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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 – well, I hope that’s not wishful thinking. They both lead very busy lives, so we’ll see.

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 (from Carolyn):

At the moment I’m reading Amor Towles’ new book, The Lincoln Highway: A Novel. Literally I’ve just started it, but it’s a page turner. I think it’s still on the best seller list. A young man, Emmett, is released from a youth work camp (back in the day) and is returned home (by the camp warden) following the death of his father, to find that the home they’d lived in was in foreclosure. His mother abandoned them years before. His intent is to pick up his 8-year old brother and they will head off for Texas, but then he discovers two of his work-camp-mates had hidden themselves in the trunk of the warden’s car. Oh my goodness, such a tangled web. Fascinating, and Amor Towles has such a way with words. His sentences are like blooming flower vines, with metaphors in nearly every sentence. Such a gifted writer. Loving it so far.

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. Oh there are plenty of twists and turns. Couldn’t put it down.

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. She moves to San Francisco and becomes the bride, and mother to the man’s young child. But all is not right with the world. Sophie senses an undercurrent about her husband’s life. He’s elusive, leaves her alone for days on end, doesn’t share her bed, and she begins to feel the only reason he wanted a wife was to care for the child. Then the world turns upside down with the 1906 earthquake. And then there’s more. . . and more. . . very gripping read.

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. Oh the various twists this book can give you. There’s a guy she meets, but she’s keeping her boyfriend at home on the string, sort of. Then there’s the desk itself, that has history. Oh my, does it have history. Really interesting story, light reading.

One of my book clubs has us reading Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library: A Novel. What a premise for a book. About a library you can whiz to in the middle of the night and discover other lives you could have lived. And experience them. To find out the answers to those questions we ask ourselves sometimes, “I wonder what would have happened if I’d . . . .” taken that other job, gone out with that guy, taken that trip. That kind of thing. You’ll find out what happened to one particular woman who thought she had nothing left to live for. Good read. Very different. A bit space-agey. Sort of time travel, but not really. But yes, maybe.

James Shipman has written an intriguing book, It Is Well: A Novel, about a man who has lost his wife. And about a woman who has lost her husband. But their relationship stalls, big time, because the guy made a promise to his wife, and he feels duty-bound to honor it. There is much angst about it all. Much wringing of hands, some tears on her part. Nice book; good read.

I wrote up a post about this book: Most Spectacular Restaurant in the World: The Twin Towers, Windows on the World, and the Rebirth of New York by Tom Roston. Go read the full write-up if you’re interested. The book is a complete history of the famous restaurant on the 107th floor of one of the Twin Towers.

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. The story is mostly about a young woman, educated, a Jew, who is the scribe (in secret) to an aging religious leader (in a time when women would have been verboten to hold such a position). And about her own curiosity about her religion and how she eventually begins writing letters (using a male pseudonym) to various Jewish leaders abroad, questioning their religious beliefs. The book is extraordinarily long – not that that kept me from turning a single page! – and complex with the cast of characters from the 1600s and the cast in today’s world of highly competitive experts analyzing the ancient papers. Altogether riveting book. Loved it from beginning to end.

I’m forever reading historical novels. The Lost Jewels: A Novel by Kirsty Manning is a mystery of sorts, going back in time in London in the time of aristocrats and their jewels (pearls, diamonds, gems of all kinds) sometimes made it into the hands of the digger or a maid. Then to current time as a young woman tries to ferret her family history and particularly about some old-old jewelry that they can’t quite figure out – how the grandmother came to have them. Fascinating tale.

Not for the faint of heart, Boat of Stone: A Novel by Maureen Earl tells the true tale of some misplaced Jews at the tale-end of WWII who ended up on Mauritius.

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.

Erin Bartels wrote quite a complex story in The Words between Us: A Novel. We go alongside a young girl as she goes to high school, trying (somewhat unsuccessfully) to be anonymous (because her mother and father are both in prison), taking on a fake name. She meets a guy and they share a bond of reading and some romance. Years go by and she’s now owner of a failing independent bookstore (and married, or separated) and suddenly begins receiving a used book (that she recognizes) every day from a different place in the country. A message for sure, but where will it lead? Yes, it’s a romance. Lots of introspection going on. Enjoyed it.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 black woman in the South. Into a town (that probably doesn’t exist) that prides itself on being light-skinned blacks.

What a book. The Only Woman in the Room: A Novel by Marie Benedict. A novelized biography of Hedy Lamarr, the famous actress.  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, and the second in current day as a group of friends purchase a crumbling chateau. 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. 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.

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.

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.

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 Cookies, on December 21st, 2020.

chocolate_anise_biscotti

Finally, I gave in to my wanting to bake something for Christmas. I really tried not to, but one morning I just knew. And oh, are these nice! Love my island with Christmas décor.

There’s no special baking marathon going on at my house this year. Usually, my friends Cherrie and Jackie spend a good part of a day baking all manner of Christmas cookies. But Covid has interrupted that venture. I have such a big kitchen, there is room for all three of us doing whatever needs to be done. And I have two ovens. But not happening this year. Boo-hoo. I’m not even doing Christmas cards this year. Perhaps the first year since I became an adult. My heart just isn’t in it.

