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My reading of late has been short and fitful, somewhat like my sleeping pattern, ever since my dear husband passed away. I’m still in 2 book clubs, though, and have wanted to keep up with the reading for those.

When I started reading The Divorce Papers: A Novel by Susan Rieger, I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue. Initially, it brought back too many unpleasant memories of my divorce in 1979-80. But I kept reading and soon was engrossed in the unusual approach. It’s about Sophie Diehl, a young criminal attorney who gets roped into working on this very messy divorce taken on by her law firm. The entire book is written via letters, documents and email messages between the pertinent parties in this divorce (the couple divorcing, their daughter, both attorneys, her boss, and one of Sophie’s best friends). It’s a clever book. As I write this, I’m about 80% through, so I don’t even know how it ends, but I’ve enjoyed the read so far.

Recently finished Orphan Train: A Novel by Christina Baker Kline. It’s about a little known period of time (1854-1929) when orphaned children were loaded onto trains on the East Coast and sent to the Midwest to be adopted by families who needed or wanted children. Some were adopted by people who were unfit; some of the children were lucky and found good, loving homes. This is the story of one of the girls, Vivian Daly and her journey. Woven into the story is a much later period of Vivian’s life when many facts of  her earlier experiences are revealed. A very, very interesting book; there’s a love story in it too.

Since I’m a fan of Ann Patchett, it’s no surprise that I wanted to buy her most recent book, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage. It’s a book of short stories, but not fictional ones – it’s a compilation of essays and articles she’s written over the course of her writing life. My favorite is the one in which she describes in intimate detail how she goes about writing a book. About the process, her thinking, and the the hard, hard work it entails. I loved every one of the stories. She is quite self-deprecating about the book – it likely wasn’t her idea to put it together as she never thought any of her essays were worth much. She wrote them to make a living. Each of the chapters (essays) has been updated and/or addended to, so she did have to put some spit and polish on all of them before sending this group to the publisher. She’s written essays for a very esoteric group of publications; some I’d never heard of. But I enjoyed the book from beginning to end.

Also just finished reading The Invention of Wings: A Novel by Sue Monk Kidd. What a story. Sometimes it’s a good thing to read the author’s notes before you read a book. I guess I’m glad I didn’t (in this case the notes were at the end of the book) because it was then, afterwards, that I read that one of the characters in this novel is fictional; the other two (sisters) were real. There’s a bit about the Quaker religion in this book too, which was different. This is a slavery story and about the beginnings of the abolitionist movement. Interwoven between the 2 sisters who make waves about anti-slavery is the poignant story of one particular slave and her hard, hard life. It’s heartbreaking in many respects, not just because of the violence and abuse heaped upon her. The book is almost a page-turner. Very glad I read it.

Also read The Four Seasons: A Novel of Vivaldi’s Venice by Laurel Corona. It was recommended to me by a friend, and I enjoyed it a lot. It has a rather unusual story line, all envisioned by the author from reading a tiny line of elaborate script from a journal at what remains of a foundling hospital (run mostly like a convent by Catholic nuns) in Venice. It said something like Antonio Vivaldi purchased “a bow for Maddalena Rossa.” That started the author’s novel journey. Two sisters are raised at the Ospedale della Pieta. One becomes famous for her violin skills; the other for her voice. One is married “out” and the other stays cloistered her entire life. Then you throw Vivaldi himself into the mix, as he really was paid by the Ospedale for his compositions and for teaching some of the residents to play instruments. It’s an enlightening story about Vivaldi himself (a priest, with a lot of questions about his piety). It takes place in the early 1700s. Fascinating story and I want to listen again in total to Vivaldi’s very famous work, The Four Seasons, as a result of reading this. I’ve heard it many times before, but it will have new meaning now.

IN THE POWDER ROOM: Our guest half-bath has a little tiny table with a pile of books that I change every now and then. They’re books that might pique someone’s interest even if for a very short read. The Art of Travel, a collection of essays about traveling (it’s not a how-to), gathering a variety of stories of some historic authors and where and why they traveled; The Greatest Stories Never Told; and Sara Midda’s South of France; also Forgotten Bookmarks: A Bookseller’s Collection of Odd Things Lost Between the Pages (just the cutest book – with a miscellany of things – letters, grocery lists, notes, reminders, confessions the author discovered hidden inside the books he purchased for his used bookstore); and The Trouble with Poetry (Billy Collins).

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small engraved sterling silver tea spoons that I use to taste as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Veggies/sides, on May 23rd, 2013.

asparagus_bits_of_bacon

Lovely steamed asparagus tossed with walnut (or hazelnut) oil and lemon juice, topped with a crispy mixture of bacon and onions. Very tasty.

‘Tis the season for asparagus and I love the stuff. I have my favorite ways of making it, the Crumbled Asparagus, and Roasted Asparagus with Chile Butter. But I wanted to try some new version of the green stuff. Out on my kitchen counter was Dorie Greenspan’s book, Around My French Table: More Than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours. There was a recipe, and I had all the ingredients on hand. Even better!

Actually, I pan-steamed the asparagus (large-ish skillet, a little olive oil, a little water, lid) until it was just barely done. Meanwhile I cooked up the bacon. I’ve changed the recipe just slightly, below, because 3 slices of extra-thick bacon was just too much, I thought. But when I served it, it was there, and 3 of us ate that entire platter of asparagus. And all the bacon. Ah-hem.

The asparagus is drained and then drizzled with the mixture of walnut oil (or hazelnut) and lemon juice. I did it with my hands because I needed to gently work the little bit of fluid all over the asparagus. A tall order. I think I probably used a bit more oil and lemon juice, then the warm bacon-onion mixture was lapped on top. Done.

What’s GOOD: Good texture, good flavor from the walnut oil and lemon juice. And the bacon. Well, what’s there not to like! It was relatively easy – 2 pans and a bowl.
What’s NOT: really nothing. I won’t call it a “wow” dish, but it was really good.

printer-friendly PDF – created using Cute PDF Writer, not Adobe
MasterCook 5+ import file – right click to save (remember where), run MC, File|Import

* Exported from MasterCook *

Asparagus with Bits of Bacon

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Dorie Greenspan’s book, Around My French Table
Serving Size: 4

2 slices thick-sliced bacon
1/2 small yellow onion — finely diced
3/4 pound asparagus — ends trimmed down, partially peeled if they’re large
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon walnut oil — or hazelnut oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. In a small skillet render the bacon over very low heat for 8-10 minutes, until it’s crispy and browned slightly. Remove to a paper towel.
2. Pour out all but a teaspoon of the bacon fat and return skillet to the stove. Add onion and cook it until it’s softened but not brown, about 7-8 minutes. Add bacon back to the pan and keep warm.
3. Meanwhile, in another skillet large enough to hold all the asparagus, add the water and then the asparagus. Gently move the stalks around, cover and cook over medium heat. Periodically move the asparagus so they all cook evenly. Press the tip of a sharp knife in the asparagus – when it gives with no pressure remove it from the heat and drain.
3. Combine the oil and lemon juice in a small bowl. Place the cooked asparagus on a serving plate, drizzle the vinaigrette over the top and add the bacon and onion mixture. Serve immediately.
Per Serving: 83 Calories; 7g Fat (69.8% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 3g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 5mg Cholesterol; 103mg Sodium.

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