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Just finished 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 want that kind of book – you may not want to read this one.

Also finished Julian Fellowes’s Belgravia. You know Julian Fellowes, the producer and writer of Downton Abbey? He lends his mind to a story about a family or two from the similar time period as Downton, who live in London. There’s some amount of intrigue, romance, observations from within the halls of wealthy Londoners and moderately well off tradesmen and their families. There’s affairs, shady business dealings, an illegitimate child, the comings and goings of the “downstairs” staff too, etc. The characters were well done – I had no trouble keeping all of the people identified. The story is somewhat predictable, but it was interesting clear up to the end.

The Letter by Kathyrn Hughes. It’s a very intricate tale. At first it’s about Tina, a battered wife [at which point I paused and wondered if I wanted to read any further, but I’m glad I did]. She tries to get the courage to leave her husband. Then enters the letter she finds in a suit pocket in the thrift shop where she volunteers. It’s old – sealed and stamped, but never mailed. Then you learn about Crissie, decades earlier, a young pregnant girl who is sent off to Ireland to a distant relative by her father, then to a rigid (meaning horrible) convent [the book takes place mostly in Manchester, England and in rural Ireland]. The letter is addressed to her. Jump forward decades and William, the adopted child Crissie gave up, tries to find his birth mother. William meets Tina in Ireland [a serendipitous moment] as she’s trying to find the woman to whom the letter is addressed. This book is the #2 best seller on Amazon at the moment. It’s a riveting tale and I really enjoyed it.

The Muralist: A Novel by Shapiro. It tells the story of a young woman, an artist, who was part of the U.S.’s WPA mural project from the 1930s-40s (she is fiction, the WPA is not). As with so many artists, even today, they live in abject poverty through much of their lives. This woman, though, had family in France, desperately trying to escape before Hitler’s henchmen rousted them into concentration camps. The story, a bit of a mystery but not of the mystery-genre, is about Alizée Benoit, this young painter, who slightly captivates Eleanor Roosevelt’s help. It also skips into current time when the painter’s great-niece uncovers paintings she believes were painted by her aunt. The painter had disappeared into thin air in 1940, and her relative tries desperately to find out what happened to her. It’s a really good story including such Abstract Expressionist painters as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner well-woven into the narrative. It keeps you guessing right up to the end. A good read. The author also wrote The Art Forger: A Novel a few years ago.

Also recently read News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a free-lance job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her family was killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of an old (wild) west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many. Just read this one first!

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 Miscellaneous, Salads, on June 28th, 2013.


Oh, yum. I hate to use that word, but there’s really no other one to describe how scrumptious these are. Just slightly caramelized and enhanced with some Grand Marnier, honey, fresh lemon strips and fresh thyme sprigs. If you happen to have fresh figs, please do try these.

The other day I saw fresh figs at the market. I’ve probably mentioned it here before, but I’m no fan of Fig Newtons, which was mostly my introduction to figs from my childhood. If you’re of a certain age, then Fig Newtons were just about the only kind of fig anything there was. Growing up, we had a fig tree in our back yard, and my mother never did anything with figs except put them in a fruit bowl for my mom or dad to eat them out of hand. Fig Newtons? My dad loved them. He could eat them day in and day out. Not me. I didn’t mind the occasional fresh fig, though.

So, on the rare occasion when I see figs – now’s the season – I don’t usually know what to do with them. But then I got the idea to roast them – seems like nearly every living plant life is enhanced by oven roasting. I did a search online for “roasted figs” and up popped a recipe from my favorite Paris blogger, David Libovitz. He did something wonderful – fabulous – with fresh figs. My plan was to use them in a green salad. We’d been invited to dinner at our extended family and my task was to bring a green salad. I wanted something different. Something kind of special. So I made a salad (I’ll tell you about that in a day or two) with these figs beautifying the top.

roasted_figs_before_bakingThe figs . . . cut off the stems, halve them, then pour in the glaze stuff (Grand Marnier, warmed honey, fresh thyme, brown sugar). Toss them around gently, place them cut side down and roast for 15 minutes (if they’re really ripe and sweet) or longer, like 30 minutes (if they’re younger unripe figs) until they’re caramelized. I baked mineroasted_figs_after_baking cut side up (I misread the directions) and ended up turning on the broiler at the end just to give them that golden crispiness. I let them cool to room temp (I did them a couple of hours ahead of time) and covered them with plastic wrap. I just placed them on the salad – on the top – so they’d look beautiful. But oh gosh, were they delish. I think they’d be wonderful with vanilla ice cream, especially with some of the saucy stuff drizzled over the top. Or served on the side as a garnish or condiment along side a pork roast or chicken, or lamb.

What’s GOOD: everything about them. Who knew roasted figs could taste so darned good, I ask? Succulent, seedy (of course, that’s what figs are all about but in a good way) and these are perfectly caramelized. I thought they were terrific on a green salad.

What’s NOT: nothing whatsoever.

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Roasted Figs

Recipe By: David Libovitz’s blog, 2010
Serving Size: 8

1 pound fresh figs — (450g)
4 sprigs fresh thyme — (4 to 6)
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier — or Chartreuse, Pernod, or Cointreau
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
2 tablespoons honey
three 1-inch strips of fresh lemon zest

1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC).
2. Slice the tough stem end off the figs and slice each in half lengthwise.
3. Toss the figs in a large baking dish with the thyme, red wine or liquor, brown sugar, honey, and lemon zest. Turn the figs so that they are all cut side down in the baking dish, in a single layer.
4. For figs that are softer and juicier, cover the baking dish snugly with foil and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the figs are softened and cooked through. For figs that are firmer, with less liquid, roast them in the oven, uncovered, for 30 minutes, or until cooked through. If desired, and the figs are not quite golden brown, turn on broiler and just cook long enough for them to get a golden sheen.
5. When done, remove the baking dish from oven, lift off the foil, and let the figs cool completely. Variation: For more savory figs, replace the liquor with one or two tablespoons balsamic or sherry vinegar. Storage: Roasted figs can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week.
Per Serving: 76 Calories; trace Fat (2.1% calories from fat); trace Protein; 18g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 1mg Sodium.

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