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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 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):

The Concubine, by Norah Lofts. Over the years I’ve read several books about the wives of Henry VIII. All quite fascinating. This one is all about Anne Boleyn. It’s historical fiction, in that the author gives a voice to all the characters, including Henry himself. Henry waited years upon years to have his way with Anne (she holding him off because he still was very married to Catherine of Spain). There’s one tidbit of insight (true? who knows?) that once Henry finally bedded Anne, he was quite disappointed with the act, and barely bothered to visit her bed except to his need for a son, each time equally disappointed (with the act). Such an interesting sideline to the fated life of Henry (and Anne), wanting nothing more than a son to succeed him. Henry did marry Anne Boleyn, but then beheaded her 2 years later, claiming she’d been an adulterer. Many people of the time called Anne The Concubine, hence the title. No one knows for sure whether she was or she wasn’t an adulterer. Made for a good read.

Fellowship Point by Alice Elliott Dark. Oh my goodness. One of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. I love nothing better than being engrossed in a book, so much that I can’t wait to get back to it. This book takes place in Maine, in some previous decades, and revolves around the friendship between two women and their families. This fictitious area, called Fellowship Point, was purchased by a small group of like-minded couples, as a place to spend the summers raising their children. There was a special land grant for this property, and as these two matriarchs reach old age, their purposes are at odds. The book covers so many subjects (let alone the beauty of the Maine landscape, which plays large) including reflections on aging, writing, land stewardship, family legacies, independence, and responsibility. Secrets are kept and then revealed. I guarantee you’ll be intrigued once you begin the first page.

On Mystic Lake, Kristin Hannah. One of Hannah’s earlier books. Another one I could hardly bear to stop reading. A woman sees her young adult daughter go off to school. In the next breath her husband tells her he’s in love with someone else and leaves. She’s nearly off her hinges. Grief? Yes. Disbelief? Yes. Eventually she retreats to her hometown in Washington State, hoping for some peace and understanding. She meets someone. Well, read the book.

A Wild and Heavenly Place by Robin Oliveira. A very different historical novel about the Pacific Northwest in its very early days. In the fleeting days of youth, in Scotland, a boy and a girl fall in love. The girl, with her family move to America, to some unknown place in Washington Territory. It takes years, but the boy makes his way to America too, to find her. Wishing doesn’t always make the best bedfellows. There is great plenty (coal) and great hardship (from the unforgiving land and equally unforgiving landlords of the coal industry). Very interesting history; liked the book a lot.

The Women, Kristin Hannah. Obviously I’m a fan of Hannah’s writing. She tackles some very difficult subjects, and this one is no different. During the Vietnam War, gullible Americans like me, believed what was delivered via media that there were no women in military service in Vietnam. Not true. Although this book is fiction, it delves deeply into the harsh environment of the nursing corps (and doctors too) who did their best to patch up the thousands of soldiers who could possibly be saved after the ugly battles. Another book I could hardly put down. It also covers PTSD, not only in the badly wounded soldiers, but the doctors and nurses who were bombed and lost lives too. The book is an eye-opener and one every American should read.

The Map Colorist by Rebecca D’Harlingue. Who knew there were such map-coloring artists back in the 1600s. And to find a woman doing it was unheard of. I was very intrigued by the actual art involved, and in this story she had to hide behind her mother’s skill because a young person simply couldn’t do the job, so the publishers thought. Her skill comes to the fore as she begins working with a wealthy man in her Dutch neighborhood. Very intriguing story. D’Harlingue is a very good story teller.

The Paris Novel, Ruth Reichl. Such a cute book – I devoured it. As much for the story as the occasional descriptions of food. Stella receives an unlikely inheritance from her mother – a one way ticket to Paris. The time is right and she goes. Wandering the streets she spots a vintage Dior gown hanging in a consignment store. The store owner insists she try it on, and then insists she buy it and wear it for a night of new adventures. Next stop: oysters at Les Deux Magots. There she meets an octogenarian and her real adventure begins. Hold onto your seat as Stella’s life takes on wings. So cute. A little bit of magical thinking, but plausible and fun from beginning to end. Loved it and could hardly put it down.

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle. Amazon tells it best: “Where do you see yourself in five years? Dannie Kohan lives her life by the numbers. She is nothing like her lifelong best friend—the wild, whimsical, believes-in-fate Bella. Her meticulous planning seems to have paid off after she nails the most important job interview of her career and accepts her boyfriend’s marriage proposal in one fell swoop, falling asleep completely content. But when she awakens, she’s suddenly in a different apartment, with a different ring on her finger, and beside a very different man. Dannie spends one hour exactly five years in the future before she wakes again in her own home on the brink of midnight—but it is one hour she cannot shake. In Five Years is an unforgettable love story, but it is not the one you’re expecting.”

The Paris Daughter, Kristen Harmel. Never ceases to amaze me how authors can come up with a different take on a war novel. Riveting. Two young women meet in a park is Paris in 1939. Elise and Juliette and Juliette’s very young daughter. Elise must run as she’s Jewish, but she entrusts her baby to her friend Juliette. At the end of the war Elise returns to Paris to try to find her daughter. Oh, what a wicked web we weave sometimes. You’ll hang onto every new revelation in her journey to find her daughter.

Master Slave Husband Wife by Ilyon Woo. This book almost defies belief, but it’s a true story. In 1848, an enslaved Black couple, she fairer skinned, him dark skinned, manage to escape bondage by posing as a white woman with her slave (not husband). They journey from Georgia by various means, mere feet from the slave traders trying to find them, with ingenious methods of disguise. They’re handed from one “underground railroad” home to another, in between taking public transportation. Their goal: freedom in Philadelphia. Yet once they get there they don’t feel free, so they continue their journey northward. What a story. Another one every American should read. This book has been given many awards; so worth reading.

The Tiffany Girl by Deanne Gist. Such an interesting story. Flossie Jayne, a student at the Art Institute in NYC, is asked to help THE Mr. Louis Tiffany, finish the very elaborate glass chapel at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, when the glassworker’s union goes on strike. Many women were employed (when it was thought they couldn’t possibly have the strength to cut glass), working day and night, to finish the work. This is Flossie’s story, of the people she meets, and foists off, but always with her eye on the dream, succeeding in the art of cut glass design. Very interesting story. If you’ve ever admired Tiffany glass lamps and other decor items, you’ll enjoy learning more about what’s involved in making them.

