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Currently Reading

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 2023, I’m still doing 99% of the blogging and holding out hope that these two lovely and excellent cooks will participate. They both lead very busy lives, so we’ll see.

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BOOK READING (from Carolyn):

Under the Java Moon, by Heather Moore. Sometimes these WWII books are tough to read. This is a true story (written as fiction, though) about a few Dutch families who are taken prisoner on Java Island, by the Japanese. Certainly it’s a story about unbelievable deprivation and sadness, but also about resilience too. Not everyone survives, as you could guess, but you’ll be rooting for young Rita who takes on so many responsibilities far beyond her 6-year old’s abilities. I read this because a dear friend of mine’s husband (now deceased) was in the Army during WWII and spent a lot of his duty in Indonesia and had horrific stories to tell about the weather and environment (awful!). A period of his life he liked to forget. The book certainly brings that period and place to the forefront. I’m glad I read it.

Never in a million years would I have picked up Blind Your Ponies, by Stanley Gordon West. If I’d read the cover or flap that the bulk of the story is about basketball, I’d have put it back on the shelf. But oh, this book is – yes, about basketball, but it’s about a place in time in Montana, a few decades ago, when a tiny town supported their high school team. It’s about a dream. About the town who believed in them. About a tall young man who comes to lives in the town, and his deliverance, really, from a pretty awful background as he plays basketball, when he’d never played before. It’s about relationships, marriages, families and about how this little team makes it. Such a great story and SO glad I read it.

A Girl Called Samson, by Amy Harmon. I’m a fan of anything written by Harmon, and this one delivered as all her books do. 1760, Massachusetts. Deborah Samson is an indentured servant but yearns for independence. From being a rather tall, skinny kid (a girl) to faking it as a young soldier (a young man) in the Continental army. You’ll marvel at her ability to hide her true self. It’s quite a story. She’s thrown into the worst of situations in the war and comes through with flying colors. You’ll find yourself rooting for her and also fearing mightily that she’s going to either get killed, or be “found out,” by some of the men. Riveting story beginning to end. There’s a love interest here too which is very sweet.

On Mystic Lake, by Kristin Hannah. This is a book Hannah wrote some years ago, and tells the story of a woman, Annie, who finds out (on the day their daughter goes off to a foreign land for an exchange quarter) that her husband is in love with another woman and leaves her. Annie, who has been the quintessential perfect corporate wife, is devastated. She felt blind-sided. She cries and wallows, but eventually she returns home to her small town, where her widowed dad lives, in Washington. There she runs into many people she knew and at first feels very out of place. Slowly, she finds the town more welcoming and she helps a previous boyfriend, now widowed with his young daughter. A connection is there. Annie has to find herself, and she definitely does that. Her husband rears his head (of course he does!) after several months, and Annie has to figure out what to do. I don’t want to give away the story. Lots of twists and turns.

The Vineyard, by Barbara Delinsky. A novel with many current day issues. Husband and wife own a vineyard in Rhode Island. Husband dies. Widow soon (too soon) marries the manager, a hired employee, much to the consternation of her two grown children. Widow hires woman as personal assistant (much of the book comes from her voice) and she gets entangled into the many webs, clinging from the many decades the winery has tried to be successful. Really interesting. Lots of plot twists, but all revolving around work of the vineyard. Cute love story too. It wouldn’t be a Delinsky book without that aspect.

Consequences, Penelope Lively. I’ve always loved this author’s writing style. Have read many of her books. This one follows a rather dotted line family, the women, as they grow through worn-torn London and England. There’s poverty and both major events and minor ones that send the story’s trajectory in new directions. Riveting for me. Lively won the Booker Prize for Moon Tiger, her most famous book.

Below Zero, C.J. Box. Mystery of the first order. A Joe Pickett novel (he’s a game warden in Wyoming) with a family member thought dead is suddenly alive. Or is she? Joe’s on the hunt to find out. I don’t read these books at night – too scary. I love his books, though.

Consolations of the Forest: Alone in a Cabin on the Siberian Taiga, by Sylvain Tesson. I’m not sure what possessed me to read this book. About a late 30s guy who seems to crave solitude; he’s offered a 11×11 cabin in the cold/frozen Siberian outback, on a huge lake that freezes over in winter. Here’s a quote from the book: “A visit to my wooden crates. My supplies are dwindling. I have enough pasta left for a month and Tabasco to drench it in. I have flour, tea and oil. I’m low on coffee. As for vodka, I should make it to the end of April.” Vodka plays large in this book. Tesson (who is French, with Russian heritage) is a gifted writer, about the wilderness, the flora and fauna, about the alone-ness, the introspection. Mostly he ate pasta with Tabasco. No other sauce. Many shots of vodka every day. Drunkenness plays a serious role too – what else is there to do, you might ask? He lived there for about a year. I’d have lasted a week, no more.

The Auburn Conference by Tom Piazza. Another one, given my druthers I’m not sure I’d have picked up. For one of my book clubs. Excellent writing. 1883, upstate NY. A young professor decides to make a name for himself and puts on an event, inviting many literary luminaries of the day (Mark Twain, Frederick Douglass, Herman Melville, Forrest Taylor and a romance novelist [the outlier] Lucy Comstock). Part panel discussion, part private conversations, the author weaves a tale of discord, some moderate yelling, some rascism and much ridicule of the romance novelist. Also some words of wisdom, maybe not from the authors you’d have expected. Unusual book.

As Bright as Heaven, by Susan Meissner. 1918. Philadelphia. About a young family arriving with the highest of hopes. Then the Spanish Flu hits and dashes everything. You’ll learn a whole lot about that particular virulent flu and the tragic aftermath. Really good read.

Hour of the Witch, by Chris Bohjalian. Boston, 1662. A young woman becomes the 2nd wife of a powerful man, a cruel man. She determines to leave him, something just “not done” back then. Twists and turns, she’s accused of being a witch. Story of survival, and a redeeming love too.

My Oxford Year, by Julia Whelan. At 24, a young woman is honored with a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford. She’s older than most of her fellow classmates, and as an American, doesn’t fit in very well. She’s left a good job back home, but determines to try to work some for the political campaign job she’s left, and also do the work for her Oxford scholarship. She meets a professor. Oh my. Such an interesting book. I loved learning about the culture of Oxford, and there’s a fascinating romance too, somewhat a forbidden one with said professor.

Madame Pommery, by Rebecca Rosenberg. I love champagne. Have read a number of books over the years (novels) about the region (and I’ve visited there once). This is real history, though in a novelized form. Madame Pommery was widowed, and determined she would blaze a trail that was not well received (no women in the champagne business for starters). And she decides to make a different, less sweet version. She’s hated and reviled, but sticks to her guns, veering away from the then very sweet version all the winemakers were producing. Fascinating story.

The Wager, by David Grann. A true tale of shipwreck, mutiny and murder back in the 1740s. Not exactly my usual genre of reading, but once I heard about the book, I decided I needed to read it. This is a novelized version of the story, based on the facts of an English shipwreck, first off Brazil, then later off Chile. Of the men, their struggle to survive (and many didn’t). Yes, there’s murder involved, and yes, there’s mutiny as well. Those who survived stood trial back in England many years later. Riveting read.

Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate. 1939. A shantyboat in the backwaters of the Mississippi River. A 12-year old girl is left to care for her younger siblings when her mother is taken ill. A mystery ensues, and soon officials chase these youngsters to take them into an orphanage, one that became infamous for “selling” the children, weaving wild tales of their provenance. Dual timeline, you read about a successful young attorney who returns home to help her father, and questions come up about the family history. Fascinating read. You’ll learn about this real abominable woman, Georgia Tann, who profited by her “sales.”

The Vaster Wilds, by Lauren Goff. This tells the story of a young servant girl, in the aftermath of the starvation in Jamestown, the beleaguered town that virtually disappeared because the people weren’t prepared for the harshness of survival in those days. She escapes before the demise of the town and heads west, with nothing but the clothes she’s wearing. She survives longer than you might think, and encounters a lot of interesting experiences and people. Very interesting historical read.

Lady Tan’s Circle of Woman, Lisa See. Historical fiction, from 1469, Ming Dynasty, China. Based on the true story, however, about a young woman mostly raised by her grandmother who is a well known physician. Her grandfather is a scholarly physician, her grandmother, more an herbalist, or like a pharmacist of the day. Tan eventually marries into a family and is immediately subjugated by the matriarch, who won’t allow her to practice any of her healing arts. Quite a story, and also about how she eventually does treat women (women “doctors” were only allowed to treat women) as a midwife and herbalist. You’ll learn a whole lot about the use of flowers and herbs for healing and about the four humors.

Winter Garden, by Kristen Hannah. Quite a story, taking place in Washington State with apple orchards forming a backdrop and family business. Two sisters, never much friends even when they were young, return home to help care for their ailing father. Their mother? What an enigma. She took no part in raising them, yet she lived in the home. She cooked for the family, but rarely interacted. Yet her father adored his wife, their mother. How do they bridge the gulf between each other and also with their mother. Another page turner from Kristen Hannah.

Trail of the Lost, by Andrea Lankford. Not my usual genre. This is nonfiction, about Lankford who has plenty of credentials for rescue services, and is an avid hiker herself, determines to try to find some missing people who have disappeared off the face of the earth on the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s about how rescues work, everything from the disconnect between active citizens who want to help, and seemingly the unwillingness of authorities to share information. Not exactly a positive for law enforcement in this book. Really fascinating. There are hundreds of people who have disappeared off various long hike trails in the U.S. This is about four who were hiking (separately and at different times) on the PCT.

