Monthly Archives: March 2017


The River of Kings by Taylor Brown – Fiction March 2017

Two brothers journey down the famed Altamaha River in Georgia, one of the last wild places in America, bearing their father’s ashes. Their story alternates with a tale of the first European artist in North America traveling in 1564. History, myth, and family secrets – the brother’s story, their father’s tangled past, and a history of the river’s earliest people live together in this book. Given the illustrations included and the ecology of this dark river any story set here captures my attention.

Cork Dork: A Wine Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste by Bianca Bosker – Memoir, March 2017

This adventure strikes me as fascinating – becoming a certified sommelier and working as a cellar rat. What could be more fun than learning about wine. Oh, well, drinking it of course. First, let’s read.

The Practice House by Laura McNeal- April, 2017

From Scotland to the Great Plains of Kansas our heroine Aldine McKenna searches for a home amid drought and depression. Still the summaries of this novel promise a sweeping love story. Available in Kindle edition.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid – fiction – March 2017

The humanity of a young couple is highlighted in this story dealing with the plight of refugees. This novel is described as an urgent account of love and war. History and politics affect the future. Hamid is the author of a previous novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist.



There’s a true joy to sharing your home with birds. Planting and hosting native plants will bring these brilliant birds and others to you. You can find out more about your local resources at

Information can be found in the spring issue of Audubon Magazine. Now for some garden planning and a trip to your local nursery.

Wood Thrush – These familiar friends like to fuel up on elderberry fruit.

Rufous Hummingbird – They glean nectar from penstemon and also feed on the ground seeds.

American Redstart – They flock to oak catkins and oak acorns. If you have an oak tree you are all set.

Baltimore Oriole – They like to line their nests with milkweed pods, also a favorite of the monarch butterfly.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker – They feed on the maples, drilling on the horizontal into the trees.


Cousin Noel Strobehn posted a picture of a cheesecake she had made at home along with the caption, “Who Needs Cheesecake Factory? The picture that sold me was one without whipped cream that so clearly showed the beautiful raspberry swirl.

She was kind enough to share her recipe and comments with this blog. Her mother and grandmother are fabulous cooks known all over their Iowa County and beyond, and she is following the tradition. You can’t go wrong following her advice. If you wish for cheesecake factory cheesecake, this is the recipe for you. No chance of dropping it on the way home; make it in the comfort of your own kitchen thanks to Noel.

Big time thanks Noel for taking the time to send us the recipe you used and your personal tips!

From Noel: This was the recipe I used. I think next time I would skip the water bath and just put a pan with some water in it on the bottom rack below the cheesecake. I also used Reddi-wip for the top but I think real whipping cream would hold up better and not melt so fast. It’s also fairly time consuming to strain out the raspberry seeds so maybe I’ll use pie filling or raspberry jelly next time.


1 1/2 c. (approx. 20) finely crushed OREO cookie crumbs
1/3 c. butter, melted
Raspberry Sauce
10 oz. fresh raspberries, washed & rinsed
1/4 c. sugar
2 tbsp. lemon juice
Cheesecake Filling
4 (8 oz.) pkgs. Philadelphia cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/4 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. sour cream, room temperature
2 tsp. vanilla
5 eggs, room temperature
4 oz. white chocolate, roughly chopped
1 c. heavy whipping cream
1/2 c. powered sugar
2 ounces shaved white chocolate (optional)

Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Place a large pan or oven-safe skillet filled with about 1/2-inch of water into the oven while it preheats. In a food processor, crush cookies until they are a fine consistency. Be sure you’ve removed the white filling. Mix cookie crumbs and butter, and press in to a 9-inch springform pan that has been lined on the bottom and side with parchment paper. Use the bottom of a drinking glass to press the crumb mixture flat into the bottom of the pan. Wrap a large piece of foil around the bottom of the pan to prevent the water bath from seeping in. Put the crust in your freezer until the filling is done. Add the ingredients for the raspberry sauce to a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer, stirring frequently, until raspberries are dissolved. Strain into a bowl. Allow to cool. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the softened cream cheese with the sugar, sour cream, and vanilla. Mix on the lowest setting for a couple minutes or until the ingredients are smooth and creamy. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add in the eggs one at a time. Blend the mixture just enough to integrate the eggs. Remove the crust from the freezer and sprinkle 4 ounces of white chocolate chunks onto the bottom of the crust. Pour half of the cream cheese filling into the crust. Drizzle about 1/4 c. the raspberry preserves over the entire surface of the filling. Use a butter knife to swirl the raspberry into the cream cheese. Pour the other half of the filling into the crust. Drizzle another couple of tbsp. of the raspberry sauce over the cheesecake and swirl, refrigerate the rest of the sauce. Carefully place the cheesecake into the water bath in the oven. Bake for 12 minutes at 475 degrees, then turn the oven down to 350 degrees and bake for 60 minutes or until the top of the cheesecake turns a light brown or tan color. After 60 minutes, do not open oven door, leave cheesecake for at least 1 hour, up to 2 hours to cool down. When cooled, cover cheesecake with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator to sit overnight. Before serving, sprinkle the entire top surface of cheesecake with 2 ounces of shaved white chocolate. Make fresh whipped cream by whipping the heavy cream and powdered sugar in a stand mixer for 5-6 minutes on high. Dollop fresh whipped cream with fresh raspberries and sprinkle with white chocolate shavings for garnish.

Find the recipe from Yvonne at, a great food blog.


Smithsonian Magazine – March 2017
“Mystery on the Savanna” by Alex Shoumatoff
Photographs by Melissa Groo

My two-almost-three-year-old granddaughter is fascinated with giraffes. She loves the zoo. I confess I would never visit a zoo without a stop to observe the giraffes. They seem almost other-worldly with the longest necks imaginable, funny ears, and facial expressions that say something even if I don’t know what it is?!

This month Smithsonian Magazine has an article addressing human understanding of this animal and their shrinking numbers. According to the author Alex Shoumatoff, giraffes are the least understood of the African megafauna. The status of the giraffe population is listed as vulnerable. Poaching is one threat. Why poach a giraffe? Some are convinced that eating giraffe brains and bone marrow can cure HIV/AIDS. Leg bones can be carved to look like ivory or used for soup. Tails are used for dowries among some groups. These ideas border on the bizarre. What is more understandable is giraffe loss of habitat due to road building, mining and oil drilling. People want their territory.

Fascinating photos accompany the Smithsonian article. Close-ups show the giraffe’s long eyelashes and unique beauty. Even the pattern of their spots is individual and unique, like a fingerprint. My favorite photo is one where two giraffes appear to be scratching each other’s necks by elongating and entwining their necks.

Fascinating facts from the magazine article. Long necks enable them to reach the highest leaves on the acacia trees. Rubbery tongues protect against injury. Thick saliva coats thorns they may swallow.

Let’s start a giraffe fan club. What do you think? Pick up a magazine or check their website. Informative reading.


Reading offers varied experiences. At present, I am encountering a reading experience different than I have ever experienced. I am reading three books at the same time, giving nearly equal time to each book. Often when I attack more than one book at a time, it is two, and soon one of the two wins out and I read it exclusively until it is finished and then I turn to the other and finish it.

This time, not so. I have three books, purchased at the same time and am reading all three at once. They are different, but complimentary. I feel I am in reading heaven.

Because of the nature of the books, it is not at all confusing. Just a joy.

On My Own by Diane Rehm
95/162 pages into the read.
This memoir is moving and honest. In the current chapter she writes how she and others “carry on” after the death of a loved one. For me this book is hard to read, yet inspiring. Not long ago my husband was suddenly gone from my life. Not only is Diane reconstructing her life, she journeys through memories, guilt and other feelings as she travels a new path.

The Lightkeepers: a novel by Abby Geni
165/358 pages into the read.

The poetic prose of this fictitious adventure grabs the reader’s imagination. The author writes of “clotted clouds” and describes the bellow of the seal as “a sharp clipping cry.” A group of biologists and the narrator, a photographer, live in close quarters on the Farallon Islands off the coast of California. It is an eerie and lonely place populated by seals, whales, sharks, birds and the like. There is very little of comfort here. The place is strange and desolate. Ominous clouds hang over the proceedings. Yet, I keep turning the pages.

Eviction by Matthew Desmond
150//313 pages read so far.

This nonfiction book on poverty and profit in the American City draws its experiences and research from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It was named one of 10 Best books of 2016 by The New York Times Book Review and has won several prizes for Nonfiction. The author is a Harvard sociologist and MacArthur Genius Grant recipient who spent much time with eight families as they struggled to find and retain housing. The reader reaches new understandings of the housing issues for poor Americans. Surprisingly this is the most riveting of the three books.