The Magnificent Lives of Marjorie Post by Allison Pataki. Ah, to live within the life of the rich and famous. This is a book of historical fiction, but is very much the story of Marjorie Merriweather Post. Her life. Her goals. Her daughters. Amazon notes: “Presidents have come and gone, but she has hosted them all. Growing up in the modest farmlands of Battle Creek, Michigan, Marjorie was inspired by a few simple rules: always think for yourself, never take success for granted, and work hard—even when deemed American royalty, even while covered in imperial diamonds. Marjorie had an insatiable drive to live and love and to give more than she got.” Her life wasn’t all sweetness and light. She was a survivor, had a good solid head for business, and married several times. Her life was very Oprah-esque, with fresh flowers in abundance every day, dripping with jewels and custom clothing. But she also knew how to scrimp and remake herself. Fascinating read. Wish I could have met her and  had tea (one of her favorite things).

Fox Creek by William Kent Kreuger. A Cork O’Connor Mystery. Kreuger is known for his love of the land. I’ve been a fan of his work for a long time. This one is new. This one weaves Indian territory and mores with a murder mystery. Very riveting as any mystery should be.

Chenneville, Paulette Jiles. From Amazon: Union soldier John Chenneville suffered a traumatic head wound in battle. His recovery took the better part of a year as he struggled to regain his senses and mobility. By the time he returned home, the Civil War was over, but tragedy awaited. John’s beloved sister and her family had been brutally murdered.” This is the story of his dogged, relentless journey to find and kill the killer. Grip your seat as he weathers some very treacherous adventures. Really good read, rugged outdoors kind of story. I’ve loved Jiles’ writing ever since I read News of the World by her. She’s a really good story-teller.

The Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala. Oh my goodness. From Amazon: In 2004, at a beach resort on the coast of Sri Lanka, Sonali Deraniyagala and her family—parents, husband, sons—were swept away by a tsunami. Only Sonali survived to tell their tale. This is her account of the nearly incomprehensible event and its aftermath.” I’ll tell you, this is a very hard book to read. The writer, the victim, tells you in intimate detail what happened at the time, immediately after, and then recounts months by month and a loooong time after her journey of grief. She barely functions. Wishes she’d been swept away too. Harrowing account of the facts and the journey of living again.

The Art of Resistance by Justus Rosenberg. From amazon: Unlike any World War II memoir before it. Rosenberg, has spent the past seventy years teaching the classics of literature to American college students. Hidden within him, however, was a remarkable true story of wartime courage and romance worthy of a great novel. Here is Professor Rosenberg’s elegant and gripping chronicle of his youth in Nazi-occupied Europe, when he risked everything to stand against evil.” His parents sent him off to Paris early on to go to school, from Danzig (which likely saved his life), but he becomes the hunted, and eventually part of the underground. Gripping book; well worth reading.

The Royal Librarian by Daisy Wood. A little bit of a reach, but believable nonetheless. A young woman, an accomplished librarian from Austria in 1940, is sent to Windsor to sort the centuries of valuable books, maps and treasures of the Royal Family. She believes she’s on a mission for British intelligence. She very distantly befriends Princess Elizabeth. Years later her sister unearths documentation about her sister, and she undertakes a journey of discovery too. You’ll learn a lot about Windsor Castle, even what they did during the Blitz. Lots of intrigue. Very sweet book and interesting since I love books about the Royal Family.

Long Time Gone by Charlie Donlea. If you watch any crime shows, you know how important DNA is these days. Here is a mystery that comes from familial DNA, in a framework of a current day research project. The protaganist is a fellow (woman) preparing to be a medical examiner. She’s assigned a project regarding DNA, requiring her to submit her own. She knows she was adopted, but nothing more. Oh my, stand by as this book unfolds with drama within nearly every page. Could hardly put it down. Her life is threatened and she doesn’t know who is friend or foe.

A Most Intriguing Lady, by Sarah Ferguson with Marguerite Kaye. Sarah Ferguson, yes, that Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, has now written her second novel. About a very astute young woman who deftly avoids the marriage mart, but comes from the ton. She wants to “do” something with her life other than be a companion to her aging mother. Plenty of characters, some intrigue, a love interest, cute story, you know how it will end, but good reading nevertheless. I liked Ferguson’s first book better, Her Heart for a Compass.

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 Essays, on January 18th, 2018.

There’s nothing to it, but to laugh. Me? Power tools? Or tools. I mean – – – I’m in my 70s, and do I really need power tools? Well, yes and no. If you’re looking for a recipe, today’s not the day – – – you can skip this one. But if you want to enjoy my once-in-awhile humor, a little widow-humor, perhaps you’ll have a laugh too.

First thing was a few months ago when my car gave me a warning that my tires were low. This was something I’d have had my DH do for me – I’d have told him about it and he would have taken it somewhere and fixed the problem. So, he’s not here to help me; I need to solve the problem myself. I’m not much of one to get down on my knees anymore (it hurts), so to go to a gas station that HAS a tire and water source, well, it’s not much fun for me – bending over to read the darn gauge, etc. is awkward. I could have taken the car to the dealer, but it’s 15 miles away, so I said no – I did do it myself. A few days later I got another warning, and my friend Cherrie said, well, come to our house and Bud will do it – we’ve got a home one, tire pressure gadget. Okay. Did that. Bud filled them all up. Two days later I got another warning – even though it SAID the tires were low, they were actually high. But, this made it obvious that I needed a new solution to this problem. My daughter Sara suggested I take my car to any tire place and they’d likely check the tires for me. BUT, she said . . . maybe there is a Christmas present in your future. So, I let it go then since Christmas was but a month or so away.

tire_inflator

My son-in-law John did a bunch of research about these things, and finally settled on this one, a solution to my problem. It’s a battery-operated one that I can use by sitting on a garden bench thing that Dave used to use. I haven’t used it yet, although my car is presently giving me a warning (still says they’re low, but I know they’re too high because the warning came minutes after I left the dealer after having had a check-up and they did fill all 4 tires). So there’s one power tool. Haven’t used it yet . . . and I’m still getting that darned warning every time I start the car. Need to do this, though.

