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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 Desserts, on October 21st, 2008.

pear crisp with vanilla brown butter

Last week was my turn to take desserts to my evening book group. One dessert isn’t enough for our group, so two is about the minimum. I had some cookie dough to make up into cookies, so those went along as well. I also made the applesauce spice cake with caramel icing, since it’s become such a favorite lately. I cut it up to serve about 16, and there were two skinny pieces left. I thought I should round it out with a fruit-type dessert. Apples would have been the obvious seasonal choice, but I had read a recipe recently over at Smitten Kitchen that looked absolutely fabulous. For pears. In a crisp. Yum.

FYI: Our group read The Falling Man by De Lillo. Quite a book. I didn’t particularly like it (a fictional account of a man and the people within his sphere of influence in the aftermath of his escape from the Twin Towers on 9/11). It’s a dark book, but the discussion was very lively as we analyzed the symbolism and the meaning behind some of the characters and their actions. The reviewer did an excellent job focusing our discussion and ferreting out the important details.

Anyway, this pear crisp is absolutely wonderful. If you enjoy fruit crisps, like pears, then this dessert is for you! You can make the topping ahead of time, and I’d think you could make the brown butter a few hours ahead too, if you want to bake this close to serving time (the best). Smitten Kitchen served it with fennel ice cream. Now, you have to be a regular blog reader to know about David Lebovitz (the American who lives in Paris and recently wrote an ice cream cookbook, The Perfect Scoop, the absolute best ice cream cookbook ever). I’ve made several of his ice creams, but knew I didn’t have time to make it for this event; therefore, I served it with vanilla ice cream instead. I wasn’t altogether sure my book group would appreciate the nuances of fennel ice cream anyway. But next time I make this (oh yes, I’ll be making this again and again in years to come) I will make the fennel ice cream. Smitten Kitchen raved about the combination, so that’s good enough for me to put on my to-do list!

The pears (either Anjou or Bartlett) need to be firm-ripe. This is important – too ripe and I’m sure the pears will disintegrate during the baking, and become mealy and granular. Mine were two full days resting on my countertop, and they were still quite firm. I tasted them and they were seemingly a bit under-ripe for eating out of hand, but they were PERFECT in this crisp. The pears held their shape, but released their sweetness and flavor.

So, here’s the gist of the recipe – first you make the topping (which has some ground up almonds in it), which needs to be made ahead and chilled (so it doesn’t cook too fast in the oven). Then you make the browned butter with fresh vanilla bean. Then you peel, core and cube-up the pears, mix it up with some pear brandy and the browned butter and pour that into a baking dish and top with the crumbs. Bake. This recipe is not difficult at ALL. But it’s unique for a couple of reasons – the browned butter adds a real depth, a nuttiness to the pears. And the pear brandy helps accent the pear flavor too. It’s baked for about 40 minutes or so, and you’ll want to serve this warm if possible. But, I’ll have to confess – there were leftovers that I brought home. Oh my goodness was it ever good! One morning I was in a rush to get somewhere and had a small little bowl of it for breakfast. It’s fruit, right?

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Pear Crisps with Vanilla Brown Butter

Recipe: Gourmet, October 2007, via Smitten Kitchen blog
Servings: 6 (I think more)
Cook’s Notes: Make sure your pears are firm-ripe. Be sure to watch the topping that it doesn’t burn (mine got a lot browner than it should have but it didn’t alter the flavor at all). If you bake it mid-oven or lower it will be better than in the top half. The recipe is for individual gratin dishes, but I made mine in one very large baking dish which made for easier transport.

TOPPING:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole almonds — with skin
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 stick unsalted butter — melted, cooled
PEAR FILLING:
1 whole vanilla bean — split lengthwise
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3 pounds pears — about 6, Anjou or Bartlett, firm ripe
2 tablespoons pear brandy — or eau-do-vie

1. TOPPING: Pulse together the flour, almonds, brown sugar and salt in a food processor until nuts are finely chopped. Add butter and pulse just until blended. Coarsely crumble in a shallow baking dish and chill at least one hour.
2. BROWN BUTTER: Scrape seeds from the vanilla bean and place in a small heavy saucepan with the vanilla bean pod and butter. Heat and cook under low heat until butter is browned and fragrant, about 4 minutes. Don’t overcook or it will burn.
3. Remove vanilla bean and set aside (you may let it dry then add it to your sugar bin). Preheat oven to 425 F.
4. FILLING: While butter browns stir together sugars, flour and a pinch of salt in a large bowl. Peel and core the pears and cut into cubes (about 1/2 inch), then add to the dry mixture and stir to combine.
5. Add browned butter to the pear mixture and mix thoroughly. Spoon the filling into gratin dishes, or one large casserole and sprinkle the chilled topping on top, mounding it slightly in the middle (the individual gratins only). Place on a shallow baking pan and bake for 30 minutes, in the middle of the oven then rotate the pan and continue baking until the topping is golden brown and the filling is bubbling, about 10-15 minutes. Remove to a wire rack to cool. If using one large baking pan the baking time may be longer, but watch that topping doesn’t burn.
6. TIPS: The topping can be made in advance, chilled and covered, for up to two days. The crisp can be assembled (but not baked) one day ahead and chilled, covered. Bring to room temperature before baking.
Per Serving (assuming only you and 5 special friends eat it all up in one sitting): 740 Calories; 41g Fat (48.5% calories from fat); 12g Protein; 86g Carbohydrate; 9g Dietary Fiber; 52mg Cholesterol; 103mg Sodium.

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  1. Cindy H

    said on October 22nd, 2008:

    This looks and sounds wonderful!

    I have some vanilla pods which are going begging, and I might have to give this one a try!

    It’s a good excuse to buy another kind of brandy, too! ;o)
    Thank You!

    Cindy H
    http://www.jbkpottery.com

    Cindy – I hope you DO try it. I just ate last of the smidgen of leftovers. Those pears were oh-so good. There is no question I’ll be making that again. . . Carolyn T

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