Another Turn of the Page: A January Thaw

“And then a long wave of warmth crossed the small town. A flooding sea of hot air; it seemed as if someone had left a bakery door open. The heat pulsed among the cottages and bushes and children. The icicles dropped, shattering, to melt. The doors flew open. The windows flew up. The children worked off their wool clothes. The housewives shed their bear disguises. The snow dissolved and showed last summer’s ancient green lawns.”
Ray Bradbury, Martian Chronicles

Well it may not be that warm here but about three weeks ago we were buried in snow, drifts meandered through the yard and the wind and cold made it difficult to grab a breath. Since then we have a had a string of days in the upper 30’s and lower 40’s, interrupted by a little snow then a repeat of warmer temperatures. We even had a day of rain.The snowmen that were built, once the wind died down, are mostly lumpy piles. Their eyes have rolled away and the squirrels and rabbits have eaten their noses. I am happy not to have to drive or walk anywhere over snow and ice but I know we need the cold and precipitation for plants to grow in the Spring. It also seems that there have been more unusual sightings of birds this winter, birds that should have flown south. On January 1 my son who lives in western Wisconsin saw a field of robins. Yes, we have some robins every year who miss the bus, but a field of them? We had a Lincoln’s Sparrow in our yard just before the severe weather hit us at Christmas. He definitely should have been long gone. He was struggling to keep up with the tough House Sparrows, foraging for seeds on the ground but every so often he would snuggle over by the foundation and even tuck himself under a loose piece of siding to warm up. I’ve never seen House Sparrows do that. Well we counted ourselves lucky to see him when we did because once the storm was gone, so was he. I don’t think he flew south. The mild stretches have allowed us to get out and do some birding. Haven’t found a Snowy Owl yet but did see a huge flock (80 -100) of Cedar Waxwings with some Bohemian Waxwings mixed in. Yesterday on a short road trip we counted 7 Kestrels.

So, books. Our group was small (6) but we managed to fill the hour anyway. Some of our absent members emailed their book titles so we have a larger list. A few are repeats but I mention every book read. Being a small group we had time to recommend some television series we have been watching: Slow Horses (Spy thriller based on book by Mick Herron) Apple+, Three Pines (based on the books of Louise Penny) Amazon Prime, The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher (British detective series set in Victorian England) PBS, Miss Scarlet and the Duke (Another detective in Victorian England, this time a woman detective) PBS and The Inside Man (mystery/thriller) Netflix.

  1. Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt (2022) 360p A charming, witty and compulsively readable exploration of friendship, reckoning, and hope, tracing a widow’s unlikely connection with a giant Pacific octopus. The perfect novel that will take your mind away from current politics and an unsettled world.
  2. Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart (2020) 430p. A bleak and emotionally heartbreaking portrayal of a beaten dysfunctional family in Glasgow during the Thatcher era in the 1980s. After the older children leave young Shuggie is left to take care of his alcoholic mother. Winner of the 2020 Booker Prize. (note:There are some graphic scenes of rape and physical and emotional abuse)
  3. Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult (2014) 398p. For more than a decade, Jenna Metcalf has never stopped thinking about her mother, Alice, who mysteriously disappeared in the wake of a tragic accident. Refusing to believe she was abandoned, Jenna searches for her mother regularly online and pores over the pages of Alice’s old journals. A scientist who studied grief among elephants, Alice wrote mostly of her research among the animals she loved, yet Jenna hopes the entries will provide a clue to her mother’s whereabouts.
  4. You, Me and Italy by Sue Roberts (2019) 288p. If a holiday is not really on the horizon yet, you can certainly escape by reading this story. The author takes us to sunny and hot Tuscany where she regales us with a bit of Italian culture and history. A fun, light read that will have you craving Italian food.
  5. The Kaiser’s Web (Cotton Malone #16) by Steve Berry (2021) 415p. Two candidates are vying to become Chancellor of Germany. One is a patriot having served for the past sixteen years, the other a usurper, stoking the flames of nationalistic hate. Both harbor secrets, but only one knows the truth about the other. They are on a collision course, all turning on the events of one fateful day — April 30, 1945 — and what happened deep beneath Berlin in the Fürherbunker. A “what if” alternate history novel.
  6. One Wild Bird at a Time: Portraits of Individual Lives by Bernd Heinrich (2016) 224p. Bernd Heinrich lives in a cabin in the Maine woods. It is from here that he is able to closely observe and report upon the wild birds around him. Heinrich does what all curious people do: he asks questions. Then he does what good scientists do: he watches, takes careful notes, and reports his findings. I found it very readable and enjoyed finding out more about the birds I see frequently here in Wisconsin.
  7. The Tycoons: How Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Jay Gould and J.P. Morgan invented the American Super Economy by Charles Morris (2005) 400p The author does not simply provide biographical material on the four men, but he places them in the rapidly developing economy of the era. Our reviewer found the first half of the book interesting, especially the story of Jay Gould, but the 2nd half was dry and he lost interest.
  8. Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce (2020) 352p An offbeat historical adventure novel set in the 1950s, about two widely different women that appear to have little that could possibly connect them. They embark on a entomological trip to the New Caledonia archipelago, in search of the mythic rumored golden beetle.
  9. Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell (2022) 355p. A powerful retelling of the true story of 16-year-old Lucrezia di Cosimo de’Medici, whose untimely and suspicious death was believed by many to be the work of her husband, mainly because she was expected to produce an heir and her failure at this most likely condemned her.

