Friday, January 29, 2010


My friend, Darcey, suggested this book a few years ago and it finally made it to the top of my "what I'm going to read next" list.

Previously, I had read Robert Kurson's, The Shadow Divers, and loved it. Kurson writes in such a way that (as mentioned in a previous post) I almost hyperventilated as he described the rules for ascending to the top after a dive.

Crashing Through: A Story of Risk, Adventure, and the Man Who Dared to See has the same feel. At times I was tempted to skip ahead and end the suspense.

Kurson tells the story of Mike May, blinded in a chemical explosion when he was three years old. In his mid-40's, May learns of a stem cell and cornea transplant that could allow him to see. He is one of a few people in the world who had the right history to make the transplant work.

Mike May was known as "super blind guy" -- someone who "crashed through" life despite his disability. He had an uncanny sense of touch and echo-location (not to mention having the no-fear gene) and a mother who expected him to be treated like any other child. In fourth grade Mike was the school crossing guard, at 13 years old he built an 80-foot ham radio tower in his back yard. He learned to hike, often alone, and in his 20's he broke records as a speed-skier. He was always pushing his limits.

When he learned that he was a candidate for the surgery he already had a great life. Married, two kids, and a start-up business. He was successful and being blind was not an obstacle for him.

Kurson takes us into May's world and the deliberation of whether to have the surgery, which is about 50% successful. After about 9 months, he agrees to have the transplants.

May's sight is restored but there are risks, issues, and problems that come with restored vision after being blind for over 40 years. A lot has to do with the brain. Kurson describes brain science so that it is understandable and interesting.

I appreciate my ability to see and probably like you take it for granted. Learning about brain connectors, neurons, imprinting, and the like is fascinating. Kurson made me care about Mike and his family. I found myself checking the internet for a status report on May since the book was published three years ago. Reading Mike May's story was worth my time.

Monday, January 25, 2010


The fragrance of this dish made my house smile. I'm not kidding. Heavenly. This is a great recipe for brunch or special occasion breakfast.

Leftovers should be reheated in the oven, not the microwave. You want to crisp it up not just make it hot. Also, the recipe says 8 servings but since it is so rich we got around 10 servings. Enjoy.

Spinach and Cheese Strata
Adapted by Smitten Kitchen from Gourmet Magazine, February 2003
Serves 8
1 (10 ounce) package frozen spinach, thawed, squeeze of all excess liquid, and chopped
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion (1 large)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
8 cups cubed French or Italian bread in 1-inch cubes (1/2 lb)
6 ounces coarsely grated Gruyère (2 cups)
2 ounces finely grated parmesan (1 cup)
2 3/4 cups milk
9 large eggs
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Sauté onion in butter in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat until soft, about 5 minutes. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper and nutmeg and continue cooking for one minute. Stir in spinach, remove from heat and set aside.
Spread one third of the bread cubes in a well-buttered 3-quart gratin dish or other ceramic baking dish. Top with one-third of bread cubes,one-third of spinach mixture and one-third of each cheese. Repeat layering twice with remaining bread, spinach and cheese.
Whisk eggs, milk, mustard and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper together in a large bowl and pour evenly over strata. Cover with plastic wrap and chill strata for eat least 8 hours or up to a day.
The next day, let it stand at room temperature for 30 minutes while preheating the oven to 350°F. Bake strata, uncovered, in middle of oven until puffed, golden brown, and cooked through, 45 to 55 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


For my birthday dinner (New Year' Eve, thank you very much), all I wanted were homemade tacos and butterscotch sundaes. Perfect.

I made Smitten Kitchen's Ridiculously Easy Butterscotch Sauce--I could have eaten the whole jar by myself and no one would have been the wiser (after all it was my birthday). But I shared with my family and everyone loved it. It is also super easy to make and doesn't require a candy thermometer (which is good since I don't have a candy thermometer).

So if you like butterscotch or caramel, run to your kitchen and start cooking. Unless, of course, you are trying to stay away from indulgent foods (if so, I'm sorry that you had to see this). You can always save this recipe for "later".

Ridiculously Easy Butterscotch Sauce
Adapted loosely from TheWashingtonPost, who adapted it from The Perfect Cake

Yield: About 2/3 to 3/4 cup sauce

1/4 cup (4 tablespoons, 2 ounces or 1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup packed dark or light brown sugar (Smitten Kitchen used dark, I used light)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt (or 1/4 teaspoon regular salt), plus more to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract, plus more to taste

Melt butter in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the sugar, cream and salt and whisk (a flat whisk works great) until well blended. Bring to a very gentle boil and cook for about five minutes, whisking occasionally.

