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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 Restaurants, Travel, on May 18th, 2022.

The second installment of my trip pictures, this one focusing on Nashville. Above is a “selfie spot” so designated with a sign in one of the atriums at the Opry Hotel.

A post from Carolyn. Once we landed in Nashville, we took a van to downtown, to a lovely hotel, the Thompson, in The Gulch. The Gulch got its name from its roots as a busy railroad yard dating to before the Civil War, which included a roundhouse (where rail cars were repaired), a coal yard and a paint shop in subsequent years. Nashville (downtown) is a little bit hilly, so it would seem logical it would be a good place for a railroad yard. Now it’s a bustling and thriving part of downtown Nashville, filled with shops, restaurants and hotels.

That’s one of the water features, in the third atrium at the Grande Olde Opry Hotel. 

One of the days there several of us went out to the Grand Olde Opry. It was interesting to hear the history about the Opry. The Opry music venue used to be in the heart of town, then it moved a bit further (a few blocks, really) to an old church. The neighborhood didn’t like the noise, so they moved further away, and now they’re about 15+ miles out of town. where they’ve built a very impressive auditorium and a huge, HUGE hotel. Since I’m not into country music, the others went on a tour of the Opry itself, and Dylan and I walked over to the hotel, about 1/2 mile away on a marked walking path. We took our time meandering through the hotel atriums, pausing here and there to take pictures. There are stores and food in various places in the atriums also.

The hotel, The Gaylord Opryland Hotel has 2888 rooms. Beyond imagination. If you can picture three sort-of elongated ovals, and each oval has a huge fully glassed-in atrium, 4-5 stories high. And of course, room windows face into the atriums. Each atrium was different. The third one, probably the largest, actually has a river flowing around inside it and you can take rides on a boat around the island in the center. Each atrium has wide catwalks so you can see everything from a bird’s eye view. I took dozens and dozens of photos there, but I thought two to show you were sufficient.

Our first night in Nashville all of us gathered for a very special dinner at a steak restaurant just down the street from the hotel, Kayne Prime. We had a delicious dinner there with several bottles of wine enjoyed by all. I had a wagyu filet mignon. Kayne’s is similar to Morton’s, in that you order a cut of meat, and nothing comes with it – you have to order sides. We had several, but the highlight of the meal – to me – were the popovers, which were served piping hot several times over the course of our meal.

Before we sat down, however, we waited in the bar area and I asked the waiter – – so, I’m not really a connoisseur of bourbon, though I like it, so which one should I try? He said, I have just the one. That’s it above right. Served in a highball glass with a very large, clear ice cube in it. Belle Meade. So very smooth and easy to drink. I nursed it all through dinner. I liked it so much I went to Total Wine the other day and bought a bottle of Belle Meade, Reserve. I don’t know if I had the reserve, or the regular, so I splurged and bought reserve. There, on the left are the corks from the bottles of wine we enjoyed. The Illumination Quintessa (a white) was delightful.  So was the Crown  Point (red), and the BV (red), and the last one (also a red) I can’t remember what it was (I’d had enough wine at that point). Julian ordered a cheese platter at the end, and I thoroughly enjoyed a few bites – WITH some torn pieces of popover to go with them. Oh my goodness, was that special. I liked it so much I bought a new popover pan the other day, a nonstick one, so maybe I can make them occasionally. I used to have a popover pan, but it was not a nonstick and I had numerous problems with it over the years so I’d given it away. I read with my new one, not to put it in the dishwasher as it might remove the nonstick surface. Seems illogical, but several amazon customers commented on it.

The other day we were in Nashville I went on a food tour. I’d signed up for it online several weeks before the trip. It was great fun. We met at a central location (I took a Lyft to and from my hotel) and 13 of us piled into a big van and off we went. First we stopped at a place called the donut distillery. Huh, we all said? It’s a thing in Nashville. The distillery and brewery combo serves home made donuts (one of them with a whiskey glaze – see the right hand donut in the photo – my favorite). In the daytime, more mornings, I’d guess, they make donuts. And then as the day moves on, it’s more of a brew pub and bar with food (donuts notwithstanding). Back into the van and we stopped at Christie’s Cookie Co. It’s distinction is that they make the famous cookie given away at Doubletree Hotels. We trooped through the storefront and could choose a cookie. I tried the TCB (triple chocolate blondie).

We passed by the high school where Oprah graduated, stopped at the downtown Farmer’s Market and had some pulled pork on grits. Also stopped at Martin’s BBQ, so they said, it’s the #1 barbecue joint in Nashville. We tried a rib, some brisket with various types of barbecue sauces, and some hush puppies. After this trip, I’ve decided I’m not much of a fan of hush puppies. If any place should make them well, it would be in the south, right? I had them several times, and never really warmed-up to them (too dry).

