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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 Brunch, Chicken, Pork, on August 27th, 2013.

pork_turkey_breakfast_sausage

For a couple of years we’ve been enjoying a single breakfast sausage most mornings. Trying to make it more healthy, but not giving up the pork aspect altogether, we’ve settled on a mixture of half ground pork and half ground turkey. Delish.

For the longest time we ate Costco’s all pork breakfast sausage, which comes from a distributor in San Diego. If you go outside of SoCal, you’ll find different branded sausage at Costco. I’ve been trying to find more healthy alternatives, though, and at first I tried making sausage patties with all ground turkey. We just didn’t get the flavor and texture we were looking for, so after going back to breakfast sausageCostco’s sausage for some months I decided to give it another try. This time with the half and half mixture and more spices. I’ve been making this for about 3-4 months now, and we’re very happy with the results. One of these times I’m going to use slightly more turkey than pork.

The spice mixture started out as one from my friend Sue, who now lives in Colorado. Sue’s mild turkey breakfast sausage  had great flavor, so I went with her combination, but just used a bit more.

Here’s a little triptych at left of how I do it:

(1) all the meat goes into a big bowl

(2) the seasonings are sprinkled all over – do NOT just throw it into one little pile – it will never get mixed in well enough – trust me on this

(3) mix it up and separate those spices as much as possible

(4) use a cookie scoop (or a spoon) to make really large 2-tablespoon-sized balls, approximately, and roll them, then flatten carefully

(5) On a metal sheet lined with waxed paper (or foil) place the patties a hair’s breadth apart, stacking 2 layers with waxed paper in between layers

(6) place tray on a flat surface in the freezer and allow to freeze solidly for about 3-4 hours

(7) remove from freezer and gently pry the patties off the waxed paper and place in Ziploc freezer bags (the quart size will hold about 16 or so of them). Seal up and replace bags in the freezer.

Below is a photo of them during the freezing process. I balance the cookie sheet on several items in the freezer so they’re almost level – and not touching the top rack, obviously. Can you tell my freezer if pretty darned full? I make a double batch of these each time (2 pounds each of turkey and pork) and they keep just fine for a couple of months in the freezer.

sausage_freezing

When you’re ready to have some, remove the number you want from the freezer bag and slowly (on a low setting) microwave/defrost them for about a minute until they’re defrosted