Then, in December, when my cousin was visiting, I had a list of honey-do items for him. He started on them when he was still well, before he came down with a monster cold. One job was to install a speaker sound bar underneath my TV in my study. I didn’t want a big speaker system in the room (you know, surround sound) because the room isn’t that big. Anyway, Gary started on the project and went out to the garage to gather tools. He came back in and said where’s the power drill. Oh. I knew I didn’t have one because after my DH passed away, John had gone to our sailboat and took off all the tools. I have some of them, but he also gave them to some of our other guy family members. Both power drills (battery type) were on the boat and John threw them out, saying they were “shot.” Okay. Dave had still been using them, but oh well. So, Gary and I had to make a trip to a big hardware store to scope out power drills. We settled on this one:

power_drill

Fortunately, a sales person was able to guide us to an inexpensive one that would be suitable. It’s not battery type, but a real, corded drill. I suppose I might be able to use it myself if I tried. It wasn’t all that much money (about $35 I think), and if I don’t use it there’s no battery loss with a corded drill.

In the meantime, though, I’d done a bit of research myself (during the last year) about toolkit tools for women – with a smaller shape, etc., but still they’re regular tools, not toy ones. I’d researched brands and colors (pink, red and lavender are popular). What I really needed was a second hammer – to live in the upstairs of my house so I wouldn’t have to trek down a flight of stairs, then up a half flight to get to the garage, then back up in reverse to use a hammer. Anyway, after reading reviews online (mostly at Amazon) I came away without buying any of them. None seemed like a good deal or there were complaints about some of the tools – made in China and not well designed. But I asked, when we were at Lowe’s for the power drill, about toolkits for women – he led us right to it. Sure enough, there were two – pink and lavender. Pink just didn’t seem like “me,” so I bought the lavender one. And it wasn’t all that much money. But, I assumed the tools were going to be slightly smaller for a woman’s hand. Uh, no. It was all packaged up, so I really couldn’t hold or see the size and shape of the tools. Darn. Regular sized,  just fancy colored handles. I should have bought just a new hammer. Oh well, now I have a fancy toolkit, which I will put upstairs in my house for whenever the tools are needed.

womens_toolkit

Lavender toolkit What do you think? Are you laughing yet?

Posted in Chicken, Essays, on August 29th, 2017.

Cooked Chicken Temperature ThermoWorks Thermapen Pink Bloody

I just read a really GOOD article about the whys and wherefores of cooking chicken – pink or not – red bones or not. It’s a definitive article about what IS the right temperature. We’re supposed to disregard color altogether. I could have copied and pasted it here, but it’s lengthy. In a nutshell, use temperature only as your guide – 165°F for white meat, 170°F for dark meat. But, go to the website and read it:

The article at ThermoWorks. These are the folks that manufacture my ThermaPen that I love so much. (They happen to be having a sale on slightly damaged, [cosmetic], or returned and refurbished units if you’re interested – for $63, a huge bargain.)

Posted in Essays, on August 13th, 2017.

Image result for apples

 

For the last year or so I’ve subscribed to Reader’s Digest. They have some really interesting articles in each issue, and this little 2-page article was so fascinating I thought I’d share the salient facts. The article brought much of its facts from a book: The American Plate: A Culinary History in 100 Bites, by Libby O’Connell but the article was written by someone at NPR and was heard there in 2016.

It’s an article about the lineage of the apple pie (which must be one of the 100 bites):

1. CRUST: As we know it now, it started in Britain where they made airtight pastry shells called “coffyns,” filled with savory ingredients. We refined the pastry by using some German techniques (think strudel) and began using up imperfect fruit to fill the pastry, where those imperfections didn’t show. (Ingenuity, I’d say!)

2. APPLES: The only native apple here in the U.S. is a crabapple. We don’t see those very often (at least I don’t where I live). Apples (generic) came from Kahzakhstan. The fruit migrated west, then the Romans crossed a sour apple with a sweet apple, and many hundreds of years elapsed before Johnny Appleseed Chapman brought those to America and planted them all over. (Thank goodness!)

3. WHEAT: Archeologists have found ancient wheat that dates to at least 9000 years ago – from Iran, Iraq and much of the Middle East. Eventually it wended its way into Europe, and here to the New World, but the crops failed. It wasn’t until later that Russian immigrants brought a more hardy wheat variety (Turkey Red, it was called) to America, which worked (our climate must have been similar to the part of Russia where it grew – who knew?)

4. FAT: Lard was likely the original fat (from pig ancestors in Asia), then Christopher Columbus brought pigs (for their meat and fat) and cattle (think dairy products) to America. (Good thing!)

5. CINNAMON & SUGAR: Did you know that sugar originally comes from Indonesia, China and Papua New Guinea? Yup. And cinnamon originates from an evergreen tree native to Sri Lanka.  The other spices we use in apple pie include nutmeg and cloves, which came from Banda Island in Indonesia. Magellan helped spread those ‘round the world when he brought back 50 tons of the precious spices on a trip he made in 1522. (Imagine that – we just take it for granted that we have the spices in our pantries!)

6. THE PIE: According to researchers, the earliest apple pie recipe dates from the 1300s, but it didn’t hit the “big time” here in North America until the 1600s. John T. Edge wrote in his book Apple Pie: An American Story that both Union and Confederate soldiers collected apples on their marches and forays, and commandeered local hearths to make them into (probably, my guess) hand pies (turnovers) they could carry with them.  In 1902 the New York Times said pie had become “the American synonym for prosperity.” During WWII, a catchphrase spread that the soldiers were fighting for “mom and apple pie.”

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Here on my blog, there is one recipe for apple pie, from my friend Debbie. It’s a crumb top one, and it’s super wonderful. Even the pie crust is easy, which is made with vegetable oil.

Posted in Essays, on March 4th, 2017.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a long time, you may remember that I included a pdf download many years ago, for exactly what temperature to grill meat. It didn’t include every possible grilled item, but it was a chart I still refer to often since I can’t seem to remember what fish needs to be when done, or even chicken breast vs. chicken thigh.

BUT, I read an article recently that totally opened up the skies with all kinds of various baked things. I’ve known for awhile that most baked goods need to cook to about 200° or possibly 190°. My new chart has it all. I’ve grouped it by types of food, mostly.

baking_roasting_grilling_chartHere’s a photo of it – don’t use it – go to the link below – I squeezed it down so it would fit here within my blog columns – so you can see what it looks like.

