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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):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tasting Spoons

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

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Posted in Desserts, Utensils, on June 17th, 2010.

Certainly I hope you’ve visited your local Costco and purchased some of the fabulous in-season peaches. They’re fabulous. That’s all I can say. Outstanding. I allowed them to ripen a bit out on my kitchen counter (about 4 days), and made this delicious peach cobbler with 8 of the 12. If you like cobblers, you’ll enjoy this one too.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Utensils, on June 16th, 2010.

In with writing posts about recipes, I thought I’d share some photos and information about some of my favorite kitchen utensils. The ones that I’ve learned to love and treasure. Some bloggers now have a sidebar filled with mini-photos of their favorite utensils. I suppose I could do that too, but so many of you read my blog through an RSS reader and you’d never even see the sidebar anyway. I won’t make this an everyday thing – that would get really boring. I’ve already taken photos of all of the treasures, so I’ll put them in now and then.

This actually is my newest purchase. I already have the regular single citrus presses in orange (for oranges), yellow (for lemons) and green (for limes). And they work fine, but the paint has begun to chip off. Very unattractive, and perhaps not all that healthy since juices could grow bacteria in the crevices. So when I saw this one at the cooking school Cherrie and I visit all the time, I grabbed it up. It is available at Williams-Sonoma for $19.95. It’s not yet available at Amazon; sorry! What’s nice about this new press is that it works for both lemons AND limes. And maybe small oranges. It has gradations in the bottom (see the circles in the bottom part?) so it will work with any small citrus. Now I’ll be able to get rid of the other three I own and just use this one. I might keep the orange squeezer, though, because this new press wouldn’t take a large Naval orange.

A year ago: Grilled Rib Lamb Chops with Herb Rub
Two years ago: Flank Steak with Orange Marinade
Three years ago: Roasted Poblano Asiago Soup (oh, a real winner)

Posted in Grilling, Utensils, on December 4th, 2009.

smoked pork

Last week we made a purchase . . . of a Brinkman electric smoker (at Home Depot, for about $70). I’ve wanted one for a long time, but it meant just one more “appliance,” and this one with storage issues. But with only one kitchen oven at our house at the desert, initially I thought we’d smoke the turkey. But we ended up not doing so – we baked the turkey and all the sides were able to go in the heated oven once the turkey was removed, and the turkey rested (foil tented). It worked out just fine. But in the interim, we did buy a smoker anyway. We bought an electric one because I figured my DH would not really want to tend to the briquettes over many, long hours of slow cooking. That was probably a good decision, although you can’t control the temperature much with an electric smoker.

brinkman red smoker First, I wanted to give the smoker a test run, so I bought a beef brisket. I dutifully read the brochure that came with the smoker. It indicated about 25-30 minutes per pound of brisket. Having had no experience with a smoker I assumed it was correct. I also went online to read some of the smoker websites to get another opinion. They all said about the same thing. Well, no the time was wrong, maybe because of the small size. I really don’t know. After 2+ hours the meat had only gotten to about 110 degrees which made no sense at all. The smoker was at about 250. Finally, after another 30 minutes and hardly any increase in temp, we brought it in the house, I wrapped it in foil and put it in the oven for about another 1 1/2 hours. THEN it was cooked through and tender as could be. Everybody enjoyed the meat, once it was cooked enough. Uhm. Shall I tell you what time we ate? Probably about 8:30 pm. Not one of my finer moments!

