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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, GF or Gluten Free, on February 23rd, 2024.

A really tasty GF Bundt cake. Every bit as good as one made with flour.

So I have to confess, the Bundt cake had a few problems coming out of the pan. Although I sprayed it with nonstick spray AND it’s a nonstick pan, still several chunks didn’t want to release. Therefore the underside that’s supposed to be the top side wasn’t at all pretty. Oh well, I just left it this way, topside up, and no one seemed to mind. I thought I had a photo or two of the sliced cake, but after a recent purge of food photos on my phone, I guess I must have deleted it.

I made this over Christmas, for my cousin Gary, who can’t eat wheat. Most holidays when he comes to visit, I make at least one or two GF desserts for him for our family gatherings, so he isn’t left out of the celebration.

Nielsen-Massey - Pure Lemon PasteThe recipe came from the ‘net, All Day I Dream About Food (a blog). I made a couple of changes – I used lemon paste (I bought it from King Arthur) in addition to lemon zest, and I didn’t make the glaze because I was lazy. And what was left of the cake went home with Gary in his backpack, on the plane. I hope it didn’t get squished beyond recognition. What the lemon paste does is give a more intense lemon flavor. What’s there not to like about that option?

The only really unusual ingredient here is whey protein powder, unflavored. I have some that I keep on hand as it’s a common item in keto baking. I’m not eating keto anymore, but I still use keto recipes frequently. Whey proteins have excellent water-binding properties, which can help to increase the moisture content and softness of baked goods. Hence, this cake was VERY tender and moist.

The making of it was quite standard, and it was baked at a little lower temperature. When using whey protein it’s better to either bake a cake for fewer minutes and/or lower the temp so it doesn’t dry out.

What’s GOOD: this makes a really tasty, lemony, tender Bundt cake. The recipe is a keeper.

What’s NOT: nothing, really. If you have concerns about your Bundt pan sticking, bake this in a loaf cake instead. And use parchment paper.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook file (click link to open recipe)

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Poppyseed Lemon Bundt Cake GF

Recipe: Adapted from: all day I dream about food blog, 2019
Servings: 12

3 cups almond flour
1/3 cup whey protein powder — unflavored
3 tbsp poppy seeds
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter — softened
2/3 cup sugar
3 large eggs — at room temperature
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon lemon paste
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup water
Glaze: (optional)
1/3 cup powdered sugar
a little bit of fresh lemon juice

NOTES: Do grease the Bundt pan, even if you’re using a nonstick one. Be generous with the coating.
1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Liberally grease a bundt pan. Make sure you get into all the nook and crannies. Otherwise, bake in a loaf pan and line with parchment paper.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk dry ingredients together: the almond flour, protein powder, poppy seeds, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
3. In a large bowl, beat the butter with sugar until well combined. Add eggs, scraping down the beaters and the sides of the bowl as needed. Add lemon zest, lemon paste, and vanilla extract.
4. Add half of the almond mixture in until there are no more dry patches, then mix in the water. Add the remaining flour mixture and beat until just combined. Spread the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with an offset spatula.
5. Bake 45 to 50 minutes, or until top is deep golden brown and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 30 minutes, then flip out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
6. GLAZE: whisk together the powdered sugar and lemon juice until smooth. If too thin, add a bit more powdered sugar until it’s the right pouring consistency. Drizzle glaze over the cooled cake.
Per Serving: 163 Calories; 10g Fat (52.8% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 16g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 67mg Cholesterol; 241mg Sodium; 14g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 109mg Calcium; 1mg Iron; 49mg Potassium; 157mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Salad Dressings, Vegetarian, Veggies/sides, on February 9th, 2024.

Lovely roasted veggies enhanced with lemon juice in a vinaigrette.

Having shopped that morning and with numerous vegetables to choose from, I decided a sheetpan of roasted veggies sounded good for dinner. My complete dinner. But adding some kind of dressing would be even better, so I kind of made up a dressing with EVOO, a tad of red wine vinegar and fresh lemon juice (my Meyer lemon tree is loaded, absolutely loaded with them), Dijon, a tiny bit of sugar, salt and pepper and some minced shallot.

After cutting up the veggies (one sweet potato, chunked large, 1 large sweet onion cut in wedges, about 12 Brussels sprouts, halved, one baby bok choy, cut into wedge thirds), I piled them onto a sheet pan lined with parchment. EVOO was drizzled over it and I used my hands to make sure every surface had been kissed by the oil. Then I added some salt and freshly ground black pepper, and it was ready. Into a 400°F oven it went for 35 minutes. If I’d wanted more caramelization I wouldn’t have used the parchment, but they were just done in that time frame (and the sheetpan was mostly clean). Meanwhile, I’d mixed up the vinaigrette, tasted it, and added a bit more oil. Once the veggies came out of the oven I put them onto my plate and drizzled (using a teaspoon) some of it over each piece of vegetable. That way, I hoped, I’d use less of the dressing (therefore fewer calories). So delicious. As I write this, I made the veggies last night, and at lunchtime today I couldn’t wait to have more of them. I reheated them in the microwave for a quick meal.

