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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 Travel, on October 3rd, 2022.

The beautiful park smack-dab in the middle of Greenville, S.C.

After cooking soups for Sabrina for two days, I finally had one day for myself. One evening I took a walking tour of Greenville, with food, called Thirsty Thursdays Tour (cocktails and appetizers). If you go onto Trip Advisor you can find it easily enough under Attractions for Greenville. We met at 5pm at a nearby hotel/restaurant called Oak & Honey, had one cocktail plus a little appetizer sandwich, as the group of 11 got to know one another. Then we moved on to Sassafras Bistro, where we had THE best shrimp and grits I’ve ever had. What made it so good? Creamy grits, for the first thing, blackened shrimp plus some bubbling bits of pork belly (I think, or else it was chunky bacon), and lastly a creamy, buttery sauce poured over the top. They served us Sangria as the cocktail. As it happened, the night before that I’d taken Sabrina out to dinner, and we went to Sassafras. Had a wonderful meal there and had a delightful waitress.

More of the Falls Park on the Reedy.

After that the group meandered on to Maestro, an Argentinian style restaurant where we had yet another cocktail and this time an empanada with chimichurri sauce. I drank about a quarter of the first three cocktails (some in our group had gulped them all down). I just can’t drink that fast. Another walk down the main street and we came to a cute little French restaurant, Bonjour Main. This was dessert, and we were served a magnificent almond cream filled crepe with strawberry sauce on top. And served a glass of sparkling wine with a few blueberries in the bottom of the glass plus a splash of orange liqueur. I was so topped out I couldn’t drink any of it, but the crepe – oh my was it ever good.

There’s another picture of Falls Park on the Reedy (river). See the fellow down there amongst the rocks? He was doing pushups on one of the flat rocks. Lovely, gorgeous walking paths line both sides of the park. It’s positively lovely. I sat for awhile in the shade watching people (mostly moms with children and people walking their dogs), just enjoying being outdoors. It wasn’t that hot and the humidity was low that day, anyway. Canadian geese have taken up residence in some parts.

I checked out of the B&B and moved into a lovely VRBO home the family had rented for the weekend (a 4-bedroom home, about 1/2 block from where Sabrina lives). The next day, after the rest of the family arrived, Sabrina took us on a tour of her med school (it was a Saturday). We got to see plastic mannikin cadavers, her classroom theaters, the myriad of study rooms (many of them filled with her classmates diligently hitting the books), and their relaxation space.

We had a big family dinner that night (we bought South Carolina barbecue with sides) sitting out on the lovely veranda of the VRBO home. A few mosquitoes, but they didn’t overwhelm us. I took mosquito wipes along and they did the trick.

The next day was the white coat ceremony that was held at an auditorium on the nearby Furman University campus (picture above). We met a bunch of her fellow classmates – and I was amazed in meeting one of her friends who said oh, you’re tastingspoons, right? Shock! Sabrina had shared some of the granola bars with him and he loved them, so she directed him to the blog. Guess I’ll have to post the recipe. There’s a photo of Sabrina with her dad, her brother John, and Sara.

After dinner and another overnight at our VRBO home, we drove north to Blacksburg, Virginia to spend a part of a day with young John, who is a student at Virginia Tech (VTI). We put together an outdoor barbecue at his off-campus housing entertaining area, got to meet some of his friends, which was really nice. So proud of these two young grandchildren. We drove to Roanoke and we all flew home the next day on different flights. I went through Chicago. Packed airplanes. But at least no canceled flights.


Posted in Soups, Travel, on September 22nd, 2022.

That’s my granddaughter’s freezer . . . but I made all those soups – four different kinds.

A post from Carolyn. Last week I spent in Greenville, South Carolina and one day in Blacksburg, Virginia. Daughter Sara (who posts here occasionally) and her husband John, his mother and sister and I flew to S.C. to attend a “white coat ceremony.” Their daughter, Sabrina, my granddaughter, is in medical school at the University of South Carolina/Greenville. She began classes there about 6 weeks ago. First she did EMT training, and now she’s in full-on med school classes requiring lots, lots and lots of studying.

