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Carolyn

Sara

Sara and me

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Esther Freud’s book The Sea House: A Novel is about a small village on England’s southern coast. There are characters galore in this book, and it sometimes takes a bit to figure out which decade you’re reading about (few clues) or which person. Oh yes, her, current day. Oh, that’s him, during the war. Max, oh, I thought he died. No, that’s his son. I think. The book is about love found, love lost, love sometimes found again, sometimes not. About how fleeting it can be or seem. There is family dysfunction. Relationship dysfunction. There is quite a bit of adultery going on, yet I found myself understanding why. The book relays a true story (names changed) about an architect and a woman who is trying to write a book about him. Drawings and paintings of this village play a big part. There is some mental dis-health too. And throughout, it’s about the land, the sea, and this remarkable house. I wondered if in the hardback edition there were any photo plates of the drawings. One character is driven to draw the rooms he’s in, the house he’s in, or the house he conjures in his mind. There are lots of beach walks, and there is a huge tidal flood too. Despite having some difficulty keeping track of the characters, it was a good read.

Amor Towles’ book, Rules of Civility: A Novel was quite a read. It’s NYC, 1937. Twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent [Kon-TENT she iterates to many] is in a Greenwich Village jazz bar when a handsome banker, happens to sit down at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel Katey on a year-long journey into the upper echelons of New York society—where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve. She struggles to keep her poverty at bay, and like many women of her time and the day, wished themselves on men of means. There is love. There is loss. And through it all, the thread that holds it all together is the mores – the rules of civility – required of most everyone. To keep up the face. To swing. To survive. Really well developed drama and a very real sense of place. I’m reviewing the book in one of my book clubs; fortunately there is a lot online about this book.

Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl by Stacey O’Brien. What an adorable book. True story about Stacey’s 20 years with a feisty but lovable barn owl. She’s a biologist, was working at Cal Tech and someone brought in a tiny abandoned barn owl. She took him home, and he became her “mate” (that happens at year two). Everything about this book is interesting, from how she nurtures him in his tiny habitat, to how she transforms her living space to accommodate a full grown owl. He couldn’t be habilitated to the wild because of a wing injury (likely when he fell out of the nest). It’s a heartwarming story.

Loved The Wedding Officer: A Novel by Anthony Capella. It takes place in the middle of WWII in Naples. A young British officer, Captain James Gould, is sent to Naples to wade through the zilions of applications from soldiers to marry local Italian women (and presumably take them back to England when the war ends). The supposition is that all the women are ladies of the night, and it’s their ticket to a better life. He holds to his principles until he meets lovely Livia, who begins cooking for a group of soldiers (it was a real job). Food plays a starring role in this book, as well as Vesuvius’ eruption. It’s a very interesting story – I don’t know if it’s true there were such positions in the British military, but it sounds like it. Gould has to find his way through the miasma of politics, corruption, provisioning in a war-torn country and the warfront. But all of it is laced with the very sweet love story.

Reading behind Bars: A True Story of Literature, Law, and Life as a Prison Librarian by Jill Grunenwald. So interesting. Jill is  young, with a newly minted degree in library science at a time when the economy was very slow. She accepts a position in a minimum security prison in Ohio. She needs a job, and agrees to the commute, rain, shine or snow. The “library” is limited. The inmates her “staff.” She weaves her way through the pitfalls of limited funds, theft, perversion, jerks, rules, and every myriad of inmate problems. Very interesting read.

The Walls of Lucca by Steve Physioc. A novel that takes place in between WWI and II. Franco is a weary Italian soldier. He stumbles into a vineyard and is hired. It’s hard work (nothing he’s ever done before) but he’s a very diligent worker. He didn’t stop there to find love, but it found him. There’s a lot of sinister Fascist activity throughout the book, plenty of local history, and of course, a bit about the walls of Lucca.

The Hired Man by Aminatta Forna. A novel about Croatia in the aftermath of their more recent wars. A British family buys a very dilapidated house, and a local man (the handyman) begins helping them fix it up. Two children play a part, with the British husband merely peeking in now and then. There is local dissension, town secrets, some violence as the town tries to heal from years of war. And the handyman just keeps working, pondering his own demons as well. Very riveting 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. Some of that is hard to read, but Follett writes sagas, and I was really “into it.” Have always loved his writing, and if you haven’t ever read this sidebar before, or my section on books, his book, The Pillars of the Earth: A Novel  is my#1 favorite book I’ve ever read. In this Fire book, though, there are numerous characters, families really, in France, London and the (fictitious I think) town of Kingsbridge. Riveting reading, as are all of his books.

Having read all of Kristin Hannah’s books, I knew I’d read her latest too: Between Sisters: A Novel.  Two sisters, raised by the same mother but different fathers. At a young age a rift occurs and the sisters go their own way. Anger is there, but deep down you know, reading this, that they care about each other. The one that left is a successful but lonely attorney in Seattle. The other is a single mother who owns a small seasonal cabin rental facility near Seattle. It’s a very sweet story – takes awhile to “get there” but you know they’re going to reconcile and find their sister-groove again. Good book. Worth reading.

Just finished Matt McCarthy’s book The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly: A Physician’s First Year. It tells the true life story of his first year as an intern at a New York hospital. You ride the wave of his first, painful days when he questions if he was ever meant to be a doctor, to the end of the year when he recognized his true passion for infectious disease diagnostics. I really enjoyed the book, and commend him for being so brutally honest about his own vulnerabilities and what he saw as complete inexperience. If you enjoy this genre of book, this is a good one.

Also read Karen Harper’s book The Royal Nanny: A Novel. The time frame is 1890s onward, at Sandringham, when Charlotte Bill (a real person) was hired by the Duke and Duchess of York, to care for their children. She was hired as an under-nurse, but soon became the prime caregiver of the youngest children. She became “Lala” to the children, and they loved her dearly. And she them. This is a serious below-stairs look at that part of the royal family, their foibles, idiosyncrasies, and even the proclivities of the children themselves. It was a great read. Loved it from the first page.

Also read Roger Swindell’s Mendelevski’s Box. It’s an historical novel about the aftermath of WWII in impoverished Amsterdam. It’s an eye-opener. Over the last many years I’ve marveled at authors who have found a niche of some part of that awful war and it was enough to write a great story. Simon is the hero, here. He was a Jew and miraculously survived Auschwitz and returned to his home, hoping to find his mother and sister (who were also at Auschwitz, but he knew not their fates). He knew his father had died in the camp. The family home had been taken over by others. He was destitute. He befriended two young women (one had worked for his father in his clock-making business). There is a “box” in the story – an important element. Simon finds a job, income, friends, and love. Finds some caring people, but also encounters some very shady characters as well. The story is told very well. There is mystery, poignant love and redemption. Well worth reading.

