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I’m going to write up an entire blog post about this book. It may be one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a memoir by Pat Conroy (an author I’ve long admired). He died a year or so ago – sad, that. In order to get the most out of My Reading Life, I recommend you BUY THE HARDBACK. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s an autobiography of sorts, but not really. He never wrote one, I don’t think, and I doubt he would ever have written one as he likely didn’t believe anyone would want to read about his (sad) life. In this memoir, he chronicles the books (and the people who recommended them) that influenced his life. Starting at his mother’s knees and continuing through influential teachers and mentors and friends. One of my book clubs read it, and I devoured it, cover to cover, with little plastic flags inserted all the way through to re-read some of the prose. Pat Conroy was a fabulous writer – he studied words from a young age and used them widely and wisely throughout his writing, but better than most authors would. He adored his mother, and hated (with venom) his aviator military father who physically abused everyone in the family, including his mother. They all took it like stoic Buddhas. I’m going to have to read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel because of reading this book. I’ve never read it. Conroy says that book’s first page is the best first page of any book he ever read in his life. Wow. And maybe my book group is going to re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Vintage Classics) too because of the chapter on that book. We might have to assign that to a 2-month or longer read. If you have friends or family who are avid readers, this would make a great gift, this book, My Reading Life. If YOU are a reader, it needs to be on your bookshelf, but in hardback, so you can go back to it and re-read his stories. It’s a series of essays, each one about a sub-section of his life. A must-have and a must-read.

Also read The Towers of Tuscany by Carol Cram. It was a bargain book through amazon or bookbub (e-book). Back in the Middle Ages women were forbidden to be artists. Their only place was in the home, caring for children and sewing and cooking. But the heroine in this book was taught to paint by her widowed artist-father (in secret, of course). When her father suddenly dies, all hell breaks loose and she must fend for herself. Much of the book takes place in Florence as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

Also finished The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: A Novel by Gabrielle Zevin. It popped up on a list I subscribe to and was available for $1.13 as an e-book. As it begins, you’re hearing from A.J., a grieving widower who owns a bookstore on an obscure island off the East Coast. He’s angry, rude and every other negative adjective you can imagine. A book rep comes to visit and he’s awful to her, yet she perseveres and manages to sell him a few books. You get to know his friends (a friendship with him is full of sharp points) and one day an abandoned toddler is found in his bookshop. In between the story line about A.J., the book rep, the little girl and others, you will learn all about A.J.’s book tastes. If you’re an avid reader, you’ll really enjoy that part. It’s a charming book; loved it.

Also read a quirky book, Goodbye, Vitamin: A Novel by Rachel Khong. She’s a new writer (newly published, I guess I should say) and this story is about Ruth, a 30+ something, trying to readjust to life without her fiance, who’s dumped her. She goes back home to help with the care of her father, who has Alzheimer’s. Written in a diary style, it jumps all over about her life, her mother, the funny, poignant things her father says on good days, and the nutty stuff he does on not-so-good days, her ex-, and her very quirky friends, too. Then a woman flits through who had had an affair with her father –  you get to observe all the angst from the mom about that. Mostly it’s about her father, as he’s relatively “together” early in the book, but then he disintegrates. Reading that part isn’t fun, although the author is able to lean some humor into it. I’m not sure I recommend the book exactly – I read it through – and felt sad. It doesn’t tie up loose ends – if you need that kind of book – you may not want to read this one.

 

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 Pork, pressure cooker, on June 4th, 2013.

pork_stew_calvados_cream

Another one of those “brown” photos. It’s so very hard to give brown colored food any eye appeal. All I can tell you is that this dish was absolutely sensational. The flavors – oh my goodness yes. I’ll be making this again and again. It would even be good enough for guests. What you see there is browned pork chunks (at top), sweet potatoes (bottom and far right), an organic purple carrot (right side, vertical) and fennel (left). And drizzled over the top is the lightly creamed Calvados and broth which was then topped with chopped chives. Thank goodness for chives!

Out of the freezer came our last package of Berkshire pork. It was pork chunks, and by the time I got into the kitchen to start dinner, it was after 4pm, so I needed to figure out something fast. What I didn’t know was what kind of pork it was – it was labeled pork stew meat, that’s all. It could have been trimmings from pork chops, pork shoulder, tenderloin bits, or pork loin. All needing different cooking times. But oh well, I just had to guess. With time of an essence, I knew I needed to do this in the pressure cooker, so the recipe below is done that way, but you can do this all without one – just cook the meat mixture on the stove until barely cooked through, and cook the vegetables until they’re tender. You can add the Calvados cream ingredients with everything in the pot.

You know about Calvados, right? It’s an apple brandy from the northern part of France. It’s still a brandy. I’ve had my bottle for about 15 years, and with this dish I emptied it. We never drink it – I use it exclusively for cooking. Time for a new one now. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it:

Calvados is distilled from cider made from specially grown and selected apples, of which there are over 200 named varieties. It is not uncommon for a Calvados producer to use over 100 specific varieties of apples, which are either sweet (such as the Rouge Duret variety), tart (such as the Rambault variety), or bitter (such as the Mettais, Saint Martin, Frequin, and Binet Rouge varieties), the latter being inedible. The fruit is harvested (either by hand or mechanically) and pressed into a juice that is fermented into a dry cider. It is then distilled into eau de vie. After two years aging in oak casks, it can be sold as Calvados. The longer it is aged, the smoother the drink becomes. Usually the maturation goes on for several years.

