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Currently Reading

Here are the tastingspoons players. I’m in the middle (Carolyn). Daughter Sara on the right, and daughter-in-law Karen on the left. I started the blog in 2007, as a way to share recipes with my family. Now in 2023, I’m still doing 99% of the blogging and holding out hope that these two lovely and excellent cooks will participate. They both lead very busy lives, so we’ll see.

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BOOK READING (from Carolyn):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you’d like a mystery read, try Dete Meserve’s The Space Between. It’s just the kind of page-turner I enjoy – a wife returns to her home after being away on business for a few days, to find her husband missing and what he’s left for her is an unexplained bank deposit of a million dollars, a loaded Glock in the nightstand, and a video security system that’s been wiped clean.

Read Alyson Richman’s historical novel called The Velvet Hours. Most of the book takes place in Paris, with a young woman and her grandmother, a very wealthy (but aging) woman who led a life of a semi-courtesan. Or at least a kept woman. But this grandmother was very astute and found ways to invest her money, to grow her money, and to buy very expensive goods. Then WWII intervenes, and the granddaughter has to close up her grandmother’s apartment, leaving it much the way it had been throughout her grandmother’s life, to escape the Nazis. Years go by, and finally answers are sought and found. An intriguing book, based on the author’s experience with an apartment that had been locked up similarly for decades, also in Paris.

Susan Meissner is one of my favorite authors. This book, The Nature of Fragile Things tells a very unusual story. About a young Irish immigrant, desperate to find a way out of poverty, answers an ad for a mail order bride.

Also read Rachel Hauck’s The Writing Desk. You could call this a romance. A young professional, a writer of one successful book, has writer’s block. Then she’s asked to go to Florida to help her mother (from whom she’s mostly estranged) through chemo. She goes, hoping she can find new inspiration.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Name Is Resolute by Nancy Turner. She’s the author of another book of some renown, These is my Words:

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


Tasting Spoons

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

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Posted in Healthy, Soups, on February 3rd, 2023.

Just the simplest of soups – although there are a LOT of vegetables in it, but the more the merrier, and the merrier the taste. I wasn’t expecting it to be so delicious!

A post from Carolyn. I don’t know about you, but after the holidays, of not-so-healthy eating, desserts served more often and just plain eating more than I usually do, I was so ready for some pure foods, healthier. My refrigerator had a bunch of vegetables and some had to be tossed in the trash, but what was there surely was enough to make a delicious soup. As I’m writing this, we’ve had rain – rain – and more rain. It’s so good for our soil as we’ve been in years of drought, so I’m not complaining. A rainy day makes me want to cook, as long as I don’t have other things I have to do. My usual busy routine has started up but I had a free day, and it was raining.

Often, when I look at recipes for vegetable soup, I think eh, veggie soup doesn’t have enough flavor to make me happy. But I decided to try it anyway since I had so many veggies that needed to be used. I’m SO glad I did, as this soup was scrumptious, and well worth making again.

Into a big pot went a sweet onion and leeks, with some olive oil. As that sweated I chopped up all the vegetables (red bells, poblanos, zucchini, yellow squash, a sweet potato, celery, carrots, garlic) and added them all at once.

Last month at the cooking class in San Diego, Phillis Carey mentioned how much she loves the new Better Than Bouillon Seasoned Vegetable Base. Picture at right. She also mentioned the same brand for chicken, the Roasted Chicken Base. I’ve bought both. And I also bought their Chili Base too, since I make more than a fair share of chili-based soups. All of them are available on amazon (use the links to get right to the pages).

All of these concentrates contain a goodly amount of sodium, so I didn’t add a single grain of salt to this soup. I added water, the vegetable paste/base, some oregano and thyme (my go-to herbs). Once the vegetables were done I removed some of it and whizzed it up with my immersion blender and poured it back into the soup (just to give the soup some thickened texture).

Then I added a little tiny can of corn and a big mound of grated Cheddar. Than I added a can of coconut cream. Now, about that. I buy Trader Joe’s coconut cream when I want that creamy texture, but I don’t want to taste coconut. TJ’s brand doesn’t taste like coconut. Neither their coconut cream or coconut milk has much of any taste of coconut. In this case, that’s what I wanted. I wasn’t making a coconut soup with vegetables, I merely wanted the creamy texture. If you want coconut milk that tastes like coconut, do buy Thai Kitchen. I buy it from a Costco that’s not near me at all as not all Costco’s carry it. Or use the link for amazon.

I scooped about a cup of soup into the bowl, added some grated Cheddar on top and a sprig of Italian parsley. Done.

What’s GOOD: altogether delicious. Healthy for sure. Lots of flavor (maybe it’s the broth that did it – but surely all the various veggies contributed too). The soup has some heat from the poblano chiles. If you’re sensitive to heat, use just one, or substitute green bell peppers. I don’t like green bell peppers, so you’ll almost never see them in my cooking repertoire! This recipe is a keeper in my book, and that’s saying something since I’m a bit reluctant to even make vegetable soup since I assume it’ll be blah. Not so with this one.