The recipe below makes more than you’ll need of the dressing – use what’s left on a green salad. Therefore, the calorie count in the actual recipe is way off. This is a mix-and-match kind of dish – don’t like sweet potatoes? Add white potatoes. Don’t like Brussels, add red, yellow and green bell peppers, cauliflower or eggplant. Don’t have sweet onion? No problem. Regular onions should work just fine. Add carrots to this – they’d be great – they become very sweet when roasted. I was trying to stick with low carb. Sweet potatoes are a resistant starch, so they don’t get absorbed by the body like most starches/carbohydrate. I have some portobello mushrooms and if I make this again in the next few days, I’ll add those, although they’d need the dark gills cleaned out  (otherwise the resulting dark fluid would spread over the other veggies – wouldn’t look pretty). I’m not a fan of cooked celery, but it probably would work here too. Regular cabbage would work too if cut into smaller wedges.

What’s GOOD: oh gosh, every veggie was wonderful. The vinaigrette just “made” it – it was the lemon juice that was the key to that. If you cut the veggies in somewhat even thickness they’ll all be done at the same time. Using parchment made for easy clean-up. The leftover vinaigrette I’ll use on a salad in the next few days. Absolutely wonderful dinner. If you wanted to serve it with a side of protein – a grilled chicken breast, or some rotisserie chicken, easy. A grilled pork chop maybe, or even a piece of fish. All good with the vegetables.

What’s NOT: only that you need to have the right combo of vegetables. Use what you have. No complaints here!

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook file (click link to open recipe)

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Roasted Vegetables with Lemon Vinaigrette

Recipe: My own recipe, made it up on the fly
Servings: 2

1 medium sweet potato — peeled
1 large sweet onion — peeled, cut in wedges
2 whole bok choy — cut in thirds, through the core
10 whole Brussels sprouts — ends sliced off, halved
1 1/2 tablespoons EVOO
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
VINAIGRETTE: (this makes more than needed for the vegetables)
1/3 cup EVOO
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 small shallot — peeled, finely minced

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a large sheetpan with parchment paper.
2. Prep vegetables and combine on the sheetpan. Drizzle EVOO over all and toss the vegetables to coat them. Sprinkle salt and pepper over all.
3. Bake for 35 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.
4. Meanwhile, prepare vinaigrette and shake well to combine. Taste for acid balance – add more oil or lemon juice as needed.
5. Drizzle the vinaigrette over the hot, roasted vegetables and serve immediately.
Per Serving (makes more dressing than needed, so calories are way high): 578 Calories; 47g Fat (70.2% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 38g Carbohydrate; 8g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 175mg Sodium; 15g Total Sugars; 0mcg Vitamin D; 171mg Calcium; 3mg Iron; 989mg Potassium; 175mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Fish, on February 2nd, 2024.

Having made shrimp and grits before . . . well, these are the best ever.

It’s taken me awhile to catch up with all of the recipes I’ve made or had, and this was one that got lost. Phillis Carey made these at the class in early December, and they are just the bomb. What’s there not to like about bacon, mushrooms, lovely succulent shrimp and a bunch of cheese mixed in and around the pile of creamy grits?

Ideally, have everything out, ready, measured before you begin. The grits take less than 10 minutes to cook, and the shrimp even less than that, so be prepared. Chicken broth and cream are added to a pot, then once it’s up to a boil you slowly – ever so slowly – drizzle in the grits, stirring constantly with a whisk (not a spoon, a whisk). Once mixed, turn down the heat, cover and let it simmer for 5-7 minutes. Then you add in the salt, butter, and cheeses, plus some white pepper, cayenne and nutmeg (yes, nutmeg).

Phillis used 6 slices of bacon in this dish – – – I use 4 slices, as the bacon flavor was very prominent. You don’t want it to overpower the delicacy of the shrimp. The shrimp are cooked in the residual bacon fat (plus oil if needed), until it just begins to get opaque (pink), then you add green onions, the bacon and garlic. It’s then seasoned with lemon juice, some hot sauce plus salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, the grits are done, they’re spooned into a nice big wide soup bowls and the shrimp mixture is piled on top. Sprinkle with Italian parsley for color. Serve immediately so it doesn’t cool off.

What’s GOOD: every little morsel of this was delicious. I mean, really  . . . shrimp, mushrooms, bacon, grits with cheese and cream? Oh yum.

What’s NOT: well, there’s not much that’s healthy about this, lots of calories. A decadent splurge, let’s put it that way.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook file (click link to open recipe)

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Shrimp and Grits with Mushrooms and Bacon

Recipe: Phillis Carey, class, 12/2023
Servings: 5

3 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream — or use more broth instead
1 cup grits — quick, not instant type
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup cheddar cheese — grated
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated
Freshly ground white pepper, cayenne and nutmeg (to taste)
4 slices bacon — diced
Oil for frying
1 pound large shrimp — cleaned, with or without tails
1/2 pound mushrooms — white, sliced
1 cup green onions — sliced
1 clove garlic — minced
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Crystal hot sauce, to taste, or Tabasco
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup Italian parsley — chopped

1. GRITS: Place broth and cream in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Gradually whisk in grits (too fast and you’ll get lumps). Reduce heat to low, cover and cook until grits are creamy and tender, stirring occasionally, about 5-7 minutes. Stir in salt, butter and cheeses. Add a pinch of each: white pepper, cayenne and nutmeg.
2. SHRIMP: Cook bacon in large skillet until browned on the edges. Remove with a slotted spoon to drain on paper towels.
3. If the bacon fat doesn’t provide a thin layer all over the pan, add a bit of neutral oil. Heat over medium high heat and add shrimp and mushrooms, tossing well. Cook until shrimp JUST starts to color, then add green onions, cooked bacon and garlic. Season with lemon juice, hot sauce, salt and pepper to taste.
4. Divide grits among four plates or wide bowls. Spoon shrimp mixture over grits and serve sprinkled with Italian parsley.
Per Serving: 718 Calories; 46g Fat (57.2% calories from fat); 43g Protein; 34g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 231mg Cholesterol; 1565mg Sodium; 3g Total Sugars; 1mcg Vitamin D; 708mg Calcium; 2mg Iron; 615mg Potassium; 773mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Pork, on January 26th, 2024.

