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Carolyn

Sara

 

Sara and me

I participate in an amazon program that rewards a little tiny $ something (pennies, really) to me if you purchase any books I recommend, or products that I buy and feature on my food blog. 

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Agathe von Trapp was the eldest daughter of the renowned von Trapp family. Some years ago she wrote Memories Before and After the Sound of Music: An Autobiography beginning from her first memories at age 2 (yes, really!). The book tells the honest-truth about the family’s life in Austria and Italy prior to the war, and debunks many of the story lines from the musical, The Sound of Music. Liesl, the part played by Charmian Carr, was supposedly the story of Agathe. But it wasn’t, really. As long as you know that the musical and movie were made for the stage and film, then reading the true stories about their family life, their escape (by train from Italy, with no problems at all, no hiding in an abbey) and eventual settling in Stowe, Vermont, where there still is a family lodge for paying guests. The family singers toured for many years, and earned enough money to then survive for some months in Vermont, practicing and gearing up for their next national or world tour. One of the sad parts for me was reading that although Maria von Trapp certainly kept the family together, as step-children, they didn’t always love and adore her. A good enough read. Not a long book, and not exactly an example of fine, non-fiction literature, but still, it kept my interest mostly because I’ve been a fan of the movie ever since it came out in 1965-66.

Sarah Steele wrote a quite intricate book – probably more interesting to a woman anyway – called The Missing Pieces of Nancy Moon. A young woman going through a breakup of her marriage, and the death of her grandmother, finds a box in the relative’s wardrobe. In it are fabric swatches attached to dress patterns, and a postcard of a woman wearing the dress. It’s all quite mysterious. Florence decides she should re-create the dresses and the journeys. Quite an interesting theme for a book, and it’s well done here. Travel to the Riviera is included, and some fun encounters with new friends. Well worth reading.

I’ve been a fan of C.J. Box for several years. Have read most of his books. Mysteries of a sheriff in Wyoming, solving murders, usually. Box has a gift of suspense. This new book, Long Range (A Joe Pickett Novel) This one starts with the after-effects of a deadly grizzly bear attack, then extends to the murder of a judge’s wife. All interconnected, and complicated. The book was too short . . . I always want more.

Tracy Chevalier has written another fascinating book . . . A Single Thread: A Novel. The time period is between the wars, Britain. So many spinsters were left following the war, and Violet doesn’t want to become an embittered woman, caring for her angry, feeble and declining mother. So she moves on to Winchester. She works at a ho-hum job, but also becomes a volunteer at the Cathedral (ever been there? gorgeous), helping to make needlepoint kneeling pads. There are traditions even for kneeling pads (yes, really), and Violet takes this very seriously. There’s a love story woven into the fabric of this story too, and how Violet blooms and grows. Chevalier has a way with words. A good read.

An unusual book, The Weight of a Piano: A novel by Chris Cander. It begins in 1962 in Russia, a young girl is gifted a Blüthner piano. She has real skill and hopes to keep it forever. Yet, once she marries, she must leave it behind when she emigrates to the U.S. Thence the story begins, of what happens to the piano, its interim stops (even a bit about how the piano feels –  yes, some surrealism here). And about how it survives the voyage to America itself. I don’t want to give it away. You’ll learn a LOT about pianos and equally as much about Blüthner ones, how they’re made. The book does not have a happy ending – at least not in my opinion, if that’s something that’s important to you. Quite a story; and again, unusual.

Erik Larson’s tome, The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz. This book covers the “reign” of Winston Churchill during the height of WWII. You’ll learn so much more about him. About the war. About the inner workings of the British government, including political. I’m a great admirer of the late Mr. Churchill. One of my more recent trips to England I visited Chartwell, the family home and where Winston died. If you’ve never been there, do add it to your itinerary next time. Beautiful grounds, including the small studio he used to paint.

Ken Follett is one of my fav authors, and I pre-ordered his newest, The Evening and the Morning (Kingsbridge), which is a prequel to The Pillars of the Earth: A Novel (Kingsbridge), my all-time favorite book I’ve ever read in my life. Time period: 975 to about 1007 or so. Give or take. It follows a poor, but eager and intelligent builder as he earns his trade. It’s about his loves. His failures. The families all around, and much about the ever-present church (and its leaders, some honest, many not). Could hardly put the book down. Love Follett’s style of writing.

Every so often I read a romance of some kind. Historical ones mostly. And most I don’t include them here. But one I liked a lot is The Secrets of Saffron Hall by Clare Marchant. It happens to be very inexpensive right now on amazon, on Kindle, in case you’re interested. It jumps from 1538 and to 2019. Having to do with a precious book, a Book of Hours, and what secrets it contains. The growing of saffron plays large here and both romance in Tudor times and a tenuous marriage in current time, but nearly all of it takes place at a Tudor castle. Loved the book.

The book Where the Blind Horse Sings: Love and Healing at an Animal Sanctuary shares the story of a number of animals brought to an animal sanctuary in the Catskills. If you’re an animal lover, you’ll enjoy the stories, each animal bringing more to the human-animal relationship than you might even guess. Profound stories of love of animals. Not a long book; I think I got it as a bargain book from bookbub.

The title caught my attention on this one: Threading My Prayer Rug: One Woman’s Journey from Pakistani Muslim to American Muslim by Sabeeha Rehman. She’s written her own autobiography, beginning when she was a young child in Pakistan, to her eventual settling in New York. It’s about the Muslim experience. Their beliefs, their customs and traditions, told in a very pleasing and informational way. She marries in American Pakistani Muslim (an arranged marriage) and it’s the story of everything. Nothing much is left out of the journey she made, and still makes. She became a kind of activist for her religion, trying to bring Muslim customs to integrate into American culture (not always an easy task). Her husband is a doctor; she a hospital administrator. Likely you’ll learn more than you thought about Muslims. Very well written. Enjoyed it very much.

Finished Chinn’s story, The English Wife. What a great read. Could hardly put it down. I’m reading 3-4 books a week these days, and am so happy when I have a book I can’t wait to get back to. Really the story is about two sisters. Partly in Norwich, England, then in Newfoundland. One there, one here. And some of it takes place during WWII in Norwich, and much of it Newfoundland, then, and more recent. I loved the part of the book that took place on 9/11 when flights were diverted to Newfoundland. Family secrets, family lies, much anger between the sisters. There’s romance. There’s war. There is love of family. Particularly I savored the descriptions of Newfoundland, mostly rock, if you’ve never been there. It’s a twisted tale, by that I mean the family secrets which become the undoing. It’s a bargain on amazon right now, as I write this.

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. The story is all about Mary, her growing up, her scholarly pursuits, and then from the moment she meets Jesus as a young man. The story follows along to and beyond his death on the cross. In the time of Christ it was extremely uncommon for a man not to marry. It was almost unseemly. Fraught with suspicions, I’d suppose. Although scripture, as scripture, does not play a very strong part here, if you’ve read the Bible you’ll see many of the stories of Jesus’ life through Mary’s eyes. 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. Her husband was a journalist, and his life was always in danger because he wrote the truth, and that was taking a risk. The story is about her escape, with harrowing chapters as she makes her way north from Acapulco, with various major detours, one step, or sometimes nothing more than a hair’s width ahead of the cartel minions trying to find her. I could NOT put this book down. The author is not Hispanic, and some have criticized her for that, but she did her research, and many authors write about places and people they are not. I have nothing but respect for her having told this story. You need to read this.

