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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:

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 Appetizers, Miscellaneous, on July 30th, 2014.

orange_fennel_mostarda

Think condiment. Think Italian chutney maybe? Here it’s a fruity spread for crackers (or, a condiment for grilled pork). By definition, a mostarda is an Italian condiment made of fruit and a mustard-flavored syrup. That’s not exactly what this is (it does contain mustard seeds, but that’s the only relationship is has with “mustard”), but I didn’t name it. Whatever you choose to call it, this stuff is off the charts delicious.

If you’ve been reading my blog in the last couple of weeks, you know that I went camping with some of my family. Maybe I kinda went glamping, because I stayed in the lodge/motel just down the road. And I use the word lodge loosely. The room contained 2 beds and a bathroom. There was no TV, no internet, no cell service, period. There was no lobby, no place for guests to sit around except on an outdoor deck – if you could tolerate the heat. The clock radio was plugged in but didn’t work. The room was dark with minimal lighting available. But, that A/C unit was used every single afternoon and night and I was ever so grateful. And the mattress was actually pretty good. What they did have was a small sort of fast-food counter with minimal eating options and a gift shop. The ice was the big seller there, along with the ice cream bars.

One of the down sides to me being down the road from the campground where the family was, was that my ice chest full of goodies had to be in the hotel room with me up on the 2nd floor (and no, no elevator). The campground had bear boxes (i.e., sturdy thick-gauge stainless steel boxes that mostly elude bears from ripping into them), but all their campsite bear boxes were chock full.  It could not stay in the car for 2 reasons: (1) it was too darned hot – the ice wouldn’t have lasted more than a few hours at the temps we had up there; and (2) they have bears, and everyone is strongly told in no uncertain terms to leave absolutely nothing in the car in the way of food. Bears can break windows and will claw trunk lids if they think they might be able to get into food. As I awkwardly carried this full and very  heavy ice chest toward the lodge, a kind gentleman took pity on me (it wasn’t the kind that rolls on wheels – big mistake on my part) and at least carried it up the one flight of stairs for me. I was extremely grateful. The lodge did provide about a gallon of ice a couple of times a day (they kept track).

The family stayed in tents and slept on cots or air mattresses – in the heat. I had A/C. I was in charge of bringing appetizers for the 3 evenings I’d be with everyone. As I planned what I’d take along on this trip (a 6-hour drive from home) I knew I wanted to make some things ahead of time. And to make it as easy on myself as I could. No, I really couldn’t toast the bread. No, there was no ideal way to heat up anything. Yes, they had camp stoves, but it was highly recommended that I choose cold appetizers to not waste precious propane. SO. I looked for new recipes to try. You’ll read about the Brussels sprout appetizer in a few days.

In order to maximize my time with the family at the campground, I drove 3/4 of the way there and stayed overnight in Tulare (too-LARE-ee) at a very nice, comfortable Hampton Inn. That was the first time in a whole lot of years I’ve stayed by myself in a hotel. It felt strange without my hubby beside me. Be proud of me – I didn’t cry. I felt like it a couple of times but I didn’t. And going into a restaurant that night to eat alone was hard. Very hard. It wasn’t an upscale restaurant – more like a diner – so I didn’t feel uncomfortable exactly. I just missed my DH, big time.

That hotel did have an elevator, so it made carrying the full ice chest to the room a bit easier. For sure, if I ever do this again, I’ll take the much larger on-wheels ice chest. The next morning I got on the road early and made it to the campground by about 11 am. My daughter-in-law, Karen, and her extended family (all there camping too) are foodies. Powell (my son, my step-son actually but I never use the phrase) is too. All the dinner items were brought in vacuum sealed packages, prepared at home. We had coq au vin one night, and Bolognese another night. Carnitas tacos with all the trimmings was on the menu the other night I was there. No desserts, other than s’mores for the 2 children, although Karen had purchased monstrous square marshmallows, which were big enough you could divide them into about 4 portions of s’mores. I didn’t have any – my only indulgence was a dark chocolate kiss (or 2 or 3) I kept chilled in my ice chest and shared with everybody mid-day. And I left them with another package of milk chocolate ones.

mostarda_and_gin_tonicHappy hour started each night about 5, so I would bring from the hotel my chilled stash of food for the evening. This mostarda was on the menu my first night because I’d stopped at a market along the way there that day and bought a still-warm baguette. Of the 4 appetizers I took, this was, by far, the standout. Here at right is my gin and tonic (I’ve taken a recent liking to them – good Bombay gin, Schweppes tonic, and a squeeze from a generous slice of lime – very refreshing in extreme heat!). Do note the uber-colorful plastic tablecloth, the super lightweight trivet I added in for color and a prop for the bread, and the picnic table laden with “stuff.” Wine is generally the beverage of choice with this family, and there was no shortage of it. I should have taken some, but brought the gin instead. A few others shared one with me, and my son Powell, and his brother-in-law Julian made it for me each night I was there.