A white coat ceremony is done for nursing students and for med school students (maybe others but I know only of those two). Sabrina was given her white coat to wear when she works at Prisma Hospital, associated with the med school. Families of the 110 students were there (from all over the world, but lots of them from South Carolina). Her undergrad was from Clemson University, 30 minutes away, and that probably helped her get into the med school in Greenville. I think there are three students from California in her class. I removed her last name from the photo, just because it’s the safe thing to do. Can you tell I’m short and she’s tall?

It was a very moving ceremony; so very proud of this sweet girl. So, I flew to Greenville four days earlier than all of the family. I stayed at a B&B about a block away from Sabrina’s apartment. I became a regular at the Publix supermarket down the street, and I spent 2+ days making soup by the gallon. Sabrina spends so much time studying that she doesn’t have much time to cook, so this was my gift to her. If I’d had bigger pots/pans I’d have made double the quantity, but she has a limited repertoire of them, so I made do with her Instant Pot and one other pan.

Since this is a food blog, you probably want to know what I made for her? These soups are favorites of mine. If you haven’t ever made any of these, you’re missing out.

Cabbage Patch Stew – after making the soup with ground beef and veggies, I prepared a batch of mashed potatoes, filled a small snack-sized ziploc with the mashed potatoes and added it inside the main ziploc (quart sized) with the soup in it.

Moroccan Harira Chicken Soup  – chicken soup in a flavorful soup with lentils, rice and garbanzos – this is one of my favorite soups that I make regularly.

Beef, Cheese and Macaroni Stoup – a Rachael Ray recipe I’ve been making for about 20 years or so. This time I made it with Italian sausage.

And lastly my dad’s Lentil Soup – my dad never cooked anything for the family except this soup and grilled burgers and steak. But it’s a regular favorite in my family now (granddaughter Taylor loved it). I used ground beef in it this time, but I often use Italian sausage instead.

There are some more pictures to share, but I’ll do it in the next post. Lots of things to do here at home when you’ve returned from a trip away.

Posted in Travel, on May 28th, 2022.

This last post about my trip is a combo of all three cities (Denver, Nashville & Pittsburgh) – pictures I didn’t upload previously.

A post from Carolyn. The mural above was on the outside of the donut distillery I mentioned in my last post. Such a quirky combination, donuts and bourbon. Can’t say that it’s going to become a “thing” in my life, that’s for sure!

There at left I’m in Boulder – at the adorable shop I just love there, Peppercorn. Squinting into the hazy sunshine. It was cold in Boulder, raining mostly. Love that store.

So, those pretty tulips were in a barrel along one of the side streets in Boulder. So lovely, although it was raining, so I didn’t stick around to admire them further.

Sue and Lynn, my friends that I stayed with, love Peppercorn too. Even Lynn who isn’t much of a cook, particularly, enjoys browsing in Peppercorn. We didn’t get to stay as long as I’d wanted because we had to get to the airport for me to catch the next leg of the trip. And I may have mentioned, since I was a “ride-along” on this trip, someone made it real clear to me – if Julian says we need to be “here” at a certain time, we’d best be there, on time. As it turned out, the plane was late arriving to pick us up, so we could have browsed further in Peppercorn. Next time.

These are more photos from Nashville, the day we went out to The Grande Olde Opry. All of my time was spent walking around in the Opryland hotel nearby, with the magnificent atriums.

At left is the river in the third atrium. At right a shot one of the glass canopies. Did I mention the hotel as 2888 rooms? Astounding number!

It was a little bit humid in the atriums – and it wasn’t a humid day, so I can’t imagine what it would feel like on a hot, summer day when the humidity outside is 90%.

Next we move on to Pittsburgh. The flight was about an hour, if that, and so smooth. When you fly at 45,000 feet altitude, the air is so smooth. The only time we experienced any turbulence (and it was minimal) was as we went down to under 20,000 feet, going through the various weather layers. The pilots did a great job of avoiding any weather.