Camille De Maio wrote Before the Rain Falls. Very interesting story about a young doctor who returns to her border town in Texas for a very short vacation. And about a young down-on-his-luck journalist who goes to the same town to get a story. There’s a death/murder long ago, the sharp shards of emotions that remain in the town. The survivors. The grandmother who spent 7 decades in prison. And a love story. Very sweet book about family. Love. Loss. As I write this, it’s $.99 on Kindle.

Also read a very quirky non-fiction book: The Perfect Gentleman: The remarkable life of Dr. James Miranda Barry by June Rose. This is a biography about a person who lived in the mid-1800s. He was a surgeon; graduated from Edinburgh Medical School at the age of 14. Joined the British Army as a medical officer then sent off to South Africa and many other tropical outposts during his career. There was always “talk” about him. He never married. He was querulous. He got high-handed too frequently. He was a tee-totaler, and always had a dog named Psyche. He was a brilliant diagnostician and was appalled at the condition of prisons and even ordinary Army barracks. When he died it came out – Dr. James Barry was really a woman. And a woman who had borne a child. Facts that were suspected by many, but never corroborated. S/he did so because a woman wasn’t allowed to go to college, let alone medical school. When you read it in context, it’s logical what her mentors suggested she do. I can’t say that this book is all that well written – some of it uses the stilted language of the time, even though it’s current in its publication. But it’s a fascinating read nonetheless. So I’ve read, there is going to be a documentary made about her life.

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley. The premise of this book is different . . . a woman writer goes to Scotland to connect with distant heritage. She hopes to gain inspiration for her next book. As she investigates, she discovers she’s related to a family that lived in the early 1700s at Slains Castle on the east coast of Scotland near Aberdeen. This was the time of the Jacobite rebellion (the exiled King James and his hoped-for return to England). When I say this woman gets inspiration . . .well, it’s more than that. She questions whether she could possibly have genes that contain memory (what an idea, huh?), because she begins to know how events took place, who the people were, what they said, exactly where they stood, the layout of the castle, even the furniture in the rooms. She wasn’t channeling, actually, but I suppose it could be interpreted so. The book is full of the Jacobite history (more than I’d ever known before, but then I love English/Scottish history). There’s a romance back then, and a romance in the today time. Both lovely. Great book. An historical novel of the first order.

Another great read, The Island of Sea Women: A Novel by Lisa See. Six months ago I attended an author’s talk at the Bowers Museum. Lisa See was the speaker and shared her story about this book. I’ve heard her speak several times before (she lives near me) and have read several of her books. This one, though, is very different. She was sitting in a doctor’s office reading some magazine and spotted a tiny snippet of data about Jeju Island off the coast of Korea where the island as a whole is matriarchal because the women were trained from a young age to deep dive, free dive, for mollusks. These women were the breadwinners. Husbands stayed home and cared for the babies. The island is real. The history is real. And what happened during WWII on this island is horrific – makes me feel ashamed that our military had a hand in what happened to many people. But everyone should read this book. It’s a novel, about 2 girls who are divers and how their lives diverge for a variety of cultural reasons and because of the war.

Radio Girls by Sarah-Jane Stratford. A novel about the early days of radio in London. This book takes place in the 1920s and tells not only the general history of the early days of radio, but also the role women played (a vital one). Initially it was in the background, because women weren’t considered intelligent enough. Maisie, the heroine in the book, works her way up the ranks. It’s a fascinating read from beginning to end. Many famous characters (real) flow through the studios. Early voting rights play a part in the story line also. And some wartime intrigue. You’ll find yourself cheering from the bleachers when women make a tiny inroad into the male-dominated field.

A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts by Therese Anne Fowler. My friend Ann, from Idaho, brought it with her as we spent a week in Palm Desert in February. She handed it to me and said I’d really like it. Oh, did I! Loved the book. This book is a novel, but based on the life of Alva Smith Vanderbilt (Belmont). Her family was nearly destitute (and faking it) when a marriage was proposed for her with William Vanderbilt. There is lots of dialogue in the book which is made up, but I’m guessing the author probably read many diary entries of Alva (and the family) to create a very intriguing and readable story. A life of unbelievable privilege. Several children, including one who marries into a titled family in England. You see the inner life of Alva – her day to day busy work, charity work, visiting for afternoon tea, the undercurrent of society’s morals – men were nearly expected to have mistresses or affairs. This was the Victorian Age when sex between husbands and wives was not necessarily, and usually not, passionate. I loved this book from page one until the end.  Alva was a suffragette of the first order. Having read the book, I have a lot of admiration for her, even though she lived in the highest echelons of society.

Also read In Falling Snow: A Novel, by Mary-Rose McColl. From amazon: Iris, a young Australian nurse, travels to France during World War I to bring home her fifteen-year-old brother, who ran away to enlist. But in Paris she meets the charismatic Dr. Frances Ivens, who convinces Iris to help establish a field hospital in the old abbey at Royaumont, staffed entirely by women—a decision that will change her life. Seamlessly interwoven is the story of Grace, Iris’s granddaughter in 1970s Australia. Together their narratives paint a portrait of the changing role of women in medicine and the powerful legacy of love. The book  gives you a vivid picture of the state of nursing in WWI, but the story is quite mesmerizing. And there’s a twist almost at the end. Highly recommend.

Also couldn’t put down The Secret Wife by Gill Paul. A long story that begins in war-torn Russia. Cavalry officer Dmitri falls head over heels in love with one of the daughters of Tzar Nicholas. But events intervene, as history tells us. That was 1914. Cut to 2016 when a young woman inherits an ancient cabin in upper New York State and she discovers a jeweled pendant. The two times weave together to make a really riveting story. Lots of Russian history; well written; as I said, couldn’t put it down.

Uncommon Woman. A book about Colonial America, but really the western frontier at that time, which is in western Pennsylvania. The warring native Americans play large in this book. There is a romance, yes, but this book is not “a romance.” It’s more than that – about the hardships of living on the land, away from protection, Tessa and her family struggle to make a living and avoid the angered natives who take revenge when their people are murdered. Clay Tygart is a respected officer/soldier and commands a fort near where Tessa lives. Clay was captured by Lanape Indians when he was a young man, so he straddles both sides of the equation – first hand, he knows how the natives feel, but also his role in the lure of American exploration of the west. The natives wish to preserve their hunting grounds from the encroaching settlers. This book takes place in the mid-1700s I think. Loved it. Not only the history that is brilliantly detailed, even to the summer heat they experience. The crops they raise, the constant fear of attack. And the sweet love that weaves through it. Not a speck of sex in it.

