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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 2021, I’ll still participate, but the two daughters are going to do more posting from here on out.

We participate in an amazon program that rewards a little tiny $ something (pennies, really) if you purchase any books recommended (below), or buy products occasionally mentioned on the blog with an amazon link. 

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BOOK READING:

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. This book is about a young man, a young father also, who loses his beloved wife. He’s barely functioning, trying to get through a day, taking care of his young son. And visiting the cemetery (the one in Montmartre, Paris). There are several peripheral characters (his son, a neighbor and best friend of his departed wife, a good guy friend too, plus a young woman he befriends at the cemetery). As a parting request, his wife asks him to write 33 letters to her after she’s gone, and to put them in a special box hidden in the cemetery monument. And that begins the story.

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. It became a monument, of sorts, a lovely garden too, and people became friends, heard their stories of the tsunami and watched as they approached the phone booth, entered, and began to talk solemnly to their loved ones. This book is just amazing. I found myself tearing up several times. Maybe not for everyone, but I can’t imagine anyone not appreciating the poignancy of this special phone booth. And what it did to heal people through grief. I sure could identify.

As you’ve read here many times, I marvel at authors who come up with unusual premises for their books. This one Meet Me in Monaco: A Novel of Grace Kelly’s Royal Wedding. And yes, it IS somewhat about Grace Kelly’s wedding, but most of the novel is about a young woman perfume designer, Sophie, who accidentally rescues Grace Kelly from the relentless photographers who hound her every move. It begins when Grace visits Monaco for the Cannes Film Festival, and a few days later she meets Prince Rainier. Young Sophie becomes Grace’s friend, and actually, so does the relentless photographer. I can remember when Grace Kelly married the Prince – the fairy tale come true. It was quite the big news (I was in my late teens then). Definitely this story is a romance, but not the sappy type you may be used to. Loved the book.

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. The book IS a novel, but the event is true. 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. On the voyage the ship encounters a hurricane and several giraffes are lost, but two young ones survive. The story is of their journey across the United States in the care of two oh-so-different people, both with a mission. A young boy (barely an adult) becomes the driver (his only goal is his desire to go to California), with the zoo’s delegate (a middle-aged man with a past), and it’s the story about these two misfits and their caring for the giraffes, feeding them (that’s a laugh – onions play a big part). No freeways existed back then, and the mental picture of the vehicle they used (basically a small truck) with the two giraffes confined within two tall boxes precariously strapped to the truck, and their driving and carrying-on getting under bridges and over rivers is just a hoot. I so wanted this story to be true – parts of it ARE true. Worth reading if you enjoy such animal stories. The giraffes survive, thankfully, and they both lived to a ripe old age at the zoo!

Also a kind of quirky book by Beth Miller, The Missing Letters of Mrs. Bright. Picture a middle-aged woman, slogging through life with a not-very-attentive husband, grown children, and one day she decides to leave. Completely. Maybe she had a bucket list of sorts, and she knew none of those places would ever happen in her life if she stayed put. She sets off to find a long-lost girlfriend. The book is about her journey. Her travels. Friendships, and lost friendships. Everyone can probably empathize with Kay Bright as she examines her life. And yes, there are letters and chapters with her daughter, Stella. Cute book.

Katherine Center’s book, Things You Save in a Fire: A Novel is certainly vivid. There aren’t very many women firefighters out there in the world – this is about one. A novel, however. About her work life and the harrassment she endures (some of it’s with love, some not) and about her relationships. The pros and cons of transferring to a different fire station (just like any job move, not always smooth). Good read.

Riveting story of post-WWII- Japan in Ana Johns novel, The Woman in the White Kimono: A Novel. About a young Japanese girl who falls in love with an American serviceman. Such relationships were fraught with problems from the very strict Japanese families who resented the American presence in their country, to the American military higher-ups who made it impossible for the servicemen to marry Japanese nationals. Could hardly put it down. Yes, it’s a romance of sorts, but not in the typical sense of today’s novel-romance-writing. There aren’t always happy beginnings, middles or endings, but the in between made for very interesting reading.