Once back at our starting point, we were served teeny-tiny little glasses of moonshine and bourbon. The straight moonshine (left) was gosh-awful. I don’t know how anybody could drink that stuff. The next one was a Apple Pie Moonshine. Hey what, you say? Yes, well, it’s moonshine they’ve added some kind of sweetener to and apple pie spices. It was quite nice (I bought a little bottle of it). The next one was a not-very-aged bourbon. Ehh. Then the far right was a specialty liqueur sold at the little distillery where the tour originates – it’s a take on Kahlua, they call it Mo Cocoa Joe. It was nice, but I have Kahlua in my liquor cabinet already.

The drink I liked the best (which they served us after our tasting above), is pictured below right. A drink called a bushwacker. It’s a rum-based drink (so nothing whatsoever to do with bourbon and moonshine distilleries in Tennessee). It’s a frozen blender drink with a bunch of different things in it.

It’s refreshing – I liked it enough that I went onto Google to look for a recipe:

Bushwacker: 2 ounces dark rum, 1 ounce coffee liqueur (such as Kahlúa), 1 ounce dark creme de cacao, 2 ounces whole milk, 1 ounce cream of coconut (such as Coco Lopez), garnish: nutmeg, freshly grated.

I have yet to make one since I got home, but there’s one in my future sometime. Definitely a hit on a warm day and it was one that day in Nashville. If any of you have gotten this far in the reading, congratulations! I’ll continue the Nashville saga in another post.



Posted in Restaurants, Travel, wine, on May 16th, 2022.

Probably I’ll break up the photos from this trip into sections as I’m going to post plenty of pictures, and you’ll get bored with them all.

I’m lucky enough to have a distant relative (through my daughter-in-law Karen) who needed to take a business trip. Julian decided to take a private plane and not go commercial, and he invited 5 others of  us to go along to his business destinations. At left, here I was, ready to go when a couple, Patti & Bruce, that I’ve known for some years also, who live near me, and were also invited on the trip. They came by to pick me up as we wended our way north (by car) to Santa Ynez (central coast wine country here in California). We drove there the day before our flight, spent the night with Julian and his family, then we were up early the next morning to catch the first leg, Santa Maria to Denver.

So there’s a story to tell about the glass of wine at left. Julian enjoys good wine. That’s a bit of an understatement, really. He enjoys fine wine. I took two bottles with me from my DH’s cellar, two reds. One got poured down the drain (over the hill, even though it had been a good bottle at one time) and the other one was nice enough, from 2005. When Julian flies, he likes to drink from crystal glasses, so he lugs along a special padded case with his heavy, Irish crystal glasses. That was the view from my seat, with fine red wine as we headed toward Denver. This was by far the best glass of wine we had on the trip, a Stag’s Leap 2017 Fay. Julian shared it with all of us.

As it happens, I have good friends, Sue & Lynn (top right), who live in Denver. There are a number of Sue’s recipes here on my blog, and my DH Dave and I visited them (and I have driven there myself in 2015 a year after Dave passed away) where they live in Morrison, a hilly town about 15 miles SW of Denver. We took off from Santa Maria and flew 2 hours to a regional airport a bit NW of downtown Denver, in Broomfield. Sue and Lynn drove their car out on the tarmac and met us at the plane. As it happened Lynn knew Patti from their business careers. Small world! At right is a picture of Dylan, another one of the guests on the trip, as we were getting ready to board.

They took me back to their home, and I spent 2 days and 2 nights with them. We went out to dinner to a Czech restaurant in Morrison, Cafe Prague. What a great meal we enjoyed there – I’d go back there anytime! Sue and I both had chicken schnitzel. The next day I went to church with them, then we took a lovely drive up into the mountains. Later Sue prepared a fabulous dinner with lemon chicken. I have the recipe and will need to make it and take pictures to post. The next morning we drove up to Boulder, a special trip there, for us to go shopping at Peppercorn, an independent kitchenware store there. If you’re a cook, you have to go there if you’re ever in Boulder. This was my third visit to that store. And yes, I bought something, a gift. I didn’t buy anything for myself. If I’d had more time, there’s no question I would have found some things to buy. We only had 45 minutes and I barely made it around all the aisles in that period of time.

After Boulder, they delivered me back to the airport in Broomfield, to head to Nashville. We enjoyed a beautiful smoked salmon platter, among other things, on the flight. And did I mention wine? Yes, more wine.

This trip was quite a thrill. The flights were so quiet and peaceful, as we flew at 45,000 feet altitude, always. No bumps. The pilots avoided all the weather events going on far below us.

More in a day or two when I’ve downloaded more of the photos.

Posted in Restaurants, Travel, on July 17th, 2015.

Image result for sonoma images

On my driving trip to Northern Cal, I stayed just one night in Sonoma. It’s a very cute little town – there’s a photo I found online at, of the main square or plaza. My B&B was about a block off to the top right – so easy to walk into town. Sonoma still retains its old world charm and almost frontier character. I wasn’t there for the wine – my darling DH was probably chiding me from heaven to have me stop at this or that winery, but I wasn’t there to do tasting or buying, especially since it was summer (hot) and any wine would have to stay in the car for the next several days (not good). There’s a special table/décor store on the plaza (top at the center) that I wanted to visit, but it was closed by the time I walked there, and I left too early the next morning to do any shopping.

table_cottage_innHere’s a photo of the table in my room at the Cottage Inn and Spa, where I stayed. The B&B is a combination of two old Spanish homes, side by side, with just charmingly decorated rooms. I stayed in the Courtyard Suite, a small but cozy room with a tiny but well outfitted kitchen and a view (if my door was left open) of the courtyard and fountain.