Reading mysteries has never loomed large in my reading life. Occasionally, yes. And some espionage type books. But light mysteries have not intrigued me much. But one of my book clubs had us read Louise Penny’s novel, A Rule Against Murder (Chief Inspector Gamache Novel). The member actually handed out a cheat sheet of the characters in the book (many) and posed several questions of us as we read through it. The cheat sheet really helped. She asked us when (or if) we caught the foreshadowing of the murder culprit (I never did). The book takes place at a lovely inn in Canada and Chief Inspector Gamache (he is quite a character – along with his wife – are vacationing there) when a murder occurs. None of the characters escape the C.I.’s scrutiny. Lois, our book club member, led us through a very thorough and lively discussion of the book. Usually, my complaint about murder mysteries is that they don’t make for good discussion at a book club – but this book was an exception, for sure. Many of my learned book club friends rave about Louise Penny. One told me I should read Still Life next, and probably should have read it before I read this one.

Rachel Hauck is an author I’ve enjoyed reading over the years. Just finished reading The Memory House. It’s about relationships. Love. About family. About secrets. Doesn’t that just describe about 90% of every novel out there these days? Beck is a cop in NYC; a series of events occur and she is forced to take leave. Just then she inherits a house in Florida. She barely remembers the woman who bequeathed the house to her. Then you meet Bruno, a sports agent who will figure large in Beck’s life. Then the book jumps back in time to Everleigh, the woman who owned the house and you learn her story. Really stories of her two husbands. And how do those stories connect to present day. Very sweet book. Not a speck of sex in this one, either.

The Parrot Who Owns Me: The Story of a Relationship by Joanna Burger. Such an interesting book – nonfiction. The author is an ornithologist by profession (and a PhD) and this memoir of sorts is about her Red-Lored Amazon parrot she and her husband own. But no, it’s the parrot who owns her/them.

My Name Is Resolute by Nancy Turner. She’s the author of another book of some renown, These is my Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901 (P.S.). Resolute is what I’m discussing here. A book club friend recommended this book, I immediately bought it on my Kindle. I could NOT put the book down. I devoured it. Any other “work” I should have been doing was swept aside as I read and read of Resolute’s adventures. It’s fiction, but based some on a true story. Resolute, as a young girl from a privileged life on a plantation in Jamaica, was taken captive by slavers, eventually ended up in Colonial America. This book is the story of her life. The people she met, the men in her life, her children, and always about her indefatigable energy for life. Always hoping to return to Jamaica.

Finished The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek: A Novel by Kim Richardson.  It’s a novel about the first mobile library in Kentucky (this is the 1930s) and the fierce, brave packhorse librarians who wove their way from shack to shack dispensing literacy, hope, and, just as importantly, a compassionate human connection.

The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape by James Rebanks. This book was offered as a bargain book from Bookbub, and something about the description resonated with me – maybe because of my Old Testament readings regarding the lives of shepherds back in ancient days. I utterly loved this book. It might not suit everyone – it’s a memoir, so a true story, of a young man growing up in the Lake District of Northern England, the son of a farming family, who sabotages everything in his being regarding going to school and leaves as soon as he is able (probably about 8th grade, I’d guess). And becomes a shepherd. And at night, he read literature that he accumulated from his grandfather. He bickers with his father, eventually moves out. One night in a pub with his blokes (friends) he enters some kind of a contest in the pub and realizes he has a lot more knowledge than he thought he did. In time he applies to get what I’d call here in the U.S. a G.E.D (high school diploma), which he does, and then he applies to Oxford, on a whim. And gets in. He graduates. He applies his knowledge to his rural life. He marries, has children, but still, his day to day life is all about his Herdwick sheep, although he does have a day job too working for UNESCO. You’ll learn more about sheep than you might have wanted to know. I absolutely loved, LOVED this book. If you are interested, James Rebanks has a Twitter feed, called @herdyshepherd1, and you can sign up to get updates from him about his farm and his sheep. I don’t do Twitter or I would.

Moloka’i: A Novel by Alan Brennert. A riveting book about the early days of Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) in Hawaii, and the stigma attached to the victims AND their families. It chronicles the story of a young woman, diagnosed almost as a child, and ostracized from her family, subsequently learning to live alone and remote.

House by the Fjord by Rosalind Laker. What a darling story. From amazon: A touching and atmospheric love story – When Anna Harvik travels to Norway in 1946 in order to visit the family of her late husband, the country is only just recovering from five cruel years of Nazi occupation. So it is with surprise that she finds in this cold and bitter country the capacity for new love and perhaps even a new home. I just loved this book – could hardly put it down; yet it’s not a mystery. You’ll come away with a desire to find that house by the fjord. I want to go there and have some coffee with the Anna, who was a Brit, yet fell head over heels in love with Norway.

Running Blind (Jack Reacher) by Lee Child. A Jack Reacher mystery. From amazon: Across the country, women are being murdered, victims of a disciplined and clever killer who leaves no trace evidence, no fatal wounds, no signs of struggle, and no clues to an apparent motive. They are, truly, perfect crimes. Until Jack Reacher gets in the middle of it. A page turner, as are all of the Jack Reacher stories.

Say Goodbye for Now by Catherine Ryan Hyde. This story, which takes place in a kind of Texas backwater, sets a town into an angry mess when two young boys, one white, one black, become friends, something most folks don’t like. At all. There’s a dog involved, the father of the black boy, the father of the white boy plus a woman who lives in the town and does her best to avoid people altogether. But they all get fused. Wonderful story.

Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart. A sweet book, true story, of the author and her friend, during one summer in the midst of their college years, going by train to NYC and ultimately getting a job of Tiffany’s.  Cute read.

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann. You might think what a stretch – what does an Indian (Native American) tribe have to do with the FBI. Read and you’ll find out. This is back in time, 50s I think, and a number of murders have taken place on the Osage Reservation. A wake up call, even for today.

Oh wow. Just finished reading David Guterson’s book, East of the Mountains. You know this author from his most well known book, Snow Falling on Cedars. I loved the Cedars book when I read it years ago, and assumed I’d like this other book (not new) as well. Have you learned to trust my judgment when I tell you, you HAVE to read a book? If I tell you the story line, I can already hear you thinking . . . oh no, I don’t want to read this kind of a book. Please trust me. You’ll come away from it being glad you did.