I also learned that a ground meat casserole only needs to be 165° to be cooked through. That’s a big help too. So, down below you’ll see a link to download the pdf and print it. It’s a one-page chart. Hope this helps you – I have mine in a plastic sleeve and it’s inside one of my kitchen cupboards – easy to reach for and refer to.

PRINTER-FRIENDLY PDF of the “Temperature Guide for Baking, Grill and Roasting.”

Posted in Essays, on March 31st, 2016.

roses_table_dinner

When I look at the picture above it bring tears to my eyes. Grieving is such a long, slow process.

It’s been awhile since I’ve talked about my grieving, and today seemed to be a day that brought it all current, even though it’s now been over 2 years. I’ll never stop missing him, my DH, Dave. A good friend came to visit today and we talked a bit about my grieving and where I am today, how I am today. And most days I’m doing well – most people tell me I’m doing remarkably well, and I suppose I am. I’ve learned to adapt to a life alone. Many hours of the day I don’t think about it – I just go about my day with errands, reading, paying bills, attending meetings, helping at church, cooking, or whatever. I’ve adapted. I fill my hours with a variety of activities, mostly Monday through Friday. Weekends are still a conundrum to me – I go to church every Sunday morning – but many of the hours of the rest of Saturday and Sunday are filled with nothing. Not that I sit twiddling my thumbs – I always find something to do – a project, filing, some TV perhaps, grocery shopping, cooking, sorting the mail. Nothing important, really. Sometimes I go to a movie by myself – I don’t mind doing that – I used to do it when Dave was in San Diego on our boat and I was home, so going to a movie alone isn’t a problem.

Probably talking about Dave today brought it into the now, rather than pushed to the recesses of my emotional soul. I can do that mostly – just “not going there,” as they say. I could let myself go sometimes, but most of the time I am able to convince myself that it will only make my eyes red, make me congested for an hour or two, and make the rest of my day a sad one. That’s kind of what happens if I hit a trigger. And there can be any number of them. Seeing one of Dave’s shirts (one in particular hangs in with my own clothes, a favorite shirt he wore often, a Tommy Bahama polo shirt). Occasionally I hug the shirt to me and wish I could catch his scent. But no, it’s long gone. Today I was talking about Dave. My friend Darci was remembering when she heard about Dave’s death. When she left I felt a bit down.

roses_vaseAs I was preparing my dinner I glanced out the kitchen window and noticed the profusion of blooming roses out in the garden. I’ve paid absolutely no attention to them. But because I was sad already, they were a trigger for me. Dave loved roses – particularly red ones – and the two bushes must have about 20 blooms on them. I felt guilty for not noticing them. If Dave could talk to me he’d be telling me to GET OUT THERE and enjoy those roses. CUT THOSE ROSES! So, in addition to cutting a few of the roses, I decided to do something that I’ve not done even ONCE since Dave died. I set the dining room table and had my dinner there. Alone. Classical music playing from my Sonos speakers.  I took the pictures before I actually ate the meal as I thought I might write about it. I poured myself a glass of wine, but it didn’t taste good to me. The dinner wasn’t very good, either (leftovers). Up to that point I was feeling okay, but as soon as I actually sat before my plate of food I began to cry. I looked out at the view (a gray day today, cold almost) and just felt incredibly lonely. I talked to Dave. I told him about his roses and apologized to him for not noticing them. And I cried some more.

Most evenings I sit at my kitchen island – with the TV on for background noise – and I eat there. Dave and I only ate our breakfast and lunch in the kitchen – we ate in our dining room every night we ate at home (or on our patio outside during the summer months). He actually enjoyed setting the table and setting up candles and a nice ambiance. All I had to do was cook the food and he was ready and there with the lighter for the candles, his glass of wine, music, etc. I may have mentioned this before – sorry for repeating it, but it’s on my mind – a few weeks before Dave had his stroke we were eating dinner as usual. Dave was a bit melancholy and said something about not feeling all that great – just didn’t have much energy and he said he had a feeling that he wasn’t going to live all that much longer. I, of course, in my usual chipper (naysayer) way said, oh, honey, you’re all right. Maybe you’re anemic (he sometimes was). He said, no, I just feel like maybe I’m reaching that point. I’ve lived so much longer than anybody thought (because he was a Type 1 diabetic and had lost 2 legs and had had heart bypass surgery – even his doctor was surprised at his energizer-bunny-body). Dave was 74 then, and that IS a fairly long life for a Type 1 diabetic. But he’d plumbed some depth of himself and was preparing himself, I suppose. We had a very heart-to-heart talk and among many things we said to one another that evening, I’d told him that if he went before me, that I’d be setting a place for him at our table.

dinner_aloneBUT, since Dave died I’ve not been able to eat at the dining room table by myself. I’ve entertained many times and that’s not a problem, but to eat there – all by myself – has been just too hard. I was able to eat in the dining room tonight, but no, wasn’t able to set a place for him. Just couldn’t. I’ve thought about it lots, setting his place next to mine. I’m not yet able to stand up to the kind of grief and trigger that will bring on. It sounds like a little thing, but for me it’s not. It’s a bit of a hurdle – a mountain I must climb – and I’m not ready to do that yet.

Music is also a trigger for me. Am sure I’ve written this before too, but a few weeks after Dave passed away I set up a custom station on Pandora that plays a wide variety of relatively quiet classical and choral music. Many pieces by John Rutter and others sung by the Mormon Tablernacle Choir. There are some pieces (which always play when I select that custom station) that just bring on the tears, and I only play it when I’m feeling sad and am willing to “go there” with my grief. It’s cathartic, I think. Dave loved jazz, though he liked classical music too.

Until you’ve been there, you just don’t know how losing a dear loved one is going to affect you. Dave was the love of my life and I miss him so very much. Thank you for reading. Sorry for unloading all this emotion on all of you who come here for recipes! None today.

Posted in Essays, Travel, on April 26th, 2015.

Every time I travel I seem to have odd frustrations or difficulties. Maybe not big ones, but traveling in Europe, especially traveling in old-world countries where you’re staying in old hotels or inns that aren’t Hiltons, or even European mega-hotels, you’re going to find oddities in every place you stay. Here’s my little bit of (sage?) advice. Every trip, I come home with things I need to remember for the next trip.