Love rice? Love Chinese food? Have access to Chinese sausage? Make this!

For some reason I was craving Chinese food, and I didn’t really want to go out somewhere. I had a package of Chinese sausage in my refrigerator, so I decided to do something with it. Truth to tell, I know nothing about Chinese sausage. I’d never had it before, but I’d spotted packages of it at my local Costco. In a shelf-stable package. It said it would keep for about a year. Meat? Really? A year on my pantry shelf? Hmmm. Well, I had put it in my refrigerator, where it had languished for at least 4-5 months. I went online and searched recipes, and decided on this one, that’s just slightly adapted from Jaden’s Steamy Kitchen.

So, first I followed the recipe directions for rinsing the rice. Usually I don’t bother, but in this recipe it said it was important, to wash off the starch, so the rice would not stick together. I must say, I was impressed with the fluffiness of the finished rice – it definitely was fluffy and didn’t stick together at all. So, the rinsed rice was put into a large frying pan (big, must have been an 11-inch one), water was added. Nothing else The sausage links are nestled into the rice and then turn on the heat. The recipe was specific about watching the pan for the first sign of bubbling around the edges. At that point you lower the heat, cover the pan and let it cook for exactly 18 minutes.

Meanwhile, you prepare the sauce that will go into the rice. You make the sauce with shallot and garlic, then add two kinds of soy sauce (or you can jerry-rig the dark one, see notes, although I didn’t add the suggested honey or molasses – it was sweet enough without it, for me anyway) and some dry sherry. And a bit of water. Once cooked, the rice has to sit (covered, no peeking) for 5 minutes. The I removed those sausage links (keeping the pot covered) and cut them up into little diagonal slices. Those were added to the sauce, then I poured the whole thing over the pan of white rice and stirred and fluffed like crazy. Then a tiny drizzle of sesame oil.

Green onions and cilantro were added as a garnish to the servings. Well, there was just one serving, mine. Oh my goodness, was it ever good. The sausage was a bit on the salty side, so I’m glad I used low-sodium soy sauce. The little bit of Asian sesame oil adds a really nice touch to it.

What’s GOOD: every little tiny morsel of this was good. Healthy? Oh, maybe not, but it sure was tasty. I tried not to overeat; I was very tempted to. I had ample leftovers, so they went into the freezer for another day when I feel I can have a heaping portion of rice! Loved the flavors throughout, the sherry, even, the cilantro, the soy/shallot/garlic sauce. All good. Delicious.

What’s NOT: can’t say there is anything that wasn’t good. It wasn’t hard to make at all. Uses two pans. I had all the ingredients on hand, so it was a fast meal to make. Could make it on the fly if I had last-minute guests, even.

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Chinese Sausage and Rice

Recipe: Adapted from Jaden’s Steamy Kitchen
Servings: 6

1 1/2 cups long grain rice — jasmine rice preferred
2 3/4 cups water
6 Chinese sausage links
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic — smashed
1 shallot — roughly chopped
1/4 cup soy sauce — use low-sodium if preferred
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce — see notes
1 tablespoon dry sherry
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
1/2 cup green onions — chopped
1/2 cup cilantro — chopped

NOTES: If you do not have dark soy sauce, substitute: with 2T regular soy sauce + 1 tsp honey or molasses.
1. Wash the raw rice grains fist. Fill a large pot with the rice and cold water to cover. Use your hands to swish the rice grains, loosening any extra starch and dirt. Rice (like beans) is a raw ingredient and it is important to wash and rinse. Washing also rids the rice of extra starch, which will give light, fluffy, airy rice – not heavy, sticky and starchy. Tip the pot and carefully pour out the water. Repeat two more times. Drain as much water as possible from the pot.
2. Measure and add in the 2 3/4 cups of water.
3. Snuggle the sausage in the rice grains. Turn the heat to high. When the water near the edge of the pot starts bubbling, cover the pot and reduce the heat to low. Cook for 18 minutes. Note: While the rice is cooking, make the Sauce.
4. When the rice is finished cooking, turn off heat and keep covered – no peeking Let it sit with the lid on for 5 minutes to finish the steaming process.Remove the sausage links and cut them (carefully, they’re hot) into diagonal slices about 1/2 or 3/4″ thick.
5. SAUCE: In a small saucepan, add oil, garlic and shallot. Turn heat to low and let the garlic and shallot cook slowly until they begin to brown but not burn. Use a slotted spoon and remove the shallots and garlic and discard, leaving the flavored oil. Add remaining ingredients and simmer until thickened, about 2 minutes. Add shallot garlic mixture back in. Add the sausage and stir it thoroughly, then pour the sauce over the rice and stir to combine.
6. Serve with green onions and cilantro on top.
Per Serving: 302 Calories; 23g Fat (60.0% calories from fat); 14g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 897mg Sodium; 5g Total Sugars; 0mcg Vitamin D; 18mg Calcium; trace Iron; 107mg Potassium; 42mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Brunch, GF or Gluten Free, on January 19th, 2024.