Tomorrow, Tomorrow and Tomorrow, by Gabrielle Zevin. I’ve never been a “gamer.” Not by any standard definition, anyway. Not like people who really get into games, adventure, killers, etc. And this book isn’t a game .. . but it’s a novel (and a great story, I might add) about how these games come into being. How they’re invented, how they morph. First there were two college students, then a third person is added, and they end up creating a wildly popular game. A company is born. And it goes from there. Mostly it’s about the people, their relationships, but set amidst the work of creating and running a gaming company. Not all fun and games, pun intended.

Remarkably Bright Creatures, by Shelby Van Pelt. Oh gosh, what a fabulous book. It’s a novel; however, much of the story is about the intelligence of octopus. In particular this one, Marcellus, who lives in an aquarium in a fictitious town in western Washington State. More than anything the book is about relationships, not only Marcellus with a woman (of a certain age) who cleans the aquarium at night, but the various people in this small town.

Trust, by Herman Diaz. This novel is an enigma in so many ways. It’s a book, within a book, within a book. About the stock market crash back in 1929, but it’s about a man. Oh my. It’s really interesting. This book won the Pulitzer. That’s why I bought it.

Cassidy Hutchinson is a young woman (a real one) who works in politics or “government.” She’s worked for some prestigious Washington politicians, and ended up working for Trump. The book is a memoir of her short spin working at the highest levels, and obviously at the White House. She worked under Mark Meadows and suffered a lot of ridicule when she quit. Truth and lies . . . when she couldn’t live with herself and subvert the truth. Enough, gives you plenty of detail leading up to and after the January 6th uprising. She testified to Congress about what she knew. Really interesting. I almost never read books about politics because I think many (most?) of our elected politicians succumb to the lure of power and forget who they work for, us, the public.

Becoming Dr. Q, by Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa, MD, is an Associate Professor of Neurosurgery and Oncology at Johns Hopkins University. This is his memoir about how he went from being a penniless migrant from Mexico to one of the world’s most renowned experts in brain tumors.

The Invincible Miss Cust, by Penny Haw.  In 1868 Ireland, a woman wasn’t allowed to attend veterinary school, much less become a veterinarian. It took  years of trying (to the horror of her aristocratic family) and finally someone took her under their wing, she enrolled using a pseudonym (a name not revealing her gender). This is a true story of Aleen Isabel Cust, who did just that.

Her Heart for a Compass, by Sarah Ferguson (yes), the Duchess of York. I was pleasantly surprised as I read this book that it wasn’t the usual romantic romp – there’s more to this story than you might think. Ferguson utilizes some of her family ancestors as real characters in the book. Sweet story but with lots of twists and turns.

Someone Else’s Shoes, by Jojo Moyes.Nisha, our heroine, is a wealthy socialite. She thinks her life is perfect. At the gym someone else grabs her gym bag, so she grabs the similar one. Then she finds out her husband is leaving her and he’s locked her out of their high-rise apartment. She’s penniless. No attorney will take her on. She has nothing but this gym bag belonging to someone else (who?).

The Eleventh Man, Ivan Doig. What a story. Ben, part of a Montana college football team in the 1940s, joins the service during WWII. So do all of his eleven teammates. After suffering some injuries in pilot training he is recruited by a stealthy military propaganda machine. His job is to write articles about his teammates as they are picked off at various battle theaters around the Pacific and Europe. Ben goes there, in person, to fuel the stories. Ivan Doig is a crafty writer; I’ve read several of his books, my favorite being The Whistling Season.

Wavewalker, by Suzanne Heywood. Oh my goodness. A memoir about a very young English girl who goes off with her besotted and narcissistic parents and her brother on a years-long sailing journey supposedly following the route of James Cook. A very old, decrepit 70-foot schooner. Four people, 2 sort-of adults and 2 children. Sometimes a helper or two. A seasick mother. A dad who is driven to the extreme, whatever the damage he creates. She spent 10 years aboard.

Claire Keegan wrote Small Things Like These. It’s won a lot of awards, and shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Takes place in Ireland. Some profound questions come up in this novella, about complicity, about restitution. There’s a convent nearby, and attached one of those places young girls were sent if they found themselves “in the family way,” and about how the church helped, supposedly, by taking the children and placing them in homes, without consent. It’s ugly, the truth of the matter. Really good read.

Nicholas Sparks isn’t an author I read very often because his books are pretty sappy, but daughter Sara recommended this one, The Longest Ride. It begins with Ira (age 93), stuck in his car as it plunges off the edge of a road, and it’s snowing. As the hours tick by, he reminisces about his life.

The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind, by Barbara Lipska. Interesting that I’ve read two books recently about the brain (see Doctor Q above). This is a true story about a woman, a neuroscientist, who developed a metastatic melanoma in the brain.

The Price of Inheritance, by Karin Tanabe. This is a mystery, of sorts. Our heroine is an up and coming employee at Christie’s (auction house). In bringing a large collection of expensive art to auction, she makes a misstep about the provenance of a desk. She’s fired. She goes back to her roots, takes a job at a small antique store where she used to work.

The Covenant of Water, by Abraham Verghese. Did you read Cutting for Stone, years ago, by this author? Such a good book, so I knew I’d enjoy this one, and oh, did I!. The book takes place in a little known area of southern India, and chronicles a variety of people over a few generations, who inhabit the place.

Finding Dorothy, by Elizabeth Letts. My friend Dianne recommended this book to me, and it was so special. Loved it beginning to end. It’s based on the story of 77-year old Maud Gage Baum (her husband Frank Baum wrote The Wizard of Oz).

The Bandit Queens, by Parini Shroff. It’s about a young Indian woman, Geeta, as she tries her best to make a living after her husband leaves her. Yet the community she lives in, thinks Geeta murdered him.

Attribution, by Linda Moore. We follow art historian Cate, as she struggles to succeed in her chosen field against sexist advisors. She finds what she thinks is a hidden painting.

The Measure, Nikki Erlick. Oh my goodness. This story grabbed me from about the third sentence. Everyone in the world finds a wooden box on their doorstep, or in front of their camper or tent, that contains a string. Nothing but a string. The author has a vivid imagination (I admire that) and you just will not believe the various reactions (frenzy?) from people who are short-stringers, or long-stringers.

The Book Spy by Alan Hlad. True stories, but in novel form, of a special Axis group of men and women librarians and microfilm specialists, sent to strategic locations in Europe to acquire and scour newspapers, books, technical manuals and periodicals, for information about German troop locations, weaponry and military plans of WWII. I was glued to the book beginning to end. Fascinating accounts.

A Dangerous Business, Jane Smiley. What a story. 1850s gold rush, story of two young prostitutes, finding their way in a lawless town in the Wild West. There’s a murder, or two, or three, or some of the town’s prostitutes, and the two women set out to solve the crime.

Storm Watch, by C. J. Box. I’m such a fan of his tales of Wyoming Game Warden Joe Pickett’s adventures catching criminals. Loved it, just like I’ve loved every one of his books.

Defiant Dreams, by Sola Mahfouz. True story about the author, born in Afghanistan in 1996. This is about her journey to acquire an education. It’s unbelievable what the Taliban does to deter and forbid women from bettering themselves.

Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. This is fairly light read, a novel – but interesting, about the meaning behind many flowers.

The Rome Apartment, by Kerry Fisher. Such a cute story. Maybe not an interesting read for a man. It’s about Beth, whose husband has just left her, and her daughter has just gone off to college. Beth needs a new lease on life, so she rents a room from a woman who lives in Rome.

All the Beauty in the World, a memoir by Patrick Bringley. Absolutely LOVED this book. Bringley was at loose ends and accepted a job as a guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. He’d been a journalist at The New Yorker magazine, but after his brother was ill and died, he needed refreshing. After his training at the museum, he moves from room to room, guarding the precious art, and learning all about the pieces and the painters or sculptors.

The Queen’s Lady, by Joanna Hickson. I love stories about Tudor England, and this one didn’t disappoint. Joan Guildford is a lady in waiting to Queen Elizabeth. Oh my goodness are there twists and turns.

Once in awhile I’m ready to read another Louise Penny mystery. This time it was World of Curiosities. Usually I’d write something wonderful regarding “another tome about Three Pines.” Not going to say it this time. Three Pines becomes a sinister place. Murders (many).

Over the years I’ve read many of Jodi Picoult’s books. This, her newest, or very new, is called Mad Honey. Oh, my. This book is beyond Picoult’s usual borders, but then she always writes edgy books. That’s her genre. This one is written with a co-author, a woman who is gay (I think) and also a trans-gender.

Philippa Gregory is one of my fav authors. Just finished her 3rd (and last, I think) in the Fairmile series called Dawnlands. If you scroll down below you’ll find the 2nd book in the series, Tidelands. Very interesting about English history, but about the same families from the first book in the group. Loved it, as I loved all of them.

Am currently reading Rutherfurd’s long, long book, Paris. I love these involved historical novels about a place (he’s written many about specific places in the world). It’s a saga that goes back and forth in time, following the travails of various people and families, through thick and thin. Some of it during the era of the King Louis’ (plural, should I say Louies?). Very interesting about some of the city’s history and royalty.