Also read Rishi Reddi’s novel, Passage West: A Novel with a very different take on the migration of Indians (East India) to the California agricultural lands east of San Diego during the 1920s and 30s. Wow. What an eye-opener. Of their small but loyal family enclaves, the hard-scrabble lives they led, the near poverty level of farming. I’d never heard that any Indian migrants were a part of farming here in California. Obviously they made up a very small percentage of the immigrants who settled there.

Maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, but the Mary Morris book, A Very Private Diary: A Nurse in Wartime tells the true day to day life of a young Irish girl who becomes a nurse, in England, France and Belgium in the midst of WWII and immediately after the war. Fascinating glimpse into the hardships not only for patients (the war-wounded) but for the underappreciated and hardworking staff at various hospitals (even a tent one in Normandy where she worked for many months after D-Day). She meets her to-be husband and even that is fraught with difficulty from many angles.

Could hardly put down Krueger’s book, This Tender Land: A Novel. My friend Ann recommended it. I was gripped with the story within the first paragraph, and it never stopped until I turned the last page. 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. Some very ugly things happen at that school. Eventually they  escape, and they are “on the run.” With a few others with them. If you loved Huckleberry Finn, you’ll have a great appreciation for this story as they use a canoe to get themselves down river. Never having very much to eat and getting into trouble way too often, and authorities on their tail. Well, you just have to read the book to find out what happens.

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. The book is heartbreaking, but one of those that everyone should read. The hardship, the hunger, the dirt and dust, the failed crops, the lack of rain, then the story picks up again in central California, back in the day when the wealthy growers just used up the migrants. I don’t want to spoil the story. So worth reading. Hannah really knows how to weave a story.

Brit Bennett has written quite a book, The Vanishing Half: A Novel. It’s a novel, yet I’m sure there are such real-life situations. Twin girls are born to a young woman in the South. Into a town (that probably doesn’t exist) that prides itself on being light-skinned blacks. The father was very dark, but he plays no part, really, in this story. Growing up, the girls leave home at 18 to find their way in New Orleans. Suddenly, one twin disappears (her clothes and suitcase all gone in the wink of an eye). Her twin left behind has no idea what’s happened to her. As the story reveals, with divided paths, one twin continues her life as a black woman, and the other twin, the one who left, is able to pass as a white woman. She marries well, has a daughter. Well, let’s just say that there are lots of wicked webs woven throughout the story, starting from the girls’ mother who never wants to speak again of her lost daughter. But you know where this is going, don’t you? Things are found out. The author does a great job of weaving the story apart and then back together.

What a book. The Only Woman in the Room: A Novel by Marie Benedict. A novelized biography of Hedy Lamarr, the famous actress. She was a brilliant mind, and a beautiful woman. It tells the story of her coming of age, how she navigated the world of acting back in that time period (she was Austrian, and Hitler was in power). The writing was very well done – to tell Hedy’s story with detail and poignancy. Eventually Hedy made it to the U.S. and her life story changed, but still had its difficulties. I loved the book, beginning to end. She should have become an engineer as she invented several war related bomb tools. Very much worth reading.

Also read The Secret of the Chateau: Gripping and heartbreaking historical fiction with a mystery at its heart by Kathleen McGurl. There are two stories here. The historical part is just prior to and up to the French Revolution, when aristocrats were chased and killed, guillotined in many cases. There is a young couple (part of the royal court) who escape to a remote small castle owned by his family, located on the edge of France and Italy, hoping to wait out the revolution and hoping the villagers love and care about them. Then jump to current day as a small English group of close friends decide to retire somewhere on the continent, and settle on a small abandoned castle in the remote hills of France along the Italian border. Got the picture? The historian in the group is quite interested in the history of the home, and clues are revealed (in the tower) that lead her and the group on a quest to discover what happened to the couple who used to live there. There was a fire once upon a time. There’s an pesky ghost. There’s also a very old child’s doll/playhouse on the grounds. Plus there’s a small graveyard. It is VERY intriguing. Very interesting. I love historical novels like this, and this one in particular does have quite a mystery involved, too.