One of my appetizers won’t grace these pages – nobody liked it much, including me. It was a spiced carrot thing (pureed) with Moroccan flavorings including preserved lemon. I thought it looked good (and had no fat in it at all) but it wasn’t.  Most of it got dumped into the toilet in my lodge room.

Now, after all that lengthy monologue, we’ll get to the mostarda, finally. Pretty much, this is like making jam. You do need to bloom the spices first in the water, vinegar and sugar, then the minced fennel is added, and lastly carefully chopped flesh of the orange. You cook it and cook it. And cook it some more if you prefer orange_fennel_mostarda_simmeringthe texture to be more like marmalade. I did, so it probably simmered on the stovetop for about 35-45 minutes or so (photo at left). I tasted it here and there. My only difficulty was that fennel bulbs and oranges are all different sizes, so the ratio of fruit/fennel to vinegar/sugar was just a touch off (too much vinegar) so I have altered the recipe just slightly. It’s far easier to add more vinegar later if it’s needed (and continue to cook it a bit more too, if you do so) than to have to add more sugar as I did. The orange zest is added at the very last. If you’d prefer, go to the original at Food52  and use Elizabeth Rex’s recipe, although her recipe just says use a small fennel bulb and an orange, so those sizes are certainly open to interpretation. Elizabeth is a line cook in Chicago. She’s a genius with this recipe. Truly. I loved it.

Most of the double batch went camping with me, but I kept back about 1/2 cup and I’m definitely going to use it – Karen and I talked about it at the camp that the mostarda would be delish with a grilled pork chop, or a pork roast. Since this mixture keeps well, and until I have a dinner guest, I’m going to keep it in the frig for doing just that.

What’s GOOD: the flavor of the orange is the most prominent, but then you get the savory part (the fennel and the mustard, fennel and coriander seeds) but overall the jam is sweet. Truly, you could eat it on toast for breakfast, but it’s far too lofty for that, I assure you. It would likely be delish piled on top of a block of cream cheese too. I wouldn’t use any kind of a flavored cracker – you want the mostarda flavors to come through, not onion, caraway or Ranch flavorings in a cracker, if you understand my meaning. Use a plain cracker or slice of a baguette. Toasted would be lovely. Altogether delicious. It keeps for awhile too.
What’s NOT: other than the time it takes to mince the fennel, chop up the oranges correctly and simmer it, nothing at all. This is a keeper-recipe for sure.

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Orange Fennel Mostarda

Recipe By: Adapted just slightly from a Food 52 recipe by Elizabeth Rex
Serving Size: 16

1 small fennel bulb — cut into a small dice (I used more)
2 whole Navel oranges
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup white wine vinegar — or more if needed
1/4 cup water

1. Place fennel, spices, sugar, vinegar, and water into a small saucepot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
2. Meanwhile, as your saucepot is heating, zest the navel orange. It should yield about 1 teaspoon, but if you get less, that is fine. Set zest aside.
3. Peel the orange as if you were supreming or segmenting it, but instead of segmenting, cut the orange into 4 pieces and remove the middle pithy part, seeds, and hard rind (if any). The membrane between the orange segments is fine. Dice what you have, which should yield about 1 cup. Add to the saucepot, which should have come up to a rapid simmer/boil about now. If the pot started boiling while you were cutting up the orange, that is fine.
4. Once the oranges are in, bring to a boil for about 5 minutes, skimming any foam that appears, then turn down to medium. Simmer until liquid is reduced to the consistency of maple syrup (nearly all of the liquid will be gone by then) and the mustard seeds have plumped up and softened, about 20-25 minutes. Set aside and cool, then stir in reserved orange zest.
5. Note: At this point, there will still be pieces of fresh orange in the mostarda. If you want a more cooked-down, marmalade-ish consistency, bring the orange to a boil with the fennel, and simmer on medium-low heat for 30 minutes. Taste to see if it needs more sugar or vinegar.
6. Serve with toasted baguette slices or a plain cracker. Don’t use a flavored cracker – you want all the mostarda flavor to shine through to your taste buds. Will keep for up to a month, refrigerated.
Per Serving: 41 Calories; trace Fat (5.3% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 10g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 8mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on August 5th, 2014:

    How brave, to go camping in the vicinity of bears – no way would I do that! You do live dangerously. I do enjoy the stories that come with your recipes.

    Thank you, Toni. Appreciate that you get a kick out of some of the stories. Bears (the California brown bear, not grizzlies) are not attackers of humans, generally. I suppose if you got in between a mama bear and her cubs, maybe. Generally the bears stay way out of sight during daylight hours – it’s only at night when no one is about, that they’ll come out of hiding and try to find food. Bears are a fact of life in this country – they were here far before we were, so we have to make accommodation for them. I’ve seen bears in the wild, but only from quite a distance away. They usually stay a long way away from humans. . . carolyn t

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