We stayed downtown at the Fairmont. Lovely hotel, lobby shown at right. We were only IN Pittsburgh for one night. My plan had been to visit the Frick Museum, but when we landed and got into town, all of us went to lunch (photo below right) at a great pizza restaurant a couple of blocks away from the hotel. We had a lot of really interesting food besides pizza, plus a couple of bottles of wine were consumed too (I passed on wine, just so you know). By the time we got back to the hotel it was nearly 3pm, and I just felt like resting. That was a mistake as the next morning it was pouring rain, and our flight time had been moved up by about 2 hours, so I was fearful of not being at the right place at the right time. So I didn’t get to visit the Frick.

But the evening before I did go out to dinner with the other couple on the trip, Patti & Bruce. We took a Lyft ride to the Monterey Bay Fish Grotto. At left you can see the beautiful Pittsburgh skyline from the restaurant, atop Mt. Washington. There’s a funicular that runs up and down the hill, and I’d hoped to do that while we were there, but I ran out of time. I did take a picture, however, of a picture (so this photo is not mine, below) from Mt. Washington, showing the pretty skyline, and the conjoining of the Allegheny and the Monongahela Rivers, as they become the Ohio.

That is such a beautiful picture. When we were up at the restaurant it was just at sunset, so I took a bunch of photos as the sun went down. I’m just giving you the one (above left) when it was nearly dark.

There’s also a very interesting sculpture up there showing George Washington and an Indian chief as they met there back in the day.

The next morning we asked for a late checkout, which helped. I didn’t want to go traipsing around the city trying to find breakfast, so I made do with a few snacks I had in my room, along with a cup of coffee. Off we went to the airport and boarded yet another plane for our return flight to California. It was 5+ hours, and Julian had arranged for a variety of food, again, and wine, of course. It was another smooth, seamless flight to Santa Maria and we landed at about 5:00 pm. Back at Julian and Janice’s house we sat outside on their lovely patio and everyone else enjoyed wine, yes, more wine. Me? I asked for a Diet Coke. My body was simply saying “no more wine.” And I’m not much of a drinker anyway, but I’d had some nearly every day of the trip.

At left there, a photo as we flew over the Rockies, going west.

Some of the food ordered for the flight was brought back and we had salads mostly. Something we’d not had much of on the whole trip. Even though we had crossed 3 time zones, I was tired and went to bed early.

The next morning Patti, Bruce and I headed back home to Orange County, which took about 3 1/2 hours. We encountered awful traffic; it’s becoming a standard thing going through Los Angeles. The photo at right is from their back yard, looking at the Santa Ynez mountains.

Once I got home, I found a lovely bouquet of flowers waiting for me for Mother’s Day. From my son, his wife and my grandson. Great way to end my trip. One of my other grandsons, Logan, his wife Mary and their two children, Sarah and Lucas, were visiting. So I got to see them a bit before they left the next day to go back to Northern California. Taylor, my granddaughter, the one who is still in nursing school here, the one living with me, Logan’s sister, was here, so she entertained them some. She was off school for a week, so got to spend lots of time with them.

What I was, was exhausted. From not enough sleep any night on the trip, and definitely on overload with food. For nearly 2 weeks I’ve had veggie and fruit smoothies for dinner, trying to cleanse my body a little bit. I’m so glad I went on this trip – it was so fun. Great friends (some new) and visiting many new places. Even at 80, I haven’t lost my love of travel, although I do it a bit differently now. I stay in nicer places (and maybe go for shorter periods).

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 Travel, on April 2nd, 2020.


My recent trip – photo is looking south toward Morro Bay, fog is over the ocean

Waaaaaay back in late February, I took a driving trip. At the time we’d heard that coronavirus was in China and while I was on the trip the first cases appeared in Washington State, but there wasn’t even a whiff of quarantine or even much concern. How times have changed. But anyway, I took an 8-day driving trip, in my new car (I’ve been a BMW fan for most of my adult life) and love driving back roads and highways behind the wheel.