What’s NOT: really nothing. It’s a very flavorful soup. Relatively low in calorie too. A keeper, and yes, I’ll be making it again. It should freeze well.

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Vegetable and Cheddar Soup

Recipe By: My own concoction, 2023
Servings: 12

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large sweet onion — chopped
2 large leeks — cleaned, chopped
2 cloves garlic — minced
1 cup celery — chopped
2 small carrots — chopped
2 medium zucchini — chopped
1 medium yellow squash — chopped
2 medium poblano peppers — seeded, chopped
2 medium red bell peppers — seeded, chopped
1 large sweet potato
2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 teaspoons dried oregano
7 cups vegetable broth — I used Better Than Bouillon, seasoned vegetable base
15 ounces coconut cream
1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese — grated
1 1/2 cups canned corn — optional
1 cup frozen peas — optional
Salt and pepper to taste — (won’t need much salt)
Grated cheddar for serving, plus Italian parsley

NOTES: If desired, add a can of beans, or pasta, or rice, wild rice (precook it), brown rice (also precook it). I try to eat fewer carbohydrates, and sweet potatoes (which are a resistant starch) flow through your body with less absorption as a carb.
1. Heat olive oil in a large pot.
2. Add onion and leeks and stir frequently as the vegetable sweat for about 7-10 minutes over medium-low heat. Add garlic, celery, carrots, zucchini, squash, poblano peppers, red bell peppers and sweet potato. Add bouillon and water, or vegetable broth.
3. Bring mixture to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are cooked through.
4. Remove about 3 cups of soup and puree in blender (or use immersion blender), and return to the soup pot. Add coconut cream, grated cheese, corn (if using) and peas (if using). Taste for seasonings. When serving, grate more cheese on top and add some Italian parsley for color.
Per Serving: 336 Calories; 25g Fat (64.5% calories from fat); 11g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 29mg Cholesterol; 648mg Sodium; 7g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 260mg Calcium; 2mg Iron; 554mg Potassium; 247mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Chicken, easy, Healthy, on June 2nd, 2019.

One of my go-to quick, easy and healthy weekday meals. 

This post is from Sara:  I found the original recipe on which is a favorite healthy recipe website for me.  I mostly plan my week’s meals out on Sunday and shop accordingly so that I don’t have to make several trips to the grocery store after work.  However, there are those days that I am not in the mood for my plan or life happens and dinner plans change.  This is one of the fast, easy and healthy recipes I love to make.  It’s a one-pan dish and I usually have everything on hand as it’s fairly common ingredients, at least in my household.  If I don’t have fresh basil, I almost always have pesto sauce that can be substituted.

I serve it with a salad and some balsamic vinaigrette that I add a tsp of pesto sauce to bring up the flavor.  You could also add pasta if you don’t have an aversion to carbs.  Or, like me, you have teenagers that need more calories.  I love this dish because of the fresh ingredients.  I always have grape tomatoes in my fridge as I eat them as a snack daily.  I used fresh mozzarella because I prefer it but regular mozzarella or provolone would work.

Having made this a few times, I found that I prefer to slice the chicken breasts horizontally into two thinner slices.  This keeps my portion size down and gives me leftovers for lunch the next day!  Another bonus of this recipe is to make enough for leftovers so I add the cold chicken cut up to a salad with tomatoes, fresh mozzarella bits and the pesto balsamic vinaigrette dressing.

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Chicken Caprese

Recipe By: adapted from
Serving Size : 4

1 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast halves — cut horizontally into 4 pieces
Kosher salt to taste and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup Balsamic vinegar
2 cloves Garlic — Minced
1 pint grape tomatoes — halved
2 tablespoons fresh basil — freshly torn
4 slices mozzarella cheese — use fresh if possible or substitute pesto sauce
12 basil leaves — for garnish

1. In a large skillet over medium/high heat, heat oil. Season chicken with salt and pepper and cook until golden and cooked through, approximately 6 mins per side depending on thickness. Transfer to a plate.
2. Add balsamic vinegar to skillet, then add garlic and cook until fragrant, 1 min. Add tomatoes and season with salt. Let simmer until soft, 5-7 mins. Stir in basil.
3. return chicken to skillet and nestle in tomatoes. Top with mozzarella and cover with lid to melt.
4. Spoon tomatoes over chicken and sprinkle more fresh basil if desired.
Per Serving: 537 Calories; 33g Fat (55.5% calories from fat); 51g Protein; 8g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 167mg Cholesterol; 552mg Sodium.

Posted in Brunch, Healthy, on December 13th, 2013.


You might think you don’t need a recipe for a fruit salad, right? But if you’d like to serve a fruit salad that’s just a bit different, you could try this one. You just have to plan ahead a few hours or overnight (to make the flavorful syrup) to serve this with a brunch. It’s well worth making.