Also read JoJo Moyes’ book, The Giver of Stars. Oh gosh, what a GREAT book. Alice, living in an English home which lacks much, leaps to agree to marry a visiting American. It was an escape for her. He is a man of some family wealth, and she travels from England to Kentucky, during the 1920s. Once settled into the family home, she discovers married life is not what she had expected. Affection is lacking, and she must share the home with her tyrannical father-in-law, the owner of mines in the deep mountains. And with the ghost of the deceased mother-in-law. The family cook won’t tolerate Alice’s help in the kitchen. Alice is terribly lonely and unhappy. The town doesn’t much like this English woman with her funny way of speaking. But then, she meets a woman who encourages her to join the Horseback Librarians. With trepidation, she begins traversing the remote hills, through unbelievable weather, to deliver old, battered and tattered books to the remote inhabitants of the area. She makes friends, wonderful, loving people from all walks of life. There is tremendous tension from the danger of the mines, the unions trying to get a foothold, plus the unraveling of her marriage, including the dreaded father-in-law who feels she should answer to him, behave as he wants. Uh, no. Alice goes her own route. Her new friends become her family, and, oh, what love. There has been much criticism of Moyes’ possible plagiarism of another book regarding the Horseback Librarians. I read the other book – but I didn’t feel remotely as intrigued by that story as I was by Moyes’ version. A feel good story, but it takes some while getting to that “feel good” part, nearly to the end.

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. It’s about Ellen. Her early years, under much hardship. About her teens, some of it as an orphan. Then a young adult, which includes marriage, a marriage blanc, which I didn’t understand until you learn the meaning. Then a child enters the picture, a child that will become a focus for the remainder of the book. Through the war, and beyond. I cried several times, as will you, I suspect. What’s a constant is the descriptions of the place, a town called Upton, near Southampton. About the hills and dales, the flora and fauna, the rain, the mud sometimes, the flooding sometimes. But throughout, it’s about neighbors caring for neighbors, and about love. A must read. Would make a really good book club read.

Jamie Ford has written another good one, Love and Other Consolation Prizes. Remember, he wrote The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Loved that book. This one takes on a rather ugly part of America’s past, when Chinese people were treated like trinkets. Ernest Young is such a boy, who ends up being a “prize” at an event, and with great angst, ends up as a kind of servant at a high-class bordello in Seattle. Yet, the women and girls there become HIS family. He is intelligent and learns many lessons. Eventually, when society women battle to close down such houses of ill repute, he leaves that life, with his wife. They have children. The bulk of the book is about the early years around the turn of the 20th century, then you pick up the threads nearing the end of his life, and his wife’s. There are any number of small mysteries, which unravel with a word here or there – you know that word foreshadowing? Really interesting read.

In between more literary novels, I bought a comedic memoir . . . Juliette Sobanet’s Meet Me in Paris. There’s the falling apart of a marriage (and divorce), but in the inbetween, she decides to take a trip (sans husband) around Europe to get her head straight. The kind of tour that would drive me crazy, but it was one night, maybe two at each major city. She knew no one, but soon enough bonds with  three other women. Then she has a chance-meeting of a young Frenchman who had been an exchange student in her home town. They’d lost touch, yet there were definitely sparks there, never realized. Some of the touristy stuff was trite, I must say, although the women do try to take in all the major sites, if only for a few minutes. There is plenty of humor. Some steamy stuff too as she meets up with the young man in another city. Apparently it’s a happy-ever-after story. Great literature it is not, but it was a fun romp, so to speak.

Recently finished Thomas Nelson’s The Hideaway. It seems like there are SO many novels out there about families finding, inheriting or otherwise going to an old house with memories. Especially ones on the water. With stories to tell. It’s a great way to introduce some light mystery to the telling of some other family story. In this case it’s Sara’s grandmother who was enigmatic in every way. And Sara inherits the run-down, ramshackle B&B on Mobile Bay. Cute story with lots of twists and turns.

Also just finished James Conroyd Martin’s Fortune’s Child: A Novel of Empress Theodora (Book 1 of 2). Theodora grew up the daughter of a circus performer, but then moved onto “the boards,” as acting was called back in Byzantine times (Constantinople, 6th century). She always had high expectations – she just “knew” she was going to accomplish great things. She was an occasional prostitute, a mistress, and then, behold, the son of Emperor Justin is mesmerized by her beauty, takes her on, and makes her his wife, amid much royal machinations. A young eunuch also plays large in the story too, a man hopelessly in love with Thea, but knows his love can never be returned or fulfilled. He becomes an historian to the Empress. Quite a story – much of it chronicles her early life and not a lot of it in Constantinople. But riveting story.

I’m doing SO much reading of late. Read this book in one day. The Glass Hotel: A novel by Emily St. John Mandel. Loosely based on the story of Bernie Madoff (Ponzi scheme), it tells a novelized version of a man with incredible power and charisma who gathers a group of willing partners. It’s about the people he cuckolded, and the people who took him down. At the beginning drugs come into play and I almost didn’t continue, but that was a very short section. Well worth reading. Lots to discuss if you’re looking for a book club read.

Once in awhile I read a poignant animal story, as you know if you’ve followed this sidebar for any length of time. Craig & Fred: A Marine, A Stray Dog, and How They Rescued Each Other by Craig Gross, tells the story of his military duty in Afghanistan, in a war zone. And how his unit befriended a dog, a stray, and how that dog really did become his lifeline.

Cara Wall’s new book, The Dearly Beloved: A Novel. It tells the story of two couples. The two husbands become co-pastors of a New York City church. The wives? Oh my, are they ever different. They don’t abide. The husbands try to get a grip on their jobs, pastoring, preaching, and keeping the wives happy.

Loved-loved Gregory Buford’s humorous memoir, Kept: An American Househusband in India. He aims to be a U.S. diplomat, takes the tests and fails. On a whim, his wife takes the test and is hired. Their first assignment: Chennai, India. They spent two years there, with his much-loved wife going off to do diplomatic duties (albeit at a low level – everyone must pay their dues at the beginning) and Greg is left at home to deal with the servants, the house, the beggars, the nanny, the construction next door, shopping, and also partly caring for their infant.

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.

Shirley Ann Grau’s book, The Keepers of the House. Hmmm. Much to think about. [from an amazon review]: There is a reason it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1965. Seven generations of Howlands have lived on this rural Alabama plantation in good times and bad. It tells the story of this family from the time its patriarch settled the land in the early 1800s to the mid-20th century.

Marie Martin wrote Harbored Secrets. From amazon: In May of 1935, Blinny Platt’s homestead shack burns to the ground forever leaving her family asunder, scattering them like the embers flew on the Montana wind. She was only 8, sent away and in charge of her little sister. She could handle that because Platts take care of Platts. However, it is the hidden secrets of her parents smoldering beneath the charred remains that haunts Blinny until 1982.