Here in California we know the phrase “Central Coast,” meaning it’s the central part of California, and mostly on the coast, although it also includes coastal hills and dales. In the summer it’s often hot there, so I went in spring-like weather and it was lovely. The hills were beginning to green-up.

emerald_iguana_mosaicMy goal was just to drive, enjoy the scenery, stay in a few nice B&Bs or boutique hotels, walk, shop, wine taste and devote an hour or more each day to reading. I did all of those things. Only one night did I spend on the coast, in Cambria, and the weather wasn’t very nice – foggy and cold, so I didn’t hardly walk much and it was the only place I stayed that I’d not return to – the motel wasn’t special in the least. The first two nights I stayed in Ojai (oh-high), a small inland town in the foothills almost east of Santa Barbara. The town is tiny, but my friend Cherrie and her husband often stay near there with their 5th wheel and Cherrie had told me for years about an old-fashioned department store in Ojai called Rains. They were having a sale on some items and I took my time and went to every department. Bought some cute t-shirts and my big purchase was a Patagonia top. I’ve never owned one and was so tickled to find one that fit and was 50% off. The B&B, called The Emerald Iguana, is as cute as a bug. I highly recommend it. I stayed in a large suite that included a kitchen and great room with dining table and separate bedroom. Breakfast was enjoyed on their sweeping patio each morning with excellent coffee and a varied breakfast. The photo above is the centerpiece of the inn – a mosaic iguana.blue_iguana_LR

There’s a photo of the main living room of my suite. It was really nice. It was a beautiful couple of days there. I shopped, had lunch at a quaint little coffee place (with a limited menu) and dinner at a recommended restaurant there. I had enough to take home and enjoyed it for my dinner the following night – only because I had a refrigerator to keep the food! I also spent several hours sitting out on the veranda of my suite, looking at the view (picture below). It was dark enough that the glare wasn’t too bad to emerald_iguana_porchread. There were plenty of birds and buzzing bees and pretty butterflies flitting. Ojai also has a place called Bart’s Books. It’s an Ojai institution – an old, dilapidated house that holds thousands of books. Do I need more books? Nope. But that doesn’t ever stop me from browsing in used bookstores. I think it’s something in the blood of anyone who likes to read, to meander into used bookstores. I bought 3 books – haven’t yet opened any of them, so can’t report yet about them. I bought a Louise Penny mystery, a memoir by Joyce Carol Oates and an essay book by Elizabeth David. All hardbacks.

cachumaDriving again I headed north and breezed through Santa Barbara. I drove over the mountains to look at Lake Cachuma (sometimes dry in drought years, but currently it has some water). It’s an iffy road to drive because it’s a 2-lane highway with just a few passing lanes, so if you happen to get stuck behind a truck and trailer, it can be miles before you can get around them. I wasn’t in a hurry, so I tried not to get annoyed. I think that picture was Cachuma – if not it was some other lake I passed on my trip.

hotel_cheval_streetview_pasoAlong the way I stopped and had an In-n-Out burger. So very good – a rare treat for me. Then I continued on to Paso Robles (technically it should be pronounced pass-oh robe-less but most people say pass-oh-ROH-bulls). I passed through San Luis Obispo along the way, which is one of the hubs of winemaking in the central coast. My DH Dave and I often stayed in SLO, it’s called, when we were on a wine-buying trip. I’ve begun enjoying Paso more than SLO (that’s how the locals refer to both towns), and I had reserved a room at the Hotel Cheval. Oh my goodness, was that ever special. On any future trip, I’m going to book 3 nights at this hotel – it was just hotel_cheval_interior_courtyardextra special. They call themselves unique, and certainly it qualifies. Luxury but not ostentatious. Rustic, yet elegant. Hard to describe. If you walk 150 feet to the right in the picture above, you’d be on the town square. I did a lot of walking all around the town, shopping, just enjoying being outside. On my 2nd day there I did a round about drive to several wineries (Still Waters, Cass). The drive was so pretty. Rural for sure. Love the landscape in and around Paso. Yes, I bought wine – a case altogether. The next day I visited Kiler Ridge Olive Oil and two more wineries before heading toward the ocean to Cambria (mentioned above).