Breakfast was delivered (a pretty covered basket) to a hook outside my door and I made a good pot of coffee to go with it. Very nice.

The little B&B has one distinction – there is only one room with a TV. I read my book and slept like a log.

I asked for a recommendation for dinner and they sent me to the #1 Trip Advisor result, Café La Haye, which is just off the main plaza by about 60 paces. I went early and had a fabulous meal. I put together the photos in a collage – see below.


My dinner comprised two different small dishes – the beet salad on a bed of crème fraiche (I think) and topped with a lovely mound of dressed greens. It was to die for. I sat at a bar (see 2nd picture, small bar at bottom right) that overlooked the kitchen.

My 2nd course was toasted polenta slices (that were very moist) on a bed of something (can’t recall) and topped with shaved fennel and onions and a lovely sauce. I nearly licked the plate clean.

Then I splurged and had their rum raisin gelato/ice cream which was meant to go with a special dessert, but they ran out of the dessert, so I just had the gelato. Oh my, delicious.

When I left, it was still early, so I took a long stroll around all the stores on the perimeter of the plaza. I looked in windows, and browsed inside if the stores were open (some were). The town was busy with visitors and locals.

A charming town. I enjoyed my B&B and my dinner.

Posted in Restaurants, on January 9th, 2015.


Looking at that you might not know what “heaven in a bun” is contained inside. I mean to tell you, this croissant is something that’s beyond ethereal and as good, if not better, than any croissant I’ve ever eaten. It’s not a regular savory croissant, obviously, but a sweet one, and worth every single calorie!

If you don’t live in Orange County, CA, you might want to pass on by this post. You’re going to miss out – sorry. But if you DO live here, then you must, you simply MUST, go to Rendez Vous, right on PCH, in Corona del Mar. It’s worthy of a side trip. Worthy of an adventure if you live within 50 miles or so.

almond_latteLearning about the place was easy after I was given a sample of this marvel of pastry. I was having dinner with some of my extended family (they live near this place) and I ate a bite. Then another. And yet another. Then I was sent home with half a one. A few weeks later I was having dinner with them again, and there were more tastes of this for dessert. I determined, right then and there, that I needed to visit the bakery/café all on my own. So I asked my friend Cherrie to meet me – she’s always game for a new adventure. We went in the early morning – about 9:30. I ordered one of the croissants for each of us – intending that I’d eat half and take the other half home. In fact, I recommended to Cherrie that she do the same. Can you guess? We both ate the whole thing. We just couldn’t seem to help ourselves. They do have regular croissants, and I think they have almond croissants too, but this one, the one with chocolate AND almonds (in a kind of almond cream) is the one to order.

croissant_definedAlong with it I wanted some coffee. I went up to the counter (picture below) and asked which coffee drink I should order. Without hesitation, the guy said “the almond latte.” Okay, fine with me. Oh my gosh! See the photo at right? It was an almond flavored latte, AND it had that mound of almond-flavored chantilly cream on top. I shudder to think of the calories. I drank it all. It was absolutely divine.

The café (it’s small) has bread (Cherrie and I also bought a baguette they kindly cut in half for us), savory and sweet crepes, sandwiches, and desserts. I haven’t tried any of those yet, but I’ll be going back to try some.

I heard that they make a Buche de Noel log, and my extended family had one from there for Christmas Day dinner (I was in San Diego that day) and they gave it 4 stars. Or 10 stars. A blue ribbon event anyway. I don’t even remember all the other things in their chilled case or on the extensive menu up top, but they have lots of variety, that’s for sure. My only advice – if you want this pastry, go early in the day because whatever they make that day, that’s it. There was only one of those croissants left after my friend Cherrie and I ordered ours.


The café does not have a website. It’s owned by a French couple from Provence. Don’t be confused by a restaurant called Rendezvous in Newport Beach – they’re different. Or with the Le Rendez-Vous in Oceanside. This is the bakery/café across and just down the street (and across PCH) from Five Crowns, and a door or two away from Vin Goat, the sublime cheese shop. Parking can sometimes be a problem – check the back or go onto the nearby side streets. It’s well worth the effort.

Rendez Vous Café & Bakery

3330 East Coast Highway (also known as PCH, Pacific Coast Highway)

Corona Del Mar, CA 92625 (just south of Newport Beach if you don’t know the area)

(949) 791-8730

Posted in Restaurants, Travel, on August 27th, 2014.


Have you ever been to this Smithsonian? The picture shows the atrium of the American Art Museum (also the Portrait Gallery). On the left is a fascinating pool of water, yet you can step right on/in it and you’re just standing on more of the floor. Little tiny jets push water up and over 3 such pools in the atrium. I may have been more intrigued with that than I was with everything in the museum itself.