1. European countries don’t all use the same plugs. I knew that – I’ve traveled abroad many, many times. And there’s a difference between an adapter and a converter – I only needed an adapter as all my electronics are low voltage so I didn’t need to convert from 220. So, I took just one adapter plug which I’d purchased recently that SAID it would work in all plugs in Europe (except Britain). Wrong. Britain has its own very big cumbersome plug. We didn’t go to Britain so I was fine with that part. But even in mainland Europe, you’ll find three different kinds of plugs – Image result for converter plugsthe old 2-prong, and a newer thick bodied indented 2-prong with a ground and a 3-prong type in Switzerland only. I had the one with the ground, and I didn’t take the old-fashioned little 2-prong one. I didn’t have the Switzerland one, but the 2-prong did work in one plug in each hotel in the 3-prong plug. But even if you DID have the 2 (or 3) different kinds of plugs used mostly in Europe, it was problematical everywhere I went, to find an outlet. The photo at right I found on the internet – not sure what the red X’s meant, but wanted you to get an idea about the so very different configurations! Also, old hotels don’t have many outlets. Sometimes you have to move furniture to find where the lamp was plugged in, for instance. Sometimes the only  outlet that would charge was in the bathroom. But some of those were only for razors and NOT electronic devices. But then, sometimes I’d find my iPhone just wouldn’t charge. The lamp worked, but it wouldn’t work to charge a phone. Rick Steves had one very clever idea – use some duct tape to hold your American plug into the adapter, so you don’t accidentally leave behind your adapter plug. I only took 4 electronic devices (iPhone, iPod – that I listen to when I’m trying to go to sleep, my Kindle and my Canon battery charger). All had different cables and outlets. So Rick Steves’ advice wouldn’t have worked since I had to switch them every day or two. Two of the adapters connected to a USB, so I took my one Apple USB square plug that fit into the adapter. My problem was that my adapter was the wrong type in most of the hotels. Fortunately, Tom (Joan’s husband) let me use his and when he flew home from Rome, he handed it to me and I was able to use it the remainder of the trip. It was a multi-purpose plug and you turn a knob and out pop different kinds of plug configurations. I think I have one of those somewhere here at home in my big overflowing travel drawer – but obviously I hadn’t taken it along! Just one more thing to remember. Here’s a link to a website that gives very specific info about plugs. Do ask at the hotel front desk for plugs – sometimes they offer them.

2. When you travel in Europe, eating out mostly, it’s hard to get vegetables. I love vegetables. No, I’m not a vegetarian at all. But just as we have the same problem here in the U.S., not many restaurants offer side vegetables. Often entrees are served with just meat and a carb. No veggies. So, you have to expect the same in Europe. It’s hard to get veggies. Salads are available – and we ate them in abundance in many cities we visited. Veggies were harder to find and if you do find them, they’re often a fried appetizer (not my favored way to eat them). My advice: if  you have any kind of problem with getting sufficient fiber in your diet, take along something over-the-counter.

3. Don’t forget Pepto Bismol or Imodium. I took a package of the latter along just in case, but then I gave it all to Cherrie when she got sick in Switzerland. Fortunately I didn’t need it, but as soon as I got home I came down with an intestinal bug. I made a quick trip to the drug store. Cherrie and I both arrived home with some kind of bug. Not from food because it didn’t begin until 18-24 hours after our last meal in Paris. It was a kind of bacterial flu bug, I guess. I’m still under the weather as I write this 7 days after getting home. Some doctors will now give you a prescription for Cipro when you’re going to travel, a heavy-duty, multi-use antibiotic. I didn’t have any and would be reluctant to use it unless I was very sick. It’s a very strong drug. Cherrie visited her dr. a couple of days ago and she told her not to use Imodium because it can easily be over-done and then you have the reverse problem. Her dr. recommended Pepto instead, which you can buy in liquid (probably not the best choice when when traveling), capsules or chewables.

4. Only a few hotels have room safes unless you’re staying in very high end hotels. Mostly I wasn’t. My cell phone went with me everywhere, even though I left it turned off a lot of the time. And my Kindle slipped into my purse most days. The only item I left in my hotel room was my iPod which I hid as best I could. Someone mentioned on our trip that hotel safes aren’t all that “safe” either. I bought a new purse for this trip – a nice-enough Brighton (black fabric, flat) that had room for my iPhone and my Kindle. I wore it cross-body, which most people do anyway. I kept it zipped up and never had anything valuable in the outside compartments or zippered slots. We actually never encountered any gypsies on this trip, which was very unusual. We saw a few homeless sitting on the ground with a money cup, but that was it, and only in Paris.

5. Be sure to have some money in local currency. On this trip I only needed euros and Swiss francs. I found an envelope in my travel stuff with about 40 euros in it. That meant I didn’t have to find a money exchange or an ATM at the airport. Sometimes at the airport there are long lines. Currently, the best “deal” according to advice websites, is to use ATM machines to get money, which I did exclusively. In Europe, ATM machines are everywhere (only exception might be a very tiny village). And some banks are now offering no-fee international ATM usage. I think Capitol One is one of them, and USAA, I’ve heard. When I left Switzerland, I used my last Swiss francs as part of the hotel bill, and the balance was charged to my credit card. (Oh, and by the way, American Express is often refused at hotels and restaurants all across Europe. I may be giving up my AE card when Costco’s AE membership credit card will no longer work next year.) I came home with about another 40 euro. That will go back into my safe for my next trip. Or I’ll sell them to Cherrie who is going on a 7-week family trip to Europe in about 4-5 weeks.  Don’t buy foreign currency at a bank here at home. They rip you off on the conversion.

6. Every hotel/inn we stayed in, including our apartment in Lyon, had hair dryers. That was a big boon. Even small hair dryers take up lots of suitcase space. And extra suitcase space we did NOT have! If they didn’t have one in the room, all we had to do was ask at the front desk and they’d hand us one.