So I should have learned that the smoking meat seems to take longer than you might think. So a few days later I bought two 7-pound pork shoulder roasts. We were having a big dinner party for 18 people (well, 15 adults, 2 youngsters and a 2-year old baby). First I brined the roasts in a store-bought brining mix. I started this a day before, and they brined overnight. Then I dried off the roasts with copious sheets of paper towels, then patted the roasts all over with a store-bought rub for pork. Then they went into the preheated smoker. For hours and hours. With some mesquite wood chips and a pan of water in the bottom. The roasts smoked for about 6 hours. Not long enough. But at least they were cooked. I ended up having to slice the meat rather than pulling it apart, as was my plan. The flavor was stupendous, though. And we can’t wait to try it again. I now have a smoker cookbook in hand, and will use some of its sage advice before we try the next smoked meat. I made a Kansas City-style cole slaw (not memorable, no mayo, slightly sweet), some of the delicious garbanzo bean salad with Feta, green onions and cilantro, a friend brought a green salad, and I served the pork for soft sandwiches. I also made a new batch of the red peppers for meat, which went well with the pork sandwiches. And I had a generous bottle of barbecue sauce for those who wanted it that way. We ate one whole roast and part of the second one. Hungry crowd. I’ll let you know how the next one turns out.

smoked pork sandwich

Two years ago: Free-form turkey tortilla soup (from leftover Thanksgiving turkey)

Posted in Utensils, on March 31st, 2009.


Just in case you haven’t read or heard about this new Beater Blade gizmo, I’m here to tell you this blade for Kitchen Aid, (Viking and Century too) stand mixers is amazing. All these years I’ve kind of just accepted that some of the batter doesn’t mix much, and you have to stop the mixer numerous times and scrape down the sides. Somebody agreed with most of us cooks (and probably chefs too) that Kitchen Aid missed the mark in the design, and did something about it.

It’s not made by Kitchen Aid, but by a company called NewMetro Design. If you go to the Beater Blade website they make blades to fit 12 models. These are available at some stores. If you do an online search for “beater blade” (mine for the tilt-head is a KA-TH model) you’ll likely find them. Amazon has them too. They’re available for both the tilt-head and bowl lift professional models for Kitchen Aid. The model for the latter is $5.00 more.


This little number works like a CHARM. In this picture above, you can see the opacity of the plastic. The edges are a soft rubber – only the interior frame is hard plastic. It’s not flimsy in the least. And you can see the tiny slit at the bottom – that scrapes the dimple in the bottom of the bowl. I think I paid $24.95 for it, at an independent kitchenware store. I had not seen it except through mail order, up until last week. If you compare the two you’ll notice that the design is certainly similar, but it has rubber edges that scrape the bowl. According to the website, the blade even will gently mix in egg whites for souffles, etc. There are videos at their website demonstrating the uses, although there isn’t one for folding in egg whites. Hmmm; wonder why? I argued with myself that I didn’t need to spend $25 on some kitchen trinket, but am so glad I did. If you’re a baker, you’ll be glad you have one of these. I just wish I’d thought of it myself!

Posted in pressure cooker, Utensils, on July 10th, 2008.

fagor pressure cooker duo combi set

Some months ago I attended a cooking class where the chef prepared barbecued short ribs in a pressure cooker. The cooking school didn’t have one for her to use, so she brought her own. The owner of the cooking school recommended the Fagor brand (made in Spain) Duo. And she offhandedly said – you’ve gotta try carrots in the pressure cooker. Really, I thought? Carrots?

I haven’t had a pressure cooker for years. The one I was given in 1962 long ago bit the dust. Since I’m retired, I argued to myself that I really didn’t need one. Until I tasted the results of that recipe (the short ribs) I had kept that interest at bay. Then, my friend Cherrie loaned me her Fagor P.C. for a few weeks. I made three dishes in it and decided I wanted one. I bought mine on eBay – it was a Fagor Duo combi set – it comes with two base pots (a 4-quart and an 8-quart), one pressure cooker lid, a steamer insert, and a glass lid. The one I acquired was NIB (in eBay language that’s New-In-Box). Did I get a bargain? Well, after shipping I saved about $20, I think. I do not have an eBay addiction – in fact I’m not very good at keeping on top of the bid process on the few occasions when I’ve tried to buy something that way. I bought mine as a Buy Now, which bypasses the whole bid thing. Likely my set came from a Fagor outlet store as I discovered a black mark inside the lid. It won’t come off. But who cares?

My next project is to decide which cookbook(s) to buy. Nothing came with the pressure cookers except a tiny minimally informative booklet and a DVD. I did watch the video, though, which helped explain the procedures. I’ve got that down pat.