A fabulous read – Catherine Ryan Hyde’s newest book, Have You Seen Luis Velez? I marvel sometimes about how authors ever come up with the ideas they do, to create the premise for a novel. And this one is right up there at the top of the list. Raymond, a youngster, an older teenager, who has a big lack of self-confidence and feels like an odd duck sometimes, reluctantly (at first) befriends an elderly woman in the apartment building where he lives with his mother and step-father. He discovers she’s blind and needs some help, which he gives her.

Magic Hour: A Novel

Excellent Women

Pachinko (National Book Award Finalist) by Min Jin Lee

An American Marriage (Oprah’s Book Club): A Novel by Tayari Jones.

Recently finished Sally Field’s memoir (autobiography) called In Pieces.

If you want grit, well, read Kristen Hannah’s newest book, The Great Alone: A Novel.

You’ve got to read Catherine Ryan Hyde’s book – Take Me With You. What a story.  From Amazon’s description: August Shroeder, a burned-out teacher, has been sober since his nineteen-year-old son died. Every year he’s spent the summer on the road, but making it to Yellowstone this year means everything. The plan had been to travel there with his son, but now August is making the trip with Philip’s ashes instead. An unexpected twist of fate lands August with two extra passengers for his journey, two half-orphans with nowhere else to go. What none of them could have known was how transformative both the trip—and the bonds that develop between them—would prove, driving each to create a new destiny together. Have a tissue handy at the end. It’s such a charming, sweet story. You’ll fall in love with the young boys, and fall in love with them again 10 years later.

The Last Letter from Your Lover: A Novel by JoJo Moyes.

Mark of the Lion : A Voice in the Wind, An Echo in the Darkness, As Sure As the Dawn (Vol 1-3) by Francine Rivers.

Flight of the Sparrow: A Novel of Early America

Answer As a Man

Celeste Ng Little Fires Everywhere.

The Rent Collector by Camron Wright.

C.J. Box’s book The Disappeared (A Joe Pickett Novel).

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng.

The Boston Girl: A Novel by Anita Diamant.

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers.

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen.

Leaving Blythe River: A Novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde.

The Girl with Seven Names by Hyanseo Lee.

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian.

The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes.

How It All Began: A Novel by Penelope Lively.

 

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 Uncategorized, on January 14th, 2020.

You’re probably wondering, what? What does that mean? I toyed with “the curvy road becomes straight,” and “food enlightenment.” But they were out there. All the title means is that I’ve stopped eating the Plant Paradox diet. It’s possible I mentioned awhile back that I was getting very frustrated with the plan and my cravings for bread and an occasional dessert were vexing me a lot. It’s been 2 years. Once in awhile I did have dessert, but very little. And a couple of times in the 2 years I had something containing wheat flour. Well anyway, I was doing some research online and found a blog post by someone who was confounded by the whole notion of lectins in our bloodstream and the Plant Paradox plan. I began looking at more contrarian websites or posts here and there. What I discovered is that the eminent Dr. Gundry doesn’t always do his homework, OR he is vague about his sources. One learned scientist chastised him about being obtuse in his footnotes (you’re supposed to put chapter and page numbers when you use other studies as the basis for a thesis or medical theory, and he doesn’t do that at all). Apparently many of his footnote sites (of studies done by medical schools, etc.) don’t seem to exist. The final one I read that set me back on a more normal food track was a site that said Gundry drew a conclusion about human intestinal biology from reading a study of worms. Now worms are biologic, I know, but how can you say that if something happens to the gut of a worm and then conclude that the same thing happens in humans without having done the research on humans. And Gundry never disclosed that the study was of worms. I think that’s dirty pool. Maybe I was just “looking” for a reason to quit this diet. I haven’t vetted Dr. Gundry’s footnotes and don’t intend to. So I’m choosing to believe the contrarians. I could be wrong . . .

The truth is that I never did have intestinal difficulty as many people do who go on this diet. People with IBS or similar conditions, well, that’s another story. Maybe they should be following his diet. I didn’t and don’t, so I’ve gone back to drinking regular cow’s milk. I’m eating cheddar (yea!) and BREAD. I went right off the deep end a few days ago and had a delicious tuna sandwich on still-warm sourdough bread. With Best Foods mayo. Oh my, died and went to heaven. And I can have beans/legumes. And there’s squash in my refrigerator (zucchini). Next will be green beans. Gosh, did I miss green beans. Who’d have thought . . .

At the beginning of the diet I did lose 25 pounds. In the last month I’ve gained 3 pounds, so am not sure if it’s the bread, or what. I made tapioca pudding the other day, although I did use artificial sweetener in it. I’m still eating low carb, and will just need to be judicious about what carbs I do eat. And originally I thought the diet would be forever, because of wanting to improve my heart health. I don’t have a problem, but I have heart disease in my family. So, perhaps I’m shortening my life, per Dr. Gundry’s theories. We’ll see what my next blood work looks like. In the meantime I’m paying no attention whatsoever to lectins.

I made one of my old standby favorites, Unstuffed Cabbage Rolls. Used beef and pork, and made it in the Instant Pot. Used artificial brown sugar. Hmm. It was not very good. Maybe artificial sugar breaks down under pressure. Next I’m craving some chili (with a few red kidney beans in it). Tonight I’m going out to eat with a friend and we’re going to have Mexican food. I haven’t had any for 2 years. I think I’m ordering a chile relleno and a cheese enchilada. At least that’s the plan.

And, in March I’ll be giving up my job as President of my PEO chapter after two years. I’m very ready to step down and turn it over to someone else. So hopefully I’ll have more time. To cook. And blog.

Posted in Uncategorized, on December 28th, 2019.

wine_slogan

I don’t think I’ve posted a picture of this before. Bought the sign when daughter Sara, grandson John and I were on our cross country trip to deliver John to Virginia Tech. Found this at the gift shop at The Biltmore (Asheville, NC). My DH Dave would have absolutely loved this sign. He had a saying – – – don’t ever let a few facts get in the way of a good story. So when I saw this sign, there was no question I was buying it!

The photo was taken in my family room where I often sit and have a glass of wine in the evenings. Or a Fireball (like those?). Or a Fireball with a shot or two of Rumchata (oh my goodness, one of my favorites). Or an occasional Bailey’s with or without coffee. Over the last month I’ve been enjoying Trader Joe’s spiked eggnog.

New Years’ Eve will be spent quietly, I expect. A toast to 2020 to all of you, my faithful readers, that it will be a good year.

Posted in Uncategorized, on December 18th, 2019.

Carolyn_1999_590

Oh my goodness – 1999. It was a good year.