Ginger seems to be on my radar lately. And if I were to just add a vanilla bean to the stem ginger in syrup that I made last week, I’d have had half of this recipe already done! In this case you make a simple syrup with fresh ginger, a vanilla bean and a bunch of lemon peel. That does need to be made ahead as it provides a ton of flavor to the fruit once you mix it all together.

Once that mixture has cooled and the solid stuff (ginger, vanilla bean and lemon peels) strained out, you’re left with this delicious ginger/vanilla essence syrup. You could just slurp it with a spoon. Trust me on that one! (If you have leftovers of the syrup, it would be lovely added to a cup of hot tea.) But we’re making a fruit salad, so all you do is add in all the fruit. You could change what YOU like to have in the way of fruit – at the class Phillis Carey used Navel oranges, mangoes, bananas, kiwis, grapes and pomegranate seeds. It was a beautiful and very tasty combination. You could add apples, pears or pineapple too. Your choice.

What’s GOOD: the flavoring in the syrup is what makes this. The ginger gives the syrup just a teeny tiny bit of heat and the vanilla adds a depth to it – perhaps not distinguishable, but it makes for one very tasty bowl of fruit. The pomegranate seeds add a lovely color to the presentation too.

What’s NOT: really nothing except that you do have to plan ahead one day or at least half a day to make this.

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Winter Fresh Fruit Salad with Vanilla Syrup

Recipe By: Phillis Carey cooking class, Nov. 2013
Serving Size: 10 (or more)

1/2 cup sugar
2 cups water
1 piece ginger — about 1 inch long, peeled and thinly sliced
1 vanilla bean — split lengthwise and seeds scraped out
1 lemon — peel only (reserve lemon for other use)
1 whole navel orange — peel only (use fruit for the salad)
3 large navel oranges — or blood oranges
2 whole mangoes — peeled and diced
5 whole kiwi fruit — peeled and diced
1 cup red grapes — seedless
1 cup pomegranate — seeds only (from 1 large one)
2 whole bananas — ripe but firm, peeled and diced

1. Combine the sugar, water, the ginger and vanilla seeds and pod in a saucepan. Use a vegetable peeler to remove wide strips of zest from the lemon and 1 orange, add to the saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer 5 minutes. Refrigerate until cold.
2. Meanwhile, peel the remaining oranges with a paring knife, cutting along the natural curve of the fruit. Hold an orange over a large bowl and cut along both sides of each membrane to free the segments, letting them fall into the bowl. Also segment the orange used in the syrup that’s already peeled. Squeeze each empty membrane to release the juices. Repeat with the remaining oranges. Add the mangoes, kiwis  and pomegranate seeds and gently toss. Pour the syrup over the fruit and chill overnight.
3. Before serving, remove the citrus zest, ginger and vanilla pod. Add the fresh banana at this point. Pour into a large serving bowl or spoon the fruit and syrup into individual bowls.
4. POMEGRANATES: To remove pomegranate seeds, cut the fruit into quarters, then break apart in a bowl of water. Skim off the pith that floats to the top and drain the seeds.
Per Serving: 158 Calories; 1g Fat (2.9% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 41g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 6mg Sodium.

Posted in Chicken, Healthy, on November 7th, 2013.


Remember, I told you we’d be fixing that chicken dish – the one that my hubby made for me on about our 3rd or 4th date, way back 32 years ago? Here it is . . . you make it all in one pan (except for a carb if you choose to make one). It’s incredibly easy.

If you didn’t read my post a few days ago about my hubby Dave’s favorites, you won’t have the back story on this dish. Go read that if you care to. Here’s a bit more of the background. In 1981, Dave and his son lived about a block or two from our local fairgrounds, and often on Saturdays they’d go over to the weekly swap meet there (that still goes on at that location). Dave remembers vividly one Saturday as they walked up and down the rows, that he could smell something wonderful. Finally they came to a stand where a couple of Aussie guys were making chicken. It was only about 9:30 in the morning, and both Dave and his son gobbled down a sample of this dish, and Dave promptly bought a set of seasonings from this company, Benson’s Gourmet Seasonings.

The company is still in business, and this recipe – the same one they were fixing at the swap meet in 1981, is still the one they demonstrate, and is their #1 selling mixture. It uses their Supreme Garlic and Herb Salt Free Seasoning 2 oz Bottle – the link here is to Amazon, and they carry the whole line, if you’re interested.