Remove from heat and add one teaspoon of the vanilla extract, stirring to combine. Dip a spoon in the sauce and carefully taste the sauce (without burning your tongue!) to see if you want to add additional pinches or salt or splashes of vanilla. Tweak it to your taste, whisking well after each addition. I used close to a full teaspoon of flaky salt and the listed amount of vanilla to get a butterscotch sauce with a very loud, impressive butterscotch flavor but the strength of your vanilla and intensity of your salt may vary.

Serve cold or warm over vanilla ice cream, or pound cake, or straight from the jar with a spoon. The sauce will thicken as it cools. It can be refrigerated in an airtight container and reheated in a microwave or small saucepan.

To do ahead: This sauce will keep at least two weeks in an airtight container in the fridge (but good luck with that!)

Monday, January 18, 2010


When my friend, Ashley, told me about a quesadilla recipe with goat cheese and corn, I perked up. I love both ingredients (really, who doesn't?) and quickly hunted down the recipe in my stack of Cooking Light magazines.

Ashley added grilled chicken so I did the same. I made two, one with chicken and one without, splitting each with my sister, Tammy.

I grilled the chicken first (with a little blood orange infused olive oil from Queen Creek Olive Mill).

For the first round I grilled the tortillas in the same pan I grilled the chicken. The recipe said to use a non-stick pan but I wasn't inclined to dirty up another pan (I'm sure you would do the same). But it was a mess when I flipped over the quesadilla stuffed with chicken (no picture, too gruesome).

I liked the combination of all the ingredients plus the chicken, but preferred the quesadilla without the chicken. The mixture of the goat cheese, corn, and tomatillo sauce is so good it doesn't need to be dressed up.

So the following day I made two more quesadillas and served grilled chicken on the side. Perfect. Beans or rice would have been great, too.

Since we don't use a lot of tomatillo sauce I bought a small can of Herdez salsa verde sauce (about 50 cents) and added 1/2 teaspoon of sugar since tomatillo sauce is generally sweet. Really good.

Note: this quesadilla is five points on Weight Watchers.

1 cup fresh corn kernels (about 1 large ear)
2/3 cup (5 ounces) goat cheese, softened
8 (6-inch) corn tortillas
1/4 cup chopped green onions (about 1 green onion)
10 tablespoon bottled salsa verde, divided
Cooking spray

1. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add corn; sauté 2 minutes or until browned. Place corn in a small bowl. Add goat cheese to corn; stir until well blended. Divide corn mixture evenly among 4 tortillas; spread to within 1/4 inch of sides. Sprinkle each tortilla with 1 tablespoon green onions. Drizzle each with 1 1/2 teaspoons salsa; top with remaining 4 tortillas.

2. Heat pan over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Place 2 quesadillas in pan; cook 1 1/2 minutes on each side or until golden. Remove from pan; keep warm. Wipe pan clean with paper towels; recoat with cooking spray. Repeat procedure with remaining quesadillas. Cut each quesadilla into 4 wedges. Serve with remaining 8 tablespoons salsa.

Nutritional Information
Fat:8.9g (sat 5.2g,mono 1.8g,poly 0.9g)

Friday, January 15, 2010


When I read this recipe I wasn't sure about the combination of cornmeal and cranberries. But I loved it and will definitely make this again. I made two loaves in 9 x 5 pans so the bread slices were smaller than normal.

Honey Cranberry Cornmeal Quick Bread

recipe adapted by Joy the Baker from

makes one large 9×5x3 loaf or two smaller loaves

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup white whole wheat flour (if you don’t have whole wheat flour, use all-purpose flour)

1 cup medium or fine ground cornmeal

1/2 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

1/2 cup honey (or pure maple syrup if you have it on hand)

1 1/4 cup buttermilk

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup chopped walnuts (reserving a few whole walnut halves for decorating the top)

1 heaping cup to 1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries

Arrange a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour one 9×5x3-inch loaf pan, or two slightly smaller loaf pans. Set aside the greased and floured loaf pans.

In a large bowl, whisk together both flours, cornmeal, sugar, salt and baking powder.

In a smaller bowl whisk together honey, eggs, buttermilk, melted butter and vanilla extract.

Add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture and stir just until blended.

Fold in the cranberries and walnuts.

Divide batter between two smaller loaf pans or into one large loaf pan. Spread evenly. Add the whole walnut halves and place in preheated oven. For smaller loaves bake for 40-50 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center of the loaf comes of clean. For the larger loaf, bake for 60-70 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.