I went to the web, then, and researched the books. I think I must have two, so am going to add them to my wish list (my birthday is coming up). In the interim, though, I went to the internet to find recipes online. There’s one definitive site – Miss Vickie’s – with lots and lots of recipes. I chose one for mixed vegetables (Brussels sprouts, one small potato, onion and several carrots). I sautéed the onions first, then piled into the pot the fresh chopped vegetables (with the potatoes and carrots cut smaller than the Brussels sprouts – otherwise they won’t get done at the same time). I added some chicken broth and a bit of butter, plus some thyme, salt and pepper and it was done. Took 4 minutes. FOUR MINUTES! Meantime I had sautéed some orange roughy, and my dinner was completed. All within about 15 minutes. Love it! And the vegetables? I thought they were terrific. And would you believe the best part was the carrots!

Posted in Utensils, on June 21st, 2008.

old fashioned walnut chopper

Isn’t this thing cute? It belonged to my mother, and is one of the few things that I kept from my mother’s kitchen stuff. It’s a fairly flimsy chopper for walnuts. It won’t chop almonds or hazelnuts, or brazil nuts (because they’re too hard) but it will cut walnuts and pecans. You just pile a few into the top and turn the crank. Most likely the blades on this are getting dull, because it’s not exactly easy to do. And I question sometimes using it, that the flimsy arm will break off. I use it rarely because it seems so easy to just use a big chef’s knife and chop. But this little gadget brings back memories of when I was a young thing and helped my mother in the kitchen. Chopping nuts was a job she could give me to do – with this little contraption rather than using a big knife, or stirring a hot pot. I’m not sure why my mother even kept it, but she did, even when they moved into a retirement home and had a miniscule kitchen hardly worthy of the title of “kitchen.” So I keep it and use it occasionally. The poor thing has chipping paint, the decal is still visible (kind of corny, but typical of designs of the day) and the blades, well they’re over the hill. But it whelms me with nostalgia nevertheless. Do any of you have one of these?

Posted in Utensils, on January 18th, 2008.

Someone uploaded a comment to my posting about Onion Goggles, and asked about where to buy these, so am writing a separate post just about these things. A quick explanation – the darker curved strip you can see on the inside of the lenses is a soft foam, and it fits snugly against your face. Keeps all fumes from reaching your eyes. All. These things work like a charm. I paid $19.99, I believe. They may be available at your local cookware store (I bought these at Great News in San Diego).


Don't plan on winning any GQ or Cosmo modeling contracts wearing the onion goggles.

They are available online at:

Amazon, in pink, black and white. For $17.99, plus shipping, of course.

Dynamic-Living, in green/black, for $19.99, plus shipping.

Or, read a discussion of them over at Chowhound.

I read several discussion groups about the onion goggles. Some people speculate that they won’t work (those who have never tried them). People who wear contacts are less bothered by the vapors. You can also wear swim goggles, which should do the same thing. One reader keeps a cheap pair in her kitchen drawer. Other people claim the onion goggles don’t work for them. But, for me, these absolutely DO work, and my eyes are very sensitive to the sulphur vapor from onions. Enough said.

Posted in Utensils, on November 30th, 2007.

No, this isn’t ebay. (Although, click here if you’re interested in looking at what ebay sellers have in the Nespresso D300.) Since I had to make some espresso for my coffeecake a day or so ago, I thought you might want to know what I use. This is a very prized “baby” in my kitchen. I’ve had espresso machines over the years. At least 20 years ago I even saved up for a long time to buy one of the fancy Pavonis from Italy. It was a fortune, back then, nearly $500 for a hand-pull machine. I used it for several years, but it required a trip to a very inconvenient Italian type espresso machine repair store about once every 2 years for new gaskets (expensive) and I found it very messy to use. The coffee also wasn’t reliably the same. I tried measuring each time, tamping just so, pulling the handle down slower, faster, etc. Nothing seemed to produce a reliably similar cup of espresso. I kind of stopped using it.