Although this book says A Christmas Memory, by Richard Paul Evans, it’s not just about Christmas. A young boy is the hero here, but really an older widower man who lives next door plays a pivotal part of this book.

Wish You Were Here, by Jodi Picoult. Another page-turner. I loved this book. A thirty-something woman, about to take a trip with her boyfriend, when Covid breaks out. Covid plays a major role in this book, beginning to end. She decides to go anyway as her boyfriend is a doctor and cannot leave. She ends up on a remote Galapagos island, and you go along with her – with people she meets, the life she leads, the isolation she experiences, the loneliness she feels, but the joy of nature is a sustaining aspect.

Not everyone wants to read food memoirs. When I saw Sally Schmitt had written a memoir, titled Six California Kitchens, I knew I wanted to read it. I met Sally a few times over the years when I visited Napa Valley, and bought some of her famous pickled items, chutneys, jams, etc. She was the original chef at The French Laundry, before it became truly famous by Thomas Keller.

Being a fan of Vivian Howard (from her TV show), when I saw she’d written another book, I knew I should buy it. This Will Make It Taste Good is such an unusual name for a cookbook, but once you get into the groove of the book, you’ll understand. What’s here are recipes for some “kitchen heroes” she calls them. They’re condiments. They’re food additions, they’re flavor enhancers.

As soon as it came out, I ordered Spare, by Prince Harry. I’ve always been interested in the Royal Family.

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri. Usually I don’t seek out short stories. I might have purchased this book without realizing it was. There aren’t that many stories – each one gets you very ingrained in the characters. I love her writing, and would think each story in this book could be made into a full-fledged novel.

A Lantern in Her Hand, by Beth Streeter Aldrich. A very interesting and harrowing story of early pioneer days in the Midwest (Nebraska I think); covered wagon time up to about 80 years later as the heroine, Abbie Deal, and her husband start a family in a small town.

The Messy Lives of Book People, by Phaedra Patrick. From amazon’s page: Mother of two Liv Green barely scrapes by as a maid to make ends meet, often finding escape in a good book while daydreaming of becoming a writer herself. So she can’t believe her luck when she lands a job housekeeping for her personal hero, mega-bestselling author Essie Starling, a mysterious and intimidating recluse.

Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr. I’m a fan of this author and relished reading his book about a year in his personal life, with his wife and very new, newborn twins. Doerr was given an auspicious award – a year of study in Rome, with apartment and a stipend. There are four chapters, by season.

Kristin Hannah’s Distant Shores is quite a read. Some described it as like a soap opera. Not me. Interesting character development of a couple who married young. She put her own career/wants/desires aside to raise their children. He forged ahead with his life dreams. The children grow up and move on. Then he’s offered a huge promotion across the country. She’s torn – she doesn’t want to be in New York, but nothing would get in the way of his career.

Oh, William! by Elizabeth Strout. Lucy Barton is divorced. But she’s still sort of friendly with her ex. It’s complicated. Out of the blue he asks her to go on a trip with him to discover something about his roots.

Tidelands,  by Philippa Gregory. It tells the tale of a peasant woman, Alinor (an herbalist and midwife), who lives barely above the poverty level, trying to raise two children, during the time of great turmoil in England, the rancorous civil war about Charles 1.

Read Reminders of Him, by Colleen Hoover. A page turner of a story. A young woman is convicted of a crime (young and foolish type). Once released her sole purpose is to be a part of her daughter’s life.

The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty. Oh my goodness. The wicked webs we weave. How in the world did the author even come UP with this wild story, but she did, and it kept me glued. Sophie walked away from her wedding day, and always wondered if she made the wrong decision.

Very funny and poignant story, Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, by Elizabeth Taylor (no, not that one). Mrs. Palfrey, a woman of a certain age, moves into an old folks’ home in London. It’s a sort of hotel, but has full time elderly quirky residents.

For one of my book clubs we read Lessons in Chemistry, by Bonnie Garmus. This book is so hard to describe. Elizabeth is a wizard at chemistry and struggles to be recognized for her intelligence and research. She meets a man at her company who is brilliant too. They make quite a pair. They have a child, then he suddenly dies. Her work isn’t taken seriously, so she leaves her employment and becomes an overnight phenom on a cooking show where she uses the chemical names for things like sodium chloride, etc. You go alongside her struggles, and her raising of her daughter. LOTS of humor, lots to discuss for a book club.

Horse. Oh my, is it a page turner. Loved it from the first page to the last. Sad when it ended. It’s a fictional creation but based on a real racehorse owned by a black man, back in the 1850s. Technically, the story is about a painting of the horse but there are many twists and turns. If you’ve ever enjoyed Brooks’ books in the past, this one won’t disappoint.

The Book of Lost Names, by Kristin Harmel (no, not Hannah). Certainly a little-known chunk of history about a woman who becomes a master forger during WWII to help get Jewish children out of France. Not easy to read, meaning the difficulty of anyone finding the means and place to DO the forgery and right under the noses of the Nazis. Really good read.

Liane Moriarty’s first novel, Three Wishes, follows the travails of adult triplets, so different, yet similar in many ways. Two are identical, the third is not. So alike, and so not. It takes you through a series of heart-wrenching events, seemingly unrelated, but ones that could bring a family to its breaking point and test the bonds of love and strength.

Recently I’ve read both of Erin French’s books, her cookbook, The Lost Kitchen, and since then her memoir, Finding Freedom. About her life growing up (difficult) about her coming of age mostly working in the family diner, flipper burgers and fries (and learning how much she liked to cook). Now she’s a very successful restaurant entrepreneur (The Lost Kitchen is also the name of her restaurant) in the minuscule town of Freedom, Maine. She’s not a classically trained chef, but she’s terrifically creative. See her TV series on Discover+ if you subscribe.

Jo Jo Moyes has a bunch of books to her credit. And she writes well, with riveting stories. Everything I’ve read of hers has been good. This book, The Girl You Left Behind, is so different, so intriguing, so controversial and a fascinating historical story. There are two timelines here, one during WWI, in France, when a relatively unknown painter (in the style of Matisse) paints a picture of his wife. The war intervenes for both the husband and the wife.

Eli Shafak’s Island of Missing Trees. This book was just a page turner. If you’ve never read anything about the conflict in Cyprus (the island) between the Turks and the Greeks, you’re in for a big history lesson here. But, the entire story centers around a fig tree. You get into the head/brain/feelings of this big fig tree which plays a very central part of the story. You’ll learn a lot about animals, insects (ants, mosquitos, butterflies) and other flora and fauna of Cyprus.

Also read Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty. Ohhh my, such a good book. I couldn’t put it down. Whatever you do, do not read the ending before you start the book. I’ve never understood people who do this. The book chronicles the day a mom just ups and disappears. The grown children come back home, in panic. The dad isn’t much help, and he becomes the prime suspect of foul play. There is no body, however.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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 Appetizers, Cookbooks, Fish, on September 1st, 2023.

You are going to love these. I mean it.

In my last post I told you about Vivian Howard’s latest cookbook, This Will Make It Taste Good, and about the various “flavor heroes,” she calls them, that she relies upon in her restaurant and home cooking. To make this recipe above, however, you have to make one of her flavor heroes, the one she calls the “Little Green Dress.” Hereon referred to as LGD! I suppose that’s a take on every woman’s need for a “little black dress,” except that here, the color is decidedly green, not black.

The flavor hero recipe has a preponderance of Castelvetrano olives in it, plus shallots, garlic, vinegar, capers, some anchovies (which you don’t taste at all – but you know – anchovies are one of the umami flavors), fresh parsley, fresh mint, EVOO, hot sauce and salt. You pour this into a clean glass jar, and if you haven’t used it within a few days, pour a little layer of EVOO on top so it doesn’t spoil. It will keep for several weeks that way.

If you’re not familiar with Castelvetrano olives . . . well, they’re a more ripe olive than the traditional green olives – not in color, just in how they pickle them, I guess. They have a milder flavor and they’re not as piquant (sour).

Once you make this flavor hero, then you add some of it to – – in this case it’s canned tuna, a little bit of mayo, and some minced celery and you’ve got a fantastic lunch. Vivian slices avocado and puts that on the cracker first, then piles it with the tuna salad. I forgot the avocado that day, but I made it again the following day, and used some avocado on one, and a sliced egg on the other.

You may THINK this is not worth the trouble, but I’m tellin’ you, it is. I don’t think I’ve ever had canned tuna taste this great. I’m serious. When my friend Cherrie and I got together to make three of the flavor heroes, we made this tuna salad cracker for our lunch. Cherrie and I were both blown away by how flavorful it is. FYI: I buy the line-caught Wild Planet albacore tuna from Costco (blue can, in a stack of about 5).

But, I do need to tell you about Wasa crispbread crackers. I remember them vaguely from my youth – my mother used to buy them. I have no recollection what we ate them with. They come in various grain flavors – I bought the whole grain. They’re not a good cracker to eat by themselves – even Vivian Howard says they taste kind of like cardboard. But they have a very unique characteristic (not mentioned in the book) that once you pick up that little slate of cracker, piled with goodies, you can bite into it without risking cracking the whole cracker and making a big mess. It stays intact as you munch on down. I suppose you could make the tuna salad and use other crackers, but I’m certainly a fan now, of Wasa crackers. I don’t know whether all grocery stores have them – I finally found them at my small, independent market near me.

