room temperature. The cookies can be stored in an airtight container or zip-lock bag at room temperature for up to 3 days. Otherwise freeze them in freezer bags for up to two months.
Per Serving: 114 Calories; 7g Fat (53.5% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 12g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 21mg Cholesterol; 100mg Sodium; 6g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 14mg Calcium; 1mg Iron; 42mg Potassium; 30mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Breads, Brunch, on March 22nd, 2024.

So very tasty. Sara makes the best scones!

Over the holidays we had extended family with us at the desert house. One morning Sara was inspired to make one of her favorite scones, this one with dried cranberries and white chocolate chips. Sara just loves to bake, and as her two children were growing up, on weekends, she’d almost always bake something, whether it was biscuits or scones, or some brownies, or cookies. Something sweet. Their two children are in their mid-twenties now. Sabrina is in her second year of medical school in South Carolina, and son John just graduated from Virginia Tech, is working but is still figuring out his next career step(s).

Over that period of time she developed her own favorite method for scones, and then varies the additions (so, raisins, or nuts, or other kinds of dried fruit). Her family loves white chocolate in just about anything, so it was an easy addition to make scones with dried cranberries and the white chocolate chips. With her now standard scone recipe.

What’s different about the scones is the GRATED BUTTER she uses. A full stick of butter – hard frozen – grated on the big box grater. What that method does is disburse the butter all through the dough and it stays frozen almost, until the scones hit the oven and then it does its magic, allowing for lovely light lift. She also uses buttermilk, to make the scones so-tender. And this recipe also calls for the zest of an orange too.

In the picture here, you can barely see some of the orange zest (adds such lovely flavor) and the dried cranberries.

Sara likes to make hers into a rough round shape, about 10″ in diameter, then she cuts the round into wedges. Those went onto a big baking sheet lined with parchment and into a 375°F oven they went, for 18-20 minutes. She used some heavy cream to brush on top of the scones, and sprinkled some coarse sugar (not sure that is visible in the photo) on top, too.

What’s GOOD: these scones are to die for. They were gone, gone. I think a couple of family members breezed by the kitchen and grabbed an extra one. This recipes makes 8 scones, but you could create more if you used a biscuit cutter.

What’s NOT: not a single thing. This recipe is a keeper.
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Cranberry White Chocolate Scones

Recipe: A Sara C original
Servings: 8

2 cups all purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup unsalted butter — FROZEN, grated
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
zest of one orange
2 tablespoons heavy cream — to brush on top
2 tablespoons coarse sugar — to sprinkle on top

1. Mix flour, baking powder, salt, sugar together in a medium sized bowl.
2. Mix in the frozen, grated butter, then add the buttermilk all at once. Mix with fork until dough begins to hold together. Add cranberries and white chocolate chips and the orange zest.
3. Gently roll or press out into a round and cut into wedges (or cut into biscuit type rounds). Place on parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush cream on top of each scone and sprinkle coarse sugar over all of them. Place tray of scones in the freezer while the oven heats up (20 minutes or so).
4. Heat oven to 375°F and bake scones for 18-20 minutes, until golden brown on top. Serve immediately with butter.
Per Serving: 386 Calories; 17g Fat (39.2% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 55g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 38mg Cholesterol; 360mg Sodium; 30g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 156mg Calcium; 2mg Iron; 97mg Potassium; 214mg Phosphorus.

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