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Here are the tastingspoons players. I’m in the middle (Carolyn). Daughter Sara on the right, and daughter-in-law Karen on the left. I started the blog in 2007, as a way to share recipes with my family. Now in 2022, 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):

Am in the middle of 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. Her husband has disappeared. The feudal system at the time isn’t any friend to Alinor. In comes a man (of course) who is a priest, but to the Catholic king, not the Protestant people, and everything Catholic is abhorred and suspect. A fascinating read, loving every chapter so far.

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. Hoover has such a gift of story-telling and keeping you hanging on a cliff.

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. Then she inherits his aunt’s house, back in her home town, where the quizzical Munro baby disappearance provides a living for many of his family. Sophie moves there, only to have to unearth all the bad stuff that happened before. Quite a story.

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. You get to know them all, and Mrs. Palfrey’s subterfuge effort to show off her “grandson.” I might not have ever picked up this book, but one of my book clubs had us read it, and I’m ever so glad I did.

I’ve been on a Moriarty tangent lately, this one Three Wishes, is about three triplets (women), two identical, one fraternal, as they progress through their 33rd year of life. So many twists and turns for each one. As someone said on amazon, Liane Moriarty never disappoints with providing a good story.

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 miniscule 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.

Migrations, by Charlotte McConaghy. To say that this book stretched my comfort zone is the least of it . . .think about a time in the not very distant future, when global warming has done it’s worst and nearly all animals are extinct.

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.

If you’re a fan of Kazuo Ishiguro, you’ll find his newest book a league apart. Klara and the Sun. It takes place in the near future when we humans can go to a store and buy an AF (artificial friend). These robotic humanoid “things” have knowledge and personalities.

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.

Amor Towles’ new book, The Lincoln Highway: A Novel. Literally it’s a page turner. I think it’s still on the best seller list. A young man, Emmett, is released from a youth work camp (back in the day) and is returned home (by the camp warden) following the death of his father, to find that the home they’d lived in was in foreclosure. His mother abandoned them years before. His intent is to pick up his 8-year old brother and they will head off for Texas.

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.

One of my book clubs has us reading Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library: A Novel. What a premise for a book. About a library you can whiz to in the middle of the night and discover other lives you could have lived. And experience them. To find out the answers to those questions we ask ourselves sometimes, “I wonder what would have happened if I’d . . . .” taken that other job, gone out with that guy, taken that trip.

James Shipman has written an intriguing book, It Is Well: A Novel, about a man who has lost his wife. And about a woman who has lost her husband. But their relationship stalls, big time, because the guy made a promise to his wife, and he feels duty-bound to honor it.

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

Also recently finished The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish. The book goes backwards and forwards in time, from the 1600s in London with the day-to-day lives of a group of Jews (who had to be very careful about how they worshiped) to current day as an old house is discovered to hold a treasure-trove of historical papers.

I’m forever reading historical novels. The Lost Jewels: A Novel by Kirsty Manning is a mystery of sorts, going back in time in London in the time of aristocrats and their jewels (pearls, diamonds, gems of all kinds) sometimes made it into the hands of the digger or a maid.

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

Colleen Hoover has written quite a book, It Ends with Us: A Novel, with a love story being the central theme, but again, this book is not for everyone – it can be an awakening for any reader not acquainted with domestic violence and how such injury can emerge as innocent (sort of) but then becomes something else. There is graphic detail here.

Erin Bartels wrote quite a complex story in The Words between Us: A Novel. We go alongside a young girl as she goes to high school, trying (somewhat unsuccessfully) to be anonymous (because her mother and father are both in prison), taking on a fake name.

Nicolas Barreau’s novel Love Letters from Montmartre: A Novel  is very poignant, very sweet book. Seems like I’ve read several books lately about grieving; this one has a charming ending, but as anyone who has gone through a grave loss of someone dear knows, you can’t predict day to day, week to week. “Snap out of it,” people say, thinking they’re helping.

Another very quirky book, that happens to contain a lot of historical truth is The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World: A Novel by Harry N. Abrams. Set in Japan just after the tsunami 10 years ago when 18,000 people died. At a private park miles away, some very special people installed a phone booth, with a phone (that didn’t work) at the edge of the park, and the survivors of the tsunami began wending their way there to “talk” to their deceased loved ones. Very poignant story.