Dave made this dish for me, back in 1981 right after I met him, and he made it at least one other time, and the bottles of seasoning mixes have sat dormant on my pantry shelf ever since. Not in the regular place, but Dave didn’t want to throw them away – when we moved to this house 10 years ago I was going to toss them out. You know, herb and spice mixtures lose all their potency after a few weeks or at most a month. But Dave said, no, don’t throw them out. So they sat in an obscure and out of the way space. I generally don’t use those pre-packed seasoning mixes just because I know they don’t retain flavor well. I like to make my own combos at the moment when I need them. The only one I’ve been known to make in quantity is the North African Grilled Corn on the Cob spice mix. I make up a batch at the beginning of corn season and try to use it up by the time corn season has passed.

dave_kitchenHaving laughed over the chicken dinner story the other day, I dug out the bottle (that is 32 years old), went online, not expecting to find anything, and found the company’s website and their recipe easily enough. And decided that Dave needed to renew his acquaintance with this dish.

Here he is at our kitchen island. I cut up a whole chicken for him (next time we will make it with just chicken thighs, I think – much easier). I set him there at the cutting board with all of the vegetables he needed to chop. A lot. First you must have half a chopped onion and half a bell pepper. chicken supreme_collageThis dish takes 60 minutes to make, hence you want to start with medium-low heat. The herb mixture is added in at 3 junctures in the process.

The pictures here show the progression of the dish. First you put the raw chicken pieces in there (no seasonings, no oil, nothing) in a big honkin’ pan (we used a 12-inch nonstick pan with 4” high sides) skin side down with the heat at medium-low. The first set of veggies are added on top and down in any crevices you can find.

In the 2nd picture, after 20 minutes, you turn the chicken over. See, nicely browned chicken pieces.

Then after another 20 minutes of browning you add all the vegetables (more onion, peppers, zucchini, carrots, celery and mushrooms). The veggies kind of sit there on top and you wonder if they’ll ever cook through.

Ten minutes later  you stir it all up (you do that several times so the veggies will get done). You never add a lid. But you do add 1/2 cup of white wine (we used vermouth) during the last 10 minutes and continue cooking until the chicken is done and the veggies are cooked.

Actually, we removed the chicken pieces to a hot plate and very briefly cooked the veggies for about 2 minutes – there were a few pieces of carrot and zucchini that weren’t quite done.

Meanwhile, make some rice. We made pasta (Dave’s choice), but I really think it would be easier to eat and more tasty with rice. Your choice, of course. I made linguine and thought it was too difficult to handle.

There is NO SALT in this dish. There is NO FAT added to this dish. And it’s delicious. Because the spice mixture was SO old, I measured out double the amount of it (so 2 T. rather than just 1). I think I need to order a new bottle, although the seasoning did have some smell and taste.

What’s GOOD: it’s a make-in-one-pot kind of dinner (except for a carb if you choose to make one). There’s lots of good flavor in it. It’s easy, really, but you do need to do a bunch of veggie chopping and prepping. Makes a big batch – I think it might feed more than 4 if you have a larger chicken. We had a 4-pound one and will likely get 3 meals out of it. It’s a pretty dish – lots of color. We don’t like green bell pepper, but it would have added even more color to the pan. The wine makes a kind of juicy sauce (unthickened, of course) – scoop some of it out with each serving onto the carb. Love that this has not one speck of added salt or added oil. You won’t miss it – really.
What’s NOT: just the time you need to spend tending to this – not hard – but you don’t want to go off and leave this as it requires a lot of chopping at first, then mixing around during the last 20 minutes. The chicken breasts were a little overdone, we thought, so I’d probably add them later or remove them early.

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Chicken Supreme

Recipe By: Benson’s Gourmet seasonings website
Serving Size: 4

2 1/2 pounds whole chicken — cut-up (2 1/2 to 3 lbs)
1 tablespoon Benson’s Supreme Salt-Free Seasoning
2 medium onions — 1 yellow, 1 red, chopped
1 medium green bell pepper — seeded and sliced [we omitted]
1 medium red bell pepper — seeded and sliced
1 medium yellow bell pepper — seeded and sliced
2 medium zucchini — trimmed and sliced
1 stalk celery — sliced
1 medium carrot — peeled and thinly sliced
8 ounces mushrooms — sliced (optional)
1/2 cup dry white wine — chicken broth or water [we used vermouth]
Serve with hot rice on the side (also can use pasta or potatoes)

1. Preheat a 12-inch non-stick skillet over medium-low heat. Place chicken skin side down. Use no oil.
2. Put about 1/2 of a chopped onion & 1/2 of a bell pepper sliced, in spaces. Sprinkle all with 1 tsp. seasoning. and brown over medium-low heat for about 20 minutes.
3. Turn chicken pieces over and sprinkle with 1 tsp. seasoning. Brown another 20 minutes.
4. Add all remaining vegetables. Sprinkle with remaining 1 tsp. seasoning. Stir occasionally so vegetables cook evenly. Cook about 20 minutes longer. Do not cover. Add wine (liquid) the last 10 minutes. Serve with or over rice, noodles or pasta, or just as it is. (If by chance the vegetables aren’t quite done, remove the chicken to a hot serving plate, cover with foil and turn up the heat under the vegetables and cook until they’re all cooked through.) The nutrition count on this assumes you eat all the skin.
Per Serving (this assumes you eat all the skin): 519 Calories; 30g Fat (53.4% calories from fat); 40g Protein; 18g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 176mg Cholesterol; 162mg Sodium.