This museum happened to be across the street from the hotel where we stayed on our second part of our D.C. trip. We were there for 3 nights and 2 days. Sabrina had almost back-to-back interviews with people, so I found some things to do that didn’t tax my foot too much. After walking around in this museum from top to bottom (3 floors, I think it was) I just happened to spot the water out in the atrium, through a window and went to investigate. I sat out in this atrium for about an hour reading my Kindle, basking in the cool air and listening to the tiny trickle of water. Children could play in


the water, they could run up and down the pools, shoes on or off. Each pool of water had but about 1/4 inch of water in it. Interesting feat of engineering.

We weren’t able to get into the Willard Hotel on our 2nd trip to D.C. as there was a huge international conference in town, so we stayed a few blocks away at a Kimpton. I was unimpressed. It must have once been an office building (old) as the hallways were about 10-feet wide. And the bathrooms were  kind of add-ins to the rooms.

shake_shack_burgerOne of the days Sabrina asked if we could eat at a “Shake Shack.” I’d never heard of them. Although, as we walked by it the first day, there were probably 40 people in line outside the place. Really, I thought? The next day we were having a late lunch and the line was way down to do-able. I ordered a burger with bacon. Sabrina wanted to order a shake, and thought she had, but they gave her chocolate ice cream. She wasn’t about to wait in line again, so we shared that. The burger was good, I must admit. Exceptional? Well, I’m not a connoisseur, so I’m not sure. It was tasty, though.

Our last night we went to a fantastic restaurant – Zaytinya. It’s Greek, Turkish and Lebanese, and they serve everything tapas style. We went with Powell’s best friend Doug (the one who works for the Consumer Electronics Institute), his wife (the one who zaytinya_interiorworks for Homeland Security – I made sure to sit next to her so I could ask her lots of questions about her job – most of which she couldn’t answer), and their son. They frequent this restaurant, so we just let her order for all of us. It was amazing food. If I ever go back to D.C. this will be the first stop for dinner. It’s just a block from the museum above, which was across the street from our hotel, so it was really close and easy.

I can’t begin to tell you what we had – the only thing I really remember was a teeny, tiny little lamb-filled pasta – each little orb was about the size of a pencil eraser. Tender? Oh my yes. Full of flavor too. It’s not on the menu, but regulars know to ask. Everything we ate was terrific.

The next morning was our journey home: we got up at 4:15 am in order to leave the hotel at 4:45 to get to the Baltimore Airport in time for a 6:45 takeoff. We flew to San Francisco (remember, Powell upgraded all of us to first class, yippee!), then to Orange County. Arrived about 1pm west coast time. That evening we all went out to dinner with the extended family (Sabrina’s mom drove up to pick her up) and we talked and talked about the trip. It was great. All of it. Thanks to Powell who arranged it all. I was so glad to be home. My own bed felt wonderful. A few days after we got home I saw a podiatrist who gave me a shot of cortisone in my heel. It’s better. Not exactly fine – far from it – but at least I can go grocery shopping or take some similar kinds of walks each day and not end up in pain by afternoon. I’m taking Aleve every day and that helps too. My physical therapist tells me it could be as long as 10 months for it to heal. The dr. took x-rays and said it’s likely a torn plantar fascia or a very badly stretched one. No broken bones. I didn’t think so.

And since I haven’t talked about my grief process lately, I’ll just add that since I came home from this last trip, I’ve felt better. I’m more comfortable in my single-self. In my empty bed. In my quiet house. I don’t have to have music or the TV on anymore to feel okay. I’m still very, VERY busy, which is a good thing. The 5-month anniversary of Dave’s death was last week, and I just kept busy that day and tried not to think about it. I did talk to Dave’s ashes, in the box in the bedroom – I held the box and shed a few tears, but afterwards I was okay. I’m finally getting a better handle on all the records the attorney needs and am able to get them done (monthly) without too much difficulty now. Now that Quicken and I have come to an understanding.

My outdoor kitchen is still waiting for a couple of things to get finished, but it’s been too darned hot to entertain out there anyway. I am going to have a small get-together with a group of my girlfriends – most of them know one another. That’s in a couple of weeks. I’m going to make things that are already on my blog, but I’ll tell you about it when it happens. My sweet friend Nina, who has done my pedicures for years, is going to come and help me. She likes to cook and offered to come. That way I won’t over-tax my foot and she’ll do some serving and clean-up for me. I’ve never had anyone do that except at a couple of really important events years and years ago. Without Dave to help me do some of the set-up and dishes, cleaning the patio, setting tables, etc., entertaining a big group is overwhelming to me right now. So I’ll see how this works out!

Posted in Restaurants, Travel, on August 20th, 2014.


The view from our 30th floor room and aerie at the Intercontinental near Times Square. To have this clear view, this clear shot, all the way to the Hudson, well, wow is all I can say. One evening while Powell & Sabrina went out walking,  I turned off all the lights in the room and just sat and watched the activity. Couldn’t hear any of the street noise as the windows didn’t open, but I enjoyed just looking at that vista. (And I must admit that I shed a tear that my darling DH wasn’t there beside me.) Powell upgraded the room for us, which was very nice of him to do! I paid for Sabrina’s and my trip, food, hotels, etc., and her mom and dad chipped in some money as well.