At this point I highly recommend all three books, each unique in its own way.

Each book is too intense to take all in one dose. Perhaps that is the reason I so enjoy reading one or two chapters of each and then on to another for a time. Each book places the reader in an uncomfortable place driven to turn the page by both the beauty and terror of living.


The Orphan’s Tale: A Novel
Author: Pam Jenoff
Publisher: Mira, 2017
Genre: Historical Fiction
Paperback Edition: 342 pages plus Author’s Note, Interview, Reader’s Guide and excerpt from The Kommandant’s Girl

This is the riveting story of two young women told through dual viewpoints. Noa and Astrid are caught up in the horror and intrigue of wartime Germany and France (1944). Both are orphans of a kind with nowhere to go. Both find refuge in the circus life. To be part of a circus in the mid-twentieth century, to hide in plain sight, to perform before enthusiastic audiences and to be caught in a net of love and horror, all this and more makes for a very exciting read. This is one of those books you hate to see end. So many paths are possible. So much suspense.

The reader also hates to see it end because the characters are powerful, especially these women at the center of the story. When they meet aerialist Astrid is to teach Noa to perform in a flying trapeze act. The journey of their relationship starts in rocky terrain. It develops over the course of their tale. Can friendship be a lifeline? Who and what will survive. Character development for both major and minor characters is a strength of this novel.

For this reader who has read many novels set in Europe during World War II, there are fresh viewpoints expressed in this tale some readers may find renew their interest in this era. Children are important to the story as well as the effect of the Nazi occupation on families. From the heartbreaking opening to the last circus show, surprises abound. This book is quite a journey and an enjoyable read.


Finally I am learning about those bumpy ugly oranges I think I first saw on the ground in the yard at the Oldest House in St. Augustine, Florida some years ago. My sister-in-law picked them up, hoping to eat them. Oh, no I told her. They are bitter, best put in the trash or left to decorate the ground. Now I discover there is more to that bumpy discolored orange than I knew.

I learn that a favorite restaurant (one I was unable to visit on the Florida trip this year) The Yearling, located over near Hawthorne and the Marjorie Rawlings State Park, serves Sour Orange Pie. Many love it. My search for the pie continues.

The orange known as the Seville Orange made its way to the states via Spain. I read about it via Cathy Salustri in her book Backroads of Paradise. The Seville is not sweet, nor does it taste exactly like a lemon. It is bitter, works well in mojo sauces. But it is also served in pie. I’ll keep my eyes open at Florida shops and restaurants for Sour orange marmalade, pie, cheesecake and other such items. Sour oranges can sometimes be purchased at Cuban grocery stores or other local outlets.

Several recipes for Sour Orange Pie are available on the internet. Soon I hope to try one. Substitutions will have to do until I get my hands on some sour oranges, strange as they may be. I’m curious about the sour flavors, especially put right up against the sweet creamy texture of the pie. The authentic Florida eating experience must include eating sour orange pie. Even if Key Lime pie is the queen of Florida eating, certainly Sour Orange Pie is a princess?

Cook’s County is a magazine that trumpets authentic food, true to taste and tradition. You can check their site on the internet, or perhaps you are a subscriber. Their recipe includes substitutions if you do not have Seville Oranges.

Garden and Gun ( claims their recipe has a bright clean flavor and is topped with meringue. This is the recipe I plan to try, using whipped cream topping rather than meringue.

Here are the basics of the recipe with thanks to Garden and Gun

Sour Orange Pie

1 and a half sleeves saltines
3 Tablespoons sugar
½ cup butter, softened

Combine these and knead until crust comes together. Press into an 8-inch pie pan and chill in the fridge for 15-20 minutes. Bake in a 350 degree oven until brown.

½ cup sugar
3 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 Tablespoon butter, melted
3 egg yolks, beaten
1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon orange juice
1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoons lemon juice

Combine sugar and cornstarch. Whisk in butter. Slowly pour 1 cup hot water into the mix, whisking to dissolve lumps. Whisk in egg yolks and citrus juices. Cook over medium-low heat for 5-10 minutes . Mixture will coat the back of the spoon.

Lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees and bake for 25-30 minutes. Top with meringue before baking if you wish.

