And We Turn Another Page: Farewell to a Reader

“Maybe Heaven will be a library. Then I will be able to finish my to-read list.”
Kellie Elmore

“Whadda Ya Reading?”, the monthly book group that meets the 2nd Thursday of the month, lost one of its voracious readers in December. Wiinnifred Ruth (Dehn) Moths, or as we knew her, Freddie, lost her battle with cancer.  But even when she could not attend the group, she was still reading and would send along her list with her sister, who would share it with us.

Freddie recently had written an account of her life to be shared with her family. Her sister Bea, also a big reader and part of our group, brought along a few passages this month to share with us. Freddie lived all of her 88 years in Wisconsin. She was born near Sheboygan Falls, just north of Plymouth. She was the oldest of four and attended a one room schoolhouse that had a wood/coal furnace for heat but no electricity. She went to school till 8th grade when she had to quit and stay home and take care of her siblings while her mother went to work. But she always missed school and felt the need for education and eventually got her GED. Her married life was spent on a farm and consisted of a lot of hard work ( from some hints she gave us over the years, I think she was capable of most anything). Farm life was also an education. She and her husband raised sheep and Freddie could spin and weave. She never lost her love for reading and education.

Bea said she never gave herself a lot of credit but we only knew her from the book group. The woman we saw every month was a reader of an amazing and eclectic collection of books and a woman who had no difficulty speaking in the group. Note: Our book group is a round table where you are expected to talk about what you’ve read and review it for the others. You get your chance in the spotlight and Freddie did just fine.

Every month I keep a list of what everyone reads so I went back through my lists and collected some of the titles that Freddie brought to our attention. This is by no means everything but it is a testimony to her vast interests and thirst for knowledge. Freddie, we will miss you, but hope God’s library meets your expectations.

Freddie’s Books (just a few):

1. The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House by Kate Anderson Brower
2. Freeman by Leon Pitts, Jr.
3. Sgt. Reckless: America’s warhorse by Robin Hutton
4. Curve of the World by Marcus Stevens
5. The Sun Does Shine: How I found Life and Freedom on Death Row by Anthony Ray Hinton
6. Newcomers: Finding Refuge, Friendship and Hope in an American Classroom by Helen Thorpe
7. Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver
8. Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak
9. Under a Pole Star by Stef Penney
10. All Over Creation by Ruth Ozeki
11. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
12. Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
13. Aloha Rodeo: Three Hawaiian Cowboys, the World’s Greatest Rodeo and a Hidden History of the American West by David Wolman
14. Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane
15. Elephant Company: The Inspiring Story of an Unlikely Hero and the Animals who helped him Save Lives in World War II by Vicki Constantine Croke
16. Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterley
17. A Wolf called Romeo by Nick Jans
18. Last Ballad by Wiley Cash
19. Where the Wind Leads: A Refugee Family’s Miraculous Story of Loss, Rescue and Redemption by Vinh Chung
20. Deep Down Dark: The Untold Story of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle that Set Them Free by Hector Tobar

(To my book group, my records were far from complete so if I have mis-remembered any of these titles, I apologize.)

 

 

Twas Three Days before Christmas

We were watching the Great American Baking Show: Holiday Edition the other night and the 2nd challenge on Spice Week was Linzer Cookies. As it was being described I recalled a similar cookie in Dorie’s Cookies by Dorie Greenspan, my go to cookie cookbook. (Say that 3 times fast). Sure enough she had a similar jam-filled sandwich cookie called Little Rascals. She said the German name for the cookies was “Spitzbuben”, but she preferred the translation. They are Linzer Cookies simpler cousins. As I watched the bakers on the Baking Show succeed and fail in various degrees under the scrutiny of Paul Hollywood, I thought, I can do this. So here are Dorie’s “Spitzbuben” a la Jeanne.

2/3 C sugar
2/3 C (80 grams) walnuts, whole or pieces)
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
pinch of cinnamon (optional)
a little grated lemon zest (optional)
1 1/4 C all-purpose flour
1 stick butter (cold, unsalted and cut into small pieces)
1 large egg (lightly beaten)
Confectioner’s sugar for dusting
Thick Jam, your choice of flavor

Put the sugar, walnuts, salt (and cinnamon and zest) in a food processor, pulse until nuts are ground. Better to have a few pieces of discernible nuts rather than ground to dust.