Before I do anything else, I need to explain why we took this trip. It wasn’t just a tourist thing with my granddaughter. Powell, my son, Sabrina’s uncle, works in finance, mostly with bonds and audits, and he travels to NYC and DC for a week of meetings every couple of weeks. One family get-together a few months ago, Sabrina asked him “so, uncle, what IS it you do on these trips?” He explained in some detail and then said “want to go with me sometime?” She said YES and I piped up with “I’ll go along as chaperone.” A trip was born.

At first Powell thought he’d just have Sabrina shadow him as he did his work, where he went, sitting in on meetings here and there, but I think he realized that wasn’t going to work. She’d be bored to tears part of the time, and for many of his meetings it wouldn’t be appropriate for her to be there. So, Powell decided to set up short meetings with people he knows in all walks of business. The purpose was twofold: (1) just the process of an “interview” or a “meeting” would be good experience for Sabrina; and (2) she would be exposed to a lot of different professions out there in the big world of business. She says she wants to be a large animal veterinarian, but I think Powell hoped he’d sway her to consider some other professions. She met with two people who work in Powell’s office in New York, one a young woman doing an internship, I think. The other a counterpart of Powell’s. She met with one of Powell’s customers, a woman attorney who has a 12-year old daughter and was just tickled pink to spend half an hour with Powell’s niece, talking careers. One other person is a DC lobbyist (in the water conservation area), one works for a senator, another is a higher-up with the Consumer Electronics Institute; his wife works for Homeland Security (I wished I could have been a little gnat sitting on Sabrina’s shoulder when she had that short tour and meeting).

At each and every interview (Sabrina did 8 altogether) she had to do a little presentation. The homework, most of which she did at home before the trip, was to research each person, find out where they grew up, where they went to school, what their degree(s) were in, what kind of jobs they’ve held, then she had to come up with 3 questions (unique to all 8 people) about them. So, for instance (and I’m totally making up this one), she would ask “so you did your undergrad at Columbia and got a degree in Math, but then you did your MBA at Yale in Economics. How or why did you transition into politics after you graduated?” She impressed all of them with what she’d done (almost all the background info was online – I think Facebook had a major presence in her homework – but the questions were really interesting) and all of the people were happy to talk about themselves and their career paths. She had to wear appropriate business clothes, which was a challenge. She didn’t have a suit, but did wear a black blazer over her very cute business-like knit dresses she and her mom picked out.

decadent_doughnutSo, on her 2nd day of interviews she met a woman at Dean & DeLuca, the food store and restaurant (bakery?) near Times Square. Her uncle gave her instructions – after your meeting with this person, order two of these doughnuts and take them back to the hotel and give one to Grandma. She did exactly that. The photo at left shows two of them stuck together. You might not think these are anything special. You’d be dead wrong. Below you can see the munched-on version: coconut cream filled double glazed raised doughnut. OMGosh.donut_DnD If you are ever in NYC and want a decadent treat, have one of these. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Now, I do like raised doughnuts over cake type, and I didn’t know that I liked coconut cream so much, but I DO! Whether these are available at all of their stores, I don’t know. This thing was incredible.

Sabrina had several things she really, really really wanted to do in NYC. First on the list was a stop at Tiffany’s. She’s not a jewelry person tiffany_NYCparticularly, but she wanted to get something that said she’d “been there,” so on our last afternoon we took the subway (middle of the day, so she was willing to go!) and walked a few blocks of 5th Avenue. She bought a lovely necklace and ring by Paloma Picasso. She got advanced birthday and Christmas money gifts from several family members so she could do that, and Grandma chipped in just a little bit extra. And she wanted her picture taken in front of Tiffany’s. Ticked that one off the list. She also wanted to see Times Square at night (Powell ticked that one) and to walk in Central Park. Well, we had a difficult time with that one, although she and I walked on the outside of the park for a few blocks going to Tiffany’s. I told her she could go walk a bit inpizza_nyc the park and I’d park myself on a bench, but she didn’t want to go alone, I guess, and my foot was giving me lots of difficulty that day. But her uncle did walk her a bit into the park one evening, as I mentioned, but only about 100 feet. She wanted some New York pizza, so on one of the days we stopped into a proto-typical NY pizzeria – you wound through a line to get to the 4-5 pizzas they had on offer and you ordered one or two slices. They had a few other Italian specialties (spaghetti and meatballs) but we just got pizza and a soft drink. It wasn’t spectacular, but at least she had some there and could tick that one off her list too. We ticked them all, thank goodness.

gramercy_foyerOur last night in NYC we went out to dinner. Powell had asked me many months ago if there was any special place I’ve really wanted to go. Immediately, I said Gramercy Tavern. The picture at left is the little foyer area. In years past I’d tried to make reservations there, to no avail. They’re always booked. The travel agency Powell uses was finally able to get us a table, and yes, it was a very special dinner. They only do prix fixe meals, ranging from the vegetarian options at $70+ pp to $109 for the full enchilada. We did the full enchilada. It was glorious. We had several different kinds of meat and lots of vegetables, sides, an amuse bouche as well, a palate cleanser, and then a table laden with desserts, most of which we couldn’t finish so took them back to the hotel. Sabrina and I munched on those for some of the next day.us_at_gramercy The dinner was Powell’s treat to us/me. Thank you, Powell!