Best book I’ve read recently. Not new. Called Follow the River: A Novel by James Alexander Thom. This one is also based on the history of a woman (married, pregnant) who was captured by the Shawnee, during the early settlement days east of the Ohio River, about 1755. And her eventual escape. I stayed up all hours to keep reading. The book was written from the many journals and writing compiled by her children. Her name: Mary Ingles. And it chronicles her 1000-mile trek in treacherous weather and over uncharted ground. What an amazing woman, and what a story.

Alan Hlad has written quite a novel. From true life. The Long Flight Home. It tells the story based on family history, of the homing pigeons that were used in Britain during WWII that flew back and forth across the English Channel into German-occupied France. It’s a heartwarming story. Heart-wrenching sometimes. War is an awful thing no matter which side you’re on when it comes to how it affects everyday people. You’ll learn a lot about pigeons, but also about love. Great read.

Riveted to Katie Munnick’s novel The Heart Beats in Secret. It begins in Scotland in 1940. A woman, a single mother. A journey across the sea. Then her daughter’s story, and finally the granddaughter’s story, when she inherits her grandmother’s old cottage back in Scotland. Plenty of mother-daughter dysfunction. But it comes right in the end.

Sarah Vallance has written a book about her devastating brain injury. Prognosis: A Memoir of My Brain. What a story. What a saga of her recovery. And how she did it. An open wide sharing of her angst, her anger, her journey. Well worth reading. If you have anyone who has suffered a brain injury, it would be wise reading.

Just love all of Amy Harmon’s books. This one is no exception. Where the Lost Wander: A Novel. A pioneer story of a young woman made a widow on the trail to the west. 1850s. As it was in life, tragedies occur. But there is caring and love too. Loved it.

Read Her Mother’s Hope by Francine Rivers. After leaving her childhood home of Switzerland, young Marta Schneider dreams of one day owning a boardinghouse, until marriage and motherhood change her ambitions. Determined to give her family a better life, she vows to raise strong children. But her tough love is often misunderstood, especially by her oldest daughter, Hildemara Rose, creating repercussions that will echo for generations.

Esther Freud’s book The Sea House: A Novel is about a small village on England’s southern coast.  The book is about love found, love lost, love sometimes found again, sometimes not. About how fleeting it can be or seem.

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.

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.

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).

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.

The Walls of Lucca by Steve Physioc. A novel that takes place in between WWI and II about a weary Italian soldier.

The Hired Man by Aminatta Forna. A novel about Croatia in the aftermath of their more recent wars.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Also read Roger Swindell’s Mendelevski’s Box. It’s an historical novel about the aftermath of WWII in impoverished Amsterdam.

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.

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley. The premise of this book is different . . . a woman writer goes to Scotland to connect with her distant heritage.

Another great read, The Island of Sea Women: A Novel by Lisa See. It’s 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.

Radio Girls by Sarah-Jane Stratford. A novel about the early days of radio in London.

A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts by Therese Anne Fowler. 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.  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.

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. 

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.

Uncommon Woman. A book about Colonial America, but really the western frontier at that time, which is in western Pennsylvania.

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. 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.

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, 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. And then what happens to him as he grows up. Riveting.

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.

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.

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? Raymond, a youngster, an older teenager, who  lacks 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. Sweet story.

Magic Hour: A Novel

Excellent Women

Pachinko (National Book Award Finalist) by Min Jin Lee. Everyone should read this one.

An American Marriage (Oprah’s Book Club): A Novel by Tayari Jones. DIdn’t like it much, but others do.

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.

 

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 December 23rd, 2020.

christmas_family_room

My family room – I should have lit the gas logs . . .

Recalling back many years ago when I first began reading blogs (about 2005, I think) I was always intrigued when the writer shared some little window into their family life. Whether it was a man, a woman, a couple, or a family. So here, above, you can see a little window into my world. My family room. Love my tree. It’s one I bought many years ago that comes in a flat box and you pick it up from the top, insert two interconnected metal tubes inside and set it into the stand. Plug it in, and it’s all ready for Christmas. My trick is trying to keep my kitty from playing with the lower edges. I’ve had to stack piles of cookbooks around the bottom to keep him from doing that. And I’ve had to resort to spraying him with water to keep him away. Poor little guy. His world is kind of narrow – he’s blind – and so anything at all that comes into the house that’s different is inherently fascinating to him. His sense of hearing is profound. And sense of smell. So this foreign “thing” that suddenly comes into his world once a year just has him intrigued. Now I have gifts stacked around the edges, so it’s even harder for him to try to reach the lower part. He likes to chew on artificial flowers or greenery, so obviously this tree meets all of his requirements!

perched_near_keyboard

There’s Angel (age 3) – he rarely perches himself next to my keyboard. In case you don’t remember, Angel was about 5 weeks old and was found one rainy night in a gutter, shivering and hungry. He had pneumonia, but he recovered. The vet said the mother cat probably abandoned him (presumably because of his blindness). He developed an eye infection en utero, so his eye socket is partially visible, but his eyes receded. He has no sight at all. But he doesn’t know better – he has a good life! Never fear. He knows every square inch of my house. Occasionally he accidentally runs into a wall, but his whiskers are his radar and as long as he’s not trotting too fast, his whiskers barely tell him to deflect and not run into a wall. He’s learned that warmth (the sun) comes through the front door and in the afternoons when the sun is streaming in, he knows to find a warm spot to sit.

Back to the picture at top .. . Most evenings you’ll find me sitting at right on the sofa (the sofa is covered with a blanket because Angel loves to sharpen his claws on the sofa itself). I do my every-other-day outdoor 30-minute walking routine around my house at about 4 pm, while it’s still light, but the sun has nearly waned. If I go later in the day I don’t have to put on sun screen. Once back in my house I give Angel his evening dinner, pour myself a cocktail or a glass of wine (most nights anyway), and I watch the network news. I was watching the weather report on tv last night when I decided to take this picture. We are supposed to have rain this weekend. Wow – first real rain of the winter.

island_xmas_decorOn Friday, Christmas Day, I’ll be home by myself. My cousin Gary, who usually spends Thanksgiving and Christmas with me (he lives in Northern California) isn’t coming south this year because of Covid. Daughter Sara invited me to come for Christmas Day with them, but decided not to.

Because – the next day I’m driving to Palm Desert and will meet Sara and her family there. The three of us have just bought a small 2-bedroom condo, and it’ll be our first visit to the house since closing escrow. It’s fully furnished, so all we have to do is move in our clothes and food, and we’re all set. I’ll take some pictures once we have it situated. If you’ve been reading my blog for very long, early on, my DH Dave and I still owned a house in the desert. We sold it in 2010 because Dave couldn’t play golf anymore, and it was a big house to manage. Even though it was the right choice at the time, I’ve missed having a place there. I’ve shared pictures of staying at a friend’s home there for a week every winter for the last several. It was staying in Maggie’s house there that got me strongly interested.

Anyway, real estate in California is just going crazy. Hard to believe, but true. Anyway, we found the right place (just like Maggie’s) for us and now I’ll be able to go stay there whenever I want to. The condo is over 30 years old, but has two 18-hole golf courses on it, and every home has a golf course view. Ours doesn’t have a water view, unfortunately. Sara and John need a get-away from their stressful work week. I’ll use it more on weekdays, and they’ll use it almost exclusively on weekends. Sometimes we’ll both be there. We plan on having a steak dinner on Saturday, grilled on the outdoor grill that we hope is working properly (the home inspection didn’t include outdoor equipment, like the golf cart, the fire pit and the barbecue).