Sorry, that photo isn’t better. That’s one of the little baked eggs, cut in half, oozing onto the plate.

There, is that better, at left? Cute muffin cup baked eggs and bacon.

A post from Carolyn, but Karen is the one who made this. On Christmas morning my D-I-L, Karen, made these for our breakfast. She was so thoughtful, to make something my cousin Gary could have, that was GF. My family is very considerate of his GF restrictions. I usually make a GF dessert for one or more of our family gatherings, so the hostess doesn’t have to think about it. I made two this year (desserts). For Thanksgiving it was a pumpkin dessert, Pumpkin Praline Custard, that’s been on my blog for years. Then for Christmas I made a GF poppy seed Bundt cake (recipe up soon) that was amazingly good. Light and fluffy. Gary enjoyed it, and what was left I packed up for him to put in his backpack on the plane when he flew home.

Back to this breakfast . . . Karen bought a package of  Cup4Cup GF flour on amazon. It’s the best mix of GF flours I’ve tasted. After Christmas I ordered a package of it and will be trying it in coming months. Next year the goal is to make GF popovers when Gary visits. I made popovers for Christmas Day dinner (it’s become a “thing” that I make them frequently when I visit my son and his family as they all love-love them), though I didn’t make them GF. I didn’t know there was a recipe out there that worked. Popovers are so finicky with wheat flour, let alone GF mixtures, but since Christmas I’ve found more than one recipe for GF popovers. I think I’ll try them here at home first.

As an added note, I made popovers a couple of days ago when I was visiting them, and I absolutely NAILED it with the recipe and now I need to go back to tweak the recipe that’s already here on my blog and add notes. Anyway, a week or so ago I listened to a podcast on Milk Street radio, an interview with Rose Levy Beranbaum, and in it she talked extensively about various flour (all purpose) and how they differ in the amount of protein they end up with in the finished product. With her advice in mind, I bought a bag of BLEACHED Gold Medal flour, weighed the exact amount (in grams) needed for the popovers, made them like that (with eggs, milk, and in this case some melted beef fat Karen had on hand). Oh my goodness. Perfect. If you’re interested in learning more about the flour intelligence in this, click here to go to Rose’s page on ingredients, and scroll down to FLOUR. Until now I’ve used  unbleached all purpose flour for everything, unless cake flour was called for in the recipe. I now know I need to use bleached flour for all cakes, cookies, biscuits, etc. I guess I’ll be phasing out my unbleached flour as I don’t make bread hardly at all anymore.

THE PIECRUST: Karen used this flour (picture at right) to make the GF piecrusts. Recipe below. It’s a normal crust – this special cup4cup GF flour, salt, butter, apple cider vinegar and cold water. Karen said the dough was quite easy to work with. Do note that the recipe below makes two crusts, or enough to make 24 of these little piecrust cups. She cautions you to NOT press the dough into the corners as that stretches it – when it bakes it will shrink. So, gently press and mold the dough without stretching to get into those corners.

Into the bottom of each pastry crust Karen spread about a teaspoon of whole-grain mustard. Then she added a few little cubes of the pancetta (or cooked bacon, whatever your preference). The eggs were separated and the yolk is carefully added into the cup. The egg whites are mixed  up a little bit, to make them more pourable and it was added to each muffin cup, up to about 2/3 full. Don’t over-fill as they might bubble up and over (which would make a BIG mess in your oven). She sprinkled salt, pepper and paprika over the top, then added grated Cheddar cheese on the top.

The egg cups are baked for 20-25 minutes, or until the egg is set and the cheese and the crust are golden brown. Sprinkle with chopped parsley when it’s served. Every oven is different – so watch the eggs carefully that you don’t overbake them.

What’s GOOD: all of it was good. The piecrust was perfect – flaky and I’d never have known it was GF. The eggs were perfectly cooked (oozy, just the way I like them). Karen did a great job on this breakfast. She served it with a lovely tray of fresh fruit and coffee.

What’s NOT: only that there are several steps to making these – the piecrust itself, of course, and then making the filling. Karen simplified it well (using those tiny cubes of pancetta instead of having to cook bacon).

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GF Mini Pancetta (or Bacon) and Egg Cups with Cheddar

Recipe: One online recipe and a cookbook recipe – combined
Servings: 12

Butter, for greasing
2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
12 slices pancetta — or bacon (diced) cooked and drained
12 small eggs
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 cup grated Cheddar cheese — or more if needed
2 tablespoons fresh parsley
GF PIE CRUST: (makes enough for a double crust)
2 1/2 cups GF flour — plus more for the board
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 sticks unsalted butter — in 1/2″ dice
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup cold water — or up to 1/2 cup