There we are at the table. I think this was before we’d really hardly started eating dinner – we were about to dig into the amuse bouche, I believe. I lost track of all the courses we ate. I know we had lobster and duck as separate items. All of it was outstanding. Did I tell you that we had a celebrity sighting while we were there? My son recognized Tory Burch. I know her lines of clothing, handbags, etc. but I’d not have known her face at all. I never did ask Powell how he knew what she looked like. She was seated at a table about 10-12 feet away with a group of very well-dressed women. That was kind of fun!gramercy_flowers

This cute little thing was sitting on the podium at the front of the restaurant. It’s a little 6-pot “thing” that would hold little flowers in clay pots. In this case there were little glasses in each slot and they were filled with herbs and flowers. It was just so cute and fragrant!

Posted in Restaurants, on August 14th, 2014.


This is the front of the Red Rooster in Harlem. When we had dinner there, it was nearly dark. I didn’t even think of trying to take a photo, but it looked just like the above photo which comes from Marcus Samuelsson’s website.

My granddaughter is 16. Very poised. Athletic. Pretty. Thoughtful. A terrific student. A good conversationalist. An ideal roommate in my book! We had so much fun on this trip. After spending 3 nights in D.C. we took the train up to New York City. We checked into our hotel (more on that in my next post) in the Theater District. Sabrina could hardly wait to get out on the streets. She wanted to actually see Times Square. It was just a few blocks away. She might have been a teeny bit disappointed in it by daylight. The crowds were horrendous everywhere. The next evening Powell took her on about a 5-mile walk and she got to see just a tiny bit of Central Park (Powell would only walk about 100 feet into a well-lit area), blocks and blocks of the shops on 5th Avenue, and then ended up in Times Square. At that point I think she felt she’d “been to NYC.”

red_rooster_coasterAnyway, we did some window shopping our first afternoon, then returned to the hotel to change clothes and off we went to dinner. If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time you may remember awhile back I did a review of Marcus Samuelsson’s book Yes, Chef: A Memoir. If you’re at all interested in reading more about it, go to my blog post I wrote in 2012.

Chef Marcus Samuelsson has made a huge name for himself. Born in Ethiopia, he was orphaned at a young age and adopted by a Swedish family, so really, his first language is Swedish. He went to culinary school in Europe, did his stages a couple of places, then aimed for New York. He worked for some years at Aquavit, the very highly acclaimed Swedish restaurant in NYC. I think he produced a cookbook for them as well. Then he began to be noticed, and somehow got himself onto the Food Network and the rest is history, as the saying goes. He’s written 3-4 cookbooks in the last few years (obviously he has help with that) and opened several restaurants around the U.S.  The Red Rooster was first. And what order the rest of them came, I don’t know, but he has one at Lincoln Center in NYC, another at JFK airport, 3 restaurants in Sweden, AND I was blown away – how did this happen – he’s opened a restaurant here in my neck of the woods in California – a place called Marc Burger (both here in Costa Mesa, CA and Chicago). If you want to take a look at all of his restaurants, there’s a list and links on his website. This local one is located inside the Home Store at Macy’s Department Store. Who knew? I sure didn’t. I’m going to have to check it out really soon! Obviously they only serve burgers.

sabrina_union_stationSo, a couple of weeks before the trip I went online and made a reservation for the Red Rooster. Since it’s located in Harlem, I decided we should go early, so I had no difficulty booking a table at 5:30. Sabrina and I took the subway – her first adventure on the underground transportation system. Let me just say for the record – she didn’t like it. Not any of it. On one of our subway trips we had to change to another line at Union Station, so we actually exited out of the subway (meaning we had to pay again to go back to the subways) just so she could see the big, monstrous main hall at Union Station. She thought that was ever so cool.

Anyway, we navigated ourselves north to Harlem. Once we exited at our stop, and emerged into the streets, there was the Red Rooster about 100 feet away. So very easy. During dinner Sabrina said, “uhm, Grandma, could we, pretty please, take a taxi back to the hotel after dinner?” I said sure – $50 later. But oh well, if it made her happy! It did.

redroosterNow, down to dinner. Red Rooster has an all-Southern (American) menu, and Sabrina and I had such fun choosing. We both had a drink – mine with alcohol (that I didn’t like – it had some kind of bitters in it and it was very bitter, too bitter) but Sabrina had some kind of fancy non-alcoholic one they concocted for her. She loved hers. Here are the photos from our evening at Red Rooster. Sabrina ordered mac ‘n cheese with bacon and greens (absolutely fabulous – I had 2 bites – rich, but smooth and a great combo of cheeses). I ordered shrimp and grits, one of my favorites and this one was every bit as good as my own recipe, which you can read here on my blog.