My grandson John returns to Virginia Tech in early January, so he’s hyped up about playing golf before he heads east. He’s definitely got some of his Grandpa Dave’s genes – he loves playing golf. And we’ll likely take drives in the golf cart to acquaint ourselves with the neighborhood. It’s a gated community, just like the place Dave and I owned, but a different one. There are numerous neighborhood pools dotted all over, many tennis courts, plus a clubhouse and dining area. I wasn’t thrilled with the food when my friend Ann and I ate there, so don’t know that we’ll use it much.

believe

Yes, I believe. Remember the reason for the season, my friends.

Thank you for reading my blog and hope you enjoyed this little window into my world.

Posted in Cookies, on December 21st, 2020.

chocolate_anise_biscotti

Finally, I gave in to my wanting to bake something for Christmas. I really tried not to, but one morning I just knew. And oh, are these nice! Love my island with Christmas décor.

There’s no special baking marathon going on at my house this year. Usually, my friends Cherrie and Jackie spend a good part of a day baking all manner of Christmas cookies. But Covid has interrupted that venture. I have such a big kitchen, there is room for all three of us doing whatever needs to be done. And I have two ovens. But not happening this year. Boo-hoo. I’m not even doing Christmas cards this year. Perhaps the first year since I became an adult. My heart just isn’t in it.

But, I gave in to my cravings and decided to make biscotti. The recipe in my file says this one came from Giada. I haven’t gone searching, but it sounds logical since biscotti are an Italian invention, and she is Italian, for sure. Many eons ago I worked with a woman my age who was Italian, and every Christmas her mother made anise biscotti. Doreen would bring in part of the batch and choc_anise_biscotti_logshare it with the people in the office. I had never had anise – well, other than in Italian sausage, I suppose. I have a special anise cake here on my blog – if you’re interested and didn’t catch that recipe when it appeared. It’s my variation on Mark Miller’s recipe from Coyote Café in Santa Fe, New Mexico. But back in the mid 1970s, I’d never had anise in a baked good, for sure. I was enamored, and for some years I made them myself. But I found the dough kind of hard to work with. Well, not really the dough, it was the baked log – I found it so hard to cut it without each slice crumbling apart, breaking, particularly on the ends. My DH didn’t like anise cookies much – he didn’t eat them, so I stopped making them. Then I visited my friend Linda a few years ago and she served me her Almond-Anise Biscotti. Oh, gosh, they are good! In fact Linda sent me home with a little jar with Sambuca in it – I’m so glad I remember this . . . I’ll have to make them too. Then a couple of years ago I started choc_anise_biscotti_slicedmaking chocolate biscotti, and that was when the tide turned for me about how easy biscotti can be. Farmgirl Susan’s recipe was by far the easiest dough (biscotti type) I’d ever worked with.

However, I wasn’t sure when I started making THIS recipe that the dough would cooperate. But it did. I think I broke 3 slices of the biscotti during the slicing process. DO USE A BREAD KNIFE.

The dough is mixed (I used my stand mixer, but a hand mixer would work) and at the last you add in the chocolate chips. The dough was just barely on the sticky side, so I did sprinkle my countertop with a tiny bit of flour, molded it into the shape you see at top left, then carefully transferred the log to the parchment lined baking sheet.

choc_anise_biscotti_2nd_bakeInto a 350° oven it went for 30 minutes. At that point it was just tinged with golden color. The tray was removed and allowed to cool for 30 minutes. Do set a timer on this – you don’t want the baked log to get cooled down completely or you’ll have trouble slicing it. Slice – remember, serrated knife – into thin slices, lay flat (mostly flat – I had to stand a few of them up on their edges because the sheet pan was full) and bake for another 15 minutes. Then cool completely. I stacked these into freezer bags and that’s where they are now.

What’s GOOD: love the flavor. The anise is subtle here – if you wanted it to be more predominant, double the amount of anise. I liked it just fine. My anise seeds are a bit aged, so I actually used about 1 1/2 tsp, ground up finely in my spice grinder. And for me, the chocolate chips put them over the top. Delicious.

What’s NOT: they’re a little bit fragile to handle – be gentle! Otherwise, they are a perfect biscotti specimen!

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Chocolate Anise Biscotti

Recipe By: Giada de Laurentiis
Serving Size: 24

2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter — room temperature
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon anise seed — ground finely
1 cup chocolate chips

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. Line a heavy large baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl to blend. Using an electric mixer, beat the sugar and butter in a large bowl to blend. Beat in the eggs 1 at a time. Add the flour mixture and beat just until blended. Add the ground anise seed and mix well. Stir in the chocolate chips.
3. Scoop the dough out onto your countertop. If the dough is too sticky to mold, sprinkle your countertop with a little bit of flour (keep it to a minimum). Form the dough into a 16-inch-long, 3-inch-wide log. Transfer the log to the prepared baking sheet. Bake until light golden, about 30 minutes. Cool 30 minutes.
4. Carefully place the log on a cutting board. Using a serrated knife, cut the log on a diagonal into 1/2- to 3/4-inch-thick slices. You can slice them thinner, but they’ll be more fragile. Arrange the cookies, cut side down, on the same baking sheet. Bake the cookies until pale golden, about 15 minutes. Transfer the cookies to a rack and cool completely.Will keep at room temp for a few days; otherwise, stack and place in freezer bags and then in the freezer for longer storage. They taste just great as a frozen cookie (i.e., they’re not going to break a tooth!).
Per Serving: 140 Calories; 6g Fat (41.1% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 19g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 27mg Cholesterol; 59mg Sodium; 10g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 40mg Calcium; 1mg Iron; 45mg Potassium; 64mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Miscellaneous, on December 15th, 2020.

cranberry_caponata

A caponata made with cranberries, you ask? Yup. What’s in it: cranberries, apples, capers, tomato, pine nuts, raisins and Kalamata olives. I know, sounds strange, but it’s not.

For many years I’ve had the nicest fellow, Dan, who installs and fixes my computer, network, router, wi-fi issues in my house. And he knows that I write a food blog, so every once in awhile, he sends me a link to some food related video or post about food. I can count on the fact that anything he sends me will be unusual. In this instance, he sent me to a youtube video link performed by Harper and Ava, a cute young married couple who live in Maine. He’s an American, and his wife is a native Italian (Calabria), with a semi-thick accent. In this particular video, Harper challenged his wife, Ava, to make a Thanksgiving dinner, but in her own Italian style. She was a teacher (in Italy) but she’s also a very good cook. Here’s the youtube link. If you develop an interest in them, there are lots of other videos, but the best one is the one where they share how they met and how the romance managed with her being in Italy and he in California. Then, how Covid interrupted their long-distance romance.