Garden and Gun calls this pie a forgotten classic

Another recipe has been shared at the website

This recipe suggests using Florida sour oranges, Florida calomondins ( a small fruit like a lemon), you may find at a Florida citrus shop or key limes or a combo of lemon and orange. Zest the fruit before juicing to add to the flavor of your pie.

Here’s the recipe:
Sour Orange Pie

Purchase a graham cracker crust or make your crust with 1/3 pound graham crackers, 5 Tablesppons of melted unsalted butter and ½ cup sugar.

4 egg yolks
2 teaspoons of zest
1 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
2/3 cup of freshly squeezed calomondin juice, or 1/3 cup orange juice with 1/3 cup lemon juice, all fresh squeezed.

Beat egg yolks and zest until fluffy using an electric mixture with a whisk attachment, if you have one. Gradually add the condensed milk and heat three or four more minutes. Lower the mixing speed to add juice and mix just until combined. Pour mixture into the crust and bake at 350 degrees in the oven for 10 minutes or until set. Cool. Refirigerate. Freeze 15-20 minutes before serving.

Top with whipped cream. Make your own with heavy cream or purchase at the store.

Do comment if you have prepared, eatened or purchased sour orange products. Let’s find out more about these crazy oranges.


Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of A Family and Culture in Crisis
Author: J.D. Vance
Publisher: Harper Collins, 2016
Genre: Nonfiction, memoir and commentary on Appalachian Culture
Hardcover Edition: 257 pages
Source: Personal Copy

This is a personal and passionate look at life in Eastern Kentucky and the Rust-belt cities to which many from the mountain areas moved in search of a better life. The author is compassionate and discerning as he discusses Appalachian culture. He seems to suggest that perhaps many people in this area of our country have lost sight of the American dream of success. He makes his story unforgettable. Others must agree. It sits near or at the top of many best-seller lists.

Some reviewers see this as a very political book. I see it as a careful look at a group of Americans whose experiences are different from many of the people who are likely to read it, and to write about it. Vance’s dissonant family life and living away from the area where he feels most at home, are representative of many of those living and striving in this part of the country. Some are so downtrodden they not longer strive. He carefully exams the attitudes this type of experience fosters.

Vance graduated high school, became a Marine and later graduated from Yale Law School. He credits family members who supported him even when others failed him. He is in a unique position to understand his culture and to comment on it. I believe Vance’s message is that people must use their own initiative and old-fashioned values to better their lives. He does not say this is easy, nor does he think any government program is more than an assist at a certain time in a person’s life. Love and support from family and community are important to the well-being of any person.

But it is not Vance’s message or any political viewpoint that is the major reason to read this book. The book is well-written, easy to read, and very interesting. Facts and statistics are introduced in a useful and enlightening manner, enhancing his story. The first-hand nature of his experiences in a part of our country and among poor white working class people are not well known to this reader. With a heartfelt and emotional story Vance provides a chance to better understand our fellow Americans. There have been few opportunities to understand this segment of our country, and I don’t know of any this readable. It is the personal and heartfelt nature of his story that won me over as a reader. I found it a quick and compelling read.

I highly recommend this book, in part because it is a subject not often addressed. I agree with those who have called it a moving and troubling story out of a region of our land that is too often shunted aside by people in power. There is both humor and despair in Vance’s tale. This reader found his story riveting. I could not put it down. Four Stars!


Birds, Mammals and Reptiles as well as many species of Crocodiles make their home at the Alligator Farm, one of the most popular attractions in St. Augustine. Improvements through the years have resulted in broad boardwalks and concrete pathways, making for easy viewing of the animals up close but behind fencing or glass. Trees shade paths and relatively cool breezes this time of year make the visit a pleasant walk.

The pointed snout and the teeth tell you this one is a crocodile. Or maybe not. It’s confusing.

Alligators with the rounded noses laze for easy picture taking. Taking pictures at the Alligator Farm it’s hard to believe any alligator can move quickly. If you been on a Florida golf course or in the Everglades you know they can.


There are many birds. My pictures don’t do them justice. The yellow one is a Golden Conure and the blue a Fireback Pheasant.

The unique white creatures below are mystical Albino Alligators from the bayous of Lousisiana.

Yes, there is much more to see. 999 Anastasia Blvd. St. Augustine Fl