The day after that I meandered along Highway 1, drove through Morro Bay, had lunch, then on to Los Olivos (actually Ballard) a town not too far away, where I stayed in a very pretty boutique hotel, the Ballard Inn. The only thing wrong with it was they don’t have TVs in the rooms (one only in the sitting room area near the lobby). I discovered that in the late afternoon I enjoyed my rooms, wherever I was, and wanted to listen to the news and later in the evening I wanted the “companionship” if you can call it that, of having the TV on before I went to sleep. Yes, I could have tried to stream something on my iPad, but that wasn’t what I wanted to do. Ballard is a tiny, sleepy town with nothing to do – a great place for a romantic (couple) weekend away – but not so much for a widow. Had dinner in their lovely restaurant (great food) then the next day headed back toward home. I spent 2 nights with my son Powell, his wife Karen and grandson Vaughan near Pasadena. And then home. Loved my own bed – don’t we always? I swear hotels all buy some kind of padded top thing when the mattresses have seen better days, trying to eke out another year of use, and I’m not a fan. I complained at one place about it. It was so thick I felt like I was sinking into a deep feather pillow. But not comfortable.

My trip was great – it taught me a very good lesson – stay in nicer places – eat well – and I did. I wasn’t sad being by myself – enjoyed plotting out my trips each day – stopped to take pictures here and there – did plenty of window shopping and walking. I’d make this trip again but I’d leave off Cambria and Ballard and just stay in Ojai and Paso.

Posted in Travel, on February 20th, 2020.


What makes this one different?

Last week I spent in Palm Desert, my annual one-week winter trip. The weather was just perfect (about 70 every day) and my friend Ann (from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho), flew down to spend the week with me. We stay at the home of a dear friend of mine who rarely goes there anymore, so I’m very grateful she lets us use the condo. It’s a cozy 2-bedroom overlooking a golf course with palm trees and Mallard ducks in the small lake. There’s a spouting stream of water just outside that provides lovely sound. We ate breakfast in every day, and I made a soup that fed us for two of the evenings. I take my beloved Nespresso machine out there, and in fact Ann has now become a convert to Nespresso and says she’s going to buy one for herself.

barn_kitchen_sparrows_lodgeAnyway, we visit with old friends of mine (from when my DH Dave and I owned a house there), and with a mutual friend Ann and I have too. We were wined and dined by all the friends. But one of the days we ventured toward Palm Springs (about a 30 minute drive from Palm Desert) and went to a kind of boutique hotel/restaurant. It had been written up in a magazine a few months ago. What a find. I’m so glad my GPS got us there, because you’d literally drive right by the entrance and never know it was there. It’s called the Sparrows Lodge. The property, legend has it, was the site of Elizabeth Montgomery’s first marriage, back in the day. It’s now been transformed into a small inn with 8-10 luxury cabin-like rooms with a beautiful, tranquil and wide open space between, where they’ve created a casual outdoor eating space. The restaurant is called the The Barn Kitchen.

In inquiring with our waiter about the menu, he recommended the chicken sandwich. I’m sure I probably gave him a mild wrinkled nose glance, but he said oh no, this is really a good sandwich, and that people from all over the valley (the Coachella Valley) go there just to have the chicken sandwich. That was good enough for both of us.

The picture at top doesn’t really do it justice. On that cut half you see facing the camera, there is really nice rustic white bread that’s been grill-toasted ever so slightly, there’s a layer of sliced avocado peeking out at the top, lettuce, slices of tomato, then the oh-so juicy chicken below that, AND some kind of a sauce or dressing. The waiter said it was Veganaise, not mayo. At first we thought there was mustard on the sandwich, because it had heat – nose tingling, sinus-clearing type. We thought mustard with horseradish? Maybe. Or else Veganaise with Sriracha in it. We couldn’t really TASTE mustard, so it may well have been the spicy Veganaise. Or perhaps they spread a bit of plain-old horseradish on it.

What I’m telling you is that the combination was perfection. I was trying to describe this sandwich to a friend yesterday . . . all I can say is that the chef has a deft hand at the balance of the lightly toasted bread, the layers of lettuce, the number and thickness of the tomatoes, and the sublime juicy, tender chicken, plus the sliced avocado made for a stunning sandwich. And then the elusive sinus-clearing dressing/sauce/condiment. Never thought I’d be writing up a post about a restaurant chicken sandwich, my friends.