 

This dish is one that she fixed for Harper, her rendition of an Italian-American Thanksgiving. Caponata is a savory Italian appetizer, usually containing eggplant, maybe celery, onion, capers, pine nuts, olives, red bell peppers, tomato. So Ava came up with this version, using the cranberries instead of eggplant, I guess it is. She gave it a very Italian name, so I shortened it to Cranberry Caponata. And this is to be served with the turkey. Harper said it was his favorite thing about Ava’s version of Thanksgiving.

cranberry_caponata_cookingOnion and celery are sautéed in EVOO, then you begin adding other ingredients, with the cranberries coming in last. Ava used much bigger pieces of apple than I did – maybe next time I’d do that as the apples were kind of lost in the mixture, and they’re certainly not a standard addition to caponata. Adding Kalamata olives intrigued me too (thank goodness I had some pitted ones in the refrigerator. Then there are pine nuts and raisins in there too, and the tomato paste adds a lot of good flavor. At the end you add in a little splash of balsamic vinegar. Genius!

What’s GOOD: loved the savory flavor – this is nothing like a sweet cranberry sauce. It would be great with a turkey, a roast chicken (what I did for my Thanksgiving dinner) and roast pork. Liked the texture – the pine nuts, the raisins, the olives.

What’s NOT: nothing comes to mind . . . if you’re looking for a sweet type side, this isn’t it, although you could make it so with more sugar.

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Cranberry Caponata

Recipe By: Pasta Grammar on youtube
Serving Size: 12

3 tablespoons EVOO
12 ounces fresh cranberries
2 apples — honeycrisp, cubed
2 stalks celery — chopped
1 yellow onion — halved and sliced
1 large tomato — cubed, or use canned, diced style with juice
2 tablespoons capers — diced
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1 1/2 tablespoons raisins — black or golden
1/2 cup Kalamata olives — pitted, chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 tablespoons brown sugar — or more to taste (or brown sugar substitute)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Salt Fresh black pepper

1. In a large sautè pan, bring a generous pour of olive oil up to medium heat on the stovetop. Add the onion and sautè for 3 minutes, then add the celery. Cover and cook for an additional 5 minutes. If the celery and onion risk burning, add a splash of warm water into the pan.
2. Add the olives, capers and pine nuts. Stir all together and cook for a further 3 minutes, covered. As before, add some water if the caponata risks burning.
3. Add the tomatoes and a splash of water. Stir and cook for 5 minutes, covered.
4. Meanwhile, dissolve the tomato paste in a 1/2 cup (120ml) of water.
5. After the tomatoes have cooked for 5 minutes, add the apples and cranberries, along with the tomato paste mixture, balsamic vinegar and brown sugar. Salt and pepper to taste.
6. Cook covered, adding water as necessary, for about 10-15 minutes or until the apples have softened but not completely dissolved. Cool completely before serving along roasted poultry or pork.
Per Serving: 103 Calories; 5g Fat (41.8% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 15g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 93mg Sodium; 10g Total Sugars; 0mcg Vitamin D; 24mg Calcium; 1mg Iron; 185mg Potassium; 28mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Desserts, on December 9th, 2020.

pumpkin_pudding_pie

What do you do when you want pumpkin pie, but are trying to limit carbs? Make the pudding part this way.

Since I spent Thanksgiving at home, by myself (it was okay, don’t worry), I still wanted to have a traditional kind of meal. So I planned out a menu that would satisfy my desire for the full dinner.

thanksgiving_plateI roasted a whole chicken, with a recipe I’ve posted here before, and by far it’s still the BEST roasted chicken I’ve ever made. I’ve probably made it four times this year. I try not to eat chicken skin, but oh, this one, well, I had to have a bite (actually two). It makes a gorgeous golden bird, done in an iron skillet, partly at 450°F and then with the oven turned off. I prepared an old favorite, Broccoli Casserole. I’ll bet I haven’t made that in 10 years. It’s cooked broccoli with a kind of cream sauce, with mayo in it, and eggs to gel it. As I write this, I’ve had that for my dinner the last 2 nights. Now it’s all gone, as I made a smaller sized casserole of it this time. I baked a sweet potato and had it with butter on it. I also made two cranberry sides. My old favorite, Cranberry Relish. It originated with my mother’s recipe, but I’ve embellished it a little, by adding apple and the ginger. It’s a raw relish with apples and oranges in it, plus a little bit of ground ginger for zing. And I’ll post next a different cranberry side I made that’s more a savory one, called Cranberry Caponata. It’s an interesting story how I came upon this recipe. More on that in my next post.

So, back to this pumpkin dessert. Obviously  – if you’ve followed this blog long enough – you know that pumpkin pie is one of my favorite desserts. Years ago I used to make a layered ice cream and pumpkin pie (that was served frozen, obviously) in a pie crust. Haven’t made that in years. I think my family (once I married Dave in 1983) didn’t much love that pie so I began baking my own very traditional ones, using the Libby label recipe. Of all the pumpkin pie recipes I’ve ever made, that one is still my favorite. Then I discovered Costco’s pumpkin pie and game over. I bought that for years. But I didn’t want to visit Costco this year (I’m being really careful about Covid exposure). I suppose I could have made the same Libby’s filling recipe for this. I may try that next time. But this one was really good, and very easy.

Recently I bought a flat (12) of those cute little Ball 4-Ounce Quilted Jars. They’re small but really perfect for a small dessert, and so cute to serve. And I’ve discovered plastic lids (made by Ball) that work so much better than the metal rings and inserts that seem to rust after you’ve used them 3-4 times. For canning you do want to use the metal rings and inserts, but for ordinary food storage and making a dessert for refrigerating, the plastic lids are a dream. The jars and gray plastic lids are on amazon, if you’re interested (click on the links I’ve provided). Just make sure you buy the right size lid – they make them for the Ball Mason Jar Lids – Regular Mouth (Mason Jar Caps) – Leak Proof (Standard), and for Ball Mason Jar Lids Caps) – Leak Proof (Wide). These little jars use the regular size lids.

9_puddings_to_bakeSo, I prepared the filling/pudding and poured it into the little Ball jars, placed them in a baking pan and baked them (without a water bath) for about 25 minutes. Once cooled, those little babies went into the refrigerator until ready to serve. Whip up some heavy cream with a little sugar and vanilla, or be lazy and use the canned, which is what I did this time.

What’s GOOD: that I could enjoy pumpkin “pie” without making a crust. Since I was having lots of calories for this Thanksgiving dinner, it was good to limit something! Easy recipe to make. Easy to store in those cute little Ball jars, and easy to serve.

What’s NOT: nothing that I can think of.

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Pumpkin Pudding – pie with no crust

Recipe By: probably online recipe somewhere!
Serving Size: 8

3/4 cup granulated sugar — or sugar substitute
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves — scant
2 large eggs
15 ounces pumpkin purée — Libby brand, preferably
12 ounces evaporated milk Whipped cream for serving (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
2. Mix sugar, cinnamon, salt, ginger, and cloves in a small bowl. Beat eggs in a large bowl. Stir in pumpkin and sugar-spice mixture. Gradually stir in evaporated milk.
3. Pour into glass or ceramic baking dish. A good thing to know is that you can fill a baking dish deeper than a pie crust, but it’s best not to exceed a depth of about 1 1/2 inches. Baking times vary with depth, size, and type of baking dish, so you just have to watch and check.
4. Bake until knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack, then refrigerate overnight, until ready to serve. Serve with sweetened whipped cream.
NOTE: Can make in individual ramekins, bake about 25 minutes or more.
Per Serving: 167 Calories; 5g Fat (23.8% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 28g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 59mg Cholesterol; 211mg Sodium; 25g Total Sugars; 1mcg Vitamin D; 136mg Calcium; 1mg Iron; 260mg Potassium; 130mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Fish, on December 4th, 2020.

peach_ginger_spice_glazed_salmon

Such an easy sheet pan dinner. Start to finish about 15 minutes.