No question, the most quirky book I’ve read of late, a recommendation from my friend Karen, West with Giraffes: A Novel by Lynda Rutledge. Back in the 1930s a small group of giraffes were brought across the Atlantic from Africa to New York, destined for the then-growing San Diego Zoo. The story is of their journey across the United States in the care of two oh-so-different people, both with a mission.

Riveting story of post-WWII- Japan in Ana Johns novel, The Woman in the White Kimono: A Novel. About a young Japanese girl who falls in love with an American serviceman.

Also read Rishi Reddi’s novel, Passage West: A Novel with a very different take on the migration of Indians (East India) to the California agricultural lands east of San Diego during the 1920s and 30s.

Maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, but the Mary Morris book, A Very Private Diary: A Nurse in Wartime tells the true day to day life of a young Irish girl who becomes a nurse, in England, France and Belgium in the midst of WWII and immediately after the war.

Could hardly put down Krueger’s book, This Tender Land: A Novel. Tells the harrowing story of a young boy, Odie, (and his brother Albert) who became orphans back in the 30s. At first there is a boarding school, part of an Indian (Native American) agreement, though they are not Indian. They escape, and they are “on the run.”

Just finished Kristin Hannah’s latest book, The Four Winds: A Novel. What a story. One I’ve never read about, although I certainly have heard about the “dust bowl” years when there was a steady migration of down-and-out farmers from the Midwest, to California, for what they hoped to be the American Dream. It tells the story of one particular family, the Martinellis, the grandparents, their son, his wife, and their two children.

Brit Bennett has written quite a book, The Vanishing Half: A Novel. It’s a novel, yet I’m sure there are such real-life situations. Twin girls are born to a young black woman in the South. Into a town (that probably doesn’t exist) that prides itself on being light-skinned blacks.

What a book. The Only Woman in the Room: A Novel by Marie Benedict. A novelized biography of Hedy Lamarr, the famous actress.  Very much worth reading.

Also read The Secret of the Chateau: Gripping and heartbreaking historical fiction with a mystery at its heart by Kathleen McGurl. There are two stories here. The historical part is just prior to and up to the French Revolution, and the second in current day as a group of friends purchase a crumbling chateau. Very interesting. I love historical novels like this, and this one in particular does have quite a mystery involved, too.

Also finished reading Sue Monk Kidd’s recent book, The Book of Longings: A Novel. It is a book that might challenge some Christian readers, as it tells the tale of Jesus marrying a woman named Mary. I loved the book from the first word to the last one. The book is believable to me, even though the Bible never says one way or the other that Jesus ever married. It’s been presumed he never did. But maybe he did?

Jeanine Cummins has written an eye-opener, American Dirt. A must read. Oh my goodness. I will never, ever, ever look at Mexican (and further southern) migrants, particularly those who are victims of the vicious cartels, without sympathy. It tells the story of a woman and her young son, who were lucky enough to hide when the cartel murdered every member of her family – her husband, her mother, and many others. It’s about her journey and escape to America.

Also read JoJo Moyes’ book, The Giver of Stars. Oh gosh, what a GREAT book. Alice joins the Horseback Librarians in the rural south.

Frances Liardet has written a blockbuster tale, We Must Be Brave. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Although the scene is WWII England, this book is not really about the war. It’s about the people at home, waiting it out, struggling with enough food, clothing and enough heat.

William Kent Krueger wrote Ordinary Grace. From amazon: a brilliantly moving account of a boy standing at the door of his young manhood, trying to understand a world that seems to be falling apart around him. It is an unforgettable novel about discovering the terrible price of wisdom and the enduring grace of God. It’s a coming of age story.

Follow the River: A Novel by James Alexander Thom. This one is also based on the history of a woman (married, pregnant) who was captured by the Shawnee, during the early settlement days east of the Ohio River, about 1755. And her eventual escape.

A Column of Fire: A Novel by Ken Follett. It takes place in the 1500s, in England, and has everything to do with the war between the Catholics and the Protestants, that raged throughout Europe during that time, culminating in the Spanish Inquisition.

My Name Is Resolute by Nancy Turner. She’s the author of another book of some renown, These is my Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901 (P.S.). Resolute is what I’m discussing here. It’s fiction, but based some on a true story. Resolute, as a young girl from a privileged life on a plantation in Jamaica, was taken captive by slavers, eventually ended up in Colonial America.

The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape by James Rebanks. This is a memoir, so a true story, of a young man growing up in the Lake District of Northern England, who becomes a shepherd. Not just any-old shepherd – actually a well educated one. He knows how to weave a story.


Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in 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.

Posted in Cookbooks, on January 15th, 2012.


It was just last month that I read an article in our local newspaper, written by Judy Bart Kancigor, about this book. [As an aside, I have one of Kancigor’s recipes here on my blog already – one of my favorites, a Layered Hummus & Eggplant appetizer.] Hardly before I’d finished reading the newspaper article, I went to my amazon account and added the book to my wish list. Thank you, Sara, for buying it for me for Christmas!

This book, Recipes Remembered: A Celebration of Survival is a treasure; there just are no other words for it. I’m not Jewish, and I don’t necessarily cook Jewish food as such, but I am always intrigued about the stories behind ethnic dishes. One of Kancigor’s mantras is “you don’t have to be Jewish to cook Jewish.” Yes! Until now, I’ve never owned a Jewish cookbook. Now I do, and I’m glad of it. Not only because of the history contained within the book, but because I’m grateful in some small way – happy – humbled – to honor all those souls who didn’t survive the Holocaust.

So, what’s this book all about? The writer (editor and writer), June Feiss Hersch, interviewed countless families in the process of compiling the stories and recipes in this cookbook.  Earlier, she approached the Director of the Museum of Jewish Heritage (in New York City), with the germ of an idea, to publish a cookbook of stories and associated recipes from Holocaust survivors. An aside: all the proceeds from the book go to the museum. It’s already into its 4th printing.

The recipes cover a broad Eastern European geography (ethnic and physical) including Poland, Austria, Greece, Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Russia and the Ukraine. And at the back is a lengthy list of Yiddish words, pages I referred to often, since I didn’t know the meaning of words like schmuts (dirt), cholent (a sacred stew prepared on Friday, baked overnight in a community bakery oven, to be eaten on Saturday), shtikel (morsel); and bashert (fated). I loved learning some of these new words (aside from other Yiddish words I did know: schlep, maven, nosh, kibbitz, mentsh, and shul).

As I write this, I’ve only read about half the book – I’m not even through reading the chapter on Poland (obviously there are more Polish recipes than those from other countries). But I’m awed by the stories. The true stories of survival, about the Crystal Night (when over 1,000 synagogues were burned to the ground and over 7,000 Jewish business destroyed), about people who hid in cupboards, cellars, forests, barns and other places to avoid the ghettos and concentration camps. But it’s also stories about people who did survive concentration camps (mostly ones who were interned there later in the war) or work camps. About those few who had skills the Nazis needed and wanted so they were fed better than some. About how prisoners hid food for others. About how they kept their spirits alive. About how they survived. About meeting other survivors, about first loves, marriages, boat trips to Israel, or America or Canada. About the yearning to live and thrive. About how some survivors would never – ever – talk about their wartime experiences – or shared them only at the end of their lives. And about how these proud Jewish people honor their loved ones by preparing the family recipes regularly.

Each country chapter contains numerous stories  (told from the actual survivor or a spouse or grown child) along with a photo or two about the family. About where they were from, their years of trying to escape, and managing to survive either in the dense forests with virtually no food, or in the concentration camps. And, thankfully, about their liberation and emigration somewhere else. Then, following that is a recipe, or two. Most of them are the actual recipes from the Holocaust survivor, or a descendant; a few are creations or re-creations from celebrated Jewish chefs (like Faye Levy, Mark Bittman, Daniel Boulud, Gale Gand, Ina Garten, Jonathan Waxman, Joan Nathan, Sara Moulton, and others).

In my copy, several recipes have been yellow-stickied already, and this week you’ll read about the first one I made from this book – a braised red cabbage and apple dish. Nothing fancy, but oh, so very delicious. Next I plan to make a Chocolate Chip Cake, and a Citrus Rice Pudding. Then maybe I’ll try one of the cholent recipes in the book. I’m intrigued about a 24-hour, slow-roasted stew.

Obviously, I highly recommend this book. If you enjoy reading stories, then a recipe to go along with it, you’ll be mesmerized by the book, as I’ve been.

Posted in Cookbooks, Desserts, on May 23rd, 2011.

This is the final post in the 3-part series about this new cookbook I own. After telling you all about how the book came to be, and the amazing process Amanda Hesser went through to get it accomplished, I thought I should share with you at least one recipe. Actually I’ve made one recipe from the cookbook – the Summer-Squash Casserole I wrote about recently. It was fantastic. I even got my first splotch of food on the page! Darn. I have way too many little yellow and pink stickies poking out of the book, all recipes I want to try. I think my next one will be the 1948 Green Goddess Salad.

