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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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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 Beef, Grilling, on August 10th, 2009.

sizzling steak 1

For my dear hubby’s birthday dinner (celebrated a couple of weeks late) that we had with friends last weekend, I knew his first choice would be beef. Steaks, specifically. Good steaks. Make that really good steaks. Our favorites are rib eyes. We made the mistake two summers ago of buying USDA Prime steaks at our local independent market/butcher. We both thought we’d died and gone to heaven. Now we’re spoiled, and don’t want the regular, pedestrian steaks at all. Costco to the rescue.

Now, in case you don’t know about it, Costco now carries (at least in our part of the country) prime steaks. The story goes like this (according to our local newspaper Food Editor, Cathy Thomas), because of the recession, fewer people are going to steakhouses. Or if they are, they’re perhaps not ordering those fantastically thick high-ticket steaks for which they charge an arm and leg. So the beef distributors have had to find new avenues for the extra-tender beef. Enter Costco on the scene. Their prime rib eye steaks are about $8-11 apiece, packaged in fours. Generally Dave and I share ONE steak. For this dinner I prepared 4 steaks for 6 of us, assuming maybe the guys would like an extra portion. Actually, we had enough leftover to serve dinner to friends the next night.

Over the years I’ve learned to trust Hugh Carpenter. He’s one knowledgeable chef. And an innovative menu creator. In addition, he and his wife have authored several cookbooks. Either last year or the year before, when we celebrated Dave’s birthday with this same group of friends (we all bring out our very special – read expensive – red wines to share with one another), we had another one of his recipes: Rib eye Steaks with Amazing Glaze. That one is a real favorite of ours. I’ve made it many, many times, always to raves. But I didn’t want to serve the same thing, so I went to his book, Hot Barbecue (where the other Amazing Glaze rib eye recipe came from also), and chose this one.

Recipe Tip:

Do double the amount of sauce you make – it’s SO good, and
you’ll find another use for it, either with leftovers or with some other kind of grilled meat a day or two later.

Carpenter explained that although the recipe requires a few steps to prepare, it’s worth it. It requires that you have a fairly extensive spice cupboard. It also requires a bit of sitting time (for the steaks to absorb the spice flavors). And you have to make the red pepper sauce. That was the most amount of work in the total prep. And even that wasn’t all that difficult. Just took a bit of time sitting on the stovetop simmering away (to reduce the quantity). The sauce becomes a bed for the steak. The steaks were slathered with minced fresh garlic, then the spice mixture was patted on. They sat for 8 hours in the refrigerator so they’d absorb the flavor.

spice rub toasted The spice mixture was fun to make (well, it was for me, anyway). First a group of whole spices (pictured left) were toasted in a dry skillet (allspice berries, cinnamon sticks, black peppercorns, coriander seeds and whole cloves). They required a bit of stirring (no burning allowed), but once the pan got up to a high heat, they began to smoke lightly. Immediately I turned off the flame and poured the spices out onto a plate to cool. Those were then whizzed up in my spice grinder (it’s a coffee grinder, but I dedicate it for spices). Other items were added to the mix: chile powder, dark brown sugar, dry thyme, dry mustard, salt and freshly grated nutmeg. That’s it.

The red pepper sauce is composed of bottled roasted red peppers, chicken stock, red wine, honey and some spicy Asian hot sauce. Be careful of the hot sauce – once it’s boiled down to a thicker consistency, that will heighten the spiciness (heat). Do not add salt.

Dave was more interested in this dinner menu than usual – because he really wanted the wine to pair well with the food. We brought out a very special bottle of wine. Those of you who know my husband already, will find it no surprise that he tells lots of stories. (He’s a gregarious kind of guy, can walk into just about any room, crowded or not, and make conversation with total strangers, and will tell stories about sailing, or his artificial legs, or a trip we’ve taken.)

A few months ago we were shopping at our number one upscale market (Bristol Farms) in Newport Beach. If we go there together (it’s a 30-minute drive from our house to Newport Beach), Dave will leave me to go through the aisles, while he spends most of the time in the wine department. The store has one wine cabinet that’s all locked up, but you can see the wines inside. And their price tags. (This story has made the rounds of all of our friends, Dave is so proud of himself!) As he glanced in the rows behind glass he spotted a 1990 Chateau Lafite Rothschild. Anyone into wine knows that’s one really great French label. We rarely buy French wine. But as Dave examined the label, he knew – bingo – that’s the bottle we have at home. THEN he looked at the price tag. Of course, an upscale market would charge a premium for all their wines. But, gee whiz. Big but gee whiz. They are charging $850.00 for it. Wow. Yikes. Zippity-do-dah! He came – all but running to find me – to tell me about it. And THAT’s the wine we drank with dinner last Saturday. Somebody gave us a bottle of 1990 Lafite Rothschild nearly 20 years ago. We think the bottle was given to us by our friend Russ – the little scribble on the label says 7/93 Ru–? B’day. We think that means Russ gave it to Dave for his birthday in 1993. If so, Russ, we THANK YOU. Likely it was nowhere near that much money in 1993.