It’s been two days since I had this for my lunch, and as I write, I’m craving another serving of those tuna crackers.

What’s GOOD: (the flavor hero, the LGD): so unique, and I hope to find more ways to use it. The cookbook includes many recipes using small amounts of it. (The tuna cracker): it’s sensational. I’m craving it. So delicious. Once you have the LGD made, it’s so very easy to make the tuna salad and you’ve got a simple but flavor-packed lunch.

What’s NOT: well, if you’re not willing to put in the effort to make the LGD, then you won’t be able to enjoy the flavor of the tuna snack crackers. I’m telling you, you don’t want to miss this flavor puch. FOMO!

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

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

* * Exported from MasterCook *

Tuna Salad Snack Crackers

Recipe By: Vivian Howard, This Will Make It Taste Good
Servings: 4

10 ounces canned tuna — water-packed, drained, can use up to 12 ounces tuna
1/2 cup celery — finely diced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt — [might be too much – taste first]
1/2 cup Little Green Dress
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 large avocado — halved, pitted, peeled, sliced
Juice of one lemon
1/4 teaspoon salt — optional
8 whole Wasa Fiber Whole Grain Crispbread

NOTE: if you don’t have avocado, sliced hardboiled egg will do. One of the big benefits of Wasa crackers is that when you bite into them, they will not break apart in your hand.
1. Place drained tuna in a medium bowl and break apart some. Stir in celery, salt, Little Green Dress (LGD) and mayonnaise. Stir well. Set aside.
2. Cut avocado into slices and squeeze lemon juice over avocado and season with the 1/4 teaspoon salt. if needed.
3. Divide avocado slices on crackers and spoon tuna mixture on top. Serve immediately. Two slices make a very adequate lunch portion.
Per Serving: 327 Calories; 19g Fat (41.9% calories from fat); 21g Protein; 37g Carbohydrate; 16g Dietary Fiber; 27mg Cholesterol; 980mg Sodium; 1g Total Sugars; 1mcg Vitamin D; 81mg Calcium; 4mg Iron; 725mg Potassium; 134mg Phosphorus.

– – – – – – –

* * Exported from MasterCook *

Little Green Dress

Recipe By: Vivian Howard, This Will Make It Taste Good
Servings: 20 (approximate)

2 medium shallots — peeled
2 cloves garlic — peeled
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2/3 cup Castelvetrano olives — pitted
1 1/2 tablespoons capers — rinsed
2 anchovy fillets — oil-packed
1 bunch Italian parsley — about 1 cup
1/2 cup fresh mint — packed
1/2 cup EVOO
grated zest of one lemon
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon hot sauce — [I used Frank’s]
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

NOTES: Spoon on baked potatoes, dollop on steak, roast chicken, lamb, pork or fish. Add to salad with creamy cheese., on scrambled eggs, on top of soup, with guacamole on toast, in chicken, potato or egg salad, on top of deviled eggs, simmer with ground meat for tacos, spread on top of pizza, as filling for quesadillas. Or thin with oil to make a vinaigrette.
1. In a small food processor, puree shallots and garlic, then stir in a small bowl with red wine vinegar. Allow to pickle for awhile, about 20 minutes before continuing. Set aside.
2. Mince pitted olives, capers and anchovies in food processor. Transfer to a medium bowl. Pick leaves and smaller stems from parsley and mint and mince in the food processor. It may take awhile to get it all processed. Transfer herbs to the bowl with olive mixture.
3. Add vinegar-shallot-garlic mixture, olive oil, lemon zest and juice, hot sauce and salt to the bowl with everything else. Stir it all together and let this puddle of green sit for a minimum of 30 minutes. This will keep for a month in a sealed container in your fridge as long as you submerge it with a layer of olive oil.
Per Serving: 52 Calories; 6g Fat (92.7% calories from fat); trace Protein; 1g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; trace Cholesterol; 96mg Sodium; trace Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 7mg Calcium; trace Iron; 22mg Potassium; 4mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Cookbooks, on August 25th, 2023.

This Will Make It Taste Good: A New Path to Simple Cooking by Vivian Howard  | Oct 20, 2020 - Fieldshop by Garden & GunIt isn’t often that I devote a blog post to a cookbook, but this one is so unusual that I needed to. Everything about this cookbook, This Will Make It Taste Good, is unusual, IMHO.

So, let’s back up a bit . . . I really admire Vivian Howard. I have her first book, Deep Run Roots, which is more an homage to her unique little town, Kinston, North Carolina, than it is anything else. There are recipes, lots of beautiful photographs and plenty of down-south kind of stories about the bountiful produce and meat that come from the South. But more specifically to her locale. Kinston is a tiny, tiny town. When she and her husband (Ben, now her ex-husband) moved back to her home town they decided to open a restaurant. They did – she was the chef, and that’s the series A Chef’s Life she created for a year or two. That’s when lots of people fell in love with her witty, down-home, no-nonsense style. I had a reservation at her restaurant in 2020, and then Covid hit. No travel, no restaurant eating, nada. My trip to see one of my granddaughters graduate from Clemson got canceled. Well, we all remember – everything got canceled.

That year of mostly lock-down was so difficult. As a widow I struggled some with the loneliness. I waved to my neighbor occasionally. I saw people outside my car when I picked up online groceries and they delivered them to my car. A few times in those first months I took a drive in my car – just to get out of the house. There were hardly any cars on the road. It was eerie, like we’d just survived some gigantic earth shift or a global catastrophe. But other than that, was it a whole year we stayed at home? It was ugly. Just sayin’.

For Vivian, their Kinston restaurant closed (and has stayed closed since – I think she said somewhere that it was very difficult to get help because of the very rural outpost of a town it’s in). During Covid, she stayed home helping to raise their twins (and she was still married then) and she decided to write another cookbook, this one. She’s since opened a restaurant in Charleston.

THIS BOOK: Over the years of being a chef, she adapted recipes from lots of places and created lots of her own, obviously. She went about creating 8 or 9 “flavor heroes,” she calls them. These are recipes/concoctions she makes regularly that she uses to enhance all kinds of other things (finished dishes – other recipes, meaning they’re added TO something) from appetizers, main dishes, to salads and veggies, to desserts. She created them for the restaurant, and I think I remember correctly, she eventually had an employee make these up in gigantic batches. It was probably her full time job! She sells them online too (for a steep price) at Handy & Hot (in Charleston).

So far I’ve made three of them (the ones pictured). It’s a bit difficult to categorize this book – to explain the flavor heroes. All of them have very unusual names – not necessarily explanatory about what they are. Like the first one, the very first one she created, she titled “Little Green Dress.” In texture it looks kind of like pesto, but trust me, it’s NOT pesto.

Another one she called “Red Weapons.” It’s a tomato based concoction that separates into 3 layers once finished and the various layers are used in different ways, separately, or in various quantities in another dish. It’s very labor intensive to prepare, but you end up with double the amount you see at right (which is four cups – so it makes eight cups). My friend Cherrie and I got together for an entire day and made the three pictured here). Since Cherrie and I shared it, four cups is about right for me!

Another one is called “Herbdacious,” and that’ll be the one I’ll post first.  We made a wonderful tuna salad crunchy cracker thing for lunch for ourselves using herbdacious, and we prepared meatloaf using one of them. Might have been the first flavor hero one, LGD. Both are green, one more chunky than the other and totally different flavor profiles. I haven’t yet baked the meatloaf, but I’ll post all about it eventually.

There’s an unusual sauerkraut flavor hero, another with preserved lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruit (like preserved lemons that we know, but with the added other citrus fruits). Another one she calls “Community Organizer,” which has a very interesting provenance (you’ll have to read the book). Mostly that one is added to savory dishes, also tomato based. Another one is called “Quirky Furki Umami” which is seaweed driven. Another is called “R-rated onions” (mostly they’re caramelized onions).

So far I’ve only tasted the herbdacious used in the tuna salad on a cracker, and all I can say is that it was fabulous. I cannot WAIT to make it again – I think I have enough to do that from the leftovers. The herbdacious provided flavors that just burst in your mouth.

Vivian is a GREAT writer – she’s so funny. I can imagine she’d have been a handful as a child. She writes for the magazine Garden & Gun – (it’s one of my favorite magazines) and with every issue I can’t wait to see what her new column has to say. If you’re anxious to try something, you’ll find the recipe for LGD if you click through to the magazine. Her columns are not always about food – one was about the dating life of a well-known chef (herself) when you’re in your 40s and haven’t dated for mostly two decades. It was LOL funny.

SO, this book . . . if you have someone in your life who is a good cook, and likes taking on some relatively heavy-duty cooking projects, he/she might find this book well worth it. You wouldn’t have to tackle three of these in a day like Cherrie and I did – you could do just one. I’m looking forward to trying the Red Weapons in a baked dish with feta cheese and shrimp (or swordfish). Even if you’re not a cook, but you enjoy good food, you might enjoy reading the book just for Vivian’s witty writing all by itself. This cookbook might not be for everyone because each recipe for a flavor hero is a bit of a challenge (maybe except for the R-rated onions). I can’t wait to start using some of the flavor heroes in my everyday cooking. But first, I’m digging out the leftover tuna mixture and will make myself another lunch of crackers with it.