21_inch_bags_red7. We all traveled with one 21-inch spinner suitcase and a carry-on. This is a newer size, with 4 spinner-wheels. And it’s a deeper suitcase. If you think 21-inches, you may be gasping that no, you couldn’t possibly. But these new ones really are deeper and some have a zipper extension you can use also. I can’t tell you how great this was. A very worthwhile investment. Mostly they’re made to fit in the overhead as carry-on baggage. Another important reason is that European cars have short trunk space. When we rented cars in Italy and Switzerland, we had station wagons in both places (non-standard – thanks to Tom who arranged both rental cars for us). In the rear we were able to fit all 4 of the 21-inch suitcases and 2 of the carry-ons (3 straight in, one sideways across the back and 2 carry-ons stuffed in). Joan had a backpack that sat at her feet, and my carry-on was flat on top, so it became the armrest in the middle in the back seat. If you’re traveling alone, you’ll have no difficulty. But with 4 of us, it made for a bit of squeezing. We all took a similar bag and a carry-on. (We had a meeting about this before we left the U.S. because I knew from previous trips that trunk space was going to be a problem with any rental car.) My carry-on slipped over the handle extension of my suitcase. On my flight home, when I packed my heavier raincoat and my minor purchases into the suitcase, it was very tight. So, I did unzip the extender. In that configuration, my suitcase would easily tip over frontwards, but once I plopped the carry-on on top, it would stay upright. Two of us had red bags. The 4-spinner wheels made for very easy walking long distances from terminal to terminal and mostly, once we arrived at a new destination. I checked my suitcase – I never intended to take it on board a plane –  because I had in my suitcase several liquids that were more than 1.3 ounces (sun screen, shampoo, aerosol hairspray, etc.) which are no-nos. We also walked distances from our car into hotels, or when we did train travel, from taxi to platforms, platform to taxi. Those spinner bags are now a necessity in my book. FYI: For my 22 days abroad, for my clothing, this including what I was wearing: I had 3 pairs of slacks, 8 tops [including the thermal undershirt and one slightly more dressy kind of top], underwear for 5 days, a pullover sweater, vest, raincoat with hood [no umbrella], 3 thin “pretty” scarves, 1 pair of leggings, 1 pair of thermal leggings, 1 longer sleep t-shirt, 2 pairs of socks, 1 extra pair of shoes, 1 warm neck scarf and 1 pair of gloves – that I wore only 1 day. I wore everything except the thermal leggings. Next trip I’ll forget the leggings, all but 1 dressy scarf, replace the raincoat with a thermal windbreaker of some kind. I washed underwear and socks often but they all dried overnight with no difficulty. Thank goodness for heated towel racks in a couple of places. If the trip would be in warm weather that would change significantly the packing needs, obviously.

8. Don’t pack heavy stuff in your carry-on. There’s a lot of walking involved in airports these days, and especially for international travel. It’s just the way it is. And if you travel much, you already know there are long security lines as well. My carry-on is just a fabric type with 2 handles and a shoulder strap. I carried my cosmetics (all items within the 1.3 ounce limit) in there. And my travel pillow. My important travel docs for all the trip planning I’d done for Switzerland. And a paperback book (just in case my Kindle had a problem or during the time when you can’t use electronic devices). My purse actually would fit in there as well, and I took this other cute plane-purse thing that I hung at my airplane seat (see #10 below).

9. Traditional raincoats are out. I took a black London Fog raincoat that has a semi-fuzzy lining (not removable). Everyone else wore a kind of a padded, warm windbreaker style, and I’d say that 98% of everyone we saw in all 3 countries were wearing the same. So my regular raincoat will go into the rarely-used jacket closet henceforth. For my next cooler-weather trip I’ll probably need to buy something new. Some designers now make a thin puffy-coat that mushes down to next to nothing and fits into a small square and packs easily. Darlene had one she bought at Nordstrom.

10. My Samantha Brown packing system was great. And particularly I loved the small purse that you use on the airplane (which can be used as a regular purse on your travels; it’s small, though). There’s a photo I found on ebay for one sold separately. To buy new, you Clever-SAMANTHA-BROWN-Lightweight-Nylon-Crossbody-handbag-Convertible-for-TRAVELhave to buy the whole set: Burgundy Samantha Brown 6-piece Travel Survival Kit. There are many colors (mine was bright red I bought at HSN) to choose from. I used all the pieces which are a heavy-duty water-resistant polyester, I suppose. But I particularly loved the little 7×8” purse that you hook onto the airline seatback in front of you. It held: my Kindle, my lip moisturizer, a little vial of Tylenol, a tiny bag of snack food, Kleenex and my prescriptions I would need to take in flight. There would be room for a tiny bottle of water, but only if I removed the Kindle. The other pieces in the set (that goes into the suitcase) include two sleeves for slacks or other clothes, an underwear bag with a “wear me” on one side, and “wash me” on the other – easy to keep everything in one place and you knew each day how many clean clothes you had left. The thicker cube was for tops/shirts. I was able to fit 8 of them in there. Unpacking my suitcase was a real breeze – sometimes I did that and put the packs/cubes into a drawer or shelf. Other times, one-night-stays, I left everything intact and it made for very neat and quick re-packing. I like the system. In a bright color there was no way I’d forget it. I’m very impressed with the Samantha Brown packing system. I also bought the accessories kit – one additional packing case that contains 3 small cubes inside. In there I stored my charging cables, my adapter plug, my camera battery charger, scarves, jewelry and a Ziploc bag with all of my miscellaneous small liquid things I needed (hair gel, extra shampoo, the aerosol hairspray, body lotion – a few hotels didn’t provide any – and my moderate sized tube of sun screen that I need to wear every day because I’m so fair skinned). And also the two small pieces of jewelry I took and barely wore.

11. If you’re so inclined, do get a Global Entry pass. It costs $100 for 5 years (and takes about 4-6 weeks to get it, including an in-person interview at only some border patrol locations set up around the U.S., to do the Global Entry screening), and probably isn’t worth it if you don’t do a moderate amount of travel. And it doesn’t help anywhere but in the United States (leaving and returning) so it didn’t help as we arrived in Italy, left Italy, arrived in Switzerland, or flew out from Paris) but it was SO fast getting through passport control at LAX, both departing and returning. On our return, they have kiosks now in the international area (more for Global Entry pass holders and fewer for those who don’t). You slide your passport in and it snaps a photo of you, you tick a few things on the screen and it’s a breeze. We walked right through and out to baggage pickup.

12. It used to be that Europeans wore dark clothes about 8 months of the year. Not so anymore. My wardrobe was all planned around black and brown, mostly black. My coat was black. My sweater was black. My vest was black. Two of my tops were plain black. We saw people wearing all kinds of colors and nobody stared like they used to. I can remember on previous trips feeling embarrassed because I was wearing even a brightly designed (maybe still in black/brown and white) blouse. Now everybody wears just about anything. Although we didn’t see white pants or even light color slacks. But everyone wore brighter colors in shirts and tops. And coats were in every color of the rainbow (except white).