Since I’ve been going through old photos – throwing out lots – archiving some – and scanning them in rather than keeping them in boxes and albums – I ran across this picture. Taken in my kitchen in the house we lived in before we bought this one in 2003. I wore glasses most of my life – until I had cataract surgery about 5 years ago, and now I don’t have to except to drive. My hair is more white now, although I think you can still tell I am/was a blonde. And there in the foreground a rose that my DH, Dave, had cut from our garden. He loved roses and would cut them and bring them to me wherever I was working in the house. This day, obviously, in the kitchen, and we were drinking red wine. Isn’t that wine glass a hoot? I think we left those glasses in our Palm Desert house when we sold it 10 or so years ago.

Christmas is a time when I feel nostalgic. I miss Dave so very much – it’s been nearly 6 years (in March). He was such a part of my life for 33 years, 31 of them married. We had so much fun entertaining here at home, or going out on the boat, sharing our love of red wine (I still have 200+ bottles in the cellar which I’m drinking, slowly but surely). We shared many activities at our church, and both of us sang in the choir for about 15 years. Dave also loved Christmas, as I do. As I write this, all my gifts are wrapped, Christmas cards have all been mailed, and I’m going to one of my book clubs this evening, for our annual potluck dinner, taking a salad (new recipe). If It’s good, I’ll share it with you in coming days. My cousin Gary is arriving on Monday to spend a week with me. We’ll be with daughter Sara for Christmas Day and the 26th also.

My daily food and cooking routine is kind of boring, although I’ve found a great chocolate chip cookie recipe that doesn’t contain wheat flour, since wheat products are a no-no on this Gundry diet I’m still on. I did make some delicious Indian Butter Chicken the other night. I’ll need to take a photo of it and could post it – made in the Instant Pot. I make lots of soups, but they’re ones I’ve made and posted, or they’re kind of boring and not worthy of a post. My normal dinner is salad with some kind of protein on it. I made my favorite sheet pan dinner the other night for a group of friends – it’s here on my blog already – Sheetpan Chicken with Sweet Potatoes, Sourdough Croutons and Squash. So delicious. And I’ve found that I can have small amounts of artisan sourdough on my diet. Yeah! I’m attending a family gathering on Saturday and will make the Bombay Cheese Ball and some kind of salad. The salad is also a new recipe – if it’s good I’ll post it. Maybe when I visit Sara next week I can get her to post something. She’s been baking up a storm (cookies that she gives to their customers).

Meanwhile, I hope each and every one of you has a very good holiday – whether it’s Christmas, Kwanzaa or Hanukah. I’m planning on having a wonderful time. And enjoying Trader Joe’s already bottled and spiked eggnog. Oh my, is it ever good. They’re totally sold out at my local store. Cheers!

Posted in Uncategorized, on September 2nd, 2019.

Hi everyone – Carolyn here . . .
Somewhere in New Mexico on I-40, the old Route 66

Not a whole lot of cooking has been going on in my kitchen, or Sara’s kitchen either, as we took a road trip from SoCal to Virginia, then to South Carolina, then flew home. Sara’s son John is now a freshman at Virginia Tech (bio-chem major, see picture below), so we delivered him there, driving across the hot-hot-hot southern route. The night we arrived in Scottsdale, at 7pm, it was 114 degrees. That was the highest temp we experienced, but as we drove east, the temp was slightly lower (under 100 for sure) but the humidity began to climb. We had a night in Santa Fe (more on that later), then to Amarillo, through Oklahoma City, overnight in Ft. Smith. Oh my. I think the hottest I felt was in Memphis with temps in the low 90s and 100% humidity. Cooler weather prevailed as we went through North Carolina and into Virginia (the eastern parts there are slightly mountainous and at a higher elevation).

We got John moved into his dorm, (his roommate Jaylon, is a freshman cheerleader) then headed to Asheville, NC. I treated Sara and me to a night at the Biltmore (we did that when we were scouting colleges 4 years ago with Sabrina). I was and am still in love with The Biltmore. We had been there in February before – gray, cloudy, rainy, icy and miserably cold, so this time it was mid-summer and we got to see the Biltmore Gardens in full bloom. Absolutely gorgeous. Sara and I had tea in the lounge (not the full afternoon tea, just a pot of TEA), had dinner at one of the restaurants on the Estate, then had lattes and a decadent flourless chocolate cake (yes, I ate some) on the terrace at the Inn as we watched the sunset. Oh my, again. So wonderful. I’d like to live there. On the Estate, of course! Ha!

Then we drove to South Carolina to deliver the 2001 Toyota we had driven across the country (that has really good A/C in it, thankfully) to Sabrina (the car is hers) who is a senior now at Clemson. We drove to Greenville, had dinner in the very quaint downtown there, got dropped off at an airport hotel and spent the night, then flew home.

Since I’ve been home, I’ve been catching up. Made a new soup, not great, so won’t be posting that one. Sara and I both couldn’t wait to get back home to eat more healthy salads and things. We stayed in Hampton Inns mostly, and got overly weary of the rubbery, tasteless scrambled eggs on the breakfast buffet and sometimes fruit that had seen better days or had some kind of strange taste to them. Even the hard boiled eggs seemed to have zippo flavor. And never did they peel easily (obviously they don’t use the InstantPot method of pressure cooking hard boiled eggs which make for the easiest shell removal ever!). But hey, it was free with the overnight stay. Salads as I know them, filled with all kinds of vegetables, are virtually unknown to the restaurant world in the South. They know lettuce, tomatoes, red onions and bottled dressings mostly. Not my fav. No celery, no shredded or chopped carrots, no crumbled Feta or goat cheese, no radicchio or fennel, no fresh herbs, avocado, red or green cabbage either. I really missed them. If we were having a more upscale dinner, then yes some salads contained more ingredients, but we were traveling on a moderate budget, so rarely did we have nice salads. Just sayin’ . . . .

Several times Sara and I went to a grocery store and bought sliced Boar’s Head turkey, some fresh apples and a variety of cheeses and had that for dinner at our hotels. We traveled with a styrofoam ice chest in the back seat where we kept fruit (grapes, blueberries, cheese, a few diet sodas, water and apples). Perfectly satisfying. We stayed hydrated everywhere. I have a new, very tall Hydro Flask and at the hotels each morning I filled up my flask with purified water we found in the gym at every hotel, added some fruit flavor drops, topped with ice and that got me through most of the day. Lots of restroom breaks, however.

I’ll do another post with more pictures . . .

Posted in Desserts, Uncategorized, on August 11th, 2019.

The Right Way to Make Tres Leches Cake!

This cake is easy and delicious without the soggy mess. 