Add the flour and pulse to incorporate.

Scatter the butter pieces over the flour mixture and pulse till it resembles streusel.

Add the egg a little at a time till a soft dough forms. I had to use two eggs, maybe mine were smaller than Dorie’s. But be careful, my dough` finally came together however it was sticky.

Rolled dough between parchment paper

Turn dough out on a clean surface.  Divide in half and shape into a disk.

Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll the dough to 1/4 inch thick, between pieces of parchment paper. Slide the dough, still between the sheets, on to a baking sheet ( you can stack the slabs) and freeze it for at least an hour. The dough will remain soft but it will be firm enough to cut.  ( While waiting you can find your jam or make some, I found a bag of black raspberries in the freezer which I cooked down into a jam -the day before- sorry, get your cookie cutters ready ( you’ll need a large about 2 ” and a small less than 1″, line your baking pans with parchment or a silicone baking mat, move the laundry into the dryer, or read the next chapter in your latest book.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Pull out one piece of dough and carefully peel away both pieces of parchment and return the dough to one piece of parchment.

Carefully peel off paper

Working quickly cut out as many rounds as you can and put them on the baking sheet (you’ll need an even number).Use the smaller cutter to remove the centers of HALF the cookies. I also cut some smaller rounds that I sandwiched without holes.Reserve the scraps and combine them with the scraps from the other piece of dough, shape into disk and roll out and freeze for more cookies ( you probably won’t need an hour).
Bake the cookies for 14 -16 minutes, rotating sheet after 10 minutes, till a light golden brown. Cool cookies completely before final step.

Just out of the oven

To finish, dust the tops  the cutout) with the confectioner’s sugar.

Dust with sugar, the odd shapes are the leftover bits and pieces, I baked everything.

Turn the bottom or whole cookie over, Bottom up, and place some jam on the cookie. I spread mine out a bit. Add the top and press gently, even slightly turning as you press works well.

Jam and top

So there you have it. By the way the bakers on The Great American Baking Show had
90 minutes to make their cookies, no way they froze them for an hour. Must have been hardier dough. Merry Christmas!

Another Turn of the Page: White November

“Flurries early, pristine and pearly. Winter’s come calling!
Can we endure so premature a falling? Some may find this trend distressing
– others bend to say a blessing over sage and onion dressing.”
Old Farmer’s Almanac, The Old Farmer’s Almanac 2013

Up here in the Northeast area of Wisconsin, tucked in just at the bottom of Green Bay, we, on average, have about 4 inches of snow in November. This year we have had about 15. Now we didn’t get it all at once, well some places did way up north ( their totals are much greater than ours) and, in between storms, snow melted. But the weather this year has given us more days to hunker down and not travel than is normal. Of course if you are a reader, that means more days to pour another cup of coffee, take one last look out the window ( hell, can’t do anything about the weather) and crack open a book. Or sometimes in my case turn on an audio book while I bake, or knit or work in my studio. Fortunately, we had a break in the action and our monthly meeting date was dry and clear. Here is what the group was reading.

1. Traps-The Drum Wonder: The Life of Buddy Rich by Mel Torme (1997) 236 pages. A fascinating biography by Mel Torme of his friend of forty years, Buddy Rich, who was one of the most famous drummers of the Swing Era, having starred in the Artie Shaw and Tommy Dorsey bands.

2. The First Patient by Michael Palmer (1998) 371 pages. What would happen if the President of the United States was going insane (some would argue this has happened to more than one President already, but we won’t get into that here)? Who would decide and could they hide it from the public?

3. The Lost Airman: True Story of Escape from Nazi Occupied France by Seth Meyerowitz (2016) 320 pages. The  untold story of World War II American Air Force turret-gunner Arthur Meyerowitz, who was shot down over Nazi-occupied France and evaded Gestapo pursuers for more than six months before escaping to freedom.

4. The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes (2019) 400 pages. This story is centered around the mobile librarians of Kentucky who in the late 30’s/ early 40’s delivered books on horseback to backwoods rural areas. It tells of a group of these women and of their lives and their tribulations. There is Alice, a young woman from England in an unhappy marriage, Margery, a local woman with very individual ideas and Sophia, a coloured woman with all the difficulties of not being white.