Posted in Cookbooks, on July 5th, 2016.

Product Details

Recently, I was contacted by one of the authors of this book, Clint Marsh (co-written by Karima Cammell). The book, The Troll Cookbook: A Taste of Something Different: Simple Foods Any Troll Can Make IS definitely different as it says right in the sub-title. Let me just say that from the get-go. When the author contacted me (to see if I’d accept a copy and write about it) he explained a bit about the book. I wasn’t sure that I was the right “market” for the book. I don’t can or preserve foods. I don’t forage for nettles. And I don’t identify in any way with trolls. But he persevered and insisted that I just might be the ideal candidate for reading the book.

Now, I realize, calling this a Troll cookbook is a little bit tongue in cheek – well, that is if you don’t believe in trolls. I do not. But if you’re of the bent that there are trolls out and about, that little wild beasties lurk everywhere, especially at night, then this book might be exactly down your alley! Note, if you can see it, in the bottom right of the cover’s art, there’s a sweet little hedgehog. I think it’s wise they didn’t put any art renderings of trolls on the cover. There are, however, many colorplates in the book, of all types of trolls, mostly sitting around fires or in kitchens, or foraging for things. Which is how the authors bridge the gap between trolls and humans. In the book, they say:

“ . . . Fire – and more specifically the cookfire of the kitchen – is the link which connects trolls and humans. Unlike humans, the trolls have not been led astray by the lure of expedience, nor have they been dazzled by the bright lights of modern technology. . . . they continue to live as they always have, in touch with the realities of the natural world and the rhythms of the year. They practice their magic every day through gathering, combining, and preparing ingredients in intuitive proportions and serving them with appreciation.”

The book contains a myriad of “recipes,”  divided up by seasons, and includes such things as making a composting mixture (I suppose that could be called a recipe?), that are perhaps on the fringes of the cookbook world. But interspersed between such things as stone soup, how to make vinegar and to can capers, prepare dandelion rootbeer, there are other more standard things like coffee can cake, scrapple (my DH loved scrapple, a staple in and around Philadelphia – not me, no thanks), rhubarb bread, garden raid stew, stuffed dates, quince paste, rose hip jam, and dozens and dozens of others. Even bathtub gin. Oh my.

If my DH were still here, he would repeat for me a legendary story about his father, who owned a ship chandlery in Bivalve, New Jersey, during the depression (and during prohibition). This was a man who had his required 2 Manhattans per evening, and that was it but not during those years when no one could actually BUY alcohol. But there were sources, I guess. . .  I don’t want to know about that part.

There were any number of derelicts that frequented the streets (near the store) during that time. Many were sort of acquaintances who were down on their luck. Life was difficult, money was nearly non-existent. The details elude me, but I recall that my DHs father made a “deal” with the derelicts, that if they’d do a whole lot of work around the store (sweeping, cleaning, scrubbing, washing sidewalks and scrubbing the old bathtub at the back of the store until it shone) he’d cook up a batch of bathtub gin for them. Meanwhile, he went home to procure some of the perfume from his wife’s dresser, and it was used to “perfume” the bathtub gin. As my DH told the story, they worked like crazy, he made the gin with the little tiny squirt of perfume; they drank. Since this was during prohibition, bathtub gin was a real novelty and quite a treasure. As the story goes, one of the derelicts had a car, and the next morning he left the store when they’d drunk themselves into somewhat oblivion, and he barfed out the driver’s window. When next he appeared at the old stomping ground on main street, where the barf had dripped down the door, it had completely taken off the paint. No wonder it did something to everyone’s stomach!

So, here, for your reading pleasure, is a recipe – a troll’s recipe – for bathtub gin:

Half a gallon of water
1 1/2 ounces sugar
Half a gallon of grain alcohol
1/3 spoonful of juniper oil

Combine and simmer the sugar and 1/2 cup of the water, stirring until all the sugar dissolves. Stir juniper oil into the alcohol in a large cookpot or a [CLEAN, CLEAN] bathtub, then add the rest of the water and the syrup, stirring to combine. If you’re a troll, it’s suggested you can vary the mixture with peppercorns, citrus peels or crushed cardamom pods. Or in my F-I-L’s case, a drop or two of his wife’s perfume.

If any of you are interested in this book, the first person who lives here in the continental U.S. and contacts me and will send me $5 to ship it, I’ll mail it to you. It’s brand new, obviously.

Posted in Cookbooks, on January 6th, 2015.

cookbook shelves 3

This isn’t a new photo. You’ve probably seen it more than once over the years, if you’ve been reading my blog since way-back-when. My cookbook shelves look much like that now, except that there are some stacks of recipes and a few narrower cookbooks placed horizontal on top of the stacks. I can’t seem to stop buying cookbooks.

This year I even told my friend Cherrie and my friend Linda – “don’t buy me any cookbooks this year.” It was said in a New Years’ Resolution kind of voice – “I really need to be done with buying more cookbooks.”

Have I been successful with that promise? No. When Ina Garten’s new cookbook appeared at Costco I promptly threw it in with the paper towels, breakfast sausage, boxes of Ziploc plastic bags and a nice big piece of salmon.

Have I cooked from it yet? No. But I wanted it. And Cherrie told me a few weeks later that she’d already bought it for me for Christmas, but she gave it to someone else.

So therefore, I was ever-so pleased to see that there are other people out there who have the kind of gift or curse (whichever your opinion) of collecting cookbooks. I read about Georgeanne Brennan at Eat Your Books, and when I read the blurb, I clicked through to the Sacramento Bee’s article she wrote – about her lifetime of cookbook collecting. She’s never given away or donated a single book in her collection. Ever! In this instance, she was visiting friends in Napa Valley, their home nestled into the vineyards. Oh my mind’s eye could just see it. Can’t you? They had a small barn and it had become the cookbook library. Georgeanne said about her vision:

I’d be thinking white-washed wood plank floors, Persian rugs, floor to ceiling shelves, maybe a book-ladder like the ones that always seem to be in Merchant Ivory films, comfy wingback chairs, plus pools of light cast by old-fashioned standing lamps. I was mentally snuggling down to long hours of reading in a private place . .  .

That quote just grabbed my imagination. But then, I don’t live in Napa Valley. Among the vineyards. I don’t have a barn. I do have an 8×10 Turkish carpet that my DH and I purchased on our trip in 1997. It resides in our front entryway. But that’s about all I have to complete the picture. And, in fact, the barn didn’t turn out to fit her imaginary cookbook description at all. But, it got me to thinking, and wishing I had such a place. I’ve always wanted a home where there was a small reading nook near the kitchen. I’ve seen photos of such homes in magazines. Usually there is a small sofa, or possibly 2 chairs (for sure, wingbacks), and a table, even a coffee table, because when I’m researching a recipe, I need SPACE to spread out several cookbooks. There could be a very small fireplace in there too. And the seating has to be super comfortable, maybe something like chintz. Soft, cuddly where I could nestle in. I have a beautiful kitchen, with a nearby 6-shelf bookcase (above) that houses 3/4 of my collection, and it’s about 15 feet away from the kitchen. There is a window seat nearby – but not an honest-to-goodness kind that allows for leaning against – it’s just for perching and bringing in lots of light. So, there’s no good place to sit next to it, unfortunately. Ah well, in my next life maybe . . .

So I went online to look . . . there’s a photo of one at left. No chairs, soft and pillowy. Alas, no fireplace, either. Found this image at Kalynor.

Then there was another I found at right. That looks a bit more like what I had in mind. But it’s missing the table, and the fireplace. That one doesn’t look like it’s in or near a kitchen, either. Nor does it have reading lamps providing pools of light. But the idea works.

As I said, in my next life . . .

Posted in Cookbooks, on October 9th, 2014.

I can’t believe that I bought yet another cookbook. Geez. I’m hardly cooking these days, but when I read about it online my fingers were just pulled mysteriously to that one-click method on amazon. I pay for amazon prime, so it’s free shipping in 2 days (yes, I know I still pay for it, but I buy a lot of stuff from amazon). Pressed one button and 2 days later it was on my doorstep.

Years ago, when I started watching that years’ The Next Food Network Star, as they introduced Aarti Sequeira, I knew. I just KNEW she’d win. And she did. She has the most infectious smile, and cute way about her. (Did you know that she worked at CNN for a few years?) I’ve been a long time lover of Indian food, and she made it more approachable.  She adapted it to Western tastes. She played with flavors and spices. I faithfully watched her show, Aarti Paarti that was on for a couple of these things they call “seasons.” I mean what’s with this “season” of about 6 or 7, or maybe 8 shows. Not for me to reason why. When her show didn’t come back, well, let’s just say I was sad. But I’d been reading Aarti’s blog for several years, so I knew a bit about what was going on in her life. She never did explain, exactly, why her show didn’t return. I guess when you do get your network-star-show, they don’t renew it. I don’t know that any of the winners have a continuing actual cooking show. Correct me if I’m wrong. But then, we know that most everything on the Food Network is about showmanship and acting anyway. The food is less important.

So, Aarti is married to Bren (he’s in the acting/producing world in Hollywood) whom she met in her first days at Northwestern(journalism major). Aarti grew up in Dubai, although she’s 100% Indian and her family still lives in India. Aarti and Bren now have a baby daughter and while Aarti was pregnant she wrote her cookbook Aarti Paarti: An American Kitchen with an Indian Soul. And what a gem it is. I also love her because she’s an active Christian.