Don’t Have a Pressure Cooker?

Just cook the pork low and slow until it’s tender, add the veggies and cook those until just tender and add the Calvados and cream in at the end. The pressure cooker just cut down the cooking times, that’s all.

Here’s what I did: I sprinkled the pork chunks with Herbes de Provence, then browned them until they were caramelized brown on several sides, not crowding the pieces. That took 2 batches. I removed the meat and poured out the fat that had accumulated in the pan. Meat went back in, then I added a 6-ounce (can) of pineapple juice, 1 1/2 cups of water, bay leaves, fresh thyme sprigs, salt and pepper, and Penzey’s soup base (I used pork, but chicken would be fine). I pressure cooked that for about 13 minutes. Cooled it under a cold running tap, and the pork was just perfectly cooked. I removed the meat (because I didn’t want to cook the meat any further – it was perfectly cooked), then I added all the vegetables and apples and those were pressure cooked for 4 minutes. The vegetables were perfectly cooked so I removed them also. With the liquid left in the pan I added the shallot and Dijon mustard and let that simmer for a few minutes until the shallot was cooked. Then I added the cream and heated it through, then in went the Calvados. I cooked that for 2-3 minutes just so it would boil-off the alcohol. Then I added the meat back in and let that simmer for 2-3 minutes so the meat would be piping hot. The veggies stayed hot, so those were divided amongst the wide soup bowls, then I spooned the meat equally between the bowls (there won’t be lots of meat per person – 2 pounds of pork doesn’t end up being all that much, surprisingly) and poured the Calvados cream over them equally as well. Chopped chives went on top and it was ready to serve.

What’s GOOD: Oh, just everything. The meat, the juices, the veggies, the apples and of course, the creamy Calvados sauce I drizzled over the top. You’ll be licking the bowl.
What’s NOT: nothing whatsoever. Unless you don’t like stew. Or meat, or you’re averse to a little bit of cream.

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Pork Stew with Fennel, Carrots, Apples, Sweet Potato and Calvados Cream (Pressure Cooker)

Recipe By: My own concoction, 2013
Serving Size: 4

2 pounds pork shoulder — fat trimmed, cut in 1″ chunks
1 1/2 teaspoons Herbes de Provence
2 tablespoons canola oil
6 ounces pineapple juice — or apple juice
1 1/2 cups water
2 whole Turkish bay leaves
6 sprigs fresh thyme — left whole
1 teaspoon Penzey’s chicken soup base — or pork soup base, if you have it
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
VEGETABLES:
1 large fennel bulb — trimmed, quartered
1 large sweet potato — peeled, cut in large pieces
2 small apples — peeled, cored, cut in wedges
10 ounces carrots — peeled, cut in chunks
CALVADOS CREAM:
1 whole shallot — peeled, finely minced
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard — French style
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons Calvados — (apple brandy) or regular brandy
2 tablespoons fresh chives — minced, for garnish

1. Trim the pork of the bigger pieces of fat, if possible. Toss them with the dried herbs.
2. In a tall pressure cooker heat the oil and brown the pork pieces over medium heat. Don’t crowd the pan (do this in 2 batches). Remove pieces to a plate.
3. Drain and discard the fat in the pan. Add pineapple juice, water, Bay leaves, fresh thyme sprigs, soup base and seasonings. Transfer the pork pieces back into the pan.
4. Bring the pressure cooker up to pressure and simmer for 13 minutes. Place under cold water tap to reduce heat quickly. Taste the pork to see that it’s done – it should be just perfectly tender and juicy. If it’s not, continue to pressure cook for 2-3 minuites at a time until the meat is cooked through but not dry. Remove meat from the pan and set aside.
5. Add the fennel, sweet potato, apples and carrots. Bring the pressure cooker back up to pressure and cook for 4 minutes. Again, place under cold running tap to cool quickly. Remove all the vegetables to another plate and set aside. Discard thyme stems.
5. To the liquid in the pan (about a cup) add the shallot and Dijon mustard and cook over medium-high heat until the shallot is tender, about 3-4 minutes. Add heavy cream and cook for about 1 minute at a slow simmer. Add the Calvados brandy and stir in. Continue to heat until the mixture comes to a boil. Add the meat back into the pan and heat the meat slowly for about 2-3 minutes.
6. Divide the vegetables in 4 wide soup bowls. Divide the meat and Calvados cream over each serving and garnish with chopped chives. Serve immediately.
Per Serving (this assumes you eat all the fat, most of which is drained off after you brown the meat): 699 Calories; 45g Fat (59.7% calories from fat); 32g Protein; 37g Carbohydrate; 7g Dietary Fiber; 148mg Cholesterol; 352mg Sodium.

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