My friend Cherrie introduced me to the Nespresso. Soon after buying it, she made me a cup. Oh. My. Goodness. I was in love. I vowed to buy one, using one of my 10% off coupons from Sur la Table. These machines are pricey, so 10% off was enough to make it worthwhile (you get coupons when you attend classes there). You can buy them directly from the company, or they are available in some high-end cookware retail stores. They don’t manufacture this model anymore – they have a different one with a newer, sexier shape. You can buy used, but reconditioned D300’s (with warranty) for about $300 (I paid $400 new).

I’ve had mine, now, for about 3 years. Maybe 4. And it gets used every single day. It’s so very easy to make a good always-the-same espresso each time. This machine does use pods (all their models use the same coffee pods). They’re small light weight foil things, carefully constructed so the pod is pierced exactly the same each time. I always thought that buying a machine that required me to have coffee pods shipped to me would be such a big waste. Expensive. A nuisance to do. But I’m a total convert since I bought the Nespresso. The pods were about $.50 apiece (in sleeves of 10 each), but they just raised prices, so they’re likely more like $.60 each. When I order them, I order a big batch of them. Cherrie and I order them together, too. Still a bargain compared to Starbucks or Peet’s.

One of the other features of this machine – other than the precision in which it’s made – it’s a simple press of a button to make an espresso size or a somewhat larger 1/2 cup – is the fact that the Nespresso gives any cup it makes a lovely head of foam. Without using milk and the steamer nozzle. So I don’t have to dirty up my steamer pot to make a latte. I just heat up the cream in the Bodum cup in my microwave, stick it under the Nespresso spout and press the button. How easy is that? This machine is a real workhorse, and has a very important place in my kitchen.

clockwise, from top left: the Bodum thermal cup that’s my go-to cup every morning, because it keeps the espresso hot longer (it’s filled with about a tablespoon of cream); espresso streaming in; a cute little espresso cup I use sometimes; the coffee pods.

Posted in Utensils, on July 11th, 2007.

Since I’m on a nostalgia thing at the moment, thought I’d tell you about this lid. Funny looking thing, isn’t it? Doesn’t look at all like the trendy All-Clad or Calphalon heavy lids you’re used to viewing. I think cooks take lids for granted. You just think they all have to match and look pretty. Am sure some of you have grabbed a lid that really didn’t fit that pan, but it worked. It performed the job for which it was intended. Maybe it didn’t fit tight, that’s all. And they certainly do vary in composition, though. There are stainless ones, aluminum, fancy alloys, copper, glass, bamboo and even some homely variations like the one above made of thin tinny aluminum. And lids have so many uses. They can sit squarely (hmm, roundly?) on their corresponding pans, they can sit slightly ajar to allow steam to escape. Or they can sit widely ajar and consequently drip condensation from the cooking pot onto your counter or cooktop (oh, joy). A lid can be used as a weight (like in a large, tall pot on top of the stuffed cabbage leaves with a brick sitting centered atop the lid, covered in foil) too. I suppose this lid I have could be used as a frisbee as well since it’s so light weight. The photo doesn’t reveal to you the dents around the outer rim. This baby’s seen a few rides – from cooktop to floor.

And its culinary uses, of course, are endless, but what a lid does best – what a lid does for a living is help us cooks retain heat and moisture in whatever we’re cooking. So, here’s to the lowly lid!

So back to this particular lid. It’s precious to me because it was my mother’s – we use it nearly every day. I don’t actually know how old the lid is, but I would guess it’s from the 1930’s, maybe the 20’s. My parents both grew up during the Depression and were children of farming families in and around Turlock, Modesto and Ceres in the San Joaquin Valley (Central California). My grandfather raised tomatoes and a variety of other salad bowl foods. He tried nuts once, too. Money was very hard to come by and my mother quit college to work so she could send money home to keep the farm from going under. How many of our kids would do that today?