A post from Sara – I’ve made a few Tres Leches cakes in my time and have always been disappointed with the soggy mess left by the milk mixture.  Finally, I’ve found a cake that can stand up to the mixture and a trick to prevent the sogginess thanks to Ina Garten.   There is no butter or oil in this cake which, in my opinion, allows the cake to absorb it after baking.  I think traditionally the Tres Leche cake is frosted with either meringue or a whipped topping.  I love the simple square cut of the cake topped with whipped cream and berries.  It’s much easier to store and serve which makes it a perfect make-ahead dessert.  Just whip up the cream and toss the strawberries together before serving.  I used strawberries from Bonsall Farms here in Vista.  It’s a local grower and the berries are naturally sweet perfectly red all the way through.  I actually decided not to add the extra sugar into the berries.

The trick with this cake is to beat the sugar and eggs for 10 minutes.  Yes!  Really!  It leaves the eggs thick and fluffy and a pale yellow color.  Then add the milk and flour mixture alternately.  Mix it a couple more times by hand to be sure its combined.  After it’s baked and cooled slightly, you are ready to add the milk mixture.  GO SLOWLY… pour 1/4 of mixture over punctured cake, then wait until its all absorbed.  Then another 1/4 of mixture and so on.  It allows the cake to take in the liquid rather than it sinking to the bottom of the pan and becoming a soggy mess.

Just wanted to say that mom and I (OK, just me!) having technical difficulty adding the .pdf recipe file into the blog.  So, I officially give up.  Please print screen from here or cut and paste the recipe into word processor.  Sorry.

What’s Good:  I love how easy this cake is to make.  I almost always have the ingredients in my pantry.  And I am all about make ahead dishes.

What’s Not:  It’s definitely a plan ahead dessert.  This would not work for an unexpected guest.

Tres Leches Cake with Berries

Recipe By : Farmhouse Rules
Serving Size : 12

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs — room temperature
1 cup sugar
5 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup whole milk
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
12 ounces evaporated milk
14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 vanilla bean — scrape seeds
whipped cream — for topping
8 cups strawberries, sliced

1. Pre heat oven to 350 and butter 9×13″ pan.
2. Sift flour, baking powder and salt into small bowl and set aside.
3. Place eggs, 1c sugar and vanilla extract into bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle. Beat on medium-high for 10 min (really!) until light yellow and fluffy.
4. Reduce speed to low and slowly add flour mixture, then milk, then last of flour mixture.
5. Pour into prepared pan, smooth top and bake for 25 mins, until cake springs back when touched and cake tester comes out clean.
6. Set aside to cool in pan for 30 mins.
7. In a 4c measuring cup, whisk together the heavy cream, evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, almond extract and vanilla bean seeds. Using a skewer, poke holes all over the cooled cake and slowly pour cream mixture over the cake allowing to be absorbed completely before continuing to pour more. Cover cake with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hrs.
8. To serve, toss strawberries with 5T sugar, cut square of cake, add strawberries and whipped cream.

Per Serving: 432 Calories; 16g Fat (33.4% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 64g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 108mg Cholesterol; 320mg Sodium.

Posted in Uncategorized, on May 31st, 2019.

One of my granddaughters is currently studying abroad in Argentina. This would be Sara’s daughter, Sabrina. It took her a full two months to learn the dialect they speak in Argentina. She spoke perfectly wonderful and fluent California/Baja California Spanish, but could hardly understand, or be understood in Argentina. It was very frustrating to her. She and the other 37 Clemson University students studying there all had the same difficulty. She’s finally got the language down pat, and she’s really enjoyed her classes she’s been taking there (all in Argentinian Spanish, of course). She just took a trip to Iguazu Falls and has one more trip before she comes home, that one to Machu Picchu. Then she’ll fly home at the end of June.

So, in a long conversation with her parents, they asked her what she wants to do first when she gets back home. She has it all mapped out. Sara, John, John Jr. (Sabrina’s brother) and I will drive to LAX to pick her up. First, take her to a Mexican restaurant because she’s been dying, just dying, for Mexican food. First order: a burrito. I don’t know what kind. She arrives early in the morning at LAX, so we’ll have to scope out a place that’s open. Might have to be fast food. . ..  Then, she said, you have to drive me to the beach (LAX IS right on the Pacific Ocean) so she can walk in the sand and stick her feet in the salt water. Then we’ll drive to Pasadena where Uncle Powell (Sara’s brother) and Aunt Karen live. They want to see her, of course, get a de-briefing of her 5 1/2 month sojourn, then, ta-da: she wants to have Grandma’s Grilled Salmon with Watercress Salad. This is the photo from my post – I posted the recipe in 2007 or 2008, but I updated the photo in 2009. This has been one of my go-to favorites for decades.

This request just warms my heart. I haven’t made this salmon/watercress salad for quite awhile. I was sharing Sabrina’s requests with my bible study group and we’re having a potluck dinner in a week or so, so I’m going to make this for them, especially after they heard about it.

Posted in Desserts, Uncategorized, on April 11th, 2019.

Wanna know what SMBC means?  SMBC is Swiss Meringue Butter Cream.

This is a post from Sara.  Please note this recipe takes time but is not difficult.

Sorry for the long delay in getting a blog post up here but I chose a ridiculously complicated dessert to be my first attempt on my own.  What ever made me think I should post a cupcake that includes 3 separate recipes, I’ll never know.

I’ve been baking since I was itty bitty and I’ve never found a chocolate cake this moist or a frosting so good.  I’m never going back to a standard butter cream recipe.  You know, the typical butter, powdered sugar and liquid.  The SMBC is the lightest, fluffiest frosting I’ve ever worked with.  As with all other frostings, you can color it and flavor it but it is best done without liquids.  Colored gels and powdered flavors are best.  The cake is a buttermilk recipe that is now my absolute go to favorite.  I’m very new to Pinterest but found this website Livforcake.com.   The blogger, Olivia, gave me the inspiration for this recipe.  I actually used her buttermilk chocolate cake and her SMBC peanut butter recipe but added the surprise center filling on my own.

The original cake recipe used oil and buttermilk but as I am watching my fat intake, I substituted low fat buttermilk and unsweetened applesauce.  I’ve made the recipe both ways and the original recipe is excellent.  It’s fluffy, moist and very intensely flavored.  However, with the sweetness of the filling and frosting, I don’t mind the change.

There is a real trick to making SMBC (Swiss Meringue Butter Cream).  There is a tips blog page on Olivia’s website that I would mandate you read first if I could grab the link.  So search SMBC on her website for “How to make swiss meringue buttercream”.  The biggest and most important detail is to use metal utensils and bowls and to wipe them down with lemon juice or vinegar before using.