5. Land of Wolves by Craig Johnson, Longmire #15 (2019) 336 pages. When a shepherd is found dead, Longmire suspects it could be suicide. But the shepherd’s connection to the Extepares, a powerful family of Basque ranchers with a history of violence, leads the sheriff into an investigation of a possible murder.

6. Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn (2018) 429 pages. A traumatized, agoraphobic woman on a self-destructive binge of booze and pills keeps watch over her new neighbors and spots a murder which the police claim never happened. Another “Gone Girl” , Girl on the Train” type of mystery thriller.

7. The Flying Circus by Susan Crandall (2015) 357 pages. An adventure tale about two daredevils and a farm boy who embark on the journey of a lifetime across America’s heartland in the Roaring Twenties. The “Flying Circus” is in reference to ‘barnstorming’, doing stunts and acrobatics on the wings of a plane in flight.

8. This Much Country by Kristin Knight Pace ( 2019) 336 pages. Knight Pace’s honest memoir of her 20s and 30s, when she headed to Alaska, got into dog mushing and found love. She has completed the two 1,000 mile dog sled races: the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod.

9. We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter (2017) 403 pages. A  novel based on the true story of a Polish Jewish family under Nazi occupation.

10. An Irish Doctor in Peace and at War by Patrick Taylor (2014) 390 pages. This is book nine in the Irish Doctor series. It is best to read this series in order as Taylor builds the next story on the past one. In this book Taylor flashes back and forth between Northern Ireland in the 1960s and the Wartime troubles of 1939 to 1945.

11. Reading Behind Bars: A True Story of Literature, Law and Life as a Prison Librarian by Jill Grunewald (2019) 342 pages. The author describes the ins and outs of life in prison from an unlikely place- the prison library. For the inmates, the library is more than a place with books, it is a haven.

12. Women of Copper Country by Mary Doria Russell (2019) 352 pages. Based on the real life of “America’s Joan of Arc”, Annie Clements. At the age of 23, she witnessed the injustices of the copper mining business in her town of Calumet in Michigan in the Upper Peninsula. She went on to form The Women’s Auxiliary of the Western Federation of Miners and actively participated in the Copper County Strike of 1913-1914.

On the First Day of Christmas

Well not really, it is just the first day of making edible Christmas gifts because if one is going to give foodstuffs for the holidays, one better get a move on. Everyone on my gift list has pretty much everything they need or want and if they don’t, they buy it themselves. My people are usually giving their stuff away. So I have decided to give edibles, socks and books. The socks are the easiest and everyone always needs socks. The ones I gave you last year probably have holes in them and who darns socks these days? I am always on the look out for books and so far I have found some for two of the five people who will get books. Having been a librarian for 30 years, I sort of know how to fit a book to a person but of course in the end it comes down to luck. Finally, the edible part. In the past I have gone to specialty food stores online, chose some goodies, put in my credit card and hit purchase. This year I wanted to personalize my choices, so I have been searching for interesting recipes and ideas that I can make myself and mail. Time is of the essence, even if it is just cookies. And I hope to make enough to surprise family and friends.

My first project was a four fruit marmalade called
TANGY CITRUS MARMALADE

Let me take you through this. I made some changes in the prep that made it easier (but it was still labor intensive). Also the recipe called for the fruit in pounds. The numbers in parenthesis after the fruit name is how many I used and that number made exactly what the recipe said I should have after all the peeling and juicing.

Ingredients:

1.5 lbs oranges ( 2 large)
1.5 lbs grapefruit ( 2 )
1/2 lbs limes ( 3 )
1/2 lbs lemons ( 3 )
6 C. sugar
pinch of salt
pectin if needed

Instructions:

1. Using a vegetable peeler, peel the skin from all of the fruit. Julienne the peels ( if you can) and then chop them into pieces no longer than a half inch. You should have fairly small pieces. Mix them all together in a bowl.

2. Cut the citrus into halves or quarters and squeeze the pieces over a mesh strainer, retain the seeds. Membrane and pith should be discarded but pulp should be added to the liquid.
(Note: The recipe would have you squeeze the juice first then strip the peel off of the chunks and pieces of fruit. If you want to go that way, have at it, but good luck)

3. Place the seeds in a bit of cheesecloth and tie up.

4. Place 3 cups of juice, 2 1/2 cups of zest and the seed bag into a large saucepan. Heat over medium high heat till it reaches a full boil. Reduce heat and simmer 25 minutes.