For dessert we ordered a cobbler – I think it was peaches, served with vanilla ice cream, a side of whipped cream and a berry coulis to pour over the top. Oh my goodness, was that ever delicious. We ate every bite, I think, with me scraping the side of the gratin dish.

In doing the research for this post, I went to amazon and discovered that Marcus is just about to publish his latest cookbook, Marcus Off Duty: The Recipes I Cook at Home. It’s out in October. I ordered 2 – one for me and one for Sabrina. She likes to cook, so maybe it’ll be her first cookbook that’s truly her own. Marcus has written several cookbooks – just search his name on amazon and you’ll find them all. Now, my next thing is to go to the MarcBurger that’s right here in my area. I can’t quite visualize a restaurant in the middle of a department store kitchenware area. I’ll let you know . . .

Posted in Restaurants, Travel, on July 8th, 2011.


When we flew to Denver recently, we visited and stayed with our friends, Sue and Lynn (left) who live in Morrison, a foothills suburb of Denver. They’ve been friends for years, having moved last fall from where we live in California, to Denver, to be closer to their daughter Megan (who reads my blog – hi, Megan), their grandchildren, Lynn’s parents and sister and family.

We stayed in Sue and Lynn’s lovely new home, enjoyed many a delicious meal (and some of Sue’s recipes will be posted in coming days), sat many hours out on their superb deck, watching for deer and fawn, sipping on Colorado wine and Bombay Sapphire Gin and Tonics. It was warm while we were there, but it’s so dry – we didn’t notice the high temperatures so much.

For two of the days the four of us drove up into the Rockies. That’s when we saw this:


I think it looks like a postcard. So beautiful. It was really pleasant temperature-wise, and the snow was melting away (very late this year, they said). We spent the night in Leadville – an old mining town that’s still a lot like it must have looked like more than 100+ years ago.


We spent the night at a cute Victorian bed and breakfast in Leadville: The McGinnis Cottage. Rooms are very small (and I mean really small), and the bed was just so-so. The house is cute, though, with lots of interesting history. The owner is charming and helpful. We had dinner in town at a really good Italian restaurant, Zichittella’s. I don’t remember what other people ordered, but I got a crusted chicken dish, kind of like chicken Parmesan, and it was delicious. It was good enough that if we went back to Leadville ever, I’d go there again. It’s a good family friendly restaurant.

Picnik collage

One of the days we visited, we went into downtown Denver to a spectacular restaurant:


1431 Larimer St. (Larimer Square)

Denver, CO 80202

303 820-2282

We took Sue and Lynn there for lunch and enjoyed sandwiches, salads and I ordered a kind of charcuterie plate. My DH ordered a lamburger.  The food was outstanding. The service was excellent. I’d recommend it to anyone – anytime. It’s not inexpensive, but we thought it worth the cost, no question!vail_street

Our second day out on our road trip with Sue and Lynn, we stopped in Vail for lunch. I don’t recall the name of the restaurant, but it was open (not all Vail restaurants are open during the summer – the off season). We sat outside on their patio and enjoyed a very lovely meal.

This was the picture from our table. It’s located in one of the Vail hotels, on a side street.

More stories to come.

A year ago: Chicken Breasts with Apricot Onion Pan Sauce

Three years ago: Onion Pepper Marmalade

Posted in Restaurants, Travel, on August 26th, 2010.


When I began planning the trip to Britain, I spent countless hours researching online – not just places to stay, sites to see, but also restaurants. Some locations didn’t have much. More and more I seem to rely on Trip Advisor. That compendium of updated information provided only by users. About places ‘round the world. Its amazing, really, when you think about it, that one can do so much travel planning online now.

Many hotels we visited had Trip Advisor decals in their windows (a good sign). Or they had photocopied write-ups from Trip Advisor. And many of the hotel sites I visited had a mention of Trip Advisor within. I must go online and submit new additions to the sites where we really enjoyed our stay. There was only one hotel (in the Lake District) that I probably won’t write up somehow. And there was really nothing wrong with it – the owners were nice. But our room was damp. Towels didn’t dry overnight, and the little bit of hand washing I did took 2 full days to dry. Not problems the owners can do much about, I don’t suppose. So, it’s better to just not mention that one.

Anyway, back to restaurants . . . I did make dinner reservations in several places we visited. The tourist season was busy, and I thought it might be difficult to get reservations, particularly if we selected a popular place. Such was the case with our last night in Britain. We turned in our rental car at Heathrow, got checked into our Marriott hotel there, and then we took the tube into London. We’ve sight-seen in London countless times and had decided not to stay there on this trip.