NOTES: Take care NOT to force the dough circles into the muffin pans – stretching – as this will lead to the dough shrinking while it is baking. So, gently ease dough into the pan and gently press it into the edges.
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 12-cup muffin pan.
2. Roll dough (using half of the below recipe) to 1/4 inch thickness on a lightly floured board and cut out 12 circles approximately 5″ in diameter. Gently lift and insert dough into muffin pan, pleating sides as necessary to fit into the cups. Do not stretch the dough.
3. Place about 1/2 teaspoon of mustard into the base of each pastry shell and add the pancetta (or bacon).
4. Separate the eggs. Gently place an egg yolk into each muffin cup. Very lightly mix the egg whites so they will pour easily. Add just enough egg white into each muffin cup to fill the shell about 2/3 full. DO NOT overfill. Season to taste with pepper and paprika, and sprinkle grated cheese evenly over the tops of the pastries.
5. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the egg is set and the cheese is golden brown. Serve warm, sprinkled with chopped parsley.
6. CRUST: Put the flour, sea salt and sugar, if using, in a food processor and pulse to combine.
7. Sprinkle the cold butter over the flour in the food processor. Pulse until the mixture looks crumbly with larger, pea-sized chunks of butter (those chunks of butter equal a flaky crust!). Drizzle the apple cider vinegar over top.
8. Turn the machine on and immediately start drizzling cold water through the feed tube. Stop the machine once the mixture starts to come together and looks shaggy. Give the dough a pinch—if it sticks together, it’s ready to go. If not, turn the machine on again and drizzle in a bit more water. You might not need all of the water—you’re looking for a shaggy dough, not a cohesive ball. Do NOT over-process the dough – it’s good to have little visible chunks of butter, which make a flakier crust.
9. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and shape it into a ball. Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces and form each into a flat disk. Wrap the disks in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 30 minutes or for up to 2 days. Do Ahead: The wrapped disks can be placed in zip-top freezer bags and frozen for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight before using.
10. If the dough has been in the fridge for several hours, let it sit at room temperature until slightly softened, about 10-20 minutes. Roll it out on a lightly floured piece of parchment paper. If the dough immediately starts to crack once you start rolling, it’s too cold—give it a few more minutes to warm up. If the edges crack as you roll (which they probably will, so no fear!) simply patch them as needed.
Per Serving: 252 Calories; 24g Fat (84.6% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 1g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 237mg Cholesterol; 260mg Sodium; trace Total Sugars; 1mcg Vitamin D; 102mg Calcium; 1mg Iron; 90mg Potassium; 150mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Salads, Vegetarian, Veggies/sides, on January 12th, 2024.

Green beans – oh so delicious – can be a veg or a salad.

Over Christmas there was quite a bit of too-ing and fro-ing from one family location to another. Going south, we (my cousin Gary from NorCal was here) met on the 23rd for a big family dinner and gift exchange and one of the family’s homes in Corona del Mar. I think there were about 25 people there, with 22 of them being part of my daughter-in-law’s extended family. I took a gluten-free dessert and something else . . . at this moment I can’t recall what I made. I think it was a salad of some kind. Oh well, it will come to me . . . Then on the 24th my cousin Gary and I drove north to La Canada (where my son Powell and his family live). We had a lovely dinner that night, paella and all the extras from a local Spanish restaurant. We had desserts leftover from the 23rd, and we had lovely Sangria to enjoy too.

Because their house was full-up with guests, Gary and I were treated to an overnight at The California Club. My son and his wife have joined it and they have 30+ rooms available. It’s in downtown Los Angeles. It’s like a private country club but without a golf course. In the morning we enjoyed coffee (Gary had other things; me just the coffee) in the bar at the Club. We were sorry they had to provide food for guests on Christmas morning, but we weren’t the only people staying there, and the waiter was ever-so nice. Then we returned to the house for an official breakfast.

Karen made some GF eggs in pastry cups (recipe to come soon). They were just delicious and I was amazed at the flakiness of the pastry. I did a huge charcuterie board (I made Gary help me with the creating of it) which everyone munched on during the afternoon. For dinner Powell grill-rotisserie-d a double boneless leg of lamb stuffed with all kinds of herbs, and everyone else helped out with other dishes to round out the dinner. It was a fabulous meal – a formal dining room setting with the family china. I think the lamb was the most tender leg of lamb I’ve ever eaten – it was as tender as prime rib or a tenderloin.

So, this green bean dish . . . it comes from Milk Street, and you can tell, it’s Russian. First you make the Adjika (I’m assuming it means “sauce”). It’s comprised of a LOT of fresh mint (thank goodness I have it growing in abundance in my yard), Jalapeno chiles, garlic, salt, a bit of oil and some ground coriander. The green beans were cooked just past the crunchy stage, then they’re tossed with the sauce, some yogurt, lemon zest and juice and garnished with more fresh mint and some toasted walnuts. I made the mint sauce (the Adjika) at home so it was easy to mix in when composing the dish.

What’s GOOD: I thought these were stupendous. I’d have loved to have had leftovers the next day, but I left them for Karen and family to enjoy. Definitely a keeper and one I want to make again. Although I have mint growing, I’ll need to wait a few weeks for the patch to recover from harvesting so much of it for this dish! We’re having very cold temps at night, and mint doesn’t much like that – often it dies off in the winter. I was just lucky there was plenty when I needed it. We have several family members who can’t eat nuts, so the picture doesn’t show them – I had them nearby for people to sprinkle on top as they wanted. Make the sauce earlier in the day, and make the yogurt sauce ahead also. The green beans could be made ahead too, so all you’d have to do is toss everything. The dish is very low in calorie. I made a double batch to feed all of us.

What’s NOT: There are a few steps to making this – none is difficult, just a bit time consuming.

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Green Beans with Georgian Mint-Chili Sauce

Recipe By: Milk Street, Jul/Aug 2018
Servings: 6

ADJIKA: (makes about 1/2 cup)
2 cups fresh mint — lightly packed
1 medium Jalapeno peppers — stemmed, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 medium garlic cloves — smashed, peeled
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 tablespoon neutral oil — or olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
kosher salt
1 1/2 pounds green beans — trimmed
Adjika mint-chili sauce (from above)
1/4 cup Greek yogurt, full fat
1 tablespoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup fresh mint — torn (lightly packed)
1/3 cup walnuts — toasted, finely chopped (DIVIDED)

1. ADJIKA: In a food processor, combine all ingredients. Process until finely chopped, 1 to 2 minutes, scraping the bowl as needed. Transfer to a small bowl or jar, cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 4 days. Don’t discard any tender mint stems; they’re fine to use here, as the food processor will break them down. Don’t use the relish immediately after processing. Allowing it to rest for at least one hour before serving allows the flavors to bloom.
2. GREEN BEANS: In a large pot over high, bring 4 quarts water and 2 tablespoons salt to a boil. Fill a large bowl with ice water. Add green beans to boiling water and cook until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Drain, then transfer to ice bath. Let stand until completely cooled, about 3 minutes. Drain and pat dry.
3. In a large bowl whisk yogurt, zest, juice, mint Adjika (use all of it) and salt. Add beans and toss until evenly coated. Gently stir in the garnishing mint and half the walnuts. Taste and season with more salt if needed. Transfer to a serving platter and sprinkle with remaining walnuts.
Per Serving: 127 Calories; 18g Fat (71.2% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 12g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 2mg Cholesterol; 99mg Sodium; 5g Total Sugars; 0mcg Vitamin D; 60mg Calcium; 2mg Iron; 324mg Potassium; 89mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Uncategorized, on January 8th, 2024.

At Thanksgiving and Christmas every year I make a few things that I’ve made for decades. I suppose I could go to all the trouble of creating new, cropped photos of all these things, and write up a new blurb about them. But if you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you may have already seen them in years past. I’m not going to do that this time – it’s a ton of work. I’m just going to list them, in blog-style conversation and if you’re interested, you can click on the link.

At Thanksgiving, I made my usual cranberry relish. It’s different because it contains apple, a whole orange (including the skin and pith) and some fresh ginger (that you’d not know was there except I’m telling you). It keeps for about a month.

Early in December I made Bishop’s Bread, something I learned to make back in the 1960s and it’s filled with chocolate chips, walnuts and maraschino cherries. So it’s a fruitcake, but doesn’t have all those citron things in it. As I write this I still have part of a loaf that I nibble on with coffee or tea every few days.

Several of us gathered together to make Christmas cookies this year. Each person brought one cookie (already made, or mostly made) that was shared with our group of four. And we baked several throughout the day. We tried a couple of new recipes. Cranberry Moscow Mule Cookies are different, all the flavors of a Moscow mule, but in cookie form. They’re quite sweet. Not certain we’ll make them again. We always make Chocolate Almond Saltine Bars, and this year we made a double batch as one batch didn’t give each of us enough.

We tried a new snowball cookie called Bee’s Knees, and although they were fine, they weren’t as good as the ones we usually make, so we’ll go back to our original next year, I think. I made a double batch of Chocolate Salami, which is a real treat for me. It’s a mixture of bittersweet chocolate, cookie crumbs (this time I used graham crackers although I think the Biscoff cookie crumbs are better) and nuts, rolled into a log, chilled, then you slice them and they look kinda-sorta like salami.

We’d talked about making potato chip cookies (they were a winner last year) but we ran out of time. As it was, we baked nearly all day and since all of us are “of a certain age,” we were TIRED. Next year we’ll go back to the Cranberry Noels that have been a favorite for many years.

We also made Bushwhacker Bars (similar to the cocktail, but a cookie, obviously). I don’t think we liked them that much, so I didn’t write up the recipe to share. If anyone wants the recipe, click the link and it goes to Food & Wine magazine. If you make them, cut back on the sugar.

Nearly all the cookies are gone now – I gifted some, took some when I went to someone’s house, and I ate a lot of them myself. There are a few of the Cranberry Moscow Mule cookies left, but they’re not a favorite so they languish in the freezer.

Lots of baking . . . lots of dishes, and thanks to Jackie and Dianne for washing up dishes a jillion times that day. I made some soup, my Dad’s lentil soup, for us so we wouldn’t eat too much cookie dough, and we dashed out to visit a local store that was all decked out for Christmas. We had a really nice time of it. We skipped our usual cookie baking one of the years during Covid, but it’s nice to be back in the cookie groove again. At the end of the day we divided up everything so we all went home with about 6 different cookies, I think.

Posted in Chicken, on January 5th, 2024.

An easy weeknight chicken breast dinner that comes together fairly quickly.

Can you tell I made this before Christmas? What with those Christmas plates (Spode ones with the Christmas tree in the middle, you know that one, it’s been around forever). So, this dish is a chicken breast stuffed with all kinds of goodies – a little bit of cream cheese, some pepper jack cheese too, some poblano chiles (or you could use canned California green chiles, sliced), then it has a green chile salsa with onions and the remaining poblanos in the sauce. These are so very easy to make. Just have all the ingredients on hand (I did).

First off, consider the size of the chicken breast. I used a package of Costco’s sealed packet of chicken breasts. And there were only two of them in the packet. But they were huge. So I cut them each in half, crosswise. Then, I sliced each of those in half horizontally to make an open-book type of breast that’s suitable for stuffing. When doing the horizontal cut, stop cutting about 1/2″ from the other side so you can open it up to a nice chicken surface. Each made a nice-enough chicken breast serving, so I got four servings out of two breasts. Next time I make these I will pound all of those pieces a little bit as all of them were a bit too thick. I mean, they were fine, but they plumped up thicker once baked.

The poblano peppers should be blistered (to remove the skins), but if you’re short on time, you can make this without that step. Saute the onion and peppers in a bit of olive oil until the onions are translucent (otherwise they won’t cook through in the oven when it’s baked).

There are the chicken breasts sort-a, kind-a sealed up, seasoned, with the onions and peppers around the outside.

There’s the casserole with the salsa on top, before baking.

First you spread some softened cream cheese on one side of the chicken open book. Then place in a slice or two of pepper jack, then some of the poblano chile strips. Fold the chicken over so it mostly covers the filling. Place in a greased baking dish. Then you pour all the onions and remaining chiles around the chicken breasts, add the jar of green chile salsa (I use Trader Joe’s) and make sure some of it is spread on top of each breast. This doesn’t have to bake long – chicken breasts cook fairly quickly. Use an instant read thermometer and make sure the center of the breast has reached 150ºF. I served this with rice seasoned with lime juice and some broccoli.

What’s GOOD: loved everything about this – the melty, oozy cheese, the poblanos, and just how moist the chicken was. It was quite simple and easy to put together; maybe 30 minutes of prep work, then about 25-30 minutes in the oven. It made a very nice company meal.

What’s NOT: nothing, really. I’d definitely make this again.

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Easy Cheesy Green Chile Chicken

Recipe: Adapted from Half Baked Harvest
Servings: 4

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts — see notes
2 ounces cream cheese — at room temperature
3 ounces pepper jack cheese — sliced
2 poblano peppers — sliced (or substitute whole canned California green chiles, cut into slices)
1 small yellow onion — chopped or sliced
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon garlic powder
kosher salt and black pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
22 ounces salsa verde — Trader Joe’s jar
fresh cilantro and lime wedges for serving

NOTE :If you use really large chicken breasts, cut them in half across the breast.
1. Preheat the oven to 400° F.
2. Prep the peppers: slice each poblano open lengthwise, cut into about 3-4 pieces, removing the stem, seeds and membranes. Place them on a foil lined small baking sheet skin side up and roast for 8-12 minutes until the skin has blistered. Watch carefully so you don’t burn them. Allow to cool some, then remove the skin as best you can.
3. Slice the chicken through the middle horizontally to within a 1/2 inch of the other side. Open the 2 sides and spread them out like an open book. Spread the cream cheese on one side of the chicken, then add the slices of pepper jack and a few poblano pepper slices. Fold the other side of the chicken over the peppers/cheese, like a book, to enclose the filling. Place the chicken in a baking dish. Rub with olive oil.
4. In a small bowl combine the chili powder, paprika, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Rub the seasonings all over the chicken.
5. In a skillet add olive oil and gently cook the onions and remaining poblano chiles until the onions are translucent. Pour this mixture around the chicken. Drizzle everything with olive oil, then pour over the salsa verde. Bake 20-25 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Check with an instant read thermometer – chicken should be at least 150 F. Serve with fresh cilantro and lime wedges. Serve with rice seasoned with lime juice.
Per Serving: 425 Calories; 23g Fat (49.3% calories from fat); 35g Protein; 19g Carbohydrate; 6g Dietary Fiber; 116mg Cholesterol; 1661mg Sodium; 7g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 208mg Calcium; 3mg Iron; 1100mg Potassium; 447mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Cookies, on December 29th, 2023.

 A winner of a recipe from Cook’s Illustrated.

A couple of weeks ago I was invited at the last minute to a lovely Christmas luncheon and cookie exchange, so I needed to make some quick and easy cookies. Since I love anise biscotti, and I love lemon, I decided these were just the ticket.

There isn’t anything difficult about these cookies. Know, though, that these are more the tea- or coffee-dunking style – i.e., these are quite dry and hard. Actually, that’s the way the original Italian biscotti were back in the day – they contained next to no fat at all. These do have some butter in the dough, but not a lot. They are edible without dunking, but be careful you don’t crack a tooth! I’d suppose Italians today would think soft (or at least not hard) biscotti are blasphemy to the true cuisine of Italy.

The dough comes together very easily and it makes two loaves. Once baked, it’s cooled a bit, then slice them, and they go back in the oven to dry out thoroughly. This recipe makes about 40 biscotti (two loaves). I love the lemon flavor, and I like anise too. A great combination.

What’s GOOD: easy recipe, really like the subtle lemon flavor and the anise. I’d not thought of that as a combination, but it is. These keep for ages, although I keep them in the freezer. Each cookie is just 57 calories and 1 gram of fat.

What’s NOT: nothing whatsoever. Great little cookie.

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Lemon Anise Biscotti

Recipe By: Cook’s Illustrated
Servings: 40

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon table salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon anise seed
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

1. Sift first three ingredients together in a small bowl.
2. Whisk butter and sugar together in a large bowl to a light lemon color; add eggs, one at a time, mixing well before adding the next egg. Add vanilla extract and lemon zest. Sift dry ingredients over egg mixture, then fold in until dough is just combined.
3. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350°F. Halve dough and turn each portion onto an oiled cookie sheet covered with parchment. Using floured hands, quickly stretch each portion of dough into a rough 13-by-2-inch log, placing them about 3 inches apart on the cookie sheet. Pat each dough shape to smooth it. Bake, turning pan once, until loaves are golden and just beginning to crack on top, about 35 minutes.
4. Cool the loaves for 10 minutes; lower oven temperature to 325°F. Cut each loaf diagonally into 3/8-inch slices with a serrated knife. Lay the slices about 1/2-inch apart on the cookie sheet, cut side up, and return them to the oven. Bake, turning over each cookie halfway through baking, until crisp and golden brown on both sides, about 15 minutes. Transfer biscotti to wire rack and cool completely. Biscotti can be stored in an airtight container for at least 1 month. Or freeze up to 2-3 months.
Per Serving: 57 Calories; 1g Fat (23.2% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 10g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 12mg Cholesterol; 27mg Sodium; 5g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 12mg Calcium; trace Iron; 13mg Potassium; 24mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Desserts, on December 22nd, 2023.

If you’re a fan of chocolate . . . cherries . . . mascarpone cheese . . .whipped cream and cake, you’ll want to make this.

Another recipe from the double cooking class a few weeks ago. Sorry I don’t have a better photo of it. Daughter Sara and I both swooned over this cake, and have decided we need to make it some time over the holidays. Decadent? Oh yes. Chocolatey? Absolutely. Smooth and tender? Yes, indeed. If you’re a fan of chocolate, cherry and a tender cake, this will float your boat.

There are three different steps to making this: (1) marinating the cherries; (2) baking the cake; and (3) making the frosting and obviously then frosting the cake. First you need to do the cherries – you can use frozen cherries, no problem. Defrost first, then heat with cherry brandy or kirsch and some sugar and let it simmer for 10 minutes or so. Cool and chill. That part can be made up to five days ahead of time.

Next, the cake. You need two 9-inch cake pans here with nonstick cooking spray all over the inside. Making the cake batter isn’t difficult – it’s one of those hot water cakes (makes for a very tender cake). The only chocolate is unsweetened cocoa powder. Everything else is the normal stuff for making a cake. The batter, however, is quite thin. Don’t be concerned. Pour into the two pans, bake for 30-35 minutes, let the cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes then gently remove them and cool completely on racks. You can make the cake layers 2 days ahead or if you want to, freeze them, several weeks ahead is fine.

The frosting is a combo of heavy cream and mascarpone cheese. So good. Sturdy with the mascarpone in it. The cakes need to be sliced in half to make four layers. Diane had a great idea – if you cut a tiny little V in the side of each cake, you can be certain you’ll put those two thinner slices back together so they lay flat if you line up the V. The cherries are halved and you use about 1/2 cup on each layer. The cake needs chilling time, at least 4 hours or up to 24. Makes it even easier – make it the day ahead (and refrigerate it, of course).

What’s GOOD: the cake is so chocolatey and tender. The frosting is not ordinary – loved the combo of whipped cream and mascarpone. The cherry element is unexpected and a nice complement to the chocolate. Hence the name, black forest! Altogether fabulous.

What’s NOT: only that there are three steps. A bit time consuming. But worth it. Do a lot of it ahead – easier for the hostess. The finished cake wants to be refrigerated at least 4 hours or  overnight.

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Black Forest Cherry Cake

Recipe By: Diane Phillips, cooking class 12/2023
Servings: 12 (or up to 16)

2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups unbleached flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder — unsweetened
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water
3 cups sweet cherries — pitted, either frozen and defrosted, or fresh
1/4 cup cherry brandy — or kirsch
1/4 cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup dark chocolate shavings — for garnish
10 maraschino cherries — pitted, for garnish

NOTE1: The juice (vodka) used to soak the cherries is used to brush on each layer of the cake. Don’t discard it.
NOTE2: For the class, Diane cut about a 4″ circle in the center of the cake. She cut small wedges from the side of the cake and once those were plated, the center provided another 3-4 servings, so the cake would feed about 16 people.
1. CAKE: Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat two 9″ baking pans with nonstick cooking spray.
2. In a large bowl whisk together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder and soda, and salt. Stir in eggs, milk, oil and vanilla. With an electric mixer beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water and mix until blended, about 2 more minutes. Batter is very thin. Divide batter equally between the two pans and bake until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, 30-35 minutes.
3. Remove pans and cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove the cakes from the pans and let cool completely on wire racks. You can make these ahead to this point and refrigerate for up to 2 days, or freeze for up to 6 weeks. Defrost before proceeding.
4. CHERRIES: In a saucepan combine the ingredients, bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes.
5. Drain the cherries, saving the juices and allow to cool before assembling the cake. Cut the cherries in half if you have time.
6. The cherries and juice can be cooled, covered and refrigerated (separately) for up to 5 days.
7. FROSTING: In a large bowl beat the cream until stiff peaks form. Add the mascarpone cheese and beat until smooth.
8. Cut each cake layer in half horizontally. TIP: cut a tiny notch on the side of each cake so when you re-assemble the cake with the frosting you can line up the cake the way it should be (and hopefully level).
9. Lay strips of waxed paper or paper towels on the outside of the cake plate (to catch crumbs and drips). Set a cake half on serving plate. Brush cake with some of the cherry/cherry brandy juice. Spread with some of the cream mixture and top with some of the cherries.
10. Continue to layer with cake, juice, cream frosting, cherries and repeat. If there is enough frosting leftover, spread on the top and sides of the cake.
11. Decorate the top and sides of the cake with chocolate shavings and arrange maraschino cherries around the top of the cake. Refrigerate cake for at least 4 hours, or up to 24 hours ahead.
Per Serving: 668 Calories; 40g Fat (52.1% calories from fat); 8g Protein; 74g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 118mg Cholesterol; 559mg Sodium; 55g Total Sugars; 1mcg Vitamin D; 114mg Calcium; 2mg Iron; 266mg Potassium; 181mg Phosphorus.

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