Women Short Sleeve Thermaskin Heat Scoopneck13. My favorite 2 pieces of clothing were my velour vest and my Land’s End Thermaskin short-sleeved undershirt. I wore them both about 16 of the 22 days I was gone.  The black thin undershirt (pictured right – and it also comes in white) was perfect for cooler days and has a longer length so it keeps tucked in, and I think I’ll be wearing it lots here at home on colder winter days. If I wore a v-neck top over it, it looked fine if the scoop neck showed. The vest I’ve had for years – it’s a longer style so my tops didn’t hang down below (even though that’s very current style), and it was fuzzy enough to provide lots of warmth if I zipped it up. I also took the Thermaskin leggings, but I never wore them.

14. Be prepared for duvets everywhere. I’m not a duvet person. They make me too warm, so I’m continually having to stick my feet out or fold back the duvet to cool off. I know there are different weights of duvets, but every single place we stayed had fairly heavy duvets. So if you’re a warm person, you might want to pack very light pajamas or sleep in the buff. I took a long tee-shirt as my sleepwear. I lost a lot of sleep being awakened in a heat, and no, I don’t think they were hot flashes. None of the hotels had blankets in the closet, or I’d have tossed that duvet off and used one. Not a big deal, but it did bother me some. When possible, I opened windows to keep the room really cold at night. That helped. In some places my hotel room overlooked a busy square or a trattoria or bistro, and opening the window wasn’t feasible or I’d have been awake all night, but in most places I could. Or I adjusted the heat to very low, if I could, and that also helped.

15. Use small bags or Ziplocs for different toiletry types. I’ve decided that small little bags or Ziploc bags work best for the different kinds of toiletries needed. I have a great little cushy cinch-up thing for my make-up. But everything else needs to be divided up into bags or Ziplocs by use: shower (shampoo, gel, hairspray, body lotion), night-time (prescriptions, eye makeup remover, lip protector and my nasal spray) and morning (prescriptions, lotion, sunscreen). I have amongst my travel things 2 large box-shaped padded things for toiletries, but they’re bulky. I found the smaller things worked better. I have oodles of little zipped bag things I’ve gotten from cosmetic give-aways – they work well, or just the quart-sized heavier-duty Ziploc bags make for easy squishing here and there to fit in the suitcase. This is especially true if you’re trying to squeeze everything into a 21-inch bag. If you’re using Ziploc bags, put a yellow piece of paper in the morning one, a blue one in the shower bag, and a black one for night-time. Very easy to see which one is which. Since we 4 women were traveling together and shared one bathroom in the apartment in Lyon, France, we all had to keep our toiletries neat and tidy. We just picked up our baggies or whatever(s) and took them back to our bedrooms so the bathroom counter space (minimal) wasn’t clogged up with our stuff.

16. Take snacks and a water bottle every day. Not that you have to bring snacks from home necessarily (although I wished I’d had a few protein bars along on this trip) . . . but stop at a grocery store and find some kinds of snacks that will work for you and your family. Have one in your “day pack” or purse for those times when there just aren’t any restaurants nearby and you’re famished. Also, take along a small water bottle. Sometimes hotels offer a free bottle – take it and refill it each day (I know, they say that’s not a good thing, but hey, this is just one trip) so you have it with you, or in the car. If you have children, definitely have water and snacks available. I had a few Trader Joe’s dark chocolate bars in my suitcase, and I shared them with everyone now and then. One little square helped me get through to a later meal. Nuts would have worked also.

17. Figure out what kind of international cell phone plan you want to use. Now, I’m no expert, but after being with Tom & Joan for 8 days with cell_phone_wifiTom having a portable hotspot in his pocket, all of us got spoiled really fast with having internet most of the time. When Tom and granddaughter Lauren flew home, Joan and I were sad! The hotspot Tom had, only worked in Italy and he rented it for a short time span anyway. Next time I travel, I’ll be getting myself a portable hotspot. Not that it will work for my next trip (Botswana and Dubai next fall) but it will work in most places for most trips except remote areas in Africa (a guess). I purchased a small, special plan with my wireless carrier, but as good as I am with techie stuff, I had no idea exactly what I was getting (and I don’t have my bill yet to know what I did use) I wasn’t sure it was the wisest. Every hotel offered free wi-fi. Here’s one photo I took in the town of Matera, in Tom & Joan’s cave hotel room (the door is open because the light through the door was all we had, other than soft indirect lighting). We’d just checked in and all of us were on our phones checking for texts and email. This happened every single day of the trip! I don’t think I’ve mentioned yet that in France, wi-fi is pronounced wee-fee. You can purchase/rent short-term phones in Europe, but they’re a new number and I didn’t expect to get any phone calls. Although I did get one from my opthalmologist’s office wanting to ask me a question or two – this at 3 am Europe time. I didn’t think to turn my phone completely off at night. There are plenty of websites that will give you advice about how to handle this – there are so many options. Too many. Some cell phones don’t work in Europe, either, so that’s another factor.

All of these words of (my) wisdom are just my two cents worth. Merely FYI.

Posted in Essays, on January 23rd, 2014.

IMG_2414

Just got through reading one of the most in-depth articles ever – about cocoa (photo above from King Arthur Flour). You might not think you need to know more about cocoa, but if you’ve noticed the grocery aisles lately, you can now find a variety of cocoa types on the shelves, and unless you know the differences, you might make a big mistake using a different kind (like Dutch process) in your Grandma’s old-favorite chocolate cake recipe.

The folks at King Arthur Flour sell 5 different types of cocoa powders. I own a couple of them, and only know the simplest of rules – if the recipe calls for baking soda you can use Dutch process (or regular, actually). If the recipe calls for baking powder, you only want to use regular cocoa. But there are so many, many nuances of chocolate in the different types.

So, if you’re a home baker and have interest, head over to KAF and read the article written by PJ Hamel. They made several different recipes for chocolate things with all the different cocoa types and show you the difference in photos, but also describe the differences in the taste. The article is well worth reading and book-marking for future reference. KAF, as I mentioned, carries a very wide variety of cocoas you can buy. I’m a fan of their products (and no, they don’t pay me anything to say that!). If you sign up for their email stuff, you’ll hear about it when they offer free shipping. But you  need to be a reader of their blog in order to hear about the recipe developers and their baking efforts.