But, I gave in to my cravings and decided to make biscotti. The recipe in my file says this one came from Giada. I haven’t gone searching, but it sounds logical since biscotti are an Italian invention, and she is Italian, for sure. Many eons ago I worked with a woman my age who was Italian, and every Christmas her mother made anise biscotti. Doreen would bring in part of the batch and choc_anise_biscotti_logshare it with the people in the office. I had never had anise – well, other than in Italian sausage, I suppose. I have a special anise cake here on my blog – if you’re interested and didn’t catch that recipe when it appeared. It’s my variation on Mark Miller’s recipe from Coyote Café in Santa Fe, New Mexico. But back in the mid 1970s, I’d never had anise in a baked good, for sure. I was enamored, and for some years I made them myself. But I found the dough kind of hard to work with. Well, not really the dough, it was the baked log – I found it so hard to cut it without each slice crumbling apart, breaking, particularly on the ends. My DH didn’t like anise cookies much – he didn’t eat them, so I stopped making them. Then I visited my friend Linda a few years ago and she served me her Almond-Anise Biscotti. Oh, gosh, they are good! In fact Linda sent me home with a little jar with Sambuca in it – I’m so glad I remember this . . . I’ll have to make them too. Then a couple of years ago I started choc_anise_biscotti_slicedmaking chocolate biscotti, and that was when the tide turned for me about how easy biscotti can be. Farmgirl Susan’s recipe was by far the easiest dough (biscotti type) I’d ever worked with.

However, I wasn’t sure when I started making THIS recipe that the dough would cooperate. But it did. I think I broke 3 slices of the biscotti during the slicing process. DO USE A BREAD KNIFE.

The dough is mixed (I used my stand mixer, but a hand mixer would work) and at the last you add in the chocolate chips. The dough was just barely on the sticky side, so I did sprinkle my countertop with a tiny bit of flour, molded it into the shape you see at top left, then carefully transferred the log to the parchment lined baking sheet.

choc_anise_biscotti_2nd_bakeInto a 350° oven it went for 30 minutes. At that point it was just tinged with golden color. The tray was removed and allowed to cool for 30 minutes. Do set a timer on this – you don’t want the baked log to get cooled down completely or you’ll have trouble slicing it. Slice – remember, serrated knife – into thin slices, lay flat (mostly flat – I had to stand a few of them up on their edges because the sheet pan was full) and bake for another 15 minutes. Then cool completely. I stacked these into freezer bags and that’s where they are now.

What’s GOOD: love the flavor. The anise is subtle here – if you wanted it to be more predominant, double the amount of anise. I liked it just fine. My anise seeds are a bit aged, so I actually used about 1 1/2 tsp, ground up finely in my spice grinder. And for me, the chocolate chips put them over the top. Delicious.

What’s NOT: they’re a little bit fragile to handle – be gentle! Otherwise, they are a perfect biscotti specimen!

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Chocolate Anise Biscotti

Recipe By: Giada de Laurentiis
Serving Size: 24

2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter — room temperature
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon anise seed — ground finely
1 cup chocolate chips

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. Line a heavy large baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl to blend. Using an electric mixer, beat the sugar and butter in a large bowl to blend. Beat in the eggs 1 at a time. Add the flour mixture and beat just until blended. Add the ground anise seed and mix well. Stir in the chocolate chips.
3. Scoop the dough out onto your countertop. If the dough is too sticky to mold, sprinkle your countertop with a little bit of flour (keep it to a minimum). Form the dough into a 16-inch-long, 3-inch-wide log. Transfer the log to the prepared baking sheet. Bake until light golden, about 30 minutes. Cool 30 minutes.
4. Carefully place the log on a cutting board. Using a serrated knife, cut the log on a diagonal into 1/2- to 3/4-inch-thick slices. You can slice them thinner, but they’ll be more fragile. Arrange the cookies, cut side down, on the same baking sheet. Bake the cookies until pale golden, about 15 minutes. Transfer the cookies to a rack and cool completely.Will keep at room temp for a few days; otherwise, stack and place in freezer bags and then in the freezer for longer storage. They taste just great as a frozen cookie (i.e., they’re not going to break a tooth!).
Per Serving: 140 Calories; 6g Fat (41.1% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 19g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 27mg Cholesterol; 59mg Sodium; 10g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 40mg Calcium; 1mg Iron; 45mg Potassium; 64mg Phosphorus.

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  1. hddonna

    said on December 21st, 2020:

    Your island decorations look lovely! Never met a biscotto I didn’t like! These sound delicious. I usually make mine mini-size so I can have a couple without going hog-wild on carbs. I learned a little hint somewhere–perhaps on the KAF website–if you mist the baked loaves lightly with water from a spray bottle before slicing them (yes, with a bread knife), they are less likely to crumble. I find it helpful.
    Wishing you a blessed Christmas!
    Donna

    What a great idea about misting the loaves. I’ll have to try that. Thank you!!! And a blessed Christmas to you as well, my friend. . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on December 21st, 2020:

    Forgot to mention–what a pretty presentation, with the biscotti in a pyramid formation and displayed in front of the Christmas arrangement!

    Thanks, Donna. I wasn’t sure I would decorate much for Christmas, but when my daughter said she’d come up to help – the whole family came and they did it for me. The only one that’s difficult for me (without help) is the island decor because someone has to climb up on the island to arrange it. My granddaughter did it for me and she thought it was SO fun. I had stories to tell her as she did it about the various things. I have a cute white church I bought in Steamboat Springs many years ago (it’s about 2 feet tall, 12 inches deep and about 6 inches wide. It’s one of my favorite pieces – found it in a nice clothing store and I asked the owner if she’d sell the church and she did. I don’t think the church is visible in the photo. My house is very festive and I sit in my family room every evening listening to news (ugh), sipping a drink (the Trader Joe’s eggnog is all gone). Maybe tonight I’ll take a couple more photos and post them. I know that when I read other blogs I always enjoy getting a little peek into the writer’s personal world. . . carolyn t

  3. hddonna

    said on December 22nd, 2020:

    So nice to have your family come and help. I’ll have to send you a photo of my Christmas tree. That island must be huge!

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