As I write this (about a week or so ago) I was stressed. I’d accidentally dropped my iPhone in the jacuzzi. I wasn’t even IN the jacuzzi; I’d gone to the corner of the jacuzzi to adjust the water auto-filler thingamajig because it was over-filling. As I leaned down, my phone popped out of my pocket and bounced on the edge and splash, it was a goner. Oh my gosh. Tried to use an old pool scoop when the basket was disintegrated. Eventually  had to wade into the cold-cold water and lean down, getting myself wet nearly top to bottom, to retrieve it. Talk about feeling cold. And stupid. Fortunately, I’d purchased extra insurance on this phone (usually I don’t, but the iPhone X was more expensive than previous models). And no, the iPhone X isn’t waterproof. The newer models are, I believe. As I write, the replacement phone will be delivered today.

Anyway, the reason I even mention all that is that I had to use my iPad to take the photo above. I guess it did an okay job, but not quite as clear and crisp as the camera on the iPhone. My iPhone takes better photos than my digital high-quality camera I bought many years ago, purposely to use for photos for this blog. It’s tucked away in a closet now; sadly neglected. The iPhone doesn’t have quite the versatility, but it’s good enough and certainly easier for me.

I’d defrosted a nice little piece of salmon – enough for two meals. I wasn’t into an elaborate meal or preparation, either one! I stirred up a little concoction of coconut aminos (or use soy sauce), freshly grated ginger, some ground cinnamon and some peach jam. The salmon was oiled with EVOO first, then I spread the sauce on top. The asparagus (my favorite vegetable, bar none) that had been oiled, salted and peppered, went on the same pan. Believe it or not, salmon and asparagus take about the same amount of time to broil. Yeah! My dinner was done in a flash. And OH, was it ever delicious. I’ll be making this version again, for sure.

What’s GOOD: well, if you want a really, really quick and easy dinner that comes together so very quickly and tastes wonderful, this is it. I’ll be making this again, for sure. I’m looking forward to the leftovers!

What’s NOT: absolutely nothing. Simple, easy, and very tasty.

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Peach, Ginger and Spice Glazed Salmon

Recipe By: Adapted from an online recipe
Serving Size: 4

2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce — or coconut aminos
1 tablespoon grated ginger root
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons peach jam — or apricot jam
1 tablespoon EVOO
24 ounces salmon fillets — patted dry
3 tablespoons sliced almonds

1. Preheat broiler.
2. In a small bowl combine soy sauce, ginger, cinnamon and peach jam. Stir until smooth.
3. Foil line a baking sheet large enough to hold the salmon fillets. Pour EVOO on top of salmon and gently spread to edges. Spoon the sauce on top of the salmon and using the back of a spoon, spread all the way to the edges.
4. Broil salmon for about 7-8 minutes per inch of thickness. Test with an instant read thermometer – it’s done at 135°F. A minute or so before, sprinkle top with sliced almonds and continue broiling until fish reaches correct temp. Remove and serve immediately. An ideal accompaniment to this is asparagus – which takes about 8 minutes also on the same pan. So, a sheet pan dinner, more or less!
Per Serving: 292 Calories; 12g Fat (37.7% calories from fat); 36g Protein; 9g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 126mg Cholesterol; 344mg Sodium; 5g Total Sugars; 0mcg Vitamin D; 36mg Calcium; 1mg Iron; 801mg Potassium; 516mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Veggies/sides, on November 29th, 2020.

pan_roasted_brussels_apples_almonds

A quick and easy side dish; great for fall.

Normally I wouldn’t have thought to combine apples and Brussels sprouts; yet it works really nicely here. I found the recipe in a supplemental magazine from Cook’s Illustrated, and I followed it except I used a bit less apple, only because I had but one, not two. Next time I’d leave the apples just a tad bit bigger. I chopped them fairly small (recipe said diced) and I think I’d more “cube” them. The Brussels I had were quite large, so definitely they needed to be cut in half. I was lazy and didn’t toast the almonds. Other than salt and pepper, the only other ingredients were garlic and butter. Altogether nice ingredients!

First the apple is cooked in a little bit of the butter until the chunks are barely cooked through. That’s removed, then you add the Brussels, water, garlic, butter, salt and pepper. You cook that down until the water has evaporated. The intent is that the Brussels are cooked through. I was using a fairly hot burner, so the water evaporated before the Brussels were done, so I merely added a tad more water then covered the pan for a short time. At the end, the apples are added back in, then you add the almonds. Done.

I made these when I went to my friends, Bud & Cherrie’s home – what a treat to go to friends and share a meal. We were planning to eat outside (it’s still nice and warm here) but the no-see-ums were in proud form that evening, so we didn’t go outside. Anyway, I made meatloaf and these Brussels sprouts. Cherrie offered two appetizers and smashed roasted potatoes and a peach coffeecake for dessert. My grandson Vaughan was visiting during this time (this was back a couple of weeks) and he and Bud played rummy tiles and Cherrie, Bud and I shared a delicious gin and tonic. Vaughan enjoyed a new brand of ginger ale.

This dish does want to be fixed just before serving – it would not be good to over-cook them, but preparing them and reheating unless you’re really careful about the exact done-ness of the Brussels. I like them barely chewy.

What’s GOOD: easy, if you have all the ingredients ready to go (wait to chop up the apple until the last minute, however). This was good. Not exactly a personal fav, but it was good. I’ve run out of ways to cook Brussels, so anything to make them differently is good for me.

What’s NOT: nothing really, except they should be fixed just before serving.

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Pan Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Apples and Almonds

Recipe By: Cook’s Illustrated special supplement for fall recipes
Serving Size: 5

5 tablespoons butter — divided use
2 medium apples — cored and diced, Gala or other sweet apple
1 cup water
2 pounds brussels sprouts — hard side removed and cut in half
2 cloves garlic — minced
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme — or half as much if dried
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup slivered almonds — toasted

1. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in 12-inch nonstick skillet over med-high heat. Add apples and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned and softened, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
2. Add Brussels sprouts, 1 cup water, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper, and remaining butter to empty skillet and bring to boil over med-high heat. Reduce to med-low; simmer until water has evaporated and Brussels sprouts are not quite tender, about 15 minutes (depending on the size of the Brussels sprouts). Test for tenderness. If the Brussels sprouts are really large, you may wish to cover the pan for about 5 minutes during this time for thorough cooking.
3. Increase heat to medium, continue cooking, stirring frequently until they are light golden brown, 3-5 minutes. Stir in toasted almonds and apples and cook until heated through, about one minute. Serve.
Per Serving: 295 Calories; 18g Fat (48.9% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 32g Carbohydrate; 11g Dietary Fiber; 30mg Cholesterol; 602mg Sodium; 15g Total Sugars; 0mcg Vitamin D; 120mg Calcium; 3mg Iron; 900mg Potassium; 194mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Desserts, on November 24th, 2020.

peach_upside_down_cake

So easy, so tender. Have an iron skillet? Make this.

