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Just finished reading How It All Began: A Novelby Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant (she arrived after the birth, actually). Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the father is a wealthy man in the area who carries a lot of clout. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

On my recent road trip, I visited one of my local libraries and borrowed 5 books on tape. We listened to 3 of them. I’m a big fan of Craig Johnson, the author of a series of mysteries taking place in Wyoming, and a TV series on Netflix called Longmire. This book, A Serpent’s Tooth: A Longmire Mystery was really complex. Hard to explain, but it’s about graft and greed and oil. Worth reading, for sure. Also read Stone Kiss by Faye Kellerman, another complex mystery about Lt Decker, an LA cop who journeys to NYC to help out his family when a murder occurs. Lots of violence in this one.  Not particularly a fav book, I’d venture. Then read Leaving Time: A Novel by Jodi Picoult. I’ve read most of her books – always very riveting. In this book, you’ll learn a whole lot about elephants since the protagonist in it is a young girl whose mother disappeared when she was quite young. Her parents ran an elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire. In the ensuing years, Jenna has tried to find clues as to her mother’s whereabouts because she just cannot believe her mother would have up and abandoned her. There are a whole cast of characters (her mother, her father, employees at the sanctuary, a cop or two, and a psychic). All play fairly prominent roles. Fascinating book – I really liked it, almost as much for the education about the behavior of elephants as about the mystery. A great read.

Also on the trip, I read a book (on Kindle) for one of my book clubs, The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin. It’s about the relationship between Truman Capote and his “swans,” a group of middle-aged high society ladies, and specifically Beth Paley. I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not. Truman Capote was not a nice man, although the whole novel (vs. non-fiction, which this is not) is conjured from speculation about the years Truman was kind of adopted by the group of women. He cared about all of them (most were married/divorced, and wealthy) but in the end he betrays them all by writing a novella about their secrets, their marriages, their affairs (theirs or their spouses, information they’d all shared with him, thinking he could be trusted with their innermost secrets). It was scandalous, and yes, all that part is true. I finished the book, but almost felt like I’d read a “dirty book.” There is no graphic detail in this book – it’s just what Capote did to destroy these women, supposedly his dear, darling “swans.” He was the villain in the book, and in his old age . . . well, I won’t spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it.

 

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in easy, Fish, on May 21st, 2013.

baked_salmon_agave_and_lime

Wow. Was this easy baked salmon ever off the charts delicious! I almost can’t wait to make it again, it was that good. The salmon is flavored with red onions, garlic and green onions, then soaked in olive oil, agave nectar and lime juice. And an itty-bitty pinch of cinnamon.

This salmon dish could hardly be easier. Well, maybe a little, but we’re not talking much effort to make this, that’s all I’m saying. The recipe came from a fellow blogger, Karina Allrich, also known as the Gluten-Free Goddess. Karina eats GF (gluten free), but she has plenty of “regular” recipes as well (meaning they’re not alternative-flour-centric) on her very popular blog. This one was from some years ago. I used the essence of it and adapted it slightly to suit our family. Agave nectar, although it’s a low glycemic carb and slow absorbing into the body of a normal person, is still SUGAR to a any person, let alone for a diabetic, like drinking sugar syrup.

salmon_packet_rawAt left is a photo of the fish before I sealed it up in foil – onions, garlic, green onions and you can see the olive oil/agave mixture around the bottom.

There were 4 of us for dinner that night, and since this dish is made in individual foil packets (hooray for easy cleanup!), I was able to adapt my DH’s serving with less agave. The other 3 portions were as the recipe shows below. Here’s what I did differently from Karina’s recipe: (1) I sprayed the foil to make sure the salmon wouldn’t stick; (2) I reduced the amount of agave and olive oil, just because I thought 1/3 cup of each was more than needed for 4 servings – in any case, you don’t eat all of it anyway; and (3) I used ample of the dark green part of the green onions – flavor, I suppose, but also for color. The only thing I’ll do differently next time – and I’ve put this in the recipe below – is place the slices of garlic underneath the salmon. We found the garlic was still nearly raw when placed on top of the salmon. Perhaps if the garlic was placed in direct contact with the salmon flesh it would cook, but I’d put the onions on first, then the garlic and they were definitely raw. Anyway, I salted and peppered the salmon first, added the pinch of cinnamon, then thin slices of red onion are placed on the salmon fillets, a bunch of the green onions, then I mixed up the olive oil/agave mixture and used a spoon to drizzle it all over the top of the salmon. It puddled below in the packet, but all of the salmon was dampened with the mixture. Then, just before sealing it up I squeezed a half of a lime over the top – I drizzled it directly on the salmon. The packets were sealed up, then I placed them on a big rimmed baking sheet (4 just barely fit).

The 350° was just right – the salmon cooked in exactly 20 minutes. The fillets we had were about 1” at the thickest part, so 20 minutes was perfect. If you have thinner fillets, you’ll want to reduce the baking time by a few minutes.

What’s GOOD: every single, solitary morsel of this dish was fantastic. The fact that it’s relatively easy to make just made it even more fun to prepare. Worthy of a company meal for sure. The taste is on the sweet side – just know that going in.
What’s NOT: nothing. Absolutely nothing!

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MasterCook 5+ import file – right click to save (remember where), run MC, File|Import

Baked Salmon with Agave and Lime

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Karina’s Kitchen blog, 2008
Serving Size: 4

24 ounces salmon, skinless
1/2 red onion — thinly sliced
4 whole scallions — sliced (using equal amounts of dark green tops)
3 whole garlic cloves — sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons agave nectar
2 whole limes — halved
1 pinch cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
2. Tear off eight pieces of foil; two for each piece of salmon.The top piece can be slightly smaller than the bottom one. Spray 4 pieces with EVOO spray. Place garlic pieces on the foil, in a line where you are going to place the salmon. Then place one serving of salmon on one piece of foil, folding under the thin, tapered edge of the fish. Season with a little sea salt and fresh ground pepper.
3. Sprinkle the salmon with onions and scallions.
4. Combine the olive oil, agave, lime juice and touch of cinnamon in a glass measuring cup. Pour the sauce all over the salmon pieces.
5. Place the remaining pieces of foil on each serving and fold the edges to create a packet.
6. Bake in a preheated oven for roughly 20 minutes, until it flakes easily- but is not dried out. One inch thick fillets were perfect at exactly 20 minutes. When serving, remove the fish from the packet and place on a warm serving plate; discard the juices.
Per Serving: 284 Calories; 13g Fat (40.5% calories from fat); 35g Protein; 7g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 88mg Cholesterol; 118mg Sodium.

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