In the cookbook Amanda wrote a lengthy headnote about the Purple Plum Torte:

This plum torte is both the most often published and the most requested recipe in the Times archives. By my count, Marian Burros (who was given the recipe by Lois Levine, with whom Burros wrote Elegant but Easy) ran the recipe in the paper twelve times. And when I asked readers for recipe suggestions for this book, 247 people raved about the torte. The plum torte happily lives up to its billing: crusty and light, with deep wells of slackened, sugar-glazed fruit.

I’ve thought a lot about why this torte struck such a chord with people: the answer, I think, is that it’s a nearly perfect recipe. There are only eight ingredients, all of which, except for the plums, you probably already have in your kitchen. There are just four steps, most of which are one sentence long. You need no special equipment, just a bowl, a wooden spoon, and a pan. The batter is like pancake batter, which most everyone is comfortable making. And baked plums are sweet and tart, making the flavor more complex and memorable than a hard-hitting sweet dessert.

It also freezes well. “A friend who loved the torte said that in exchange for two, she would let me store as many as I wanted in her freezer,” Burros wrote one year when she ran the recipe. “A week later, she went on vacation for two weeks and her mother stayed with her children. When she returned, my friend called and asked, ‘How many of those tortes did you leave in my freezer?’

“‘Twenty-four, but two of those were for you.’

“There was a long pause. ‘Well, I guess my mother either ate twelve of them or gave them away.’”

In later versions of the plum torte recipe, Burros cut back the sugar to 3/4 cup—feel free to if you like—and added variations, such as substituting blueberries or apples and cranberries for the plums (I haven’t tried either, but Burros was a fan). She jumped the shark, in my view, though, when she created low-fat variations with mashed bananas and applesauce. While I respect her enthusiasm for innovation, this is one recipe that needs no improvement.—Amanda Hesser

This particular recipe also contained several reader comments (presumably from the 6,000 emails and letters she received from her request for favorite recipes). Most recipes don’t have that much information. At the end of every recipe is the origin of it, the article title it came from, and the date. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading through recipes by the dozens, and noting the year it was published, like a sour milk cake from 1876 or a sauce for venison from 1880. Or even Dwight Eisenhower’s Steak in the Fire, from 1949, from one or more of his fishing trips to Wisconsin.

Obviously, you can tell, I’m really enjoying this cookbook. If you need a gift for someone, this would be a perfect one. Especially if that person enjoys cooking as well as reading about it. Or buy it for yourself – I don’t think you’ll be a bit sorry you did! The book is a bargain at $23.52 at The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century.

As a result of Amanda’s and Merrill’s collaboration on this cookbook, (they’re now business partners too) they have a blog called Food52, in case you’re interested.

printer-friendly PDF for the Purple Plum Torte

Purple Plum Torte

Recipe By: The Essential New York Times Cookbook, by Amanda Hesser
Serving Size: 8
NOTES: In the cookbook are several comments from long-time readers who suggested using apples or frozen cranberries. Someone else used mango, peaches, adds 1/2 tsp of vanilla and the grated rind of a small lemon to the batter. Yet another person added a teaspoon of almond extract to the cake batter. Someone else wrote that if you have more plums and want to use them, stand the plum halves on their sides and put them in a spoke pattern on the batter.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 pinch salt
1 cup sugar — plus 1 T. or more, depending on the tartness of the plums
8 tablespoons unsalted butter — softened
2 large eggs
12 whole plums — purple variety, halved and pitted
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice — or more or less, depending on the tartness of the plums
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1. Heat oven to 350°. Sift the flour with the baking powder and salt.
2. Cream 1 cup sugar and butter in a large bowl with a hand mixer (or a stand mixer) until light in color. Add the dry ingredients and then the eggs.
3. Spoon the batter into an ungreased 9-inch springform pan. Cover the top of the batter with the plum halves, skin side up. Sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of sugar and the lemon juice, adjusting to the tartness of the fruit. Sprinkle with the cinnamon.
4. Bake until the cake is golden and the plums are bubbly, 45-50 minutes [Mine takes 60 minutes to be completely cooked in the center]. Cool on a rack, then unmold. [Optional: serve with almond-flavored whipped cream.]
Per Serving: 331 Calories; 14g Fat (35.6% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 51g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 84mg Cholesterol; 97mg Sodium.

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