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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 2021, I’ll still participate, but the two daughters are going to do more posting from here on out.

We participate in an amazon program that rewards a little tiny $ something (pennies, really) if you purchase any books recommended (below), or buy products occasionally mentioned on the blog with an amazon link. 

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BOOK READING:

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. The book IS a novel, but the event is true. 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. On the voyage the ship encounters a hurricane and several giraffes are lost, but two young ones survive. The story is of their journey across the United States in the care of two oh-so-different people, both with a mission. A young boy (barely an adult) becomes the driver (his only goal is his desire to go to California), with the zoo’s delegate (a middle-aged man with a past), and it’s the story about these two misfits and their caring for the giraffes, feeding them (that’s a laugh – onions play a big part). No freeways existed back then, and the mental picture of the vehicle they used (basically a small truck) with the two giraffes confined within two tall boxes precariously strapped to the truck, and their driving and carrying-on getting under bridges and over rivers is just a hoot. I so wanted this story to be true – parts of it ARE true. Worth reading if you enjoy such animal stories. The giraffes survive, thankfully, and they both lived to a ripe old age at the zoo!

Also a kind of quirky book by Beth Miller, The Missing Letters of Mrs. Bright. Picture a middle-aged woman, slogging through life with a not-very-attentive husband, grown children, and one day she decides to leave. Completely. Maybe she had a bucket list of sorts, and she knew none of those places would ever happen in her life if she stayed put. She sets off to find a long-lost girlfriend. The book is about her journey. Her travels. Friendships, and lost friendships. Everyone can probably empathize with Kay Bright as she examines her life. And yes, there are letters and chapters with her daughter, Stella. Cute book.

Katherine Center’s book, Things You Save in a Fire: A Novel is certainly vivid. There aren’t very many women firefighters out there in the world – this is about one. A novel, however. About her work life and the harrassment she endures (some of it’s with love, some not) and about her relationships. The pros and cons of transferring to a different fire station (just like any job move, not always smooth). Good read.

Riveting story of post-WWII- Japan in Ana Johns novel, The Woman in the White Kimono: A Novel. About a young Japanese girl who falls in love with an American serviceman. Such relationships were fraught with problems from the very strict Japanese families who resented the American presence in their country, to the American military higher-ups who made it impossible for the servicemen to marry Japanese nationals. Could hardly put it down. Yes, it’s a romance of sorts, but not in the typical sense of today’s novel-romance-writing. There aren’t always happy beginnings, middles or endings, but the in between made for very interesting reading.

Also read Rishi Reddi’s novel, Passage West: A Novel with a very different take on the migration of Indians (East India) to the California agricultural lands east of San Diego during the 1920s and 30s. Wow. What an eye-opener. Of their small but loyal family enclaves, the hard-scrabble lives they led, the near poverty level of farming. I’d never heard that any Indian migrants were a part of farming here in California. Obviously they made up a very small percentage of the immigrants who settled there.

Maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, but the Mary Morris book, A Very Private Diary: A Nurse in Wartime tells the true day to day life of a young Irish girl who becomes a nurse, in England, France and Belgium in the midst of WWII and immediately after the war. Fascinating glimpse into the hardships not only for patients (the war-wounded) but for the underappreciated and hardworking staff at various hospitals (even a tent one in Normandy where she worked for many months after D-Day). She meets her to-be husband and even that is fraught with difficulty from many angles.

Could hardly put down Krueger’s book, This Tender Land: A Novel. My friend Ann recommended it. I was gripped with the story within the first paragraph, and it never stopped until I turned the last page. 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. Some very ugly things happen at that school. Eventually they  escape, and they are “on the run.” With a few others with them. If you loved Huckleberry Finn, you’ll have a great appreciation for this story as they use a canoe to get themselves down river. Never having very much to eat and getting into trouble way too often, and authorities on their tail. Well, you just have to read the book to find out what happens.

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. The book is heartbreaking, but one of those that everyone should read. The hardship, the hunger, the dirt and dust, the failed crops, the lack of rain, then the story picks up again in central California, back in the day when the wealthy growers just used up the migrants. I don’t want to spoil the story. So worth reading. Hannah really knows how to weave a story.

Brit Bennett has written quite a book, The Vanishing Half: A Novel. It’s a novel, yet I’m sure there are such real-life situations. Twin girls are born to a young woman in the South. Into a town (that probably doesn’t exist) that prides itself on being light-skinned blacks. The father was very dark, but he plays no part, really, in this story. Growing up, the girls leave home at 18 to find their way in New Orleans. Suddenly, one twin disappears (her clothes and suitcase all gone in the wink of an eye). Her twin left behind has no idea what’s happened to her. As the story reveals, with divided paths, one twin continues her life as a black woman, and the other twin, the one who left, is able to pass as a white woman. She marries well, has a daughter. Well, let’s just say that there are lots of wicked webs woven throughout the story, starting from the girls’ mother who never wants to speak again of her lost daughter. But you know where this is going, don’t you? Things are found out. The author does a great job of weaving the story apart and then back together.

What a book. The Only Woman in the Room: A Novel by Marie Benedict. A novelized biography of Hedy Lamarr, the famous actress. She was a brilliant mind, and a beautiful woman. It tells the story of her coming of age, how she navigated the world of acting back in that time period (she was Austrian, and Hitler was in power). The writing was very well done – to tell Hedy’s story with detail and poignancy. Eventually Hedy made it to the U.S. and her life story changed, but still had its difficulties. I loved the book, beginning to end. She should have become an engineer as she invented several war related bomb tools. Very much worth reading.

Also read The Secret of the Chateau: Gripping and heartbreaking historical fiction with a mystery at its heart by Kathleen McGurl. There are two stories here. The historical part is just prior to and up to the French Revolution, when aristocrats were chased and killed, guillotined in many cases. There is a young couple (part of the royal court) who escape to a remote small castle owned by his family, located on the edge of France and Italy, hoping to wait out the revolution and hoping the villagers love and care about them. Then jump to current day as a small English group of close friends decide to retire somewhere on the continent, and settle on a small abandoned castle in the remote hills of France along the Italian border. Got the picture? The historian in the group is quite interested in the history of the home, and clues are revealed (in the tower) that lead her and the group on a quest to discover what happened to the couple who used to live there. There was a fire once upon a time. There’s an pesky ghost. There’s also a very old child’s doll/playhouse on the grounds. Plus there’s a small graveyard. It is VERY intriguing. Very interesting. I love historical novels like this, and this one in particular does have quite a mystery involved, too.

Also finished reading Sue Monk Kidd’s recent book, The Book of Longings: A Novel. It is a book that might challenge some Christian readers, as it tells the tale of Jesus marrying a woman named Mary. The story is all about Mary, her growing up, her scholarly pursuits, and then from the moment she meets Jesus as a young man. The story follows along to and beyond his death on the cross. In the time of Christ it was extremely uncommon for a man not to marry. It was almost unseemly. Fraught with suspicions, I’d suppose. Although scripture, as scripture, does not play a very strong part here, if you’ve read the Bible you’ll see many of the stories of Jesus’ life through Mary’s eyes. I loved the book from the first word to the last one. The book is believable to me, even though the Bible never says one way or the other that Jesus ever married. It’s been presumed he never did. But maybe he did?

Jeanine Cummins has written an eye-opener, American Dirt. A must read. Oh my goodness. I will never, ever, ever look at Mexican (and further southern) migrants, particularly those who are victims of the vicious cartels, without sympathy. It tells the story of a woman and her young son, who were lucky enough to hide when the cartel murdered every member of her family – her husband, her mother, and many others. Her husband was a journalist, and his life was always in danger because he wrote the truth, and that was taking a risk. The story is about her escape, with harrowing chapters as she makes her way north from Acapulco, with various major detours, one step, or sometimes nothing more than a hair’s width ahead of the cartel minions trying to find her. I could NOT put this book down. The author is not Hispanic, and some have criticized her for that, but she did her research, and many authors write about places and people they are not. I have nothing but respect for her having told this story. You need to read this.

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

Frances Liardet has written a blockbuster tale, We Must Be Brave. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Although the scene is WWII England, this book is not really about the war. It’s about the people at home, waiting it out, struggling with enough food, clothing and enough heat. It’s about Ellen. Her early years, under much hardship. About her teens, some of it as an orphan. Then a young adult, which includes marriage, a marriage blanc, which I didn’t understand until you learn the meaning. Then a child enters the picture, a child that will become a focus for the remainder of the book. Through the war, and beyond. I cried several times, as will you, I suspect. What’s a constant is the descriptions of the place, a town called Upton, near Southampton. About the hills and dales, the flora and fauna, the rain, the mud sometimes, the flooding sometimes. But throughout, it’s about neighbors caring for neighbors, and about love. A must read. Would make a really good book club read.

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.

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

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 Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901 (P.S.). Resolute is what I’m discussing here. It’s fiction, but based some on a true story. Resolute, as a young girl from a privileged life on a plantation in Jamaica, was taken captive by slavers, eventually ended up in Colonial America. This book is the story of her life. The people she met, the men in her life, her children, and always about her indefatigable energy for life. Always hoping to return to Jamaica.

The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape by James Rebanks. This is a memoir, so a true story, of a young man growing up in the Lake District of Northern England, the son of a farming family, who sabotages everything in his being regarding going to school and leaves as soon as he is able (probably about 8th grade, I’d guess). And becomes a shepherd. And at night, he read literature that he accumulated from his grandfather. And then what happens to him as he grows up. Riveting.

 

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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Without just stating my age, let’s just say that I’ve entertained family and friends for holidays, for a whole lot of years. So I’ve had lots of experience making big meals and small meals that seem to go well with holiday entertaining.

After trying to write up this list by holiday type, I gave up and have just listed special foods from my blog that lend themselves well to entertaining. Usually I don’t serve pumpkin for Christmas, and I don’t serve beef at Thanksgiving, but I’ll bet you can figure it out . . . most of these are kind of “special” meal preparations. Some may be more labor intensive, but they’re not all tedious or hard. More likely they’re festive, and maybe use more pricey meat options.

Appetizers:

Sausage Pinwheels
Baked Brie and Apples
Ginger Picks
Bombay Cheese Ball
Goat Cheese Pesto Appetizer
Walnut Fennel Dip
Muhumara – Red Bell Pepper Walnut Spread
Beef:

Beef Tenderloin in Puff Pastry
Herb Crusted Beef Tenderloin
Steak Diane Flambé
Filet Mignon with Mushrooms and Blue Cheese
Sizzling Ribeyes with Red Pepper Sauce
Filet Mignon with Wine Hollandaise
Filet Mignon with Mushroom Port Sauce
Beef Tenderloin Steaks with Cambazola Toasts
Herb Garlic Beef Tenderloin with Roasted Mushrooms
Filet Mignon with Bacon and Port Sauce
Grilled Filet Mignon with Gorgonzola, Sage
Chicken and Turkey:

Bombay Chicken (a big, lovely casserole)
Kosher Turkey and Turkey Gravy
Spatchcocked Turkey
Country Captain Chicken (another big, lovely casserole)
Fish:

Grilled Salmon on Watercress Salad
Halibut Osso Buco
Salmon with Maple Syrup and Thyme
Scallops with Blood Orange Gastrique
Lamb:

Leg of Lamb with Sausage, Pecorino and Pine Nuts
Pork:

Kurobuta Ham with Mustard Sauce
Pork Tenderloin with Maple and Mustard
Grilled Rack of Pork with Rosemary, Garlic and Sage
Breads and Breakfast Breads:

Buttermilk Scones (my favorite)
Bishop’s Bread (a loaf type Christmas favorite with chocolate and Maraschino cherries)
Chocolate Scones
Irish Soda Bread with Orange Zest
Welsh Cakes (kind of like scones, but cooked differently)
Pumpkin Raisin Bread (a yeast-raised bread for toast or turkey sandwiches)
Sour Cream Coffeecake with Chocolate
Custard-Filled Cornbread
Refrigerator Raisin Bran Muffins
Make-Ahead Coffeecake
Brunch or Big Holiday Breakfast:

Corn, Bacon and Cheddar Strata – an OMGosh fantastic breakfast dish
Pineapple Upside Down French Toast
Spiced Fruit
Breakfast Eggy Muffin
Breakfast Egg Muffins (yes, these are different)
Ham and Egg Cups with Pesto, Tomatoes and Mozzarella
Make-Ahead Coffeecake
Bananas Foster Croissant French Toast
Twisted Bacon Spirals (baked)
Southwest Eggs Benedict
Brunch Gratinée Eggs
Cookies: (except for the chocolate chip ones, these are all Christmas kinds of cookies)

Cranberry Noels
Blue Chip Chocolate Cookies
Heavenly Cream Cheese Brownies
Harlequin Pinwheels
New York Special Slices (like Nanaimo Bars)
Rock Road
Chocolate Kiss Treasures
Brandied Apricot Bars
One Bowl Thin Chocolate Chip Cookies
Wellesley Chocolate Chip Cookies
Chocolate Almond Saltine Toffee
White Batter Chocolate Chip Cookies
Snickery Squares
Almond Spice Wafers (like Moravian Sugar Cookies)
Ad Hoc’s Chocolate Chip Cookies
Midnight Crackles
Silver Moon Bakery Chocolate Chip Cookies
Baked Cinnamon Toasts (OMGosh, so good)
Thin Ginger Cookies
Chocolate Chunk Brownies (thick, rich, decadent)
Desserts:

Classic Brownies
Banana Caramel Chocolate Chip Cake
Grandgirl’s Fresh Apple Cake
Pumpkin Bread Pudding
Chocolate Steamed Pudding
Gourmet Cheesecake
Gingerbread Pudding Cake
Pear and Chocolate Tart
Chocolate Grand Marnier Decadence Cake
Triple Chocolate Torte with Raspberry Sauce
Pumpkin Praline Custard (low calorie, believe it or not, and easy)
Pumpkin Spice Gingerbread Trifle
Applesauce Spice Cake with Caramel Frosting
Mocha Pecan Roll
Cranberry and Porter Trifle
Chocolate Sponge Roll (used to be my standard Christmas dessert)
Apple Crumb Pie
Cranberry Pudding Cake
86 Proof Chocolate Cake
Ginger Apple Cake Torte
Cajun Apple Cake with Brandy Drizzle
Purple Plum Torte
Teddie’s Apple Cake
Salads:

Apple Cherry Walnut Green Salad
Spinach and Berries Salad
Minted Watermelon and Feta
Celery, Date, Walnut and Pecorino Salad
Cranberry, Pecan and Apple Salad with Lime Dressing
Meyer Lemon Harvest Grain Salad with Asparagus
Winter Greens Salad with Bacon, Orange, Walnuts and Blue Cheese
Vegetarian:

Cheese Fondue (our family favorite)
Vegetable Coconut Curry (lots of work, but worth making)
Armenian Rice Noodle Pilaf
Southwest Corn Cakes
Mushroom Bread Pudding
Rice with Pecans, Garlic and Spinach
Mushroom Risotto (pressure-cooker, easy)
Garbanzo Bean, Feta and Cilantro Salad
Butternut Squash Risotto (leave out the pancetta for vegetarian)
Saffron Risotto Cakes
Cabbage with Corn, White Beans, Raisins and Thyme
Vegetables and Sides:

Baked Onions with Thyme
Brussels Sprouts with Brandy, Orange and Dried Cranberries
Zucchini Gratin
Hashed Brown Casserole
Marinated Brussels Sprouts (a cold salad)
Green Beans with Shallots and Balsamic Vinegar
Asparagus with Chile Butter
Green Beans with Garlic and Olive Oil (I must make this 20x a year)
Gulliver’s Creamed Corn
Mashed Potatoes with Mascarpone Cheese
Peas with Pancetta
Monterey Scalloped Potatoes
BLT Smashed Potatoes
Armenian Rice Noodle Pilaf
Crumbled Asparagus
Swiss Chard with Cranberries
Mushroom Bread Pudding
Garbanzo Bean Salad with Feta and Cilantro
Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Pine Nuts
Corn, Sugar Snap Peas and Bacon Sauté
Haricot Verts with Balsamic Vinaigrette
Pasta with Tomato Cream Sauce (oh-so easy)
Meyer Lemon Harvest Grain Salad with Asparagus