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 Essays, on December 25th, 2013.

The below came from the blog, Eat Your Books. Just thought you might enjoy a laugh, or a harumph. Meanwhile, I hope all of you have a Merry Christmas or a Happy Holiday, whatever it is you’re celebrating today.

Eatocracy has Eat This List: 2014 food trend predictions. Two of their editors each describe 5 trends, along with some honorable mentions. The article has full explanations behind each selection; briefly, they are:

  • Fish collars, heads and trash fish
  • Heirloom beans, peanuts and field peas
  • Haute Jewish deli
  • Reconsidered rice (and no, I don’t know what that means)
  • Raw beef
  • Eating with your hands
  • Housemade hot sauces
  • Parfaits
  • Breakfast for dinner

Over at The Daily Meal, they asked 25 chefs to  Predict the 2014’s Dining and Culinary Trends. We’ll let you look at the complete list, but here are some of the food items that were mentioned:

  • Gourmet tacos
  • Pork
  • Dishes from Sardinia, Sri Lanka, Laos, and Malaysia (SE Asia is hot)
  • Lots of grains and seeds – grits could be big
  • Asian mustard greens
  • Coconut sugar

And then we have the Wall Street Journal, which focused on just one trend in their article, Historical Recipes Are the Next Big Thing. As they write, “In a culinary landscape filled with Szechuan pastrami and cronuts, it can feel like our chefs are slaves to novelty, forever breaking with traditional foodways in favor of dishes inspired by artistic whims and enabled by modern technology. But look past the clamor of innovation and you’ll find some of the country’s most gifted toques quietly engrossed in old cookbooks, viewing the historical record as a treasure trove of ingenious techniques and preparations.”

However, as they explain later in the article, “The trend doesn’t stem from fetishizing the past so much as from the deeply held conviction that, when it comes to cookery, time-honored methods often trump personal innovation.” And, as  Adam Leonti (chef of  Vetri in Philadelphia)  points out, “Recipes from the past tend to lack the precise details we see in today’s texts…and that provides opportunities for creative thinking and experimentation.”

So if you want to be au courant,  dig out those old cookbooks and see which recipes trigger your curiosity. Sometimes the old is new again.

Posted in Essays, on May 9th, 2013.

peppers_mixed

If you’re not all that interested in knowing more about bell peppers, well, I understand. Come back in a couple of days and there will be a recipe up again on the blog. The “food scientist” in me wants more info sometimes, just better knowledge about the food products I buy, even if they’re something I’ve been purchasing for decades.

Prior to about 1980, there was only one kind of bell pepper available – GREEN. Which is why I didn’t like them much. My Dad loved stuffed green peppers (filled with a ground beef and rice mixture and served with tomato sauce). I thought these were vile – I could eat the filling, but the pepper part was bitter, acidic. That stuffed pepper style was very popular during the 1950-70 time frame.

Somewhere around 1960 shoppers were offered a choice of colors –  and bell pepper sales soared. I do remember when they first began appearing in grocery stores – the ones from Holland. But oh, were they ever expensive – way beyond my food budget. In the 30 years after that our per capita consumption of bell peppers quadrupled. According to the USDA, on any given day, about a quarter of Americans were eating some amount of a bell pepper, which is double the amount we’d eat of a French fry. Well, that’s a good thing! The same percentage increase occurred with chile peppers too, although it’s leveled off in the last 20 years. All the credit is due to the Dutch, who figured out how to outsmart nature. You probably already know this – all peppers start out green, and it’s only because they are left on the bush or vine that the colors develop.

Why do Bell Peppers Turn Color?

The scientific explanation – as fruits begin to mature and develop sugar, the sweetness alters their chemical makeup and the chlorophyll start to break apart, which then permits the underlying colors to develop.

Because peppers are a very tender product, they’re very susceptible to bugs and viruses (who knew? viruses? really?). Only very careful farming can produce a fully ripe and colored bell pepper without it developing blemishes and soft spots. Holland’s farmers raise all of theirs in greenhouses, which is why they’re so pristine (and expensive).

Our taste buds really only recognize two tastes in peppers – sweet or hot. Well, I’ll add a 3rd one – bitter, which is what is in green bells – to me, anyway. There are 22 wild varieties of peppers out there and 5 domesticated ones. Most peppers are grown in California and Florida. Chile peppers mostly come from Mexico, where there are at least 3 varieties that grace nearly every Mexican family’s table with regularity. I’m guessing those are: jalapeno, serrano, and poblano. We can find those at our grocery stores every day here in Southern California.

bellpepper2What makes a chile pepper hot is capsaisin (cap-SAY-eh-sun), and if you remember nothing else from this little write-up, the heat in peppers comes MOSTLY from the ribs. Not the seeds. That’s not to say that if you bite into a piece of the green of a jalapeno, you won’t taste heat – you will, but the real heat is in the little whitish/yellowish rib membrane inside the pepper. Remove those and you’ll have a much milder pepper experience. Unless, of course, you WANT the heat, in which case leave it in! Different peppers contain different concentrations of capsaicin (like habanero, the hottest, to the bell pepper which has the least) . And the heat is caused by a recessive gene. That was news to me! What’s interesting is that the heat in chiles can vary not only by variety, but also from peppers on the same bush. Little Japanese shishito peppers (at left) are the most variable – about one in every dozen will be hot enough to blow off the top of your head. Figuratively, of course.

CHOOSING PEPPERS: With the bell peppers, choose the heaviest ones, the ones that are the most filled out and the darkest in color. They’re the sweetest. The recommendation is to choose the peppers that have the boxiest shape with the flattest sides. And obviously, don’t buy one that has a blemish or a soft spot anywhere. Chile peppers should be average size and also unblemished and definitely firm. No soft ones at all.  The best prices on all peppers is in the mid-summer when they are available in abundance.

STORING PEPPERS: They’ll keep best if wrapped well and stored in the refrigerator at about 45°. That’s the temp of most refrigerators. No colder than that, though, or the peppers will start to break down.

Nearly all this information came from Russ Parsons’ book How to Pick a Peach: The Search for Flavor from Farm to Table.

Peppers for Cold Meat – my favorite recipe you’ll find here on my blog that showcases bell peppers – it’s a sweet and sour kind of relish that’s just a match made in heaven for almost any kind of meat. It’s easy to make and keeps for weeks and weeks.

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