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. The story is all about Mary, her growing up, her scholarly pursuits, and then from the moment she meets Jesus as a young man. The story follows along to and beyond his death on the cross. In the time of Christ it was extremely uncommon for a man not to marry. It was almost unseemly. Fraught with suspicions, I’d suppose. Although scripture, as scripture, does not play a very strong part here, if you’ve read the Bible you’ll see many of the stories of Jesus’ life through Mary’s eyes. 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. Her husband was a journalist, and his life was always in danger because he wrote the truth, and that was taking a risk. The story is about her escape, with harrowing chapters as she makes her way north from Acapulco, with various major detours, one step, or sometimes nothing more than a hair’s width ahead of the cartel minions trying to find her. I could NOT put this book down. The author is not Hispanic, and some have criticized her for that, but she did her research, and many authors write about places and people they are not. I have nothing but respect for her having told this story. You need to read this.

Also read JoJo Moyes’ book, The Giver of Stars. Oh gosh, what a GREAT book. Alice, living in an English home which lacks much, leaps to agree to marry a visiting American. It was an escape for her. He is a man of some family wealth, and she travels from England to Kentucky, during the 1920s. Once settled into the family home, she discovers married life is not what she had expected. Affection is lacking, and she must share the home with her tyrannical father-in-law, the owner of mines in the deep mountains. And with the ghost of the deceased mother-in-law. The family cook won’t tolerate Alice’s help in the kitchen. Alice is terribly lonely and unhappy. The town doesn’t much like this English woman with her funny way of speaking. But then, she meets a woman who encourages her to join the Horseback Librarians. With trepidation, she begins traversing the remote hills, through unbelievable weather, to deliver old, battered and tattered books to the remote inhabitants of the area. She makes friends, wonderful, loving people from all walks of life. There is tremendous tension from the danger of the mines, the unions trying to get a foothold, plus the unraveling of her marriage, including the dreaded father-in-law who feels she should answer to him, behave as he wants. Uh, no. Alice goes her own route. Her new friends become her family, and, oh, what love. There has been much criticism of Moyes’ possible plagiarism of another book regarding the Horseback Librarians. I read the other book – but I didn’t feel remotely as intrigued by that story as I was by Moyes’ version. A feel good story, but it takes some while getting to that “feel good” part, nearly to the end.

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. It’s about Ellen. Her early years, under much hardship. About her teens, some of it as an orphan. Then a young adult, which includes marriage, a marriage blanc, which I didn’t understand until you learn the meaning. Then a child enters the picture, a child that will become a focus for the remainder of the book. Through the war, and beyond. I cried several times, as will you, I suspect. What’s a constant is the descriptions of the place, a town called Upton, near Southampton. About the hills and dales, the flora and fauna, the rain, the mud sometimes, the flooding sometimes. But throughout, it’s about neighbors caring for neighbors, and about love. A must read. Would make a really good book club read.

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.

Best book I’ve read recently. Not new. Called Follow the River: A Novel by James Alexander Thom. This one is also based on the history of a woman (married, pregnant) who was captured by the Shawnee, during the early settlement days east of the Ohio River, about 1755. And her eventual escape. I stayed up all hours to keep reading. The book was written from the many journals and writing compiled by her children. Her name: Mary Ingles. And it chronicles her 1000-mile trek in treacherous weather and over uncharted ground. What an amazing woman, and what a 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 Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901 (P.S.). Resolute is what I’m discussing here. It’s fiction, but based some on a true story. Resolute, as a young girl from a privileged life on a plantation in Jamaica, was taken captive by slavers, eventually ended up in Colonial America. This book is the story of her life. The people she met, the men in her life, her children, and always about her indefatigable energy for life. Always hoping to return to Jamaica.

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, the son of a farming family, who sabotages everything in his being regarding going to school and leaves as soon as he is able (probably about 8th grade, I’d guess). And becomes a shepherd. And at night, he read literature that he accumulated from his grandfather. And then what happens to him as he grows up. Riveting.

 

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 Chicken, on November 22nd, 2013.

dry_brined_turkey_breast_sauce

A simple, tasty way to roast a turkey breast, then serve with a green peppercorn sauce mixed with whole berry cranberry sauce that’s just bursting with flavor. You do have to plan ahead at least 2 1/2 days, though.