My DH cooks breakfast most mornings (that was one of the new jobs he got when he retired – oh happy day – breakfast was never a meal I loved to prepare anyway), and we cook up a single sausage link for each of us. The lid fits perfectly in our Farberware Millenium nonstick pan (that came sans lid) that is used for said sausage. As an aside, the Farberware pan was recommended in Cooks Illustrated some years back when they did a test of nonstick pans. This pan won for the budget category, but they highly recommended it, even if you have to replace it every few years, since it cost a mere $19.95 at Bed, Bath & Beyond. There are two sizes and I have both, but the smaller one is the workhorse in my house. If interested, click on the Farberware link above to view.

So, after my mother passed away, when I found this ugly-duckling lid in the miscellaneous mish-mash of ancient pots and pans in my mother’s kitchen (all put to good use, I assure you), I put it aside for me. You can never have too many lids, right? That’s what I thought. But this lid had one additional problem – other than its age. That is its funny little handle ring. Barely big enough to put a finger through. It’s more like what we’d now buy at the hardware store for 49 cents as a key ring. And gosh-darned difficult to lift up, especially if the lid is HOT. And with today’s big, plushy hot pads, it was impossible.

So now we get to the second part of the story. The other day I wrote a long story about why I attend cooking classes, and one of the items listed was that even though I go to a class based on the menu, or an interesting technique to learn, I almost always learn something, even if I don’t come away with ground-breaking recipes.

A year ago May we had a small group of friends who spent a week in a gorgeous farmhouse in Provence. During our stay, a few of us gals attended a cooking class nearby in St. Remy. We met the chef/wife at the local market in town and for over an hour we paraded through the stalls, where she pointed out better vendors, showed us how to choose the freshest of fish, the best of the spices, and shared her favorite food and non-food artisans of the region. Then we exited to her lovely home a mile or so away and helped prepare a meal for the group which was served as the twilight waned, when some of the husbands arrived to partake of the day’s labors. It was a very, very expensive class. Far more than I would normally have spent for a cooking class; albeit, this went from about 9:30 in the morning until about 9:30 at night. And I didn’t really come away with a single recipe that I’ve made in the interim, because I’d made most of the menu items before. But the class was fun. She was engaging and entertaining.

But in the process of the class she pointed to a lid on one of her pots and what was there, but a cork. It was a very nice, elegant lid, with a similar flat Calphalon handle that I have on several of my Calphalon pans. Nowadays lots of the upscale manufacturers make cool (not hip, but non-heating) handles. Mine are older and don’t have that added convenience. So, she or her husband had whittled a wine cork (note that the bottom 1/5 has been sliced off to lay flat and slide ever-so-snugly inside the handle ring) to tuck under the handle and that’s what she grabs
when she wants to remove it. That little tidbit stayed with me until I got home and the first bottle of wine we opened, a Mayo Merlot, the cork became the new handle for my favorite old lid. So, you see, you never know from whence wisdom will come. The most unlikeliest of places, perhaps.

Posted in Utensils, on May 25th, 2007.

Here’s something I use often in my kitchen. It’s a 6-inch tomato knife. A very razor-sharp serrated edged knife with a sleeve to store it in, that is specifically made for slicing tomatoes. Does it work? Absolutely – you can get almost paper thin slices with little effort. Is it worth buying a knife just for tomatoes, you ask? I think so.

Kitchen Tip:

These knives are ever-so sharp, so be careful. I would not let a child use this

And just in case you didn’t catch it a couple of sentences ago. . . Is it sharp? Yes, indeed. I cut myself with it soon after getting it, so now am very, very careful when I use it. Why is it different than any other serrated blade? I wish I could tell you; I can’t, but it works and that’s why I am recommending it. I believe I ordered mine from a catalog (don’t remember which one, but it wasn’t Williams-Sonoma or Sur la Table) about 2-3 years ago. It’s made by PureKomachi (Japan) and is available at several on-line retailers. Here’s the Amazon link where it’s $14.98. It appears they no longer make this knife with the hard plastic sleeve, although they’ve changed the tip to include small points to remove the core. That sounds like a good improvement, although my less pointed tip suffices for removing small cores.

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