Posted in easy, Healthy, Soups, on September 29th, 2013.


Hearty, comforting and healthy soup. There’s no cream in it – the broccoli provides the creamy texture. I know that sounds strange, but it’s true. Read on . . .

Rarely do I watch The Chew. The show is so fast-paced (frantic almost, like The View which I refuse to watch at all because they all talk over each other) and loud that I will only watch it on occasion and rarely do I ever try one of the recipes. A few over the years . . . but I know the show is well liked by many. When we were on our trip I happened to turn on TV and I tuned in to the program and Stacy London [a TV fashionista and co-host of the show What Not to Wear, another show I don’t watch] was making a soup. She had someone come to her home to cook for her and this recipe was borne of that professional relationship, as I understood it. Apparently, she had leftovers of both a healthy pureed broccoli soup and one with white beans and sausage and Stacy decided to combine the two. She loves it so much that she learned to make it herself and eats it by the gallon.

It’s no secret around here that I love soups. Not only for their ease (a meal in one pot) but soups are comforting and provide infinite variety. And often I add a little jot of cream to soups. This soup looked like it had cream in it, but it doesn’t. Nary a bit of cream or dairy at all. Basically you make 2 soups – a broccoli soup in one pot (which gets pureed and becomes the liquid in the other soup) and the spicy sausage and cannellini bean soup in the other. Once the broccoli soup is cooked through (takes no time at all) it’s whizzed up in the blender and then that’s added to the other. Because I had some mushrooms on hand, I added them, and I think I added some zucchini too, though neither of those were in the recipe.

The only fat in the entire soup is a tablespoon or two of olive oil to sauté the onions, the same for the chicken sausage soup plus whatever intrinsic fat is in chicken broth and the chicken sausage (not much, in other words).

Adapting the recipe a little, I added some fresh mushrooms and zucchini to the soup. Why not, I said? I wanted more veggies and texture since the broccoli is completely pureed. The recipes serves 8, and that’s about right – we had 2 dinners and 2 or 3 lunches out of the one preparation. I’m sure it would freeze well also.

What’s GOOD: I like that it’s a very healthy soup. I really had to work at it to taste the broccoli (and I like broccoli) since it’s pureed. You honestly think it’s a cream soup! My DH liked it a lot and told me each time I served it that it was really good. I felt the same way. A keeper. It’s not gourmet. It’s not over-the-top with flavor, but it’s just wholesome and good. It’s thick – you can see that from the photo. If you wanted a lighter soup, add more chicken broth and thin it some.
What’s NOT: nothing at all that I can think of.

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Stacy London’s Broccoli, White Bean & Sausage Soup

Recipe By: Adapted slightly From “The Chew”, Sept. 2013
Serving Size: 8

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion — (chopped)
2 large heads broccoli — (florets chopped; stems peeled and chopped)
5 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound spicy chicken sausage — (removed from casing and crumbled)
1 bunch kale — (cut into 1/2-inch ribbons and chopped)
6 ounces button mushrooms — sliced [my addition]
2 small zucchini — chopped [my addition]
2 15.5 ounce cannelini beans, cooked — (drained and rinsed)
Salt and Pepper
1/2 cup Italian parsley — chopped (garnish)

1. Place a heavy bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil and then add onion. Season with salt and pepper and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, or until just translucent. Add the broccoli and again season with salt and pepper.
2. Pour the chicken stock over the broccoli and bring up to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the broccoli is fork tender.
3. Let cool slightly and then transfer, working in batches, to a blender. Cover the blender with a towel to ensure it doesn’t splatter, and puree until VERY smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning.
4. Place another heavy bottomed pot over medium high heat and add 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the sausage and brown on all sides, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add mushrooms and zucchini and continue cooking for 5-7 minutes.
5. When almost completely cooked, add the kale. Season with salt and pepper and cook for 3 to 4 minutes or until the veggies are all cooked sufficiently. Add the beans and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes.
6. Pour the broccoli soup in the sausage and kale and stir to combine. Let cook for one to two more minutes to let the flavors meld. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then serve while hot. Garnish with chopped parsley, if desired.
Per Serving: 401 Calories; 12g Fat (25.3% calories from fat); 35g Protein; 42g Carbohydrate; 16g Dietary Fiber; 53mg Cholesterol; 1450mg Sodium.

Posted in Healthy, Salad Dressings, Salads, on February 4th, 2013.


A luscious salad – different – healthy, really – because it doesn’t have all that much oil in it – hard to believe it could taste so good! Dried figs give it a base, and you do add some crumbled bacon.

Having been asked to bring a salad to dinner at friends recently, I ransacked my to-try file, to find something that would complement Thomas Keller’s Roast Chicken and Vegetables, which my friend Donna was going to make. Donna reads my blog (thank you, Donna!) and is always so kind to tell me how much she likes it. Music to any blogger’s ears, I’ll tell ya!