A Tasty Christmas Gift

Our son has been unemployed for at least two years. Blame the pandemic, blame the crazy job market, whatever. It doesn’t really matter. But because of this he does not have a lot of cash to spend on gifts. And he never knows what to get us anyway. So this year, he brought us a couple of bottles of wine and said that one night, while he was here, he would cook dinner for us.

Cooking has been his passion since he has been out of work. The last 10 months he has been streaming his cooking adventures on Twitch, an interactive livestreaming service. He enjoys browsing his local groceries for interesting fruits, vegetables, meats and seafood and then creating interesting dishes from his finds. Lately he has been excited about breadfruit which he happened to find at a grocery in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Breadfruit really is a fruit. It is most often eaten as a starch, like potatoes or rice. It grows throughout the tropics, including Hawaii, Samoa and the Caribbean. The best-known types are about the size of melons, with spiky or pebbly skins that range from brownish to greenish yellow. When baked or roasted, breadfruit gives off the wonderful aroma of warm, freshly baked bread—hence the name.

Nathan has tried it in pancakes and Haitian breadfruit fritters but for us he was going to make a curry. I am really surprised how versatile this fruit is. And it has an amazing smell which is hard to describe, sort of sweet but when it is roasting it does smell like bread.

Here is our gift of food:

Ulu/Tofu Curry ( serves4 -5) ‘Ulu is the Hawaiian name for breadfruit

Ingredients:

1 small breadfruit
1 block extra firm tofu (14 oz)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
¾ C frozen peas
2 green onions, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbls grapeseed or other neutral oil plus enough to coat breadfruit
3 ½  Tbls curry powder
1 14oz can of coconut milk
1 ½ C vegetable stock
freshly ground pepper
dash of cayenne pepper
salt to taste

Directions:

  1. Squeeze most of moisture from tofu by putting it under a weight
  2. Cut the breadfruit into quarters and remove core. Coat lightly with oil and roast on a baking sheet, skin side down, for 30 min at 350 degrees (convection)

3. Remove breadfruit from oven and when cool enough to handle, trim off skin with a knife. (It is much too tough for a potato peeler.) Cut into 1” cubes.

4.Cut tofu into 1” cubes and fry in a pan with 2 Tbls oil, until lightly brown. Remove from pan.

5. In the same pan add the carrots and onions (not green onions) and sauté until the onions are soft and somewhat translucent.
6. Add the garlic and ginger and cook until the garlic is fragrant.
7. Add the vegetable stock and the coconut milk, stir. Simmer about 5 minutes.
8. Add the breadfruit, curry powder, black pepper, and cayenne. Stir. Simmer until broth starts to thicken, about 15 minutes.

9. Add tofu, peas and green onions. Cook until peas are tender.

Serve. Enjoy. Merry Christmas.

A side note: If you wish to checkout the cooking stream on Twitch, it can be found at JovialJovian. He is live usually on Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings. Past streams are archived on Youtube at JovialJovian.

A Keeper

We find a lot of our new recipes online. Mostly through the New York Times because we subscribe to the paper and we get notifications from the Cooking section. We do own a lot of cookbooks as well but we use those when we are planning a dinner and have certain ingredients or dishes in mind. And the Joy of Cooking is always a great reference for something tried and true that you may need a refresher in.

But the ones we find in the Times just strike our fancy, or we may to just so happen to have the ingredients handy. This was true of a recipe we made about two weeks ago. It is called Butternut Squash Pasta with Bacon and Parmesan. Sounded good, looked easy and though we didn’t have a butternut squash we had a Jarrahdale squash. This is a large blue-gray squash which is a cross between a blue hubbard and a cinderella pumpkin. I didn’t know that when I bought it because I was just looking for decorations for Fall and found this on a big flatbed cart for sale with a load of other interesting pumpkins. I researched it later and Curt said, “why waste it, let’s cook it.”