I don’t know about you, but I just never think to roast a turkey breast. In fact, I don’t even look at them at the grocery store. I know the breast meat is considered a healthy meat, but I’ve always thought that roasting a breast would/could only end up being dry and tasteless. I’m wrong. Absolutely wrong. You’ll be amazed. I think my difficulty is in remembering the rolled turkey breasts they used to sell (oh, maybe they still do). The kind that almost looks like hot lunch meat? Those are (were) downright awful. Didn’t we make them in the crockpot? Well, this recipe is NOT about that kind of turkey breast!

The biggest problem – if you can call it that – will be FINDING a bone-in turkey breast. Boneless ones, yes. Bone in, not so easy! They just don’t seem to be readily available. Some Sprouts stores have them sometimes (I found mine there), particularly this time of year. Here in California we have a chicken and turkey producer called Zacky Farms, and they do sell them, but you’ve got to seek them out as they don’t seem to be at every store that carries the product.

turkey_breast_bone-In_dry_brinedThe dry brine (pictured at left – it sat in the refrigerator in a plastic bag for 2 days): it means it’s a salt mixture that serves the same purpose as a wet salt water brine, but it doesn’t take up so much room in your refrigerator and is ever-so much easier to handle. At the cooking class Phillis Carey taught about this, she said she has stopped making the wet salt brine because she simply has no place in her refrigerator to keep a brined turkey, and she’s quite happy with this dry brine method.

The turkey breast needs to sit in the refrigerator for 48 hours – that’s why you have to plan ahead on this one. The dry brine is a mixture of salt, orange zest, pepper and dried thyme. See? Easy. Just pop it into a Ziploc bag and set it in the refrigerator. Every 12 hours, though, you need to open it up, massage the salt mixture all over the meat again and turn it over. Then, the day you’re serving this, 8 hours ahead you will do one more step. The salt should be invisible by this point (it’s soaked into the meat). The turkey skin will be moist, but not wet. At this point you place the turkey breast on a plate and set it (uncovered) in the refrigerator. Let it sit there for at least 6 hours. Now you roast it after browning the skin side in a bit of oil. The breast goes onto a parchment-lined baking sheet (skin side up) for about 40-45 minutes.

roasted_turkey_breast_slicedDo use an instant read thermometer for this – haven’t we all eaten turkey at Thanksgiving when the breast meat is so dry you can hardly choke it down? When you roast a whole bird you have to cook it until the thigh meat is done and usually the breast meat is far past it’s peak temperature. I noticed in one of the cooking magazines they were touting cutting the turkey into pieces and roasting the sections separately (so you could remove the breast meat when it’s done). Makes such good sense, but then you never see the pretty bird on the plate. In the article they had placed the parts (in their proper position) on a big platter, but they were all flat, on a bed of greens.

bone_in_turkey_breastHere, you’ll be able to get the turkey breast exactly the way you want it. Remove the turkey when the internal temp has reached 160° F. Ideally you want the breast meat to be 165° F (that’s the safe eating temperature), and it should be fine if it goes up to 170°. Hopefully no higher than that. You’ll set the turkey on a carving board and tent it with foil and in that time the temperature will rise to at least 165° or 170° in just a few minutes.

Now let’s talk about the sauce. You might need to make a trip to the grocery store, and perhaps a higher end one to get the green peppercorns. They’re definitely not at any old market. And my advice is to buy the more expensive by weight. At the cooking class Phillis recommended a brand carried at the cookware store where the class was held. Within seconds 3 women had popped up out of their seats and grabbed the entire stock of them. So I had to buy a different brand at an upscale market. Having not tasted these side by side, I don’t know exactly how they differ. The store owner is going to order more, so eventually I’ll get that brand (I don’t even know the name, other than it said poivre vert in large green letters on the side of the 3-inch high can. I’ve looked online and didn’t see an image of the can.