It didn’t really take much to make this dressing – it’s an interesting one – it uses dried figs, balsamic vinegar (I used a fruit-flavored one, but you can use plain too), water, chicken broth (yes, really, chicken broth), honey, shallots and fresh thyme. All things I had on hand. The figs are simmered for green_salad_bacon_cotija_pinenuts

just a minute in the balsamic vinegar and allowed to “steep” or sit while you pull together the rest of the ingredients. Then it’s all whizzed up in the blender. Meanwhile, I chopped up and fried a bunch of bacon. I made this salad twice, on consecutive nights, and used different greens. I couldn’t find arugula the first day, so I substituted Romaine, leaf lettuce and microgreens. I actually think the salad needs some bitter greens to offset the fig-sweetened dressing, so the second time my DH was able to find arugula and I used Feta cheese  that time, rather than the cotija I’d tried the first time. The original recipe (from Cooking Light) called for goat cheese, but I didn’t have any. Nor did I really want to buy a log of goat cheese when I only needed a little bit for the salad. I almost always have Feta on hand, which keeps soaking in brine for many, many weeks. I did have cotija (it’s a dry, salty Mexican cheese that’s used mostly for garnish), so I used that one time.

arugula_salad_feta_fig_dressingThe second night (pictured above) I had arugula, but not quite enough dressing, so I just added more EVOO and another little jot of balsamic vinegar to what I had left from the previous night, and it was plenty for a salad for 4.

What’s good: the low-calorie, low-fat aspect of the dressing. Of course, bacon kind of puts it over the top, but once you divide it among several people, no one has all that much bacon. I added pine nuts one night just because I thought the salad needed some kind of crunch to it. Since it doesn’t have any added vegetables, I really did think it needed some added texture.

What’s not: nothing at all – just know this isn’t any standard kind of vinaigrette – it’s sweet from the figs, but will complement lots of meals – pork for sure – often pork is accompanied by fruit.

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Arugula Salad with Bacon and Balsamic Fig Dressing

Recipe By: Adapted from Cooking Light, Nov. 2008
Serving Size: 6
NOTES: Use other lettuces if preferred, but use sturdy ones like Romaine, not tender leaf lettuces which won’t stay firm with the dressing.

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar — (use fruit flavored, if available)
3 whole dried figs — chopped (stem trimmed off)
3 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons honey
1/2 teaspoon minced shallots
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
4 ounces arugula — (about 8 cups), lightly chopped
1/4 cup red onion — thinly sliced, (optional)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 pieces bacon — cooked and crumbled
2 tablespoons crumbled goat cheese — or Feta, or Mexican Cotija
1 tablespoon pine nuts — toasted (optional)

1. To prepare dressing, combine balsamic vinegar and figs in a small saucepan over medium-high heat; bring to a boil. Cover, remove from heat, and let stand 15 minutes. Combine vinegar mixture, 3 tablespoons water, and next 5 ingredients (through thyme) in a blender; process until smooth. Dressing will keep for several days.
2. To prepare salad, mix arugula with onion and toss with dressing. Taste for seasonings. Divide evenly among plates. Sprinkle with bacon, cheese and nuts. Serve immediately.
Per Serving: 114 Calories; 8g Fat (58.6% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 10g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 5mg Cholesterol; 109mg Sodium.

Posted in Healthy, Pasta, Veggies/sides, on November 4th, 2012.


No, I’m not joshing you. And no, these aren’t made of cardboard, either. Cardboard would have carbs perhaps? From tree bark and fiber? Nope, these are made from tofu and some kind of
Asian yam. I’m sure I have some readers who, after just
seeing that word tofu – will not even read further. I might have been one of those some years ago. I don’t eat tofu, as tofu, but if it’s in other things, well, yes I do. These noodles have almost zero calories, nearly zero carbs, zero fat in a single serving.

It’s not news on this blog that we are a family of two try to limit carbs, what with my Type 1 diabetic husband. And certainly I can cut down on them myself. But I’ll tell you true – I miss pasta. Once in awhile – a big splurge for us – I make a huge batch of spaghetti sauce from one of my numerous recipes (my favorite one this year is Ina Garten’s Weeknight Bolognese Sauce). I freeze some of it for other dinner splurges months hence. Well, we’re now going to be able to have all we want because of these fantastic new products.