Ree Drummond (Pioneer Woman) wrote the forward to the book, and as I sat and read that last night, all I could say was that Ree absolutely loves the book. Ree doesn’t (I don’t think) cook Indian food. At least I don’t recall any recipes on her site or show that were Indian in nature. But she says she loves Indian food. However, I’ll tell you, as I began reading through the book (and so enjoying all the stories about Aarti, more details about her growing up, her sisters, her mum, her grandmother, her dad) she became so much more the fun girl next door. I just would love to have her as a friend. I can’t say that about very many food network people, but Aarti? Yes, indeed.

It would take me forever to write down all the recipes I’ve mentally flagged in the book already. I’ve read about 2/3 of the book so far, and I’m in love. Below are a few that rocked my boat and made me wish I could cook all of them today!

Of course, Indian spices feature prominently in nearly every recipe. How could they not. And many of those spices I do have in my kitchen. Maybe not so for everyone, but most are easy enough to find.

Good Girl Granola – the usual kinds of ingredients but with coconut oil added, along with cardamom and garam masala. Also cocoa nibs, cinnamon, maple syrup.

Ketchup Chutney – well, we know Indian cooking often features chutneys, and Aarti’s explanation about her home-made ketchup chutney just made my mouth water. And no, it uses no ready-made bottled ketchup.

Aarti’s “Real-Deal” Hummus – she’s very particular about her hummus. I’ve basically OD’d on hummus (the store bought stuff) in the last year. But her recipe makes me want some – it has a slightly different method of preparation (still using canned beans, though) and a few different ingredients as well. I’ll be making this. Soon.

Chewda – pronounced just like it sounds. It’s an Indian snack and contains cornflakes, rice crispy type cereal, nuts and seeds plus turmeric, curry leaves and golden raisins. Very different.

Lasagna Cupcakes – Aarti says she has a real problem with portion control when it comes to American lasagna, so she decided to make them in individual portions – using won ton skins in a muffin tin with the meat sauce inside, ricotta and topped with cheese. The only Indian thing in this is a little bit of mango chutney added to the ricotta filling.

I’m a sucker for dal (lentils). I gosh-darned love the stuff though I don’t make them very often just cuz they’re so high in carbs. They’re very good for us, you know, but still, they’re high in carbs. My daughter Sara came to visit me last Sunday night and at my request, she made a batch of the Moroccan Harira Chicken Soup that contains garbanzos and lentils. I can’t get enough of that stuff and now I have a bunch of bagged containers in the freezer. Aarti explains in the chapter on lentils and beans, that her Mum’s Everyday Dal was on the dinner table every single day, just as the title explains. Notice the link there –  I made this recipe in 2010 after she prepared it on her TV show.

French Onion Soup – who would think that onion soup could be adapted to be Indian. Why not?And indeed it can be adapted, and it sounds so scrumptious with cinnamon, cardamom and paneer (that’s a cheese that doesn’t melt) croutons. I cannot wait to make this one. Good for freezing for winter dinners.

Tomato Rasam (or Tomato Soup) – made Indian style. Can’t wait to try this one either. It uses pigeon peas (toor dal), cumin, curry leaves, tamarind paste and some yogurt and cilantro for a topping. Oh my that sounds so good. Another one I’ll make in quantity to freeze.

Indo-Chinese Chicken & Corn Soup – did you know that Indian people, in India, are crazy about Chinese food? Yup. So, combining things from an Indian cuisine and something from Chinese is a given. This one, even though it looks creamy, contains no cream, just canned creamed corn. What makes it unique is coriander, bay leaves, anise and fresh ginger.

Dill, Cilantro & Coconut Milk Fish Chowder – Aarti says that her husband has been a big inspiration for recipes – he’s from Maine and asked her to make chowder. So she did, but she used garam masala, ginger, garlic, cumin, turmeric and coconut milk to round it out. She used cod fillets.

Pregnancy Potatoes – reading this recipe had me laughing. Aarti had her fair share of morning sickness (or any-time-of-day sickness) and she said that when it came on, this was what she craved, among other things. It can be a side dish to a dinner, but for her it became a snack. They’re wedged potatoes baked with all kinds of Indian spices on them and could be served any time of day.

Beet(root) Thoran – I can’t say that I buy fresh beets all that often. My darling DH adored them, preferably pickled right out of the can. But once I came into his life in 1981 I wouldn’t let him have those anymore (because they were so full of sugar). One year we raised beets and in order to get me to fix them he had to put on his painting clothes and I required him to wash, roast and then remove all the skin because he got purple juice everywhere. Then I made them in several ways. But anyway, Aarti’s recipe sounds so different – it’s grated raw beets cooked with Indian spices and served with toasted cashews. Sounds divine.

Coleslaw – I never expected to find a recipe for this in her cookbook, but it’s nothing like what you think. It does contain some mayo and yogurt and it uses lime juice, turmeric, garlic, cumin and mustard seeds as well. Also half of a celery root too.

Dal Bukhara – this is a main dish lentil in a curry sauce. The ingredient list is long, but my guess is it would be amazingly flavorful. The spices include coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom pods, chiles and paprika. Another one I want to make soon.

Well, so that’s just a smattering of recipes that appeal to me. And I’m not finished reading the book yet.

Update on me: My foot is still healing – the boot comes off next week, then we’ll see if the cumbersome thing (that feels like a small sack of cement and makes for ever-so difficult walking) on my foot has done any good. I am counting the hours until I get the 2nd cataract surgery done next week so I can SEE better! The last 9 days I have basically stayed home and rested my foot. And I mean rested. I’m going stir crazy, especially without my DH here to keep me company, go shopping or just entertain me. I have gone out of the house just a few times and have tried to walk very, very short distances (Trader Joe’s, the eye doctor’s office). That’s it for now.

Posted in Cookbooks, Essays, on January 15th, 2014.

cookbooks verticalIt’s not a new tidbit here, that I love cookbooks. Now, there are collectors, and then there are collectors. I’m just a general all-purpose cookbook collector. I own about 300 or so now, and have given away at least another 150 or more. I tell myself that I do NOT need one single solitary additional cookbook. Ever. But I just can’t seem to help myself. I do occasionally order one because I just have to, that’s all. Others I’ll put onto my wish list at amazon, hoping that family or friends will buy it for me for my birthday or at Christmas.

If you haven’t noticed, cookbooks are one of the hottest selling genre of books these days. Didn’t used to be so. It seems like amazon sends me an email every few days (maybe it’s weekly) telling (touting) 2 or 3 more new cookbooks that I should look at and perhaps buy. There’s probably a special tag in the amazon servers just for me (and others like me) that says “sucker” or “easy” where it comes to buying cookbooks. You think?

The shelves you see at left reside in our family room, right next to the kitchen. Actually I’ve culled some out of that since I took that photo a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, I have a sofa-table just a few feet away that is a repository for stacks of stuff. Magazines I haven’t gotten to yet (and have been there for at least a year!), books I’ve pulled out of the shelves above and never re-filed, then I’ve stuffed some other cookbook into it’s slot. The depth on that sofa table is about 16 inches or so. Mostly more cookbooks. People give me books (not always ones that I’ve requested) and they have no home, exactly.

As of a year or so ago I created a cookbook annex up in my office (upstairs). I think I have 3 shelves there, and mostly they are books I don’t refer to for cooking. Most of them are memoirs and some rather esoteric cookbooks that are pretty to look at, but not to cook from.

When we had new carpeting installed underneath the family room shelves a year ago I had to unload that entire shelf system. Oh my gosh was that difficult, time consuming and back breaking. I sorted through the books when I went to return them, and tried my best to group them and I did give away another 20 or so. Problem is that some barbecue books that really belong on the 3rd shelf left had to go on the bottom shelf because they’re tall. Really tall, and they won’t fit anywhere except at the bottom. I’ve considered using a Dewey decimal system, but no, that makes no sense since all the books, just about, are within one small, really narrow group of numbers. Because of the variety of heights, I can’t group all similar genres together.

Some years ago when I subscribed to Eat Your Books, the site that helps you find recipes within your own cookbooks, I entered most of my cookbooks into my own site there. I’ve mentioned it numerous times here, that if I want to find a recipe for chicken and artichokes, for instance, I can go to my site at Eat Your Books and enter those two items and it will give me a long list of the different recipe titles, the book they’re from on my own bookshelves, and the list of main ingredients. I use it all the time. Far better to sit at my computer than to stand in front of that bookcase for 45 minutes hunting. I love that site.

Today I was catching up on my blog reading and really enjoy the varied things I find (read) on the Eat Your Books blog. This one has to do with Anne Willan. She’s the American author, chef, and owner of the La Varenne cooking school in Paris. She and her husband have lived in Paris for a long, long time. If I ever have the inclination, and the time, on some trip to Paris I’m going to sign up for a class.

Anne Willan has just published a new book, a memoir type with recipes: One Soufflé at a Time: A Memoir of Food and France, and I ordered the hard copy just yesterday. Once I’ve read it, I’ll let you know what I think of it. Cookbooks I always order in hard copy; memoirs about cooking as well; nearly everything else goes to my Kindle.