The Barn Kitchen does take reservations. We went at 1:00 pm and enjoyed our leisurely lunch and were so stuffed we didn’t have any dinner that night. I’m back home now and my mouth is just watering thinking about that sandwich.

Posted in Travel, on September 21st, 2019.


From  the road trip last month with daughter Sara and grandson John. That’s in Scottsdale. Cute the way they light up the town streets.

Remember, road trip to Virginia, then South Carolina. This was our first night, and you may recall I wrote earlier, in Scottsdale it was 114 at 7pm. We had a very un-memorable meal there, then headed towards Santa Fe. We drove through some of the Arizona and New Mexico Indian reservations on our route, arriving in Santa Fe just before dinner. Had a fabulous dinner at Arroyo Vino, a restaurant a few miles out of town. The daughter of good friends of mine live there, and Tracey’s husband David is the sommelier at the restaurant and also runs the wine store that’s located in the restaurant. Had a wonderful dinner, and enjoyed visiting with them.

Sara had never been to Santa Fe (it’s one of my favorite towns) so she and I spent the next morning walking the cute streets in and around the plaza. The town was holding one of its frequent marketplace fairs that day, all about the Native American arts and crafts, clothing, pottery, etc. I bought an adorable (and very expensive) teeny, tiny(max 2 1/2” high) hand-painted pot with one of the typical Indian designs on it. And I purchased a bright red wool felt tote bag (or purse) made in Taos. The old tote bag I’d taken on the trip gave out and the strap broke, so I had a reason to buy a new bag to hold some of the stuff that wouldn’t fit into my suitcase. Young John wasn’t at all interested in walking the streets of Santa Fe (sigh, oh well) so he stayed at the hotel and read or slept while Sara and I shopped. There is a cute and tiny Christmas store on one of the side streets of Santa Fe, and I bought a Christmas pin (NOT made in China) in red.

IMG_0498IMG_0499Then we were off for more road trip. One of the fun goals on the trip was to try to see a few of the visual inspirations for the movie, Cars. They’re dotted all along Route 66 (now Interstate 40). We stopped in Shamrock, Texas (after we’d spent the night in Amarillo, also un-memorable, sorry to say) where the filling station is a kind of tourist landmark. It was a Sunday, so the station wasn’t open (it is a tourist attraction, not a gas station anymore) but we took pictures and used the very old-time bathroom tucked into it, which was open. Parked alongside the station is Mater, the tow truck that plays a prominent part in the movie. We also saw the Cadillacs stuck in the ground, nose first.

graceland_frontAfter a night in Fort Smith, Arkansas, we high-tailed it to Memphis. We planned to get there in the mid to late afternoon and had reservations for the Graceland Mansion (Elvis Presley) tour at 4:00 pm. It was actually lovely. Circa 1977, when Presley died. I won’t bore you with all the pictures I took inside – it was all nicely done, including the harvest gold refrigerator and avocado green kitchen sink. We laughed about that. Grandson John found us a barbecue place for dinner (the place I’d picked out was closed that night) as another goal was to enjoy Memphis dry-rub barbecue. I was the winner that evening with what I ordered as we ate at Central BBQ, just south of downtown Memphis. We got there early and had to wait in line, and then they bring your food to the table. OMGosh. The – THE – best dry rub barbecue I’ve ever had. Now, I ordered pork ribs – Sara had brisket and John had pork sliders. But mine was the best of them all. They sell their special combo rub (Sara bought one) but I didn’t as my suitcase and tote bag were already mighty full. I’d go back there in a flash if I could.

IMG_0515Since we finished dinner early, we decided to drive into downtown Memphis, and on the spur of the moment, decided to park and go visit The Peabody, the eponymous old hotel that is most famous for their little family of ducks (Mallards?) that are ushered into the hotel every morning to spend the day in the large indoor fountain (which is underneath the flower arrangement you see in the photo, left center), and then ushered out in the late afternoon. It’s quite a tourist attraction, though we didn’t get to see them as we were there in the late evening. We sat in the gorgeous lobby (stunning) near the big grand piano (and part of the time a skilled pianist was tickling the ivories) and had fancy coffee and shared a dessert. If I ever go back to Memphis – I’ll be staying there.