I’d heard about them several months ago when I got an email from one of the daily deal emails I subscribe to, offering me “Miracle Noodles” for some unbelievably low cost. I knew nothing whatsoever about them. I talked to a friend of mine, a recent Type 2 diabetic, who is struggling with her revised diet, to ask if she’d like to share the box with me. It was 29 packages or some odd number. She said no. Knowing so little, I opted not to buy it, either. Then I visited a local Asian market, thinking that surely they would have them – indeed they did, although it wasn’t the “Miracle” noodle, but Tofu Shirataki (the fettucine and angel hair varieties shown here), and it took the store manager’s involvement to find them in the store. Aha! In the refrigerated area – not really near anything in particular – and they were lying flat, so you couldn’t see the package front very well. FYI: a 4-ounce serving (half of the above package) contains 20 calories, .5 grams of fat, 15 mg of sodium and 3 g of carbs. And 1 g of fiber. As I’m writing this, I haven’t had the Miracle Noodle yet – I’ll probably write up another post after that with more info.

Each package holds about 8 ounces including the fluid – and about 4 ounces of net wet noodles – enough for 2 side servings. And just maybe enough for a small serving of a pasta main dish. These packages need to be refrigerated and they’ll keep for about 6 months. They don’t ever spoil, really, but eventually, the noodle may dissolve into its primary form of glucomannen (that’s the tofu and yam product).

I threw together a side dish to serve them the first time. I had no recipe, but wanted to make it a little special for the first time we’d eat them since I wasn’t certain my DH would eat them – he did and he liked them. He loves pasta too, and encourages me to NOT make it very often since it wreaks havoc with his blood sugar. The thing you need to remember is that these noodles, like most tofu products, don’t have much taste straight out of the package, so you must add flavorful ingredients to them, so they’ll soak up the flavor. Don’t just heat them with a little oil or butter and expect them to have great flavor. They won’t.

The other thing about these noodles is that they’re packed in a rather unappetizing fluid (that you drain off). It smells something like Asian fish sauce. In case you haven’t ever taken a sniff of Asian fish sauce, well, it’s not pleasant – kind of like rotten fish, actually. Tastes great, but doesn’t smell all that nice. So, there is a process of getting the noodles ready to eat. First, drain them, then rinse well under running water. According to the package instructions, I put them on a plate and microwaved them for 60 seconds. You can also “cook” them in a nonstick pan until they make a kind of squeaky sound in the pan, but microwaving is almost easier. I rinsed them again, drained again, then they went into the skillet. They’re already cooked, you see, so they don’t really need further cooking – just heating – but they need to absorb flavor. So I stirred them around, added the dairy stuff, some herbs and cayenne, and let them sit in the pan just barely simmering. I had to add a little water as the creamy ingredients boiled away, tasted it for salt and pepper, added the grated cheese and served it piping hot.

What I liked: the fact that they’re very similar – not identical – to a wheat noodle, but have so few calories and carbs. That’s the logical answer, of course. Why would we bother to eat these unless they were giving us some kind of nutritional boon. Or if I needed to restrict gluten. Obviously these are GF also.
What I didn’t like: if you forced me to say something negative (I’m trying to be at least neutral or unbiased), the texture of these noodles aren’t the same as a wheat pasta fettuccine noodle. It doesn’t have the same kind of “chew” as a wheat noodle – more like a rice noodle to me. But if you know going into it that you’re wanting a vehicle for the SAUCE – it’s the sauce we love, right? – then these noodles absolutely work. All in all, this is a great alternative to a much higher calorie wheat noodle.

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Shirataki Fettucine with Arugula and Spinach

Recipe By: My own concoction.
Serving Size: 2

2 teaspoons unsalted butter
1 cup arugula — fresh, chopped
1 cup baby spinach — fresh, chopped
8 ounces tofu shirataki — fettucine style (read notes regarding preparation)
1 tablespoon light sour cream
1 tablespoon heavy cream
2 tablespoons goat cheese — crumbled
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 pinch cayenne
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
water, as needed to keep the mixture fluid

1. TOFU SHIRATAKI PREPARATION: Remove noodles from package and drain. Run under water for 30-40 seconds, lifting and separating. Place noodles on a plate and microwave for about one minute (this parboils them). Remove from microwave and wash under running water again. Drain.
2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet (large enough to hold all of the mixture) melt the butter. Add arugula and spinach and stir over medium heat until greens are cooked. Add tofu shirataki noodles and stir to combine.
3. Add the sour cream, cream, goat cheese, herbs and cayenne. Stir to combine and continue heating over low heat. Add shredded Parm, salt and pepper to taste and add water to the pan if it’s thicker than you want. Serve immediately. Makes enough for a side dish, not a main dish.
Per Serving: 193 Calories; 16g Fat (66.2% calories from fat); 13g Protein; 6g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 44mg Cholesterol; 432mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, Healthy, on August 5th, 2012.


The title is a little bit of a misnomer – it really should be something like Buttermilk Peach Sorbet, or Buttermilk Peach Ice or maybe Peach Sherbet. Not a name with “cream” in the title since there isn’t any cream in it. But we lump all kinds of these frozen confections under “ice cream”  whether they’re made with cream or milk or whatever.