In the meantime, though, I have some other books that require my attention. I’m doing the review in one of my book clubs of The Submission: A Novel. I read it last year and highly recommended it to everyone I met. Because I couldn’t stop talking about it, our selection committee chose it to read in my AAUW book group for 2014, and of course, no one else was willing to do the review, so I’m it. I’m a little intimidated about that because there are some very sensitive religious and ethnic issues in that book, and generally, in that group, anyway, we don’t choose books that have that kind of potential discussion problems. Fortunately for me, Seattle (the city of) selected that book in it’s read-a-book program, and they have a very detailed guide available with discussion questions. So I may be able to use those without having to figure out for myself how to squeeze through a minefield of religious issues to have an open discussion. No one in my group is Muslim, and perhaps I’m overly concerned, but I think it will take a sensitive hand (voice) to keep the discussion from getting out of hand. I’m also supposed to be reading any book by Alice Munro for one of my other book groups, but haven’t even started on that one. My 3rd book group, fortunately, I’ve already read the book. Just today I also ordered 5 more books on my Kindle. Just finished reading  The Four Seasons: A Novel of Vivaldi’s Venice. A novel about 2 young girls sent to a convent in Venice and both become musicians of note. Both are taught by Vivaldi. I’ll be writing that up on my left sidebar in the next day or so.

To get back to the reason I started this post, on the Eat Your Books blog, they discussed a Cookbook Tree of Life that has been created by Anne Willan (the print pictured at left, photo from the La Varenne website). I immediately clicked through to the source article at zester daily, and then further to Anne Willan’s blog post to take a look at it. In a nutshell, Anne laid awake one night thinking about her own family tree (framed copy) in her closet, and began thinking about whether cookbooks, as a collective group, could also have a comparable family tree. She must have spent months researching this, and narrowed the field to the first four cookbooks printed prior to 1500. And then expanded the tree in width and height to reach the breadth of books about 100 years ago. The cookbook tree covers the period of 1674-1861. From what I can see, the 16” x 20” $65 limited edition print would be a keepsake. I’ve thought about ordering one for myself, but I lack wall space anywhere near the kitchen to hang it. Besides, do I need it? No. But do I want it? Yes. But . . . I’ll try not to order it. Perhaps you’d like to, though.

Posted in Cookbooks, on November 23rd, 2013.


Having read at more than one website or blog about this book, I decided I did need to read it. The food magazines mostly have given the book high ratings. It’s the memoir of a 30-something woman who hits a crossroads in her life (left her good-paying corporate job) to pursue  her childhood dream of going to Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. Encouraged by her new boyfriend (now her husband), she packs a minimum of belongings, hops on a plane and starts in the professional course in Paris.

She, this American woman, spoke no French, yet she joined a group of international people with the same aspirations, most of them wanting to be a chef. She aspired to be a food writer or journalist of some kind. The course is the same – learning all those basics of sauces, meats, entrails, pastry, yeast, etc. There’s a bit of catty behavior amongst the adult women (students) which was a little difficult to imagine, yet the school is certainly competitive, so I suppose some people could stoop so low as to take all or most of the necessary ingredients so someone else wouldn’t have any (and thereby score poorly). That seemed to be a repeated event in the book – the sous chefs who prep the food for the students sometimes didn’t have enough of one thing or another (the early birds caught the worm on each occasion, and Kathleen was never the early bird). Sometimes the items were essential. No complaining allowed, though. No histrionics in class, for sure. She had to endure some harsh words many a time.

The book chronicles her couple of years there, interspersed with updates about her romance (he actually lived in Paris with her part of the time), the foibles of the different apartments she/they lived in and the lack of certain things she needs to cook. It’s also about her classmates (who change with each session) and the competitive nature of the school. If the teaching chefs at LCB treated most people the way they treated her, I’d doubt many people would last but a few weeks. She does learn French, discovers that success means mastering some of the recipes in her apartment kitchen, often laboring into the wee hours.

Each chapter ends with a recipe – perhaps modified slightly from the official ones at the school. They’re recipes you’ll find in most French cookbooks. I can’t say that I found any recipe I wanted to rush to the kitchen to prepare. But Le Cordon Bleu teaches almost more about technique than the recipes.

What I came away with was one sure thing: I’d have never survived that culinary school. I’d have been reduced to tears (something that just wasn’t done) on day one or two. Kathleen nearly quit once, but was encouraged to keep going. Part of her problem was the language – in the second and subsequent sessions the classes were taught only in French. She did take French lessons, and eventually she more-or-less mastered it – at least culinary French for sure.

Whether she really was disliked at first by the French teaching chefs, it’s hard to know, but they were very hard on her. It seemed like the chefs didn’t like Americans; English speaking students had to work harder to prove his or her mettle. Kathleen persevered, however, and it seemed that some of the chefs came around. For her final exam she decided to prepare a very grand plate – was advised by the chef not to, that it couldn’t be done in the limited time – she practiced it ad nauseum at home to perfect it and complete it in the time allowed. The chefs were mightily impressed. Perhaps that exam meal was her piece de resistance. At graduation she was offered a plum stage but opted not to do it. In the interim her husband was in a bad accident here in the U.S. and felt he needed her more than a non-paying stageI in a Swiss restaurant. Besides, she never aspired to be a chef.

The book, The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry: Love, Laughter, and Tears in Paris at the World’s Most Famous Cooking School is interesting. Not the kind of book you can’t put down, however. Every student took copious notes (obviously she did that part well) so she had ample material to write a book. There were some funny incidents that gave pause. I particularly enjoyed one thing: the French teaching chefs, in trying to pronounce her name, called her “Meez Fleen.” Every time she wrote that in the book I chuckled.

tasting spoonsHer favorite teaching chef said to her as she left school for the last time, “Remember, Meez Fleen, taste, taste, taste.” A good mantra for every cook. It’s something I try to do with everything I make (well, you can’t do it with baked goods). Hence my little silver Mint Julep cup of tasting spoons that sits beside my kitchen stove. (And, the muse for my blog’s name, obviously!

If you’re new to my blog, those spoons (and a few forks) pictured at left are very old silver plated ones that belonged to Dave’s mother. Some are engraved, some with initials we don’t even recognize as part of the family tree. Some need replating, and we do have to polish them periodically. But, rather than let them sit in the silverware box in a drawer, rarely seeing the light of day, I pulled them out some years ago. They’re a variety of styles, all thinly shaped and small, which makes them just perfect for tasting as I cook. I like to think that Dave’s mother smiles every time I reach for one, which is often. I hope the chef at Le Cordon Bleu would also smile in approval.

Posted in Cookbooks, on September 28th, 2013.

Having never heard of “The Cookbook MANifesto,” I was intrigued when I read about it on the Eat Your Books blog. It makes perfect sense to me:

  • Don’t buy a cookbook because everyone else has it.
  • Just because someone can act or sing, doesn’t mean they can write a cookbook.
  • If there are tons of ingredients you cannot pronounce, move along.
  • You should love the images.
  • If it makes you drool, that’s a good sign.
  • You should be able to actually make the recipes inside.
  • As a rule, you may make 6 – 8 recipes out of any given book, so see if you can find those first.

That’s just the BUYING part of the manifesto. There’s more about the using of cookbooks, and also about creating them. Click on over if you want to know more.

Posted in Cookbooks, on June 20th, 2013.

So it is, each year somebody writes up a collective essay about the cookbooks from last year. This one about 2012. jerusalem_cookbookI read about it over at Eat Your Books (on their blog). The folks over at EYB write up frequent posts (and you don’t have to have an EYB account in order to follow their blog), always interesting, and this one particularly so. Since I assume you, my readers, are just like me, I keep saying I’m not going to buy any more cookbooks, and then something comes along that woos me to break that promise to myself. And since I have an amazon prime account (no shipping fees for most of their products), I convince myself that I’m saving money. (Sure!)

In addition to telling me about what cookbooks were the most popular sellers last year, they also quote some statistics about the buyers of cookbooks (more men? or women? what ages?) and this article also provided their take on cookbook trends. Their blog post was based on statistics in an article by PW, Publishers Weekly, but EYB just condensed it to the most important facts. So what did it have to say?

You probably already heard that Jerusalem: A Cookbook (above photo) won the IACP award for 2012. I’d read many blogs and magazine articles touting the recipes in the cookbook during the year, so I gave in and bought that a couple of months ago. So far I’ve not made anything from it, and I stuck the book on my bookshelf when we were entertaining recently, and intend to dig it out again and continue reading through it.


  • Vegetarianism is ever-more popular.
  • Middle Eastern cooking is the “it” cuisine at the moment. And it’s increasing.
  • We are developing a greater respect for ingredients. We want to know where our food products come from and how it/they were raised so we can make a conscious decision about whether to buy.

And who buys cookbooks? cookbook_buyersThe graphic at right I found at the Publisher’s Weekly website. You can (hopefully) read the fine print – 30-44 year olds buy more cookbooks than others. I thought it interesting that 13-17 year olds buy 3%. How about that? 69% of cookbooks are purchased by women (not surprising), although I suspect male buyers are increasing. I happen to love watching HGTV’s House Hunters and House Hunters International, and I would say that for at least 3 out of every 10 home buyers, men are the ones interested in having  a nice, big, updated kitchen because they do the cooking in the family.