I have a thing for filled cupcakes so this has 3 recipes that make up the cupcake.  If I could suggest, bake the cupcakes beforehand.  Then scoop out the centers (keep for snacks later!) and make the peanut butter filling.  Drop a ball into each cavity.  Then make the frosting.  Assemble and decorate.  I made these for my niece and her soccer team.  She shoots and she SCORES!  Needless to say, they were a big hit.

What’s GOOD:  What’s not to like?  These are moist, decadent cupcakes with a peanut butter surprise and intensely flavored peanut butter frosting.  I love this cake recipe.  I think it’s my new favorite.

What’s NOT:  If you haven’t made a meringue frosting before, it can be intimidating.  As I said, read up on it first and DO NOT skip the acid wipe of your all metal utensils.  I’ve made the SMBC twice now and haven’t had any problems.  The recipe is time consuming, I admit.  But I made the cupcakes Thursday night after work.  Stored them in lidded containers.  Then Friday after work, I scooped out the cupcakes, made the filling and dropped it in.  It probably took me 30 mins to make the frosting.

printer friendly pdf for the cupcakes

Chocolate Buttermilk Cake

Adapted from LivForCake.com
Servings: 24

1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder, sifted
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup buttermilk, room temperature
3/4 cup hot water
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 350F, line cupcake pan with cupcake liners.
2. Place all dry ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Stir to combine.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk all wet ingredients (pour water in slowly as not to cook the eggs if very hot.)
4. Add wet ingredients to dry and mix on medium for 2-3 mins. Batter will be very thin.
5. Pour evenly into prepared cupcake trays.
6. Bake until a tester comes out mostly clean 18-22 mins.
7. Cool 10 mins in pans then turn out onto wire rack to cool completely.
8. CUPCAKES: scoop out center of cupcake to make room for filling, if using.

. . .
printer friendly pdf for peanut butter filling

* Exported from MasterCook *

Peanut Butter Filling

Recipe By: Adapted from an old magazine
Serving Size: 28

1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
3 tablespoons butter — softened
1 cup confectioner’s sugar

1. Stir together peanut butter and butter.
2. Gradually add sugar, stirring til combined.
3. Shape into balls. Place on wax paper and chill til needed.
Per Serving: 55 Calories; 4g Fat (56.1% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 5g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 3mg Cholesterol; 34mg Sodium.

. . .
printer friendly pdf for SMBC PB Frosting

* Exported from MasterCook *

Peanut Butter SMBC (Swiss Meringue Butter Cream) Frosting

Recipe By: LivForCakes.com

5 large egg whites
1 2/3 cup dark brown sugar lightly packed
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter cubed — room temperature
1/2 cup powdered peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla

1. Place egg whites and dark brown sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk until combined. Ensure there is NO trace of egg yolk.
2. Place bowl over a hot water bath on the stove and whisk constantly until the mixture is hot and no longer grainy to the touch (approx. 3mins). Or registers 160F on a candy thermometer.
3. Place bowl on your stand mixer and whisk on med-high until the meringue is stiff and cooled (the bowl is no longer warm to the touch (approx. 5-10mins)).
4. Slowly add cubed butter and mix until smooth. It may look like it’s curdling at some point. Keep mixing until it comes together.
5. Add powdered peanut butter & vanilla and whip until smooth.
Per Serving: 96 Calories; 0g Fat (0.0% calories from fat); 18g Protein; 3g Carbohydrate; 0g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 274mg Sodium.

Posted in Uncategorized, on March 21st, 2019.

My friend Kathy’s daughter, Meredith, took these pictures. We, here in California, are experiencing what’s called a “super bloom” because of all the rain we’ve had over this winter. Our open spaces everywhere are in full green and grow mode. But we have poppies here in California that bloom like weeds. Meredith and a girlfriend went out into the desert earlier this week and took these pictures. Aren’t they just gorgeous?

Meredith took dozens of pictures, but I chose two of the best ones. Thanks, Meredith for sending to me so I could post them on the blog.

Posted in Uncategorized, on December 31st, 2018.

You know, I’ve been writing this blog for nearly 12 years. And as time has gone by, I’ve lengthened the interval between posts (at first it was every day, then every other, then every 3 days, and currently about every 4 days). With this diet I’m on, I don’t imagine you, my readers, have been all that interested in what I have to write. It takes a firm discipline to be on the Stephen Gundry, Plant Paradox diet. It’s restrictive, and isn’t a diet that you take on lightly, or even as a diet you’ll eventually get to the end of. It’s a life-long commitment, if you choose to continue. There are days when I’m quite frustrated with it, but I do believe in the basic premise of it – virtually no carbs.

I’m experimenting with a few recipes to make “breads” that are edible on this diet, but are they satisfying? Not much, so far. I long for a slice of whole grain toast now and then, and a simple tuna sandwich slathered with some mayo and on white bread. Or a potato, or some kernels of corn in a soup. All no-no’s. My eating style has changed so much in the 9 months or so I’ve been on this diet. Currently I’m having 2 hard boiled eggs for breakfast, with a little mound of fresh blueberries on the side. For lunch I have soup, something I’ve made that contains foods I can eat. I have a small handful of nuts and a raw carrot in the mid-afternoon if I’m craving a snack. For dinner mostly I eat a salad with plenty of vegetables in it and tossed with a homemade dressing I’ve prepared. And at some point in the day I do indulge in some very dark chocolate (an ounce a day, which is allowed). That’s it. I can have a bit of wine if I want it, and I’ve been enjoying eggnog this month if it’s made with heavy cream. I do go out to eat some (with friends) and order meat and a veg mostly. Or a salad if they have one that’s got food I can eat.

On occasion I still cook “regular” meals, with carbs. But they’re for guests. Usually very little of it that I can eat. And yes, it’s difficult doing that. I have so many wonderful recipes on my blog and I’m sad I can’t have most of them anymore.

So, all that said, I’m giving myself permission to quit writing posts for the time being. Or at least not on the schedule I’ve been on. Or, unless I make something that I am really enamored with and feel a strong need to share with you. I’m not going away. My plan is to devote some of this extra time to my art, something I haven’t done in many years and I’d like to get back to it. Drawing and watercolor mostly. I’ll keep the blog up (it costs me about $12/month to keep it on the ‘net and an annual fee for the domain name). Maybe I’ll come back to it. I don’t know. I’ve never accepted advertising, nor guest posts (other than my daughter’s). Daughter Sara would like to take over this blog, and perhaps she will – she says she want to. There’s a certain discipline that’s needed when you write a blog, and I’m not sure with her so-very-busy life (full time job and family) that she has the time. But she took photos of 2-3 recipes on December 24th, and she wants to share them. I need to teach her how to do it all, however, so the plan is that sometime in the next few weeks she’s going to come here to my house and I’ll spend time with her doing that.