So when researching what we’d do our last night, I went online (of course) and checked-out London restaurants. We’ve been to many of the better restaurants (although not the River Cafe) in London. We didn’t take dressy clothes on this trip. Dave absolutely refused to take a sport coat, so I didn’t want to embarrass us or others by going to a fine dining establishment in inappropriate clothes. I read about Fifteen London, Jamie Oliver’s restaurant in downtown London. Where he (and the professionals on staff) train (for free but paid for by Oliver’s foundation set up for this purpose) about 20 underprivileged young people (adults, though) how to be chefs. Not just cooks, but real chefs. They train for 11 months, when they graduate and go on to get their own jobs, hopefully. They’d just graduated the class of 2010 a few weeks ago – August is the only month of the year when the meals are created and cooked by the pros/teachers.

Whether I didn’t notice, or I made the decision to go there anyway, I don’t know, but I didn’t remember how expensive it would be. Fifteen has two restaurants – a more casual trattoria and a downstairs dining room. The latter, a set menu for 60 pounds per person is where I’d made the reservation. The kind of meal you should remember for a lifetime. I hope I do! I took photos with my small point and shoot camera, so I apologize for them not being as clear or precise (or focused) as usual.

We arrived a bit early. Too early to eat, yet not enough time to go do something else. We didn’t know how long it would take to get ourselves into London from the airport, so we allowed ample time.

So, once we got there we sat in the small bar area where people kept streaming in – some in quite dressy clothes – others in very casual clothes. We sat watching the chefs (the professionals were wearing little tight bandana head coverings (black); other kitchen staff were sans head coverings. Multiple languages were punctuating the air. Sous chefs kept going out the door (behind the glasses in photo) and disappearing down below somewhere (the dungeons) to retrieve big huge deep trays of food things (we spotted olives for sure). The walk-in storage refrigerator must be somewhere in the basement.

My drink was a cocktail type – with prosecco, Aperol, soda and an orange slice. Altogether perfect for relaxing on a warm afternoon. Dave had a glass of red wine.

This course may not have been my favorite of the night, but it was certainly right “up there.” Some delicious house made salami with to-die-for focaccia bread with red onion. The bread was just filled with the onion – it was warm, tender, and SO flavorful. The olives were home cured, we’re sure. I didn’t have any of them, but Dave said the large green ones were the best. We also had a small bowl of Spanish olive oil to dip the bread into.

Picnik collage Then they brought us a little amuse-bouche of fresh scallop with pomegranate (and juice) with a tiny drizzle of olive oil and the juice of Japanese limes (top photo left). All in a small Chinese ceramic soup spoon. Altogether amazing flavors.

I didn’t take notes about the wines we had – all unusual and chosen by the wine steward to go with each course. He and Dave had an animated conversation about each and every wine and why the wine was particularly appropriate for the different foods.

Next, I had burratta (second photo down). With a little bit of dark greens, a delish sauce too. You can barely see the cheese on the bottom of the plate. It was, by far, the best burratta I’ve ever had. It had great flavor and oozed just like it’s supposed to. I think they drizzled some balsamic on the plate too, or maybe it was a basil swath – I can’t remember. The greens were dressed and they also perfectly matched to go with the cheese.

Then I ordered a risotto course (third photo down). This was a tasting menu, so portions were small. Otherwise we’ve have never been able to waddle up the steps and out of there.

The risotto was full of red cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese and basil. It was absolutely to die for. Best risotto of that type I’ve ever had. I may try to re-create it here at home. It was that good. And risotto is not hard to make, but I’m not sure exactly what made this one taste so significantly better than others. Probably just the ripest of tomatoes (sweet, ripe) and whole milk mozzie. Anyway, it was superb.

Trying not to make a spectacle of myself taking photos, I didn’t use flash, so I apologize if you have a hard time seeing them. I tried to lighten them up as best I could. This last is the duck breast I ordered. It was served on a bed of very soft polenta, then drizzled with some kind of fig jam or sauce, and buried underneath the duck was a fresh fig. This dish was so good, I couldn’t believe it. And yet, nothing about it was that unusual – the duck was rare, tasty and tender, the fig sauce light and sweet, and the fresh fig was just ripe perfection.

Then they brought dessert. I took a photo of it, but am not including it because I was very disappointed in it. I ordered baked Alaska. They used a small cake round on the bottom, a nice (small) knob of vanilla ice cream, then covered it with sweet meringue. Then they’d browned it with a hand torch, I think. But the meringue was still sticky and overly sweet. After two bites I scraped off the meringue and just ate the ice cream and cake. It was okay. Nothing to remark about, really. But to have had all the other courses (5 if you include the amuse-bouche) be off the charts, I’m fine if the dessert was a “miss.”

Would I go again? Yes I would. To the dining room? Probably not – I’d try the trattoria part just because I’d like to.

Fifteen London

15 Westland Place (about 4 blocks walk from Old Street tube station on the Northern Line)
London N1 7LP, United Kingdom
0871 330 1515 (reservations available online)

Posted in Breads, Restaurants, on July 13th, 2010.

It’s amazing what photo software can do to a picture taken in almost complete darkness! I couldn’t even see the biscuits in my viewfinder, hardly. And yet, even though the photo was taken without flash, hand-held for at least 2 seconds, it came out! So I brightened it up, decreased the yellow saturation, and voila!

Read the rest of this entry »

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