If peaches are still in season around your home, do make an effort to go get some gorgeously ripe peaches, peel them and briefly cook them in a little water, then freeze packets of it. You can then make summery ice cream any month of the year. I just hate to take up valuable freezer space with frozen peaches. My freezer is something of a problem – it’s FULL. And I mean FULL. I could probably get a few frozen chicken breasts in there, and maybe a few very flat things. But that’s about it. I am trying, really I am – to defrost and eat things out of the freezer but then I find some new thing that has to go in there. If I had a full-on stand-alone freezer in the garage it would probably be full too. I need a 12-step program for me and my freezer problem. Want to start one?

Anyway, back to this dessert. The recipe came from Rick Rodgers. I’ve had it for several years, I think, but hadn’t gotten around to making it. But with peaches on the kitchen counter, well, this is what I did with them. I DO want you to read the nutritional info about this recipe – it’s really super low calorie and has a TRACE of fat in a serving. Is that great, or what?

If you’re expecting this to taste rich and creamy like HäagenDazs, it won’t be. It’s more like ice milk. I think you need to be “of a certain age” to remember ice milk. My mother used to buy it all the time (this would have been the 1950’s) when I was growing up, but I don’t think I’ve seen it in years. I read online that it went “out” in the 1960’s when low-fat milk was produced. My dad had a passion for ice cream in any way, shape or form. In his 80’s he had to start eating sugar-free, but he still loved it. We all kidded him because after eating a small bowl (my mother would never serve a big bowl of it) he’d systematically scrape his spoon up the sides, from the bottom center and up, all the way around, until he’d made a full circle. My dad was an engineer, so we’re not talkin’ a few scrapes, I mean maybe 20-30 per bowl. To get every single, solitary, last drop. If there’s a gene for ice cream, I’ve at least inherited some of his passion for the stuff. I try not to indulge, but I do. This recipe makes it a heck of a lot better for me/us.

Wanting to make this particular one more eating-friendly for my diabetic hubby, I made it with half Splenda. I DID use the 1/2 cup of brown sugar, though, in the mixture, because brown sugar has a unique caramel-like taste and I’d never thought about using brown sugar with peaches. It’s a match made in heaven, I’m telling you!

It’s a simple recipe to make – don’t forget to add the almond extract – that’s also a little bit different, and I loved the taste of it. It’s not overpowering but just adds another layer of flavor. The recipe indicates you can make this without an ice cream machine. I did use mine, and when it first came out it was soft in texture, but once frozen for a few hours it was almost rock hard. So my only suggestion about this recipe is: let it sit out for about 20+ minutes before trying to scoop it. That’s what I had to do to get the photo up top. If you’re willing to eat a more icy type “ice cream,” and want the low in fat and calorie type, this may be a new favorite for you. Given the choice of this and full fat, well, of course the full-fat has better flavor, but if you want to cut back, give this one a try.

What I liked: the brown sugar and almond extract add great layers of flavor in this. Just don’t expect it to be soft, scoop-able like ice cream – it’s more icy or sherbet-like. We loved it. Next time I am going to add 2 T. of Peach Pucker Schnapps to the mixture (any alcohol added to home made ice cream helps with the scooping ability), not only for the softness aspect of it, but also to add even more flavor (although it doesn’t really need it – it’s full of peachy flavor as it is).

What I didn’t like: having to let it defrost for 20+ minutes is a bit of a nuisance, that’s all. Otherwise, nothing.

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Peach-Buttermilk Ice Cream

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Rick Rodgers’ website
Serving Size: 10
NOTES: Can be done without an ice cream machine – freeze a 9 x 13-inch metal baking pan. An ice cream maker gives the best results, but you can make it in the freezer if you wish. (The texture will be somewhat gritty, but it will taste fine.) The Schnapps in the recipe isn’t really needed – but next time I make this I’ll put it in because it may help with the scooping – once this freezes solid it’s rock hard.

2 pounds peaches — ripe (4-6 depending on size)
1/2 cup granulated sugar — (I used Splenda)
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups buttermilk
2 tablespoons Peach Pucker Schnapps — (this is my suggestion – not in the original)

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the peaches and cook just until the skins loosen, about 1 minute. (If the skins are stubborn, the peaches aren’t as ripe as you thought, so remove them and pare off the skin with a sharp knife.) Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a large bowl of iced water and let stand until cool enough to handle. Discard the skin and pits and coarsely chop the peaches. Transfer to a food processor.
2. Add the sugar, brown sugar, lemon juice, vanilla, the almond extract and purée. (If using Peach Pucker Schnapps, add that into the bowl too.) Transfer to a large bowl. Stir in the buttermilk.
3. Transfer to the container of an ice machine and process according to the manufacturer’s directions. Pack the ice cream into an airtight container, cover and freeze for at least 2 hours to allow the ice cream to ripen and harden before serving. Leave out at room temp for about 20+ minutes to get it soft enough to scoop, as it freezes rock hard.
Per Serving: 131 Calories; trace Fat (3.2% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 31g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 2mg Cholesterol; 56mg Sodium.

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