The recipe turned out so well we dubbed it “a keeper” and it has gone into our recipe file.
So here is:

Butternut Squash (or Jarrahdale Squash) Pasta with Bacon and Parmesan (4-6 servings)

INGREDIENTS:
2 lbs butternut or any nice winter squash like Jarrahdale, peeled and cut into 3/4″ pieces, about 4 cups
3 Tbls Olive Oil
Pinch of Red pepper Flakes
Kosher salt and Black Pepper
1 medium Red Onion, cut into inch dice
5 slices Thick-cut Bacon
12 ounces twisty pasts like Campanelle or Cavatappi
3/4 C finely grated Parmesan (about 1.5 oz)
2 Tbls chopped fresh chives (we used green onions)
2 Tbls chopped fresh parsley

RECIPE: Set a rack in center of oven and heat to 375 degrees
Step 1:
Add the squash to a large baking sheet. Drizzle 2 Tbls olive oil over the top and season with red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Toss to combine, then spread the squash into an even layer and bake for 45 min. or until cooked through.

Step 2:
While the squash bakes fry the bacon till crispy. Remove, drain the bacon fat and add the red onion and 1 Tbls of olive oil and cook till soft. Meanwhile crumble the bacon.

Step 3:
Just before the squash is done, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta until al dente. While the pasta is cooking remove the squash from the oven. Reserve 1 cup pasta water, drain the pasta and return it to the pot to keep warm.

Step 4:
Add the squash, onions and 1/2 the bacon to the pasta. Add about 1/2 of the Parmesan and 1/2 C pasta water and stir everything to well combined. You want the squash to break down a bit and coat the pasta. Add more pasta water as necessary.


Season with salt and pepper to taste. Put into a serving bowl and top with chives, parsley and remaining bacon. Serve immediately.

Put remaining Parmesan on table for people to add to their servings.

Bon Appetit!

Another Turn of the Page: Heading into Winter with a Book Bonanza

“In the winter she curls up around a good book and dreams away the cold.”
Ben Aaronovitch, Broken Homes

This time of year always has me thinking of hot cocoa, or hot tea, warm socks, a cozy chair, a nice throw or afghan and a good book. I learned recently of a tradition that is practiced in Iceland, called JolabokafoId. This translates roughly into ” Christmas book flood.” At this time of year, most households receive an annual free book catalog of new publications called the Bokatidindi. Icelanders pore over the new releases and choose which ones they want to buy and/or gift. On Christmas Eve everyone opens their book gifts straight away and starts reading, often while drinking hot chocolate or alcohol-free Christmas ale called jólabland. What fun!

I belong to two other book groups besides this one and for December instead of reading one title and discussing as we usually do, both groups decided to do a book share. That is, we bring the books we were reading or we are planning to read, and share with the group. This works well in December when there are lots of activities going on and trying to read a certain book for a certain date just becomes stressful rather than enjoyable. I met with one of those groups this past week, the other won’t be till later in the month but I want to share the titles of the list I just got so you can start making your lists for your winter reading. No annotations but you can look any up that might fit your interests. Left to right they are: Last Bus to Wisdom by Ian Doig, The Lost Spells by Robert McFarlane (poetry and wonderful illustrations), Conversations with Birds by Priyanka Kumar, Lessons by Ian McEwan, Ada Black: A True Story of Survival in the Arctic by Jennifer Niven, River of the Gods: Genius, Courage and Betrayal in the Search for the Source of the Nile by Candice Millard and Madhouse at the End of the Earth: The Belgica’s Journey into the Dark Antarctic Night by Julian Sancton.

Now on to what our round table produced. Another interesting mix of fiction and nonfiction. There must be one here that will make your Jolabokaflod merry.