It’s been awhile back – mid October actually – when my grandson Vaughan was visiting me for 5 days, we went to my friend Cherrie’s house and had dinner with them.We stayed social-distanced the entire time. Bud made his wonderful gin ‘n tonics (using Fever Tree Light Tonic). So refreshing – it was a warm evening. We had a very hot summer in Southern California.

Cherrie isn’t much of a baker – she will tell anybody that. So I was surprised when she brought out dessert! I made meatloaf and a vegetable (a Brussels sprout dish I’ve shared here). Cherrie had an appetizer (plus the dessert). Vaughan got some very gingery ginger ale. And then we had this wonderful, light dessert. Cherrie served it with whipped cream. We brought some of it home and Vaughan couldn’t WAIT to have seconds. We had it with ice cream the next day.

Cherrie gave me the recipe. And Vaughan asked Cherrie if she’d send it to his mom, because he wanted to have it again once he got home. It was THAT good.

Since I didn’t make this myself – I will, however, as I have some white peaches frozen – I don’t have firsthand knowledge of the making of this, but I trust Cherrie when she said this is very easy to make. She had gorgeous peaches which are put on the bottom of the iron skillet, but on top of some melted butter and brown sugar. Then the white cake is made and spooned over the top. It’s baked and once removed from the oven and cooled for 10 minutes, you carefully flip over the hot pan (or iron skillet) onto a platter and serve it warm. You could make this ahead and simply reheat very gently in a low oven for about 10-15 minutes to get that wonderful warm-out-the-oven taste. The recipe came from Taste of Home. So the original recipe said, this is a very old recipe – I can just see it created from an old farm kitchen with peach trees in the back 40.

What’s GOOD: this is SO easy to make, so Cherrie said. And I can certainly attest to the taste (and so will my grandson Vaughan) – it’s not all that sweet (good) and the cake is VERY tender. I liked that part a lot. Cherrie suggested sifting the dry ingredients first.

What’s NOT: nothing at all.

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Peach Upside Down Cake

Recipe By: Taste of Home
Serving Size: 8

PEACH LAYER:
4 tablespoons butter — softened
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 cups fresh peaches — sliced peeled
CAKE LAYER:
8 tablespoons butter — softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg — room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk — 2% works fine here

1. Melt butter; pour into an ungreased 9-in. round baking pan or iron skillet. Sprinkle with brown sugar.
2. Arrange peach slices in single layer over sugar.
3. In a large bowl, cream sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt and sift once (helps to make the cake light in texture); add to creamed mixture alternately with milk, beating well after each addition. Spoon over peaches.
4. Bake at 350° for 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before inverting (carefully) onto a serving plate. Serve warm with sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
Per Serving: 391 Calories; 19g Fat (42.0% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 54g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 70mg Cholesterol; 285mg Sodium; 38g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 97mg Calcium; 1mg Iron; 187mg Potassium; 135mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Pasta, Pork, on November 18th, 2020.

pasta_alla_gricia_plated

Ever had this one? The Italians haven’t quite determined which definition they agree on for the word “gricia,” other than it’s for this pasta dish.

Curious as to what gricia meant in Italian, I found out it was a dish created waaaay back in Roman times, 400AD, they think. The other day I was watching a Rachel Ray show and she prepared this. It just spoke to me – since I had radicchio; I had ample mushrooms, although not the type Rachel used. She used hen-of-the-woods – I had just ordinary white mushrooms. I had shallots. I had pancetta too. mushrooms_for_griciaShe talked about guanciale, the fatty sister to pancetta, but she prefers pancetta – mostly, she said, because her husband wants chunks of meaty bits in any pasta she makes. The original of this dish is just shallot – maybe garlic too – and the pork, either pancetta or the guanaciale – pepper, plus pasta, of course. That was it, but Rachel described several riffs she makes on this dish. I took the original recipe and added the radicchio and the lemon zest that she mentioned. I didn’t have any Pecorino, so had to use Parm. I also had leftover Capello’s almond flour pasta (linguine) and certainly wanted to use it, as it’s quite dear. My house smelled so wonderful – the shallot, the garlic, the pancetta plus EVOO.

First up was to roast the mushrooms. See photo above left. They took about 20 minutes in a very hot oven. They were dried out mostly, but still had some moisture inside. And what they did have was concentrated flavor.

gricia_cookingThen I started cooking the sauce. Well, not really much of the sauce part as the only liquid is a little bit of cooking water (from the pasta) added to this. The pancetta was added to a large skillet along with a bit of EVOO, and the pork was rendered down, but leaving the fat that came from it in the pan (for flavor). Then I added shallot and continued to cook that (I forgot to add it to the mushroom pan).

pasta_alla_gricia_pan_mixedThen the sliced radicchio and lemon strips were added and stirred often as it cooked. That really takes but a few minutes. I ladled out some of the pasta water and added that to the pan too. Some cheese is added in the pan when you add the pasta and that’s stirred well (which is why you want to undercook the pasta a little bit). Serve and add more lemon zest and grated cheese on top. I will mention that this dish is very rich. Probably from the pancetta – meaning it has a bit of fat, but that’s what gives it so much flavor. And, I think if you made the full recipe, it would serve more than 4 people.

What’s GOOD: Oh my. SO very delicious. I loved this dish. It’s big on flavor – mostly, I suppose, from the mushrooms, shallots and pancetta. Did I mention how fragrant my house smelled? I had to go out to run an errand immediately after I ate my dinner (leaving my kitchen still in a mess) and when I returned and walked through the door, oh golly did it smell good. This recipe is a keeper. It’s beautiful to look at too, with the dark purple from the radicchio, and the pasta, contrasted with the mushrooms and the bright yellow from lemon strips.

What’s NOT: I can’t think of anything. As I said, this one’s a keeper.

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Pasta Alla Gricia

Recipe By: Rachel Ray, on her TV show, 9/20
Serving Size: 4 (maybe 5-6)

12 ounces mushrooms — hen-of-the-woods (maitake) pulled into thin strips, or any other type of mushrooms
2 large shallots — halved lengthwise, then peeled and very thinly sliced
Olive oil cooking spray
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
1/2 pound pancetta — or meaty guanciale
1 tbsp. EVOO
3 cups radicchio — sliced
3 tablespoons lemon rind — minutely sliced
1 pound spaghetti — or linguine
1 cup Pecorino Romano cheese — grated, or Parm

1. Arrange a rack in the upper third of the oven; preheat to 475°. Line a large baking sheet with parchment. Arrange the mushrooms and shallots on the baking sheet in a single layer. Spray evenly and liberally with the cooking spray and season generously with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the vegetables with the thyme. Roast, stirring halfway through cooking, until the mushrooms are crispy and fragrant, about 20 minutes.
2. Place the pancetta or guanciale in the freezer for 10 minutes. Once it’s firm, slice it into thin 1/2-inch-long pieces.
3. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to boil for the pasta.
4. Heat a large skillet over medium low heat. Add the EVOO, one turn of the pan, then add the pancetta. Cook until the fat renders, about 10 minutes. Then add the radicchio and lemon zest and continue cooking for about 5 minutes, or until the radicchio is barely tender. Season with pepper and remove from the heat.
5. Salt the boiling water, add the pasta, and cook for a minute or two less than the package instructions. Reserve 1 1/2 cups of the cooking water, then drain the pasta.
6. Add the pasta, half the cheese, and 3/4 cup pasta water to the skillet. Toss the pasta for a minute to coat, adding more pasta water if needed to thin the sauce. Transfer the pasta to a large bowl and top with the remaining cheese, a pile of crispy mushrooms and shallots, and a little lemon zest.
Per Serving (yikes): 972 Calories; 42g Fat (38.8% calories from fat); 49g Protein; 99g Carbohydrate; 7g Dietary Fiber; 78mg Cholesterol; 1172mg Sodium; 7g Total Sugars; 1mcg Vitamin D; 777mg Calcium; 6mg Iron; 1259mg Potassium; 868mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Cookies, Desserts, on November 14th, 2020.

gooey_fudge_brownies

A post from Sara . . .