5. Remove from heat ( I cooled it a bit) then put in a container and add enough water to make the mixture 8 cups. Leave the seed bag in because that is where the pectin is hiding. Place in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours or overnight.

A large canning jar worked for me.

6. Next day, the tricky part. No more cutting and squeezing and peeling but calculating and watching. Place the mixture, sugar and salt in a large pot over medium heat.

A candy thermometer will be needed.

Bring to a full boil.
Reduce heat to a low boil and continue to heat until the mixture reaches a temperature of 220 degrees (gel stage) on the thermometer. (about halfway through remove the seed bag).Here is where it gets really tricky because this is boiling like crazy, your temp is rising on the thermometer pretty quickly. You don’t want it to be below 220, but if it gets over 220  you could have vinyl instead of a gel. The recipe says to spoon a bit onto a plate and see if it crinkles up and seems to gel but remember you have a crazy boiling pot and the heat keeps rising.

Temperature looks just a hair over 220 degrees

Once you reach the magic number, remove from heat ( if it hasn’t thickened, add some pectin at this point). Pour into warm, clean jars. Use right away or keep in frig if you will be giving it away.

Ready for ribbons and labels.

Curt did the cooking of this since I had an appointment that morning. He felt he had overcooked it. It is a bit thick but spoonable. Heated up a bit in a microwave makes it a bit more spreadable. Even so, it is really good. Sweet, with a great citrus tang! Are you on my Christmas list? Maybe.

Comfort Food for a Chilly Saturday Night

It’s been unseasonably cold here in the upper Midwest. On Saturday we had just spent a lot of time outside getting the last of the pre-winter projects done. Put away the BBQ, filled the bird feeders and chipped at the ice already forming on our driveway. Last weekend we went off of day-light savings time so by 4:40 pm it was getting dark. Once we were in the house, there was no going out again. So, what’s for dinner?

Mostly we were tired and some comfort food would certainly be in order. We had the remainder of a chicken carcass from the night before so that was a place to start from. Enchiladas? No, we always do that with leftover chicken. How about chicken pot pie? We’ve got vegetables, we’ve got bisquick. What else do we need? After a little research Curt found the answer, Betty Crocker’s Impossibly Easy Chicken Pot Pie. Key word, Easy! Sounds just right.

Btw, this recipe takes a can of soup. We may be foodies but we aren’t snobs. Of course Curt tweaked the recipe and that’s what I’ll give you here. Changes are in green type.

Impossibly Easy Chicken Pot Pie
6 Servings ( plenty of leftovers if there only 2 of you)

Ingredients:
3 cups vegetables of your choice. ( We used potatoes, onion, peas, carrots, celery and some leftover brussels sprouts). Par cook each separately, cut larger vegetables into bite-sized chunks) Original recipe used 1 2/3 C.

1 1/2 cup cut-up cooked chicken (Original recipe used 1 cup)
1 can condensed Cream of Chicken soup (Cream of Chicken and Herbs)
1 cup plus 1/2 cup milk
1 tsp cornstarch
1 cup Bisquick
1 egg
1 tsp Penzey’s Justice spice
1 tsp poultry seasoning
1 tsp marjoram
S & P to taste

The original recipe didn’t call for additional herbs so use your imagination, Curt did.

Steps:
Heat oven to 400 degrees F.

Warm 1/2 cup milk with cornstarch in microwave till it starts to thicken.

Mix vegetables, chicken, soup, herbs and cornstarch/milk together and put in an ungreased 9″ glass pie plate. (10″ pie plate if you use our recipe)

Stir together remaining 1 C milk, bisquick and egg with a fork until blended and pour over the vegetable mixture

Bake 30 minutes or until golden brown.
Serve.

Tasty Ground Lamb

We haven’t done too many recipes on here in awhile mostly because we don’t think about it until we have eaten half the dish or we haven’t found a meal worthy to share. But the dish Curt tried the other evening just has to be talked about. It is by his latest favorite New York Times chef, Alison Roman. It’s called

Crispy Lamb Meatballs with Chickpeas and Eggplant

One thing you need to know is these meatballs aren’t made with binders like eggs or bread, so they work really well with a fatty meat like lamb. If you substitute pork or beef, make sure it’s a mixture with a higher fat content or your meatballs could turn out dry.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 lbs ground lamb
1 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
2 garlic cloves, finely grated
1 tsp red pepper flakes
Kosher salt/ Freshly grd black pepper
8 Tbls olive oil
1 medium eggplant, sliced about 1/4″ thick
2 (15oz) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 cup Greek yogurt
3 cups mixed greens (the more peppery the better)
1 cup cilantro ( leaves and stems)
1 lemon, halved

Step 1:
Combine lamb. fennel seeds, garlic and red pepper falkes in a medium bowl. Season with 1 1/2 tsp Kosher salt and black pepper to taste. Mix everything till well combined.

Step 2:
Roll lamb mixture into balls about 1 1/2 – 2 inches in diameter. Place on parchment lined baking sheet (about 12 meatballs)

Step 3:
Heat 1 Tbls olive oil in skillet , add meatballs and cook, gently rotating them so they more or less brown on all sides keeping a vaguely round shape. Don’t crowd, do in two batches if necessary. After they are evenly browned and cooked through, transfer to a plate, leaving the fat behind.

Step 4:
Add 4 Tbls oil to skillet and, working in batches, add eggplant slices in an even layer, season with salt and pepper. Cook the slices, flipping them once, until they are browned on both sides, about 6-8 minutes. Add more oil if needed. After they are cooked add them to the plate with the meatballs.

Meatballs and eggplant

Step 5:
Add remaining 3 Tbls oil to skillet, along with the chickpeas. Season with S & P, and cook, shaking the skillet and stirring occasionally, until the chickpeas are nicely browned ( 3 -5 min). They won’t be exactly crisp.

Shaking the chickpeas!

Time to plate!

Season the yogurt w/ S & P and smear on to the bottom of the plates, ( or you could do this on a serving platter).

Yogurt

Top with eggplant.

Browned eggplant slices

Then the chickpeas.And the meatballs.Scatter the top with the greens and cilantro and squeeze some lemon over the top.
Serve.The flavors went together perfectly. However, if we did this again, we wouldn’t do all the crazy layering. It wasn’t easy to separate and eat. I can see the yogurt on the bottom but the meatballs could have a third of the plate, the chickpeas and eggplant together on another third with the last spot for the greens.

Try it!

Another Turn of the Page: Where Did September Go?

“October is crisp days and cool nights, a time to curl up around the dancing flames and sink into a good book” – John Sinor

OMG! It’s October already. I completely blew by September. Yes, we had a book group meeting. Yes, everyone is still reading. But my calendar has been crazy, busy so I just missed posting last month. Sorry, I won’t be going back but will just push forward with our October reads. I love October anyway. It contains my favorite holiday…Halloween. There hasn’t been a Trick or Treat aged kid in our house for many years and there are no grandchildren on the horizon. We live in a rural area so we don’t get anyone knocking on our door for treats. But I still like to carve pumpkins. It’s just what I do and there are four, as yet untouched, beauties decorating my porch. But soon they will all have their own personality. Now it is hard to read and carve so do what I do, get yourself an audiobook, maybe something spooky, like Stephen King or a dark mystery by Ruth Ware, take out your knives and listen, while you cut. But watch your fingers!

Meanwhile here is what the group read this month:

1. My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing (2019) 374 pages. A husband and wife and their two children enjoy, what appears on the surface to be, a nice normal, healthy, family life. However, this married couple, instead of engaging in a little role play to spice up their marriage- indulge in a little murder on the side instead.

2. Depth of Winter by Craig Johnson, Walt Longmire #14, (2018) 304 pages. This book has Walt Longmire, Absaroka County Wyoming Sheriff going to Mexico to rescue his daughter, kidnapped at the end of book 13 in the series. He decides the US and Mexican governments aren’t moving fast enough to rescue her and he decides to take on a whole drug cartel on his own. Obviously you need to read this series in order.

3. The Son by Philipp Meyer (2012), 561 pages. “an epic, multigenerational saga of power, blood, and land that follows the rise of one unforgettable Texas family from the Comanche raids of the 1800s to the border raids of the early 1900s to the oil booms of the 20th century.” -Goodreads

4. The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster, James Jesus Angleton by Jefferson Morley ( 2017), 352 pages. A biography of the sinister, powerful, and paranoid man at the heart of the CIA for more than three tumultuous decades, 1954 -1975.

5. Hey, Ranger!: True Tales of Humor and Misadventure from America’s National Parks by Jim Burnett (2005) 227 pages. In a folksy, storytelling style, Veteran National Park Service ranger Jim Burnett reveals the nutty, foolish and dangerous things, visitors to our nation’s parks do year after year.

6. Black Water Lilies by Michel Bussi (2011) 350 pages. A man is found murdered in the French village of Giverny, a picturesque area known for its connection with Monet and his famous paintings of water lilies. Police investigate but are baffled by the few clues. Somehow, connected to the case, are an old widow, a little girl and a beautiful teacher with an obsessive husband. The ending to this thriller will shock you.

7. Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver (2000) 444 pages. Kingsolver weaves together three stories of human love within a larger collection of lives inhabiting the forested mountains and struggling small farms of southern Appalachia. One of her best.

8. The Binding by Bridget Collins (2019) 437 pages. In this alternate universe, vaguely reminiscent of 19th-century England, people visit, or are brought, to book binders to rid themselves of painful or treacherous memories. Once their stories have been “taken” by the Binder, they are bound between the pages of a book, the slate is wiped clean and those memories are gone forever. But this is a power and practice that can be, and is, abused.

9. Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane (2019) 390 pages. A character driven family saga covering almost three generations of two families from Ireland to contemporary New York state. We see how their lives are intertwined when tragedy strikes and a violent act tears them apart.

10. Radio Free Vermont: A Fable of Resistance by Bill McKibben (2017) 224 pages. This debut novel follows a band of Vermont patriots who decide that their state might be better off as its own republic. This eccentric group of activists carry out their own version of guerilla warfare, which includes dismissing local middle school children early in honor of ‘Ethan Allen Day’ and hijacking a Coors Light truck and replacing the stock with a local craft brew.

11. Lake on Fire by Rosellen Brown (2018) 349 pages. This is a story of a Jewish family who comes across the ocean with some other relatives, neighbors and friends and “settle” on barren farmland in Wisconsin in the 19th century.

12. Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware (2019) 384 pages. When Rowan, a young nanny who lives in London, comes across an ad seeking a nanny to live in a remote area of Scotland, it sounds too good to be true. The pay is high, the house is beautiful, and the family seems lovely. She is warned that previous nannies have quit due to the house being haunted. What possibly could go wrong?

Space added

We are at the time in our life when one thinks about downsizing and moving to a different house. I don’t know how downsized we will get, there is a ton of stuff in this house, even after 4 garage sales in 6 years, but we definitely need a house that is on one level. The stairs up to the bedroom are getting steeper everyday, the huge lawn has to be mowed too many times in a summer and, even with a plow service, the snow just gets harder and harder to move. But I like my house and it makes me sad to think about leaving. After taking a serious look at what we have done to this old farm house over the years, I like it even more.

When we bought it back in 1979, we paid $44,000. It had 2 closets, some really ugly kitchen cabinets, orange counter tops, an unfinished basement, drafty old windows, a beat up screen porch, no garage and carpeting so beat down it was flatter than flat. But it had 3.5 bedrooms, 2 baths and and an acre and a third of land. We were young and ambitious. Curt had some carpentry skills and frankly it was what we could afford at the time.  We did a lot of tearing out, put up a lot of drywall, even replaced some windows by ourselves. But what I was really noticing as I did my walk-about was how many shelves and storage areas we now had as compared to 40 years ago and how many of those Curt built himself.

Here’s a little tour.

Upstairs bathroom: commissioned a vanity with 7 drawers and a built-in wall shelf.
Curt built a unit over the toilet for 4 hanging canvas baskets and a middle shelf.

Hanging pull out baskets for linens

Upstairs bedroom: He built a window seat with four drawers we bought at an auction.

Window seat

Upstairs hall: He built two bookshelves and three niches for fun.

2 shelves, 3 niches

Upstairs office: He built one bookshelf and then found this huge 18 drawer unit and built it in, creating a top and a foot.

The shelf is in the corner, next to the drawers.

The last upstairs shelf he built is in the 3rd bedroom or what is my messy studio.

That completes the upstairs.

Kitchen: There are certainly built-ins downstairs but not all by Curt. We finally had enough money to get the kitchen cupboards professionally installed but we did the island ourselves and the shelf that holds a million cookbooks. No photos, but there is also a pantry/laundry room that is lined with shelves too. All put up by my ambitious husband.

The island holds the cooktop and oven.

Downstairs bathroom: It desperately needed a vanity so we found a used sink and did it ourselves.

Living room: The final major shelf downstairs was the bookshelf in the front room where a set of abused French doors use to be.

Bookshelf with top for decorative items

Now you may have noticed that trim and finishing are not my husband’s strong suit and that may come to haunt us in the future but for now we just love all the extra space and useful storage. In one of my future posts I will talk about how much fun it is to gut the house by yourself and rebuild the walls and stuff. Not!

Me and my living room

Just like Eleven Madison Park

About two months ago some friends asked us if we would like to join them in bidding at a charity auction. The auction was being held to benefit Unity Hospice, a nonprofit hospice in our area. This couple had the services of this hospice when her father was very ill. They’ve been going to the auction for about two years and they always bid on just one item, a dinner cooked and hosted by a former chef in the Green Bay area. ( This chef has asked to remain anonymous ). We were told that, with us, there would be four couples total and if we wanted to join in, we would have to set a limit on how much we could afford. We decided to go for it and set our limit at $350.00. After all, this was going to a very good cause. Our friends won the bid and even came in under budget.

This past Tuesday was the night of our dinner. After we had won the bid the Chef sent us a list of possible themes for the dinner. These were Lobster Boil, Indian, Asian, Brazilian, Dinner: A Musical, Supper Club: An Elevated Experience and Tribute to Eleven Madison Park ( a 3 star Michelin restaurant in NY whose partners have recently split up). After researching the last one, we, and I guess the majority of the couples, said we would go with Eleven Madison Park. We discovered later that our chef had eaten there and after an amazing 11 course meal, had purchased the cookbook. So our dinner would be based on their actual experience and the recipes from the book.

This was our menu. However we did not see this until our dinner was done. In the place of the name Eleven Madison Park was the address of our Chef and the four images on the top simulated the actual images of the real restaurant seen at the top of this post.

Our menu for the evening

Name cards at each chair

When we arrived we were greeted by our host who also had two servers and a Sous Chef assisting. Our first stop was a beautiful area off the kitchen where we were given our choice of drinks and then presented with the appetizers.These were Gruyere Gougeres, little puff pastries with a warm gruyere cheese filling, and Prawn and Lemongrass Lollipops. These are best described as shrimp cakes on lemongrass sticks. Both appetizers were a sign of amazing things to come.
Soon we were called to the table where our drinks were refreshed and our water glasses filled. The Amuse Bouche arrived first. This is a single bite-sized hors d’oeuvre, which if you were in a restaurant, would be offered complimentary to prepare the guest for the meal. Translated it means,”mouth amuser”. Ours was a little cup formed from pancetta. Within was a nest of herb shoots, topped with a crusted soft boiled quail egg. A one bite delight.

The Amuse Bouche

First Course was three different kinds of beets in a vinaigrette, some topped with a cheese mousse, accompanied by Caraway Tuilles ( the tan wafers).

First Course

Next was a Crab Salad, made with a grainy mustard vinaigrette, surrounded by a Celery-Apple Jelly and tiny apple diamonds. It was garnished with a slice of a blue blood cherry tomato.

Second Course

What I was starting to really appreciate was the plating. The food was presented beautifully and on different plates. Also after each course the servers would remove our plates and silverware and reset our places. Speaking of plating, the next course was just fun.

Third Course: The Clam Bake

This was a mini-take on a New England Clam Bake. The tiny tin tub had clams, cubes of chorizo, corn, potatoes and onions. To eat it the Chef asked us to pour it out onto the piece of newspaper underneath just as if we were at a clam bake on a large table. The sides for this dish were chorizo madeleines ( very good! ), a remoulade to dip our clams in and a clam broth. Forward to the Fourth Course, one of my favorites.

Fourth Course

This was a Ricotta Gnocchi ( the reddish pieces) on a Butternut Squash Puree. brown butter and sage topped with a Parmesan foam. A delicate Fall dish. I wanted more.
The Fifth Course was the first of two meat courses. It was a Lavender Glazed Duck Breast with Duck Confit ( that would be the chopped meat in the upper left), fennel and peaches prepared two ways: grilled and sous vide.

Fifth Course: duck

The Sixth and last course before dessert was Beef Tenderloin with a Bone Marrow Crust. and sauce Bordelaise. This was accompanied by Braised Oxtail wrapped in Swiss Chard, and sides of rice and mushrooms. Our Chef told us the oxtail preparation took 48 hours.

Sixth Course

Okay, I’m full. We all were full. If I had been out I would have told my server that there would be no dessert tonight but that wasn’t an option this night. Well, I guess I could have refused but once it came to the table there was no way I would pass up this sweet treat.

Final course

The dessert was called Chocolate Palette with Peanuts and Popcorn Ice Cream. A chocolate covered baked bar drizzled with more chocolate, caramel corn and popcorn ice cream. The ice cream is bordered by cocoa dust and popcorn dust. What can I say? It was a great combination of flavors and I cleaned my plate. We also had coffee with this course.

At the end we applauded our Chef, the Sous Chef and the servers who took such good care of us. And as we left we were given a parting gift of a tasty granola in a little jar, just like they do at Eleven Madison Park. I am so glad we took a chance and joined the auction.

Sent home with tomorrow’s breakfast.

Another Turn of the Page: Vacation Month

“This morning, the sun endures past dawn.
I realize that it is August: the summer’s last stand.”
Sara Baume, A Line Made by Walking

Our numbers were quite small this month but that’s August for you. It is like the last hurrah before fall arrives and winter descends. Well it isn’t that dire but a lot of people vacation in August. I did the same but not till the end of the month. If you read this blog you will notice from the three previous posts that we went to Scotland. This is also why I haven’t had a chance to post our books from the month past. So before our next meeting in two days time, let me catch you up.

1. Before the Fall by Noah Hawley (2016) 401 pages. A plane crash, eleven on board, only two survive, Scott a painter with a troubled past and the young boy, J.J. that he manages to save. Once the investigation starts there is speculation about why it crashed, who died and who survived. Controversial figures were onboard this plane, could they have been targeted? Is Scott a hero or villain?

2. Broken Road by Richard Paul Evans (2017) 304 pages. The first in the Broken Road Trilogy, #2 is The Forgotten Road, #3 is The Road Home. This book is a heartbreaking story of an abused child that grows up to become a very successful business man, but loses himself and someone very dear to him along the way. The story heads for redemption in the following two novels.

3. Cry of the Kalahari by Mark & Delia Owens (2006) 384 pages. In January 1974, Mark & Delia Owens sold most of their possessions, bought tickets to Africa and then drove into Botswana. They spent the next 7 years living in the Kalahari Desert studying the wildlife – brown hyenas, lions, and wildebeest. The early years were before the poachers and mining development so they were able to get close to the animals. Each chapter is written from the perspective of one of them.

4. Machines Like Me by Ian McEwen (2019) 337 pages. This story is set in an alternative 1980s London. When Charlie comes into money, he buys Adam, one of the first batch of synthetic humans. With his girlfriend’s assistance, he co-designs Adam’s personality. Adam is beautiful, strong and clever and a love triangle soon forms. These three beings will eventually confront a profound moral dilemma.

5. The Altruists by Andrew Ridker (2019) 304 pages. This novel is a darkly funny (and ultimately tender) family saga about a father, son and daughter who slowly come undone in their lives with the death of the mother.

6. Devil’s Alternative by Frederick Forsyth (1979) 403 pages. Although a dated novel, this is still an enjoyable read for Forsyth fans. Russia faces famine. The Soviets are forced to pin their hopes for survival on the U.S. But as the KGB and the CIA watch in horror, the rescue of a Ukrainian freedom fighter from the Black Sea unleashes savagery that endangers peace.

7. Courting Mr. Lincoln by Louis Bayard (2019) 381 pages. A fictional account about the slow-growing love affair between one poor, intelligent, lanky, young, Abraham Lincoln, and Mary Todd, a lady born into some wealth who found herself slowly falling for the him, despite the fact that he was absolutely rough around the edges and not exactly on everyone’s social calendar.