The following day we were up early-early as we did a marathon driving day of about 11 hours to get to Blacksburg, Virginia. We encountered rain here and there across the states, although hot rain, of course. I’ve already written up about taking John to Virginia Tech (report is that he really likes his classes and is enjoying his roommates a lot) and delivering the Toyota to Sabrina at Clemson, in South Carolina. And about the one night at the Biltmore. I’ll close with one of the photos from there. I just love that place. Sara does too. We stayed at the Inn on the Biltmore grounds and actually didn’t tour the mansion this time. We visited the gorgeous gardens, though and enjoyed some tea in the lounge. At that point we were enjoying just sitting to relax.


Posted in Travel, on March 20th, 2019.


Can you read the inscription? It was 9:30 am and we 4 girls were having Irish coffee at the Buena Vista. So very fun. After downing the very tasty stuff, we had eggs Benedict (3 of us) and one had corned beef hash. It was actually pretty darned good, considering the Buena Vista is known for Irish coffee, not for the food! That’s me on the left, my friends Judy, Nancy and Lois.

So, let me back up . . . I’m alive and well. Busy. Very busy. I’ve been trying to get Sara up to speed with doing posts, and I spent the weekend with her (and family) and part of Sunday we tried to get a recipe posted. We ran into a glitch, however, when I tried to log her into the FTP software (that’s the special software that uploads the pdf files to the blog site). Could not seem to do it. Sara has a rather complex recipe for chocolate cupcakes with a peanut butter filling and a Swiss buttercream (with peanut butter) frosting. Three separate recipes in one post. I don’t think in all my years of posting on my blog I’ve ever had 3 separate recipes in one blog post. Always a first time, however! Once she’s able to post from her home computer, she should be up and running.

gg_bridgeMeanwhile, a week and a half ago my 3 friends and I (above) flew to SFO and spent 3 full days and 2 nights touring, eating, drinking, walking. Pause and repeat. We had SO much fun, I just can’t tell you. I gained not one ounce, thankfully, but only because I stuck to my diet with the exception of eating an entire popover at Neiman Marcus. With strawberry butter. Oh my, did I feel like I’d fallen off the wagon!

japanese_tea_garden1We stayed at the St. Francis (Union Square) and used Lyft and taxis to get us around to various places. We visited the De Young Museum (a place I’d never been to), went up into the Tower there too – if you haven’t ever been there, you should! We walked a block away and went through the japanese_tea_garden2Japanese Tea Garden – also not raining while we did that. Late in the afternoon we popped into a darling wine bar around the corner from the front door of the St. Francis – I think it was called Eno (for enoteca, I presume) and we enjoyed fabulous boutique wine, cheeses and salami. We had dinner at Scoma’s, an ancient restaurant on Fisherman’s Wharf. I had scallops and shrimp in butter sauce.

cablecar_sfoWe took the cable car over the hill the next morning for our breakfast at the Buena Vista. Sat at a table with a darling young couple who were having a romantic weekend away. Took the streetcar along the wharf to the Ferry Building and walked all over that place. I spent a bit of money there on myself and a few gifts.

IMG_0264Late that afternoon we went to the Top of the Mark (Hopkins) and had cocktails while we ogled  the fantastic view. The weather was cold, and Saturday and Sunday were supposed to be rainy – it was – but we managed to dart in and out in between showers, so I never had to put up my umbrella. We had dinner at Cotogna, a very upscale Italian restaurant on Pacific Street – really gorgeous ambiance and fabulous food. I’d definitely go there again.

Our last day we trekked to Chinatown (and stopped at St. Mary’s church, the oldest church in SF) and back. Then headed to Neiman Marcus. We’d hoped to have afternoon tea, but we were on a timetable and they weren’t serving tea yet, so opted for lunch. Delicious, by the way. That’s where I gave in to the popover. After that we headed to the airport and got a 6:30 pm flight home to Orange County.

Posted in Travel, on August 7th, 2018.


This photo, from the family trip to Europe, was actually taken on our last day, in the driveway of the house we’d rented in Normandy. There are a few more smaller bags nestled onto the 9th passenger seat and floor in front of that seat, plus all 4 women had a purse as well.

You see, we’d had a meeting about 10 days before our trip, and I’d brought out my relatively small (the red one) suitcase and said yes, there would be 17 days of clothes and other stuff in there. I also took a small bag that rests on top of the roller bag and my purse too. One of the couples took a bigger bag for the two of them (black one, top left).

We only had one suitcase catastrophe. When we flew from London to Florence on CityJet, the airline left John Jr.’s (pictured above) suitcase sitting on the tarmac. It took them a day to find it. And two more days to finally get it to Florence and delivered to us. Meanwhile, Sara and John Jr. went shopping in Florence and bought him some new clothes. Adidas. He was a happy camper when his suitcase finally arrived in Florence, the afternoon before we left. I didn’t wear one pair of slacks and one top, but everything else was worn several times. Fortunately, we had washing machines in Florence, Paris and Normandy, so nobody lacked for clean clothes. Dry clothes were another matter – only Normandy had a dryer, so in the other 2 places there were typical European collapsible drying racks which were set up in hallways throughout our stays.

Embarking on this trip had us all meeting at LAX (Los Angeles International). Son Powell had upgraded everyone so we had first class seats plus the use of the private lounge before both flights. We left late at night so I slept a few hours on the down-flat seats. We arrived at Heathrow, took the train into the city, then a taxi to our hotel. Son Powell is a member of the Penn Club, so we were able to use his reciprocal privileges at the Sloane Club hotel. A lovely hotel for sure, and so very proper English style. sara_powell_hotel_bar

As I mentioned a few days ago, after getting situated in our rooms, we met in the morning room and attached bar to decide what we’d do first.

That’s Sara and Powell, brother and sister. We were all tired, but knew we shouldn’t go to sleep, so we enjoyed the bar, eventually went out to dinner nearby and fell into bed relatively early. I was surprised how well I slept, with jet lag and all. During the following 2 days everyone scattered in different directions (Armory Museum, Churchill War Rooms, a couple of museums, London Eye, Westminster Abbey, the Thames, Changing of the Guard, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus). Powell had made reservations at his favorite restaurant, Veeraswamy, an Indian restaurant near Piccadilly. We all enjoyed a sumptuous meal there.

On Sunday the girls had afternoon tea at the Langham (hotel). Sara has a customer of theirs (here in California) who is a Brit, and he and his wife insisted we had to go to the Langham because it’s where Brits go. Not to any of the more well-known tea places like Fortnum & Mason (my favorite) or one of the big, more well-known hotels.IMG_2782

That was our take-away box – isn’t it adorable? We had extra scones and several of the little, dainty sweets. I think grandson Vaughan had some of the contents later that night or the next morning before we left for the airport.afternoon_tea_langham

As it happened, Sabrina (middle) had a friend – Shelby – of hers from Clemson visiting in London, so she joined us for afternoon tea also. Left to right, me, Shelby, Sabrina, Karen (Powell’s wife) and Sara (my daughter and Sabrina’s mom).langham_tea_sandwiches

There are the tea sandwiches – if you can’t read the small print I put on the photo . . . from left to right, cucumber and cream cheese, tomato, mozzarella and pesto, egg and chicken salad. The little thing on the right, as I recall was smoked salmon in a baby brioche bun. My favorite was the cucumber. And yes, I ate some of all of them, despite the bread which I’m not supposed to eat! Or the cucumber, either. Cucumbers contain lectins, a no-no. Unless they’re peeled and seeded, which I do here at home. langham_tea_room

There at right is a broad view of the tea room at the Langham. It was a lovely room, and the room was very full by the time we left at about 3:00 or so. The service was impeccable, our waiter was very fun, funny and gracious – he stood up on a chair to take the group photo up above.

That’s enough for this post. The weather was actually very nice – we had a spit of rain a couple of times, but it didn’t keep us from doing anything. Otherwise it was up to about 80°F each day we were there. Hot in the sunshine!

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