So how was it, you ask? Well, we decanted it and let it air for an hour, and poured it into our Reidel Bordeaux/Cabernet wine glasses. We did all the snobby wine things – swirling, sniffing, more swirling, looking through the glass to see the clarity, more swirling and sniffing. The bouquet was beyond wonderful. Had that slightly brown side of red color. It was sensational. Not worth $850 for sure, but we’re grateful for the bottle. We each had a small glass of it with our appetizers (a Roasted Red Pepper and Walnut Spread on Garlic-Oregano Grilled Pita Bread, some Caramelized Onion on toasted baguette slices and some Brie with blackberries). I’ll be posting ALL of the recipes from this dinner in coming days.

Then I served a chilled Avocado Soup (like Guacamole in a glass) with a spoon, which we enjoyed before we sat down to dinner. We ate outside by candlelight to the low-setting sun. We opened a bottle of Jordan Cabernet, then a magnum of Canoe Ridge Cab.

sizzling steak dry rub Now, let’s get back to this fabulous meat . . . those spice-marinated rib eyes (pictured right, as they squeezed into a ceramic bowl to “marinate”) were put onto the hot grill, seared both sides, then put off to the side (not over direct heat, in a racked pan) to continue cooking until they reached about 123 degrees F (medium rare). Meanwhile, I had cooked some fresh corn on the cob and slathered the hot ear halves with a little bit of butter, then sprinkled them with the spice mix I used on the steak (I just made more of it from the beginning). The corn was a real highlight. I’ll be writing up a separate blog post about that. I also set out a Lebanese Layered Salad (which was ever so good). When the steaks were served I slathered a bit of the red pepper sauce on the piping hot plates, put the steak on top, then sprinkled it with fresh goat cheese chèvre and minced cilantro. Dinner was done. The rib eyes were fantastic. I don’t use that word all that often. They were SO good – the sauce and spice rub made it, though. I didn’t think I’d like the goat cheese, but it also was a nice foil to the beef. Yes, indeed, I’ll be making that recipe again. And maybe I’ll be making just the sauce by itself (Carpenter suggested you could use it in a variety of other ways) and freezing small portions so when we have a steak next time we can have more of that slather.

For dessert I wanted to make tiramisu, because it’s one of Dave’s favorites anyway. I had a new recipe (via America’s Test Kitchen). It was really, really good. I’ll post all the recipes in the next week. I apologize for this loooong recipe for the steak. It’s really not that hard. Believe me! And worth the time for sure.
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Sizzling Rib Eyes with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Recipe: Adapted from Hot Barbecue, by Hugh Carpenter
Servings: 4
NOTES: My advice: make twice the amount of the sauce – if you have leftovers of it, you’ll find other uses for it. It’s really delicious. If you use chicken stock granules, don’t add water – it’ll take a lot less time to reduce the sauce.

4 whole ribeye steaks — 1/2 inch thick
3 ounces goat cheese
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, whole
flavorless cooking oil to brush on the grill rack
4 whole garlic cloves — minced
18 whole allspice berries
1 piece cinnamon stick — about 1-inch long
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon coriander seeds — 1/2″ cubes
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
3 tablespoons chile powder
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar — packed
1 tablespoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 cup roasted red peppers — jarred, drained
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup dry red wine
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons Asian hot sauce

1. STEAKS: Trim excess fat from the edges of the steak. Place the steaks in a glass container.
2. RUB: Rub the garlic cloves over both sides of the steaks. Place the allspice, cinnamon, peppercorns, coriander and cloves in a small dry skillet. Place the pan over medium heat and toast (stirring and shaking pan frequently) until the spices just begin to smoke. Some of them will just start to pop – watch for smoke, remove and pour onto a plate to cool.
3. Place the toasted spices in an electric spice grinder (or use a mortar and pestle) and grind finely. In a small bowl combine all the remaining spices and add the toasted spices. Stir to evenly combine them. Reserve 2 T. of the spices (for the sauce).
4. Rub the remaining spices over the steak surfaces, cover and refrigerate the steaks for 1-8 hours.
5. SAUCE: Place all ingredients for the roasted red pepper sauce in a blender. Add the reserved dry rub, then puree. Transfer the mixture to a heavy-duty saucepan, bring to a boil over high heat, simmer until the mixture has reduced to 1 1/2 cups. Cool and refrigerate. This can be made ahead and refrigerated.
6. 30 minutes before ready to cook, remove steaks and allow them to come to room temp.
7. Preheat grill to medium (350). Brush the cooking rack with a paper towel doused in the cooking oil. Insert a meat thermometer into the side of one of the steaks. Place the steaks in the center of the rack. If you don’t have a meat thermometer, grill steaks about 3 minutes per side (longer if steaks are thicker).
8. Once you’ve acquired grill marks on both sides, move steaks over to a part of the rack without direct heat. Continue cooking until a meat thermometer reads 123. Remove steaks, tent lightly with foil for about 5 minutes, then serve with the sauce.
9. During the time the steaks are cooking, reheat the sauce and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Spoon the sauce onto 4 heated plates and place meat right in the center of the sauce. Sprinkle the steak with goat cheese and cilantro. Serve immediately.
Per Serving: 563 Calories; 28g Fat (43.6% calories from fat); 29g Protein; 51g Carbohydrate; 11g Dietary Fiber; 79mg Cholesterol; 1599mg Sodium.

A year ago: Wellesley Chocolate Chip Cookies
Two years ago: Goat Cheese Chive Muffins (a favorite)

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