Cool loaves in pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Invert onto a plate or board. Serve warm with butter or wrap and freeze.
Recipe from Joy the Baker

Monday, January 11, 2010


Chili is a favorite winter-time foods. The tomatoes, beans, and spices all melding together provide comfort and warmth on a cold winter day. Oh wait, it was 71 degrees yesterday here in sunny Arizona. But fortunately it was 66 degrees in my house so making a pot of chili felt right.

When craving chili, I usually make my Turkey Chili recipe but yesterday I was ready to try something new. This is a recipe from my darling friend, Jennifer. Don't know where she found it but knowing Jennifer I'm sure she tweaked it enough to make it her own.

This is rich tasting (probably due to the full 6 ounce can of tomato paste) which I love. I left the onions a little chunkier, not diced, and the texture of the thicker onion slices stands out since there is not the usual celery and peppers fighting for attention. Plus it really is quick to make, maybe not 10 minutes but close enough.

1 lb ground turkey or lean ground beef

1 large onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped (I used 3)

1 (15 oz) can chili beans - undrained

1 (15 oz) can kidney beans - undrained (I added one extra can)

1 (14 oz) can diced tomatoes

1 (6oz) can tomato paste

1 (8 0z) can tomato sauce (I used 15 oz can)

1 1/2 Tablespoons brown sugar

1 1/2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

2 Tablespoons chili powder

1 teaspoon cumin

In a heavy pot cook turkey (or beef), add onion and cook until done. Add garlic and cook 1-2 minutes more. Add the remaining ingredients stirring as you go. Simmer for 5-10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add water if too thick.

Note: If you care about these things (and I do right now) one serving equals four points on Weight Watchers--yipee. I based this on getting about 8 servings (but secretely I think I can get more servings out of this hence lowering the points).

Friday, January 8, 2010


The Garden Fairy has blessed us with an abundance of Buttercrunch lettuce, Romaine lettuce, and a variety of Chinese cabbages. But apparently she didn't notice the little markers I had pointing to the spinach and beets since they were both completely ignored and therefore hardly produced a thing.

Last year we had so much spinach I was adding it to just about every recipe that called for anything remotely green. It has been a disappointing crop with just a few leaves here and there.

Also last year, we had the best beet tops for salads. Not this year. I don't know quite what to make of it since we planted one month earlier than last year. I'm thinking my garden boxes are not getting enough low winter sun.

But the herbs are doing beautifully. Cilantro, flat-leaf parsley, rosemary, thyme, dill, and even the French lavender are all lush.

And this is the first year our tree has been filled with gorgeous Mineola tangelos. Each morning I gently tug on a perfectly ripe tangelo and hear that lovely little snap as it pulls off the branch. That piece of fruit is my afternoon treat. The Oro Blanco grapefruit should be ready in about another week.

Tammy's bulbs and Sweet Peas are cropping up. The blooms will be a treat stuffed in vases throughout the house.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


My sweet niece requested Strawberry (of course) Cake for her 12th birthday (yes, it kills me she is now 12). The year before, for her 11th birthday, I made the Triple Decker Strawberry Cake and she loved it. She is now conflicted since she also loves this cake.

I like the icing on this cake the best--strawberries, coconut, and pecans, perfection.


Solid vegetable shortening, for greasing the pans
Flour for dusting the pans
1 package (18.25 ounces) plain white cake mix
1 package (3 ounces) strawberry gelatin
1 cup mashed fresh strawberries with juice (1 ½ cups whole berries)
1 cup vegetable oil, such as canola, corn, safflower, soybean, or sunflower
½ cup of whole milk
4 large eggs
1 cup of frozen unsweetened grated coconut, thawed
½ cup chopped pecans

Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting

1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, at room temperature
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
3 ½ cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
¾ cup fresh ripe strawberries, rinsed, capped, and mashed to make ½ cup, then drained well
½ cup frozen unsweetened grated coconut, thawed
½ cup of chopped pecans
What you do:

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease three 9-inch round cake pans with solid vegetable shortening, then dust with flour. Shake out the excess flour. Set the pans aside.

Place the cake mix, strawberry gelatin, mashed strawberries and juice, oil, milk, and eggs in a large mixing bowl and blend with an electric mixer on low speed for 1 minute. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat for 2 minutes more, scraping down the sides down again if needed. The strawberries should be well blended into the batter. Fold in the coconut and the pecans. Divide the batter among the prepared pans and place them in the oven; if your oven is not large enough, place two pans on the center of the highest rack.