This is my new go-to brownie recipe.  It’s a bit more challenging than the one-bowl recipes but well worth it.  They taste great out of oven (if my kids are home, I usually loose 1/4 of the tray within minutes of removing it from the oven!).  And soooo much better frozen.  They are the true dense, chewy chocolaty taste that I feel brownies should be. The recipe comes from the back of the Rodelle brand cocoa package. It’s been on the back of their product for years and years.

The recipe requires the extra step of melting the butter with sugar to make a syrup.  Then the 5 (that’s right, 5) eggs makes the chewy (and tender) factor.  You can double this recipe easily and bake it in a large sheet pan.  Don’t skip the parchment paper on the bottom for easy removal. The recipe says it makes 12, but I think I cut them smaller, so I get about 18 out of the 9×13 pan.

I’ve been known to modify the recipe by adding these items:

1. melted smooth peanut butter and swirl it in

2. or dulce de leche and swirl it in

3. or stack it on top of a batch of my chocolate chip cookies in bar form.

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Gooey Fudge Brownies from Rodelle

Recipe By: Rodelle’s famous recipe
Serving Size: 12 (or 18)

1 cup butter — PLUS 2 tbsp
2 1/4 cups sugar
5 large eggs
1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup flour — PLUS 1 tablespoon
3/4 cup cocoa powder — PLUS 1 tablespoon
1/4 tablespoon salt
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup chopped nuts — (optional)

NOTE: If you cut smaller squares, you’ll get more than 12 brownies.
1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
2. Line 9×13 pan with parchment paper and spray lightly with cooking spray.
3. Melt butter and sugar in a heavy saucepan on very low heat. Let the mixture cool slightly and transfer to a large bowl. Add eggs gradually, mixing well. Add vanilla extract.
4. Sift dry ingredients together and add to egg mixture, stirring gently and minimally.
Add chocolate chips and nuts (if using). Pour into prepared pan and bake approximately 35 minutes – do NOT overbake or you’ll lose the fudgy, gooey texture!
5. Cool before cutting. Turn onto a surface and peel parchment paper off. Cut into squares. They are great frozen, just so you know.
Per Serving: 431 Calories; 25g Fat (48.6% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 52g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 118mg Cholesterol; 298mg Sodium; 42g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 35mg Calcium; 2mg Iron; 200mg Potassium; 124mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Pasta, Vegetarian, on November 8th, 2020.

pasta_alla_vodka

Ever had vodka sauce over pasta? SO delicious.

Back last month when my grandson Vaughan was staying with me, he prepared an additional dinner. His signature dish. Can you imagine a 13-year old having his own “signature dish?” He’s prepared it for many sections of the family, and to family friends too. I’d not been there on any of those occasions, so he offered to make it for the two of us. He asked if I had any sausage to serve along with it – I did. You can see the Italian sausage coins in the back side of the plate above. It was not cooked with the sauce, but provided some protein for the meal.

He prepared the sauce. I had a box of Capello’s almond pasta (which is the best non-wheat pasta I’ve had) in the freezer, so I used it (in photo above). I didn’t use all the pasta, so had enough to make a second pasta dish (up soon), a Rachel Ray dish with pancetta and radicchio. Vaughan really prefers rigatoni with this (because the large tubes will hold a lot more sauce per bite); I didn’t have any, so we used penne for his.

vaughan_making_pasta_vodka_sauceAnyway, what I will say is that my kitchen was a big mess when we got done. Vaughan did the sauce; I cooked both of the pastas and prepared the Italian sausage. We had 4 burners going (because my pasta needed to be cooked separately from the penne). Today I discovered a splatter of vodka sauce on a container somewhat near the kitchen range – I hadn’t noticed it at the time. That sauce went everywhere.

There’s Vaughan at left – he was grating Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. I suggested to him that we get everything out and ready, so when he started making the sauce, we’d be prepared to serve when it was done. The recipe calls for a shallot, garlic, tomato paste (not tomato sauce), red pepper flakes, cream (not a lot) and the grated cheese. The sauce is prepared in a large skillet – and a warning – don’t stir too vigorously or you, too, will get sauce in various places near your stove.

vodka_sauceThe sauce comes together very quickly once you begin. First the shallot and garlic cook over a very low heat in butter (you do not want even golden browned garlic). If I were making this, I’d cook the shallot first and add the garlic during the last minute so there would be no chance of burning the garlic. Then you add the tomato paste, red pepper flakes and the vodka (only 2 T). At the last you add in the cream and some of the pasta water to thin out the sauce a little bit, and some Parm. The pasta is stirred into the sauce on the stove, but off heat (NOT poured on top on your plate), and when you serve it, add more Parm on top and if you think of it, sprinkle a few basil leaves for garnish. I had some, but didn’t realize the recipe called for it.

The sauce takes little time – Vaughan was very diligent keeping the sauce stirred frequently. That’s a ceramic pan, so nothing stuck to it at all. Thank you, Vaughan, for making dinner! So delicious!

What’s GOOD: such a flavorful sauce. The tomato paste gives it lots of character. Vaughan said he’s made it using tomato sauce and it’s definitely not as good. So be sure to use tomato paste.

What’s NOT: nothing at all. Fabulous pasta sauce.

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Pasta alla Vodka

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Delish
Serving Size: 4

3 tablespoons butter
1 large shallot — minced
2 cloves garlic — minced
1/2 cup tomato paste — do not use tomato sauce
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons vodka
kosher salt
1 pound pasta — such as penne or rigatoni
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated, plus more for serving
2 tablespoons basil — torn, for garnish

NOTE: It’s important to save the pasta cooking water as some of it is used in the sauce.
1. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt butter. Add shallot and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add tomato paste and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring frequently, until paste has coated shallots and garlic and is beginning to darken, 5 minutes.
2. Add vodka to pot and stir to incorporate, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Turn off heat.
3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta until al dente. Reserve 2 cups of pasta water before draining.
4. Return sauce to medium heat and add 1/4 cup of pasta water and heavy cream, stirring to combine. Add half the Parmesan and stir until melted. Turn off heat and stir in cooked pasta. Fold in remaining Parmesan, adding more pasta water (about a tablespoon at a time) if the sauce is looking dry. Season with salt if needed. Serve topped with more Parmesan and torn basil leaves.
Per Serving: 647 Calories; 21g Fat (30.3% calories from fat); 17g Protein; 93g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 57mg Cholesterol; 105mg Sodium; 8g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 64mg Calcium; 5mg Iron; 637mg Potassium; 266mg Phosphorus.

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