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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 aging 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, wealthy women) 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.

I’ve written up an entire blog post about this book. (It hasn’t been posted yet, but will soon.) 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 Siena (and also San Gimignano) as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

 

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.

oven_roasted_figs

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.

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 *

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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