You’ll want some whole berry cranberry sauce (something I never buy unless I have to!), or you can make your own if you have the time and inclination. I think this would be lovely made with homemade cranberry sauce with port wine. See this recipe if you’re interested. The turkey is cut off the bone for easier carving. It was still super-hot and had reached exactly 165° on the instant read. I had heated plates to serve it on.

What’s GOOD: the low calories and maximum flavor; how easy it was to make, although you do have to let it marinate for 48 hours; planning ahead IS necessary; overall delicious flavor. The turkey meat was SO tender and juicy. I was amazed. Loved the sauce too. The turkey breast (half) I had served 4 people for dinner, and there’s enough left over for one more meal for 2. Unless you’re feeding young men or boys!

What’s NOT: only the 48-hour+ plan-ahead part. Otherwise, it’s a great recipe.

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Dry-Brined Turkey Breast with Cranberry Green Peppercorn Sauce

Recipe By: Phillis Carey cooking class, Nov. 2013
Serving Size: 8 (I think more)

TURKEY BREAST:
4 pounds turkey breasts, meat/skin, R-T-C — (not boneless)
1 tablespoon coarse salt
1 tablespoon orange zest — grated
1 teaspoon 5-peppercorn blend — coarsely ground
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil — or vegetable oil (for browning the breast)
SAUCE:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup Madeira
1 tablespoon green peppercorns — in brine, drained and crushed
1 cup cranberry sauce — (yes, the canned stuff is fine, whole berry style)
Salt to taste (may not need any)

1. 48 hours before cooking time wash and pat dry the turkey breasts. Combine the salt, orange zest, pepper and thyme in a spice grinder and grind until fine. Sprinkle all over the turkey and place in a resealable bag. Refrigerate for 48 hours, turning and rubbing the salt mixture into the turkey every 12 hours or so.
2. Remove turkey from bag. There should be no salt visible on the surface and the skin should be moist but not wet. Place turkey breasts, skin side up, on a plate and refrigerate uncovered for at least 6 hours.
3. Preheat oven to 400° F. Heat oil in a large saute pan over medium high heat. Add turkey breasts, skin side down and brown 4-6 minutes. Transfer turkey, skin side up, to a parchment lined baking sheet; reserve the pan (and its drippings and brown bits).
4. Roast turkey for 40-45 minutes, or until a meat thermometer registers an internal temp of 160° F (or 165° if you prefer it) in the center of the breast. Remove from oven and cover loosely with foil. Let stand for 20 minutes. In that waiting time, the internal temp will rise to 165° or 170°.
5. SAUCE: Meanwhile, melt butter in the reserved skillet and whisk in the flour. Add chicken broth and Madeira and stir until flour is absorbed. Add green peppercorns (place them in a small plastic bag and pound them with a mallet or flat sided meat pounder until all peppercorns are broken) and cranberry sauce and simmer until thickened. Season to taste with salt and set aside while the turkey breasts are roasting.
6. To serve, cut the turkey breast off the bone (makes it so much easier to slice) and slice across the grain into 1/2 inch slices. Arrange on a heated serving platter and spoon some of the sauce over the turkey. Serve the remaining sauce on the side.
Per Serving: 383 Calories; 13g Fat (32.0% calories from fat); 45g Protein; 19g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 89mg Cholesterol; 1471mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on November 25th, 2013:

    This sounds great–love the addition of orange peel. And I’ve been wanting to try the dry-brine techinique. I won’t be doing Thanksgiving at home this year, and this would be a good dish to do another day. One question–what does R-T-C mean? OK, well, two questions. Are you able to find a bone-in turkey breast that is fresh or at least not injected with a solution? I’ve only seen the pre-basted types in my stores. Maybe I should buy a fresh turkey, cut it up, and freeze the parts for different uses.
    Happy Thanksgiving!

    RTC means ready-to-cook. It’s a phrase that exists in my MasterCook recipe program. I probably should fix that because you’re not the only person who would question what it means. I found the plain fresh turkey breast at Sprouts. Do you have those stores where you live? Otherwise, go to a grocery that has a butcher that’s willing to work with you and they’ll usually cut one up for you. But yes, buy a whole one and cut them up into pieces. That would work too. Happy Thanksgiving to you too! . . . carolyn t

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