Bake the cakes until they are light brown and just starting to pull away from the sides of the pan, 28 to 30 minutes. Be careful not to overcook the layer on the highest rack oven. Remove the pans from the oven and place them on wire racks to cool for 10 minutes. Run a dinner knife around the edge of each layer and invert each onto the rack, the invert again onto another rack so that the cakes are right side up. Allow them to cool completely, 30 minutes more.
Meanwhile, prepare the frosting. Combine the cream cheese and butter in a medium bowl with an electric mixer on low speed for about 30 seconds. Stop the machine and add the sugar and drained strawberries. Blend the frosting on low until the sugar has been incorporated. Then raise the speed to medium and mix the frosting another minute or until the frosting lightens and is well combined. Fold in the coconut and the pecans.

To assemble, place one cake layer, right side up, on a serving platter. Spread the top with frosting. Add another cake layer, right side up, and frost the top. Repeat this process with the third layer and frost the top. Use the remaining frosting to frost the sides, working with clean, smooth stroke. Serve at once or chill the cake for later serving.

* Place this cake, uncovered, in the refrigerator until the frosting sets, 20 minutes. Cover the cake with waxed paper and store in the refrigerator, for up to one week. Or freeze it, wrapped in aluminum foil, for up to 6 months. Thaw the cake overnight in the refrigerator before serving.

Saturday, January 2, 2010


I have loved to read ever since the first grade. During lunch, my darling Dad (a voracious reader) would walk from his office to the library across the street and select a stack of books to bring home to me. What a treat! My first grade teacher, Mrs. Stilwell, gave us a feather to put in an indian headdress for each book we read--I read the most and became chief (of course).

It has been a unique year of reading for me as I have found different ways to bring more books into my life. There is the lovely book in a hand approach, a classic that is my favorite way to read. But there are also books on tape which make my drive to and from work entertaining or educational; DailyLit helps me tackle the thick-book classics such as Vanity Fair, by emailing me a page a day; and my Kindle which lets me keep bunches of books at the ready with little effort.

Add to that the many blogs reviewing books and my ever-lengthening "to read" list makes my head hurt. My friend, Tami, hopes that we can still work on our reading list in the next life--Amen!

Recently I was talking to Mr. Talbot, my friend Leslie's darling Dad, about reading. He loves to read new books but in December he always re-reads A Christmas Carol and a Jane Austen book, this year Pride and Prejudice. I love that idea. The winter seems like a great reading season (you know, in other places where it snows), but December is so crazy busy it's hard to find the time to immerse myself in a new book. I think Mr. Talbot's idea of re-reading a few classics in December is brilliant and I shall do that in 2010.

Meanwhile, here is the list of all the books I read in 2009 with a brief note.

  • The Ladies of Grace Adieu - enjoyable, at times unsettling

  • Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire - educational

  • Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure - educational but a bit crude

  • Vanity Fair - loved it

  • Cheeful Weather for the Wedding - easy

  • The BFG - loved it

  • Watching the English - too much information

  • Cider with Rosie - lovely

  • The Cemetary Yew - fun

  • Speech-less: Tales of a White House Survivor - enjoyable

  • Unnatural Death - loved it

  • Diary of Provincial Lady - loved it

  • Thank You, Jeeves - loved it, laughed out loud

  • The Help - clever, loved it

  • The Uncommon Reader - clever, loved it

  • The Cranefly Orchid Murders - fun

  • Bringing Home the Birkin - interesting but sophomoric at times

  • Jack in the Pulpit - fun

  • The Wildwater Walking Club - light reading

  • Seven Pleasures: Essays on Ordinary Happiness - good, but smug

  • My French Life - dreamy

  • A Homemade Life - good

  • Striding Folly - very good

  • Richard and John: Kings at War - good but tedious

  • Truman - very good

  • Cold Comfort Farm - loved it

  • Atlas Shrugged - loved it

  • In Defense of Food - loved it

  • Barchester Towers - good

  • Animal, Vegetable, Miracle - loved it

  • Dorothy Parker short stories - too dreary

  • Outliers - interesting

  • My Life in France - loved it

  • The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression - loved it

  • Joy in the Morning (Wooster & Jeeves) - laugh out loud funny

  • Paris to the Moon - good

  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - so good

  • More Home Cooking: A Writer Returns to the Kitchen - loved it

  • Blink - interesting

  • Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen - terrific

  • Happy All The Time - good

  • The Tipping Point - interesting

  • The Reluctant Widow - so so

  • The Christmas Sweater - so so

  • The Friday Night Knitting Club - very good, tear jerker

  • The Picture of Dorian Gray - creepy, excellent