Saturday, February 26, 2011


Just finished the second book in the Flavia de Luce series, The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley.  The first book, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie(click here for my review) introduced Flavia de Luce, brilliant amateur detective with a beyond-belief chemist's brain tucked inside her 11-year old head.

Of course, I am attracted to the setting: 1950 rural England, complete with a rough-around-the-edges country house (Buckshaw), a vicarage, a tea room, and two self-absorbed sisters.  The story opens with the following, "I was lying dead in the churchyard.  An hour had crept by since the mourners had said their last sad farewells." That opening may not sound funny but as soon as you get to know Flavia, you will be laughing at the little world she has created for herself.

This storyline is creepier than the first book.  An abusive but famous puppeteer, the suspicious death years earlier of a small child, and a woman who has slowly gone mad.  Of course, a murder takes place and Flavia is immersed in the investigation whether the local Inspector likes it or not.

Flavia thinks quite highly of herself and her skill with various poisons that she likes to dabble in, "Brains and morals have nothing to do with one another.  Take myself, for instance: I am often thought of as being remarkably bright, and yet my brains, more often than not, are busily devising new and interesting ways of bringing my enemies to sudden, gagging, writhing, agonizing death." Harmless pranks (well, mostly harmless)  fill-out the story.

It's a fun, quick read between more serious books.  And unlike most series, you do not need to read the first book to understand the second book.  But for a fun read, why not?

Sunday, February 20, 2011


My darling friend, Ashley, told me about this (curse her).  For $3.69 you, too, can have a jar of this addicting treat.  Trader Jacques--oui!

By the way, we've been loving these last two days of heavenly rain--on a three day weekend, even better.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


A different take on the traditional oatmeal raisin cookie--loved 'em.

Crispy Salted Oatmeal White Chocolate Cookies
Adapted by Smitten Kitchen from Cook’s Illustrated

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon table salt
14 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
6 ounces good-quality white chocolate bar, chopped 
1/2 teapoon flaky sea salt (like Maldon or fleur de sel) (for sprinkling on top)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper or Silpat. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and table salt in a medium bowl.

2. Beat butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Scrape down bowl with rubber spatula, then add egg and vanilla and beat until incorporated. Scrape down bowl again. Add flour mixture gradually and mix until just incorporated and smooth. Gradually add oats and white chocolate and mix until well incorporated.

3. Divide dough into 24 equal portions, each about 2 tablespoons. Roll between palms into balls, then place on lined baking sheets about 2 1/2 inches apart. Using fingertips, gently press down each ball to about 3/4-inch thickness.

4. Sprinkle a flake or two of sea salt on each cookie

5. Bake until cookies are deep golden brown, about 13 to 16 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack to cool.

Note: I used two kinds of white chocolate--one plain, and one with coconut flakes by Lindt.  (Thanks, Jennifer!)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


When my friend, Corinne, told me that she drank this concoction every morning I was intrigued.  Then she told me it took her about a week to get used to it.  Hmmm.  I'm not one to mix vegetables and fruit in a drink (see those flecks of green in the drink? spinach) and needing a week to adapt sounded not too tempting.

But downing all those veggies early in the day without the extra sodium found in typical vegetable drinks won me over.  Of course, it is full of anti-oxidants, etc. Oddly enough, I got used to it on day three and by day five I found it enjoyable.  But remember, Jamba Juice it ain't.

So, ready to toss the following ingredients into your blender?

handful of spinach
handful of baby carrots
one celery rib, snapped a few times
one tomato
one cup of frozen blueberries
a bit of water or splash of fruit juice (I added 1/4 cup of cranberry pomegranate juice plus water)
I also sprinkled a bit of Stevia for a little sweetness
Blend and drink up!

Friday, February 4, 2011

WAIT FOR ME!: Memoirs - Book Review

Continuing with my fascination of all things English, I happily jumped into reading Wait for Me! the memoirs of Deborah Mitford, Duchess of Devonshire.  Debo (family nickname) is one of the famous Mitford sisters and from all that I've read, the one with the most sense and stability.  Now 91 years old, she is the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire living in the Old Vicarage on the estate at Chatsworth. Her son and daughter-in-law are the current Duke and Duchess.  

Debo came from a rather eccentric family--five sisters, one brother, nicknames for everyone (if not several nicknames per person--I wish I were clever enough to come up with just the right catchy name for others, but I am not).  She was born in 1920 so her life takes us through World War II, the nine years of rationing following the war, various Prime Ministers, quirky members of the Peerage,  and ends with her moving out of Chatsworth and into her current home.  

Born into a titled family (her father was the 2nd Baron Redesdale) Debo then married into a famous titled family.  The hereditary titles in England just add to my love of that country.  Listen to this, after Debo's marriage, her name changed four times: first she was "Lady Andrew Cavendish", Cavendish being the family name; then her husband's elder brother was killed in the war and she became "The Marchioness of Hartington"; after her father-in-law's death, her husband Andrew inherited the title of Duke and she became "The Duchess of Devonshire".  Now she is the Dowager Duchess and her daughter-in-law is the Duchess.  Whew.

The Duchess is funny, warm, and gracious and must have kept remarkable letters and journals to remember over 300 pages worth of goodies from her life.  Her childhood alone could make its own book (although it has been fictionalized in books by her sister, Nancy).  

Life at Chatsworth is depicted honestly, lots of work and tireless efforts to sustain.  After studying a bit about English country houses, I don't envy the owners--the usual "fun to visit but I wouldn't want to live there" applies.  The killer death duties in England have crippled the glorious estates.  Debo and her husband, Andrew, are credited with coming up with creative ways to pay off the hideous taxes and bring in money to repair and maintain the estate.  

Early in their marriage Debo's husband, Andrew, ran for Parliament.  His father gave him the following advice: "There is something you should ram home, and you cannot repeat it too often.  No government has any money of its own, the only money it has to spend is what it gets from you and me in taxes." Amen. 

The above World of Interiors features the cheerful entrance of Debo's new home at the Vicarage. It is one of my favorite magazine covers of all time.  Spotting the magazine cover on-line, I stalked Border's until the issue was delivered, which since it is a UK publication, didn't arrived until the end of  that month (September).  But just look at those colors! I could happily live in that house.

Bottom line: I enjoyed every minute of Deborah Mitford's memoirs.  

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

CHICKPEA SALAD - Pure Style Home

Just found this recipe on Pure Style Home and immediately put it together.  Love it!

1 can chickpeas/garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 diced tomato
1/4 cup diced red onions
1/4 cup chopped fresh pasley
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 squeeze of quartered lemon
2 garlic cloves, minced 
1/2 teaspoon paprika
salt and pepper to taste 
garlic salt to taste
2 tablespoons capers
sprinkling of parmesan cheese

Make a few hours in advance to let all those yummy flavors meld.  Pure Style Home recommends it with warm pita bread and feta cheese.  I ate it directly out of the bowl without anything else (not even bread, can you imagine?)