Cookbook are certainly popular, and ever more so with each passing year. Here are the winners for 2012:

1. Barefoot Contessa Foolproof: Recipes You Can Trust , Ina Garten, Clarkson Potter, 428,105

2. The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food from My Frontier , (her 2nd book) Ree Drummond, William Morrow, 267,909

3. In the Kitchen with David: QVC’s Resident Foodie Presents Comfort Foods That Take You Home, David Venable, Ballantine, 264,953

4. Eat More of What You Love: Over 200 Brand-New Recipes Low in Sugar, Fat, and Calories, Marlene Koch, Running Press, 132,796 (a friend told me about this one – it’s a book that is often recommended through Weight Watchers because it shows WW points, although it is not sponsored by WW)

5. Great Food Fast (Best of the Best Presents) Bob Warden’s Ultimate Pressure Cooker Recipes, Bob Warden, Quail Ridge, 122,665

6. The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, Deb Perelman, Knopf, 114,547

7. The Chew: Food. Life. Fun., Peter Kaminsky, Hyperion, 109,020

8. The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl (her original cookbook), Ree Drummond, William Morrow, 103,751

9. Weeknights with Giada: Quick and Simple Recipes to Revamp Dinner, Giada de Laurentiis, Clarkson Potter, 95,040

10. Hungry Girl to the Max!: The Ultimate Guilt-Free Cookbook, Lisa Lillien, St. Martin’s Griffin, 86,656

Want to know about hardcover, vs. paperback, vs. e-books? Hardcover cookbooks still outsell all others, but as a portion of total unit sales, hardcovers dropped from 49% in 2011 to 42% in 2012. And e-book sales more than doubled, up from 9% to 22%. I don’t know about you, but I still prefer a hard cover cookbook to an e-cookbook. Obviously, I’m contrary to the trend, though.

The article talked some about how much the Food Network influences our cookbook buying, and never let it be said that any one of the stars on FN (or the Cooking Channel, for that matter) passed up an opportunity to monetize their shows. Hence new cookbooks appear on a regular basis. One of the newest ones to join the ranks is Mario Batali’s two sons (ages 16 and 14) who just published their own cookbook based on recipes they made themselves (apparently) and presented in a hand-made form to their dad on his 50th birthday. I won’t be buying it, but it’s a cute idea – The Batali Brothers Cookbook. It would make a cute gift for a teenage son or grandson.

FYI: I have an amazon associates account, and if you happen to buy a cookbook through any of the links above, I get a few pennies.

Posted in Books, Cookbooks, on June 6th, 2013.


I have such an admiration for Julia Child. So, no surprise that I wanted to read this new biography of her.

The author, Bob Spitz, was an unknown to me. He has made a name for himself in the book world. He published a 1000-page tome of The Beatles: The Biography. He’s written for several magazines as well, and now, with this newest book in his repertoire,  Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child he’ll likely continue in the genre. BTW, “Dearie” refers to the word Julia used for almost everyone – from waiters to bellhops or close friends. She called almost everyone “dearie.”

Bob Spitz was a huge fan of Julia Child, which led him to write this book. In the acknowledgements he says:  The genesis of this book sprang from my amazing luck, traveling with Julia Child in Sicily in 1992. For several weeks we crisscrossed the island, eating, of course, but talking every chance we got. She was already a beloved icon, larger than life in so many different ways, but perhaps the most down-to-earth celebrity I’d ever encountered. Inasmuch as I was writing about her for several magazines, we were on the record throughout the trip, but she never held back from speaking her mind, never shied from a tough opinion, never pulled her punches, never blinked She was exactly like her TV persona: warm, funny, outgoing, whip-smart, incorrigible, and most of all, real. If I have to admit to one prejudice confronting this book, it is that I had a powerful crush on her. Sorry. Deal with it.

julia_child_monoprintFrom the first page I found myself picking it up at odd times because I found the story compelling. Bob Spitz writes interesting narratives. He gives you the facts, straight, and yet you can feel the drama behind so many events in Julia’s life. I found the history of Julia McWilliams, from nearby Pasadena, a daughter of a privileged family, quite fascinating. Her father rarely ever gave her an encouraging word – and maybe because from the get-go Julia was a kind of a maverick. She didn’t follow in her father’s ultra-conservative political path, and was forever ridiculed for it. She wasn’t driven to get good grades particularly, never felt herself a scholar, went to Smith College where she spent more time drinking and carousing than she did studying. Yet she graduated. At loose ends after that, she had no direction in her life, and her father, the ever present critic, didn’t encourage her much. Money wasn’t an issue. She did live in New York for awhile, took a menial job (about all she could find), but wasn’t particularly happy. She was a socialite, but not a fluttering butterfly. She wanted some meaning to her life, but just couldn’t quite figure out what or where it was. Her mother died and Julia ended up moving home to Pasadena as a companion to her father and she resumed her socialite role in her home town. He was not ailing, but she and her 2 siblings felt Dad needed some watching over.

julia_and_paulWhen war loomed, she joined the OSS, eventually going to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). And later to China. She met Paul Child, a very scholarly type, who was also with the OSS. They were friends for a year or more, and then their relationship bloomed. Julia never felt she was Paul’s mental equal. Although he didn’t attend college, he was extremely well read and could debate philosophy, politics, poetry and social culture with the best of them. They married eventually (much to her Dad’s dismay because Paul Child was a social liberal, as was Julia, but Paul more so). These facts rankled Julia’s father until the end of his days. Family dinners were always fraught with argument about politics, so much so that Julia did her best to avoid visiting home at almost all cost. Julia and Paul were devoted to each other for life.

The picture below is Julia’s reconstructed Cambridge kitchen at the Smithsonian (I believe). Note the distinctive pegboard, something she and Paul worked out so they’d always know where everything was kept in every Julia kitchen. julias_kitchen_cambridgeHaving already read Julia’s grand-nephew’s biography of Julia’s years in France, My Life in France, I enjoyed reading this new book, Julia’s full-life history. I’ve come away with so much more respect for Julia. Her years of cooking in Paris, making recipes over and over and over until she felt they were perfect, has to be a testament to her tenacity. And her tendency to be a perfectionist. Actually, last night I went online and ordered the DVD set of The French Chef: Julia Child 10-Disc CollectionTV series Julia did. (It contains an interview with Julia, and supposedly all the recipes that accompanied all the shows.) Having read this new book, and knowing the kind of labor of love she put into the making of the shows – and more importantly – how she revised the long and tedious French recipes from her first book of the 2-book series Mastering the Art of French Cooking (2 Volume Set) I wonder if I’ll be more intrigued to try more of her recipes.  I only own one of her cookbooks, and have cooked very few recipes from it.

Julia was a a fount of energy. Again and again through the book I read of her incredibly long hours in the kitchen from when she began cooking in Paris to her last days, almost. What I found new and interesting were:

  • the life-long feud between Julia and Madeleine Kamman – you can read more about it here; she also didn’t get along all that well with Jacque Pepin either! Even though they co-hosted a series of cooking demonstrations for TV, behind the façade of smiles, they didn’t like each other much;
  • Julia loved-loved men; even in her declining years she had a boyfriend, of sorts, even while her beloved husband Paul resided in a special home where he could be well cared for; whether any hanky-panky went on, I don’t know; this book doesn’t indicate so; Julia adored Paul unflinchingly, yet she craved male companionship once Paul wasn’t around;
  • although most everyone who ever watched Julia knows she had an irreverent side – she could laugh at herself and others, but was a natural in front of the TV camera; she also could use that biting tongue now and then. She had a stubborn streak. So, I didn’t know that Julia walked off the stage of a little cooking segment she did with Regis and Kathy Lee because Kathy Lee refused to get in and help – and get her hands dirty. It was arranged and agreed upon, but once the camera started rolling, Kathy Lee refused. At the break, Julia and her team walked out;
  • learning about her very assertive, abrasive lawyer she hired some way down her career path – she adored him – but oh, he made people mad. Yet he protected Julia’s interests, which was his purpose – I’d never heard about him before;
  • how hard Julia worked (with Paul, and with her editors, and her attorney) to keep her momentum once she reached the pinnacle; Julia was ahead of her time, I think, in knowing and understanding that she had to stay front and center or people (us home cooks) would forget her.

julia_kitchenThe photo at right – I think – was in Julia’s Provence kitchen, where she spent months working on the recipes for the Mastering manuscript. Note her “signature” neck scarf.

The author is a good story-teller, for sure. There were some times that he used colloquialisms that bordered on hip, trite or trendy. They seemed a bit strange in a biography. Since he’s been a magazine journalist, perhaps that’s why. Yet I found the book a page-turner when, in fact, there was nothing about Julia’s life that gave it that kind of intrigue. I found it interesting that many culinary professionals (back in the 60s and 70s) ridiculed Julia for calling herself a chef – she never cooked in a restaurant so she had no right to the title. She never called herself that – the TV show folks devised the title of the show. And yet, I think she was every bit a chef as any restaurant one just because of the dedication to her craft. Her recipes have stood the test of time, obviously!

So overall, I found the book very readable. Am sorry I never took the opportunity to meet Julia Child when I could have at her many book signings or classes. During her 80th birthday celebrations she attended a cooking class in her honor at a restaurant near us, but the tariff was $500 for the privilege. I just couldn’t – wouldn’t – pay that much, as much as I wanted to meet her! But I lived her life vicariously through this very fascinating biography. If you’re anything of a Julia fan, you’ll be glad to have read it.

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