I’ve been retired since 1995 – gee whiz – that’s 23 years ago – and I’ve actually accomplished all of the goals I made for myself when I did so. (Those goals: 1. write a cookbook for my children [I started this blog first, but I did print a cookbook that I gifted to all of my kids and close friends]; 2. start an investment club [did that for 11 years, I think it was]; and 3. learn to paint [yes, did that one too]. I hadn’t planned on becoming a widow, however. At least not this soon. In March, it’ll be 5 years since Dave passed away. But I’m so grateful he and I did lots and lots of traveling in the years of our marriage and especially so after we both retired. We visited every place we’d put on our travel list and then some. I’m still living in a great big house, and I truly love my home, but there are days when I get overwhelmed with keeping watch over everything. In the last year I’ve had a leak – sprinklers that were spraying the house rather than the garden and it caused a $10,000 repair bill to replace hardwood flooring inside, dry wall, stucco outside, treat for subterranean termites, paint inside and out, etc. It was a big job and fortunately there was no mold. Currently I have a roof leak of unknown origin. Fortunately, during our heavy rains last month it only leaked onto my glass-topped coffee table (family room) and nowhere else. Now a big towel and a wide bowl sit smack-dab in the middle of that table all the time. Heaven forbid that we’d have a rain and I’d have forgotten to put the bowl on the table, so it’s safer to leave it there all the time. Next step is to contact a leak detection company and have them make a go of it.

Recently I’ve subscribed to MasterCook’s online sync (currently $35.00/year), which gives me the ability to access all of my recipes from my phone because all the recipes that live on my kitchen computer as synced to the ones at the MasterCook website – those 4,000 recipes (and counting – I think yesterday I input about 12 recipes) I’ve input into the MasterCook program. Previously, if I was out, I could access only my blog to look up my recipes, but of course I couldn’t get to all the recipes I have in my to-try file. Now I can do that when I’m at the grocery store and forgot to bring the recipe with me, or forgot to make a shopping list. I use Alexa to add items to my shopping list, but sometimes I simply forget to do even that!

I’ll keep my blog up and available for awhile. And maybe in a month or so I’ll miss it so much I’ll start back up again. You never know! But if you’ve ever planned to go back and look at older recipes and download them, you might want to do it. But for now, the blog will just “be there.” You’re welcome to email me with questions.

carolyn AT tastingspoons.com

Posted in Uncategorized, on August 12th, 2018.

Without a doubt, the best photo I took on the whole trip.

This trip my family took was 16 days – 3 nights in London, 4 nights in Florence, 4 nights in Paris, 3 nights in Normandy and the last night at an airport hotel. Our Airbnb adventure began in Florence, at an apartment just 30 steps from the Piazza Santa Croce. In hunting for a place, I knew about what area I wanted us to stay, and it was difficult, 10 months before the trip, to even find anything available to sleep 8 of us. As I mentioned earlier, however, the only reason (I believe) this apartment was available was because it was up 4 flights of stone steps without an elevator. We all got used to the climb (my grandson John carried my luggage up and down for me – bless him!). With my workout routine (cardio) I was able to walk up the full 4 flights without stopping – the first time each day – but each subsequent climb I’d usually have to pause at the 3rd floor for about 3 breaths, then continued on up. 

The apartment was wonderful – and the best part – it was air conditioned. Florence was HOT. Hot in temps and high in humidity. We all complained of the heat, but then, we asked for it by traveling to Europe in July. It got worse after we left (in fact, Europe has been experiencing a heat wave since we came home). 

I’ve been to Florence multiple times – and my choice always is to be out in the hills, the small towns, the countryside – but this was the first time there for some of them and there are so many things to see in Florence, so we needed to be in the hub of things. The closest grocery store was about 3/4 mile away, and Karen, Sara and I made the trek the first afternoon to stock up. We ate all our breakfasts at the apartment, drinking copious cups of coffee and filling ourselves with wonderful fruit, bread and cheeses. Plus some lovely salumi as well. You know, in Italy, the custom is bread without any salt – salt was an expensive commodity somewhere back in the dark ages, and the Italians simply got used to bread without it. We were able to buy baguettes too (also without salt) so we enjoyed those every day. The cheeses and salamis were my favorite.

My family all had varying goals in mind – the Uffizi museum, the statue of David (by Michelangelo), the Galileo museum (a highlight for 10-year old Vaughan because of it’s interactive gadgets showcasing Galileo’s infinite scientific inventions), Fiesole (a hill town nearby the city), the Duomo, of course, gelato and more gelato. And pasta. I think the 3 children had pasta every day in one way or another. One of my goals was to eat at Il Latini, my favorite Florence restaurant. Karen’s uncle, who speaks a bit of Italian, was able to make a reservation for us weeks ahead (it’s a very popular restaurant) and we were whisked right in when the doors opened at 7:30. Another goal of mine was to visit Michelangelo’s tomb which is housed in the Santa Croce church. You have to pay to enter. 

Back last year when I knew we were going to make this trip I sent my granddaughter Sabrina a copy of one of my favorite books of all time – The Agony and the Ecstasy: A Biographical Novel of Michelangelo by Irving Stone. I read it when I was in my 20s and have never forgotten it. Sabrina brought the book along on the trip, and since she’s an artist (she’s the granddaughter going to Clemson, who now says, she thinks, that she wants to go to med school, not vet school) she was really interested. After going to see the statue of David, she came flying into the apartment, arms outstretched, to hug me and thank me for the trip, but also the joy she felt at seeing the David statue. I didn’t go with them as I was standing guard at the apartment, hoping young John’s luggage was going to be delivered, but it was deadly hot that day and I remembered from before that there is simply no air in the building that houses the statue. I was thankful to be in the apartment, in the A/C, pleasantly reading. 

The tomb of Michelangelo

There’s the Michelangelo tomb, inside the Santa Croce church. You can’t walk up to it – they’ve constructed an ornate railing and there are engravings in the marble floor in front of it, so they don’t want the general public walking all over it. Many exhibits in Florence have English and Italian captions.

One of the evenings we took taxis (two, obviously) to a hill on the south side of the Arno. It’s an open piazza, on a hilltop, and there were about 300-400 other tourists angling to get the best camera shot of the river, of Florence, of the Ponte Vecchio bridge (the one closest to the viewer) at sunset. And oh, that did not disappoint. I took about 30 photos. There was a collective sigh when the sun finally disappeared.

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