  1. The Twelve Topsy-Turvy Very Messy Days of Christmas by James Patterson (2022) 288p. A funny little read. Everyone knows the song The Twelve Days of Christmas. Well, imagine those gifts actually arriving every day! That’s exactly what happens to the Sullivan family. They receive gifts relating to the song and what a mess.
  2. Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women by Harriet Reisen (2009) 363p. A very detailed biography of Louisa May Alcott, including fascinating descriptions of her parents, sisters, and many of their relatives and friends. The family’s involvement in the Transcendentalist Movement and abolitionism are especially interesting.
  3. The Boys: A Memoir of Hollywood and Family by Ron Howard and Clint Howard (2021) 393p. A double memoir by the Howard brothers, framing the story of their young lives and careers through the prism of their relationship with their parents. Unlike many Hollywood families, the Howards are down-to-earth, good, honest people who have genuine love for each other. I’m sure you remember Ron as Opie on the Andy Griffith Show.
  4. Come Sundown by Nora Roberts (2017) 466p. Set in Montana on a ranch/resort owned by the Longbow/Bodine family this is the story of a family coming together to settle issues of the past and to protect their own when a madman is on the loose abducting women to become his wives.
  5. Shy: The Alarmingly Outspoken Memoirs of Mary Rodgers by Mary Rodgers & Jesse Green (2022) 480p. Mary is the daughter of one composer and the mother of another. And not just any composers. Her father was Richard Rodgers, perhaps the greatest American melodist; her son Adam Guettel, a worthy successor. But that leaves out Mary herself, also a composer, whose musical Once Upon a Mattress remains one of the rare revivable Broadway hits written by a woman.
  6. Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova (2015) 343p. This is the story of a close-knit working-class family that suddenly has to face the horrors of the fatal Huntington’s Disease when Joe, a cop, learns he has the disease and gradually becomes more and more incapacitated.
  7. The Revenant of Thraxton Hall (The Paranormal casebooks of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle #1) by Vaughn Entwistle (2014) 336p. Arthur Conan Doyle has just killed off Sherlock Holmes in “The Final Problem,” and he immediately becomes one of the most hated men in London. So when he is contacted by a medium and asked to investigate a murder, he jumps at the chance to get out of the city. The only thing is that the murder hasn’t happened yet—the medium has foreseen her own death.
  8. Walk the Wire (Amos Decker #6) by David Baldacci (2020) 422p. In this 6th book in the ‘Amos Decker’ series, the detective’s investigation of a bizarre murder in North Dakota unveils diabolical wrongdoing. The book works well as a standalone.
  9. The Christmas Spirit by Debbie Macomber (2022) 240p. Peter Armstrong and Hank Colfax are best friends living very different lives. They have been friends forever, but both believe the other has it easier than he does. So naturally they decided to switch lives the week before Christmas. Peter is a local pastor and Hank is a bartender. After they switch places, they learn more about each other and themselves.
  10. Four Winds by Kristin Hannah (2021) 278p. Historical fiction about the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl during the early 1020’s up to World War II. Set in Texas and California, Hannah takes us through the tragedies, the poverty, starvation, unemployment and sacrifices the people made to survive.
  11. Bewilderment by Richard Powers (2021) 278p. Theo is a recently widowed astrobiologist raising a young son, Robin. The boy has multiple diagnoses for behavioural issues for which Theo refuses to medicate him, opting instead for an experimental neurofeedback treatment, using the nuerofeedback sessions his mother participated in before she died. His mother was a naturalist and a global warming activist and Robin develops a deep empathic connection to the natural world, with a child’s curiosity and dismay at growing up in a time of climate change.
  12. Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt (2022) 368p. A charming, witty and compulsively readable exploration of friendship, reckoning, and hope, tracing a widow’s unlikely connection with a giant Pacific octopus. The perfect novel that will take your mind away from current politics and an unsettled world.
  13. Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover (2018) 352p. Tara Westover was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she spent most of her time preparing for the end of the world. Lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events, eventually attending Harvard and Cambridge.

Another Turn of the Page: Shorts and Parkas

photo by Jordan Ladikos

“And you, November, are stunning. I don’t just mean that you’re beautiful, which you certainly are. I mean that you radiate kindness and laughter at the same time
that you’re besting everyone with your knife skills.”

Adriana Mather, Hunting November

On Thursday it was 71 degrees here in Northeast Wisconsin. We broke all kinds of records because it was November 10th. I saw people in shorts and sleeveless shirts. By Friday the high was 35 and a brisk wind made it feel a lot colder. Today we had some light flurries. I dug out my quilted coat and knit cap. I don’t think we will be seeing shorts for 6 months. And so it goes in Wisconsin in November. Our library just had a big used booksale and we had tons of people buy a lot of books so I guess people are stocking up with more than snow shovels and heavy coats for what may come. The forecasts for this winter are all over the map, so to speak. Among the winter outlooks issued by meteorologists so far, most agree that the southern United States will be drier and warmer than normal, with the best chance of colder and stormier-than-normal conditions in the northern tier, Midwest and Ohio Valley. But frankly we all know now that with climate change and global warming forecasting the weather has become a crap shoot. Just make sure you have plenty of books and food and fuel and you’ll be fine.

Soon, some of our book group members will be heading south for the winter months but who knows what will greet them. Our Florida snow birds might be rethinking their travel in the future if November hurricanes start occurring more often but our Arizona travelers may be in for a mild yet warm winter. The most they will have to deal with may require only a sweater. But all will have their books along and I will be expecting them to report in each month. No one has left yet, so here is what we’ve been reading:

  1. Dreamland by Nicholas Sparks (2022) 367p. Colby is a farmer and musical performer from North Carolina. While on vacation at St. Pete Beach in Florida, he meets Morgan, and a romantic connection begins. In a second plot line, Beverly escapes with her young son from an abusive husband, looking for a new and safe beginning in a small town. These two storylines meet for a surprising ending.
  2. Hell and Back (Walt Longmire #18) by Craig Johnson (2022) 336p. This book opens with Walt Longmire waking up in the middle of a road with his coat frozen to the pavement. As the book progresses, it switches back and forth between 3 different time periods: present day, and two in the past, where Walt has found himself in a kind of dream world. The author states in the acknowledgement section of the book that he wanted to write a story about the boarding schools that separated Native American children from their parents and their culture. He deftly does this with the visits to different time planes. A very different Longmire tale but well done.
  3. The Good Lord Bird by James McBride (2013) 417p. Kansas Territory, 1857. Henry Shackleford is a young slave when the region is a battleground between anti- and pro-slavery forces. When John Brown, the legendary abolitionist, arrives in the area, an argument between Brown and Henry’s master quickly turns violent. Henry is forced to leave town—with Brown, who believes he’s a girl. Henry eventually finds himself with Brown at the historic raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859. An interesting mix of history and imagination. A mini series starring Ethan Hawke was made of this book in 2020.
  4. Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce (2020) 352p. An offbeat historical adventure novel set in the 1950s, about two widely different women that appear to have little that could possibly connect them. They embark on a entomological trip to the New Caledonia archipelago, in search of the mythic rumored golden beetle.
  5. Broken Harbor (Dublin Murder Squad #4) by Tana French (2012) 450p. Detective Mike (“Scorcher”) Kennedy and his new partner, rookie Detective Richie Curran are given a new case to solve, the brutal murder of Patrick & Jenny Spain and their two small children. But why are the walls in the home full of holes and why are there baby monitors everywhere?
  6. Life on the Mississippi: An Epic American Adventure by Rinker Buck (2022) 416p. Rinker Buck takes his readers with him as he builds a flatboat modeled after those from the early 1800s. It takes a year to build it before he sails the flatboat two thousand miles down the Mississippi to New Orleans. His account of the trip on this boat includes his harrowing adventures and all of the interesting people he meets along the way, many of whom provide vital assistance.
  7. Missing You by Harlan Coben (2014) 399p. Kat Donovan is an NYPD detective who is haunted by her father’s murder 18 years ago and the subsequent breakup with her fiancé Jeff Raynes. When a friend signs her up on an online dating site and she finds her lost love, it seemed serendipitous. It is anything but.
  8. Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather (1927) 304p. Father Joseph and Father Letour, both originally from France, are sent to the land of New Mexico shortly after it had been annexed. They are young men whose mission is to bring spiritual counsel and comfort to the people of this New World, and to build and expand their congregations where possible. Their lives are dedicated to this purpose and this book is about the many adventures, successes and setbacks they encounter over the years. Although the characters are fictional in this book, Father Letour closely parallels the timeline of Father Jean Baptiste Lamy, the real-life priest who became the first Bishop of New Mexico and later, the Archbishop.
  9. All the Frequent Troubles of our Days: The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler by Rebecca Donner (2021) 576p. Born and raised in Milwaukee, Mildred Harnack was twenty-six when she enrolled in a PhD program in Germany and witnessed the rise of the Nazi party. In 1932, she began holding secret meetings in her apartment — a small band of political activists that by 1940 had grown into the largest underground resistance group in Berlin. This is her amazing and tragic story.
  10. The Murder of King Tut: The Plot to Kill the Child King by James Patterson (2009) 332p. The mystery of King Tut’s death in Ancient Egypt has haunted the world for centuries. Discover the ultimate true crime story of passion and betrayal, where the clues point to murder. Not a new theory but one Patterson felt he needed to revisit.

Can it Be True?

On Tuesday, October 25, 2022, I arrived at the hospital for a CT scan or Catscan. It has been three months since my last radiation treatment. It takes about that long for the “sunburn” caused by the radiation to heal and calm down so the scan can take a clear picture of my abdomen and the location of the tumor.

I love this Cat Scan picture so I am going to use it again.

Because of staffing issues (one of the doctors is having a knee replacement), they wanted to reschedule the scan, and ultimately my appointment to discuss the results, till January. I am usually ok with rescheduling but I absolutely refused. There was no way I could wait another two months. I got no argument. They understood and got back to me the next day with an October CT scan and an appointment with my Gynecological Oncologist the following week, on November 1.

I had peeked at the test results on my online chart but I needed to have it explained and a confirmation of what I suspected. The news was good…The news was great! The tumor had shrunk – ALOT. She told me that in previous scans there were three measurements but it was now so thin that there really was no third dimension to speak of. It was like a scar, a postage stamp-like scar. There still is “something” there but it could just be dead cells and from other clues in the imaging she thinks we will see even more reduction going forward. So I am in remission. Not complete remission because there is still something there but damn! I’ll take it. She pointed out that the numbers I received after the first scan should have been larger that what was reported (numbers had been transposed). So what I thought was 6.8 x 6 x 3.5cm lump was really 8.6 x 6 x 3.5cm. Which in the long run makes this reduction even more dramatic. Once again here is my primitive diagram. Remember the two large blocks also had a third dimension, the recent one does not.

Sure I have some neuropathy, sure I have some joint aches, but those side effects are vastly improved since 5 months ago. And I should expect continued improvement as I put more distance between the chemo and radiation treatments. My doctor will continue to monitor the tumor but for now I do not have to see the inside of the Cancer Center till February when I return for a routine scan.

What did I do after I got the news? Well my husband was there with me so we did a happy dance.Then I called my son, my sister and my Mom. I had already told them I was having this appointment so they were anxious as well. And then I emailed all of the friends who have been there for me through all of this. Their energy, their support, their love, their gifts, their notes, their prayers, ALL, had a part in this result. Sounds corny, but you gave me the strength to carry on.

Thanks.
Now, let’s dance!

Charity Dinner ‘a la The Inn at Little Washington

On two previous occasions I have regaled you with the charity dinner we, and three other pairs, have bid on for Unity Hospice. This hospice has provided end of life care in Northeast Wisconsin for over 40 years and it is a great cause to support. So once again two of the couples did the bidding, and with the help of a friend who didn’t wish to attend the dinner, but contributed anyway…we won. Last Thursday we gathered at the house of our hostess, a former restaurant owner and certified foodie.
There is always a theme to these dinners and this time she based our meal on a restaurant she recently visited called The Inn at Little Washington in Washington, Virginia, about 90 minutes outside of Washington, DC. In 2019, it became the first and only 3 Star Michelin restaurant in the Washington DC metropolitan area. Using the Inn’s published cookbook, our hostess treated us to some unique dishes.

We began with a simple appetizer, it was our introduction to Virginia. Tiny bisquits with Virginia ham and Virginia peanuts (large and very crunchy). Also on the plate, a spicy grainy mustard and strawberry preserve.

We enjoyed this with a drink of our choice. I went with a Sauvignon Blanc, Curt had a Campari and soda. Very soon we were called to the table which had a pomegranate theme.

For the First Course we thoroughly enjoyed the Celery Soup. A nice pastry “crouton” came with the soup. It was garnished with tiny pieces of celery, pickle, sausage and flowers. It was a very good and the diners were asking for the recipe.

Second Course was a Beet salad with three kinds of beets, red, golden and striped. On the side was a Balsamic caviar (no fish were involved but what fun). An orange viniagrette and creme fraiche “snow” topped it off. The menu says there should also have been Vodka Aspic. Stay tuned.

Third Course was small but hearty. One Shrimp sat atop a delicious Corn Risotto with bits of Andouille Sausage. Cajun dust was sprinkled on the dish and small pepper slices and a bit of cilantro served as garnish. We have had a beet salad at each of our dinners and they are always different.

The Fourth Course was tasty but not very attractive. I think my photo made it look better than what I saw. The base was two Cauliflower Purees, a white and a purple on a red wine reduction. On top is a truffle dusted scallop and a tiny little potato crisp.

At this point a wee little bowl with tiny yellow cubes was served. This was our palate cleanser before the final 3 courses and the dessert was served. Even though it was a perfect break, it wasn’t originally planned. This is the Vodka Aspic from the 2nd course.

Onward to the Fifth Course. I have to admit I was getting quite full but I could not imagine not eating, or at least trying, the remaining dishes. Number five was a Pastry “purse” enclosing a warm chicken jus preparation. Crispy carrots, pesto and a mushroom cap completed the plate. I really enjoyed this dish.

Next up was the Sixth Course, and one of my favorites. Beef Carpaccio with a Caesar salad ice cream. A romaine leaf, toasts and a tomato reduction finished it. If it wasn’t impolite I would have asked for seconds and skipped the last course.

The Seventh Course was very good but I could not do it justice. I knew dessert was on the way and I really was done. This was a Pork Roulade with wild rice surrounded by a sweet potato puree, topped with a Pomegranate Parsley slaw. Those are brussel sprout leaves on the plate.

The finale, the Dessert, was Amaro Affogato with Amaretti biscotti and sugared Macadamia nuts. I ate the affogato because it was refreshing and went down easy but I asked if I could take the biscotti with me. This wasn’t a problem and it made a fine breakfast the next day. If you aren’t familiar with affogato, it is ice cream with a shot of espresso poured over it.

Once again the food was very excellent. The conversation and the laughter never stopped. Our hostess and her efficient kitchen/wait staff were wonderful. What a marvelous way to give to charity.

Soup Season

I got the urge to make soup a couple of weeks ago. But I am not like my husband who can look into the refrigerator and the pantry, grab a couple of items from each and throw together a great soup. No, I am a recipe person. I can make adjustments along the way to make it mine or make substitutions if necessary but I have to have a blueprint to begin. Also a cookbook with great pictures is a big motivator. So I decided to go to one of my favorite resources, the library.

There I checked out a couple of promising titles, Homemade Soup Recipes: 103 Easy Recipes for Soup, Stews, Chilis and Chowders Everyone Will Love by Addie Gundry and Bowl: Vegetarian Recipes for Ramen, Pho, Bibimbap, Dumplngs and Other One Dish Meals by Lukas Volger. The former had what I was looking for and I copied out six recipes.

Last weekend was a cold one and the Green Bay Packers were playing like a really bad high school team. What to do? Turn the channel and make soup!

One of the recipes I had chosen was called, Old World Peasant Soup and, with a few substitutions, I had all of the ingredients on hand. There are only two of us and this recipe makes enough for six but I decided to make the full recipe and then have enough to freeze for an another day. It turned out great and on a cold evening in October it was a perfect supper with a few pieces of crusty bread on the side. So here is the recipe with my changes in blue.

Old World Peasant Soup

Ingredients:

1 Tbls olive oil
1 pound Italian sausage, (I used two mild and two hot sausages, Johnsonville)
1 onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, thinly sliced (or two small ones)
1 celery stalk, sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups chicken broth
2 (15 oz) cans of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 (14 oz) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1/2 tsp Italian seasoning (Well, that is pretty vague, I ended up using a spice blend I got from Penzeys called Tuscan Sunset. It consists of sweet basil, Turkish oregano, red bell pepper, garlic, thyme, fennel, black pepper and anise seed.)
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
3 cups fresh spinach (I used Swiss Chard which I par-boiled and then squeezed out the excess moisture)
Grated Parmesan cheese for garnish

Directions:

  1. In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the sausage and cook until it is no longer pink. The original recipe has you take the sausage out of the casings and then slice which to me was weird. I squeezed little balls of sausage out of the casings directly into the pan.

2. Add the onions, carrot, celery and garlic and cook until tender, 6 – 8 minutes.

3. Add the broth, the beans, tomatoes, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes.

4. Add the spinach or Swiss Chard and cook for 3-4 minutes more.

5. Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with Parmesan.

And there you have it. We had one supper and one lunch for two. And tucked into our freezer is a container for another fine supper when the snow flies.

Another Turn of The Page: How Will We Do It?

“So many books, so little time.”
Frank Zappa

This month we started off with one of the members doing a brief introduction to the author Anne Tyler. As she started listing the author’s books we were surprised how many there were and how many were familiar, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant (1982), Accidental Tourist (1985), Breathing Lessons (1988), Ladder of Years (1995). As a title came up some members expressed familiarity and remarked on the merits of the book. But then as Barb continued to read, we realized that Anne Tyler, who is 80, hasn’t stopped writing. Quite the contrary, she has 24 novels under her belt and titles like Teenage Wasteland (2020), Redhead at the Side of the Road (2020) and French Braid (2022), the most recent, were unfamiliar. Most everyone was taking notes.

Which brings me to this month’s “theme”. How will we do it? How will we be able to read all of the books we have on this list and all the other lists we have at home, tucked here and there? As Frank Zappa so succinctly put it, “So many books, So little time.” Besides Tyler’s books we talked about eight other books today, many of which sounded really interesting. I have two books sitting on my nightstand right now and I am currently listening to an audiobook. And at the end of our meeting, Pete gave me Craig Johnson’s new Longmire novel, Hell and Back. Of course I, in turn, gave Jeanne, Horse by Geraldine Brooks. And the beat goes on.

Here’s hoping you have saved a little time today to read because the October list follows:

  1. A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler (2015) 358p. Fans of fast-paced action and fantasy should look elsewhere – because this is a quiet, moving family drama; nothing more or less. A generational novel with a lot of heart.
  2. Half Life of Valery K by Natasha Pulley (2022) 384p. In City 40, Valery is Dr. Kolkhanov once more, and he’s expected to serve out his prison term studying the effect of radiation on local animals. But as Valery begins his work, he is struck by the questions his research raises: why is there so much radiation in this area? What, exactly, is being hidden from the thousands who live in the town? Based on real events this novel will scare the hell out of you or just leave you depressed.
  3. The 6:20 Man by David Baldacci (2022) 432p. Baldacci introduces a brand new character Travis Devine, a former Army Ranger now entry-level financial analyst at a prestigious Wall Street Investment Banking firm. When his co-worker/ ex-girlfriend is found dead by hanging inside their office storage room, he immediately realizes this is not a suicide and now he is being framed for her murder, but why?
  4. Fairy Tale by Stephen King (2022) 608p. A 17 year old HS boy – smart – athletic – great kid – a family tragedy – a curmudgeonly old man – a lovable dog – a purpose – moral integrity – growth – coming of age – adventures – scary – creepy – some evil – some good – a tribute to fairytales — classic Stephen King.
  5. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938) 376p. “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…” And so begins du Maurier’s classic Gothic novel, Rebecca. It basically is the story of a widower named Max de Winter who, after a whirlwind courtship, marries a young woman who is working as a companion to a wealthy American woman. The new Mrs. de Winter arrives at her new home, Manderley, where she meets the waitstaff of the house. who were devoted to the late Mrs. de Winter. Things are not made easy for the newcomer. Hard to believe, our reviewer had never read this book, however looking at it from 21st century norms, she saw it in a new way. The rest of us read it in high school. Maybe it needs to be revisited?
  6. All the Living and the Dead: Embalmers to Executioners, an Exploration of the People who have made Death their Life’s Work by Hayley Campbell (2022) 288p. Since you woke, around 9,486 people around the world have died. 151,776 die every day, about 55.4 million people a year. If you were ever curious about death and the people that work with the dead, this is a must read. It contains a behind the scenes look at the people whose vocations revolve around death on a daily basis.
  7. The Litigators by John Grisham (2011) 385p. ‘Oscar Finley: street cop turned street lawyer. Wally Figg: expert hustler and ambulance-chaser. David Zinc: Harvard Law School graduate. Together, this unlikely trio make up Finley & Figg: specialists in injury claims, quickie divorces and DUIs. None of them has ever faced a jury in federal court. But they are about to take on one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the States.’ -Goodreads
  8. Watch Out for Her by Samantha Bailey (2022) 336p. Sarah and her husband Daniel are moving away from Vancouver to start a new life in Toronto. Their former babysitter, Holly, has always made Sarah uncomfortable and she is glad to get away. Except now they are finding hidden cameras in their new house. Strange anonymous texts are showing up on Sarah’s phone. Has Holly followed them? If so, what are her intentions?

“Peruvian” Shrimp & Purple Sweet Potatoes

Recently we visited our son on the other side of the state. While there we went to a mid-week farmers market. It was small and there was a lot of duplication among the two dozen or so vendors. One grower, though, had some sweet potatoes that I recognized and they were good sized and in good condition. Purple sweet potatoes! Not just purple skinned but purple through and through. I’ve used then before and jumped at the chance to revisit them again. I bought a tray of them and stowed them in the the back of the car until we got home and I could figure out a way to use them to their best advantage.

Part of the attraction of these potatoes is their color. Not just the “eat your colors” mantra, although that’s a part of it. It’s the striking color of them when cut open. They’re a vibrant deep purple – almost gentian violet. The picture here doesn’t do them justice – it’s too red.

I didn’t want to cook something where that beautiful color would be lost. Hmm, so what to make? I had it in my head that there must be some Peruvian connection. Potatoes, including sweet potatoes, originated in the Andes. I remembered several Peruvian dishes I had eaten in the past and a rich golden yellow chili paste called aji amarillo featured prominently. The yellow from the pepper would be just the thing to set off the striking purple from the sweet potato.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have any aji amarillo. But maybe some careful use of yellow bell pepper, turmeric and a few other ingredients could up the yellow factor. So, here’s what I ended up with.

“Peruvian” Shrimp with Purple Sweet Potatoes

1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 Tbs. olive oil
2 tsp. garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/4 tsp. smoked or sweet paprika
1/2 tsp. cumin, ground
1/8 tsp. cayenne
4 dashes hot sauce – I use Frank’s
1 yellow bell pepper, roasted, peeled and finely chopped
1 C. yellow fleshed winter squash, peeled and cut into 3/4″ pieces – I used delicata but butternut or buttercup would work too
1-1/2 C. cabbage, chopped into 1/2″ pieces
3/4 C. corn, fresh or frozen
2 C. chicken broth
water as needed
2 Tbs. red bell pepper, 1/4″ dice
zest and juice of 1/2 lime
1/2 # shrimp, medium, peeled and deveined
1 C. coconut milk
salt & pepper

2 medium purple sweet potatoes

Saute the onion in olive oil until soft but not colored. Add garlic and saute another minute or so. Add the turmeric, paprika, cumin, cayenne and pepper sauce and warm the spices for a minute or so.

Add the yellow bell pepper, squash, cabbage and corn. Saute a few minutes then add the chicken broth. You want there to be enough liquid to just cover the vegetables. If there isn’t enough, add sufficient water to cover. Add salt and black pepper to taste. Simmer for 30 minutes.

While the vegetables are simmering, prepare the sweet potatoes. Wash the potatoes and dry with paper towels. Microwave on high for 5 minutes. Test with a small paring knife to check if they are tender. Microwave additional time, one minute at a time until they are cooked through. Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into rough chunks. Set aside and keep warm while you finish the shrimp.

Purple Sweet Potatoes

To the vegetables, add the diced red pepper, lime zest, lime juice and coconut milk. You want a consistency between a soup and a stew. Add more water if it’s too dry. Bring back to a simmer and add the shrimp. Simmer for an additional 10 minutes or until the shrimp are just cooked.

To serve, put some of the sweet potatoes in a soup bowl or pasta bowl. Ladle some of the vegetable/shrimp mixture over the potatoes. Serves 2.

“Peruvian” Shrimp with Purple Sweet Potatoes

Note: You could make this with orange sweet potato. In that case I would use green bell pepper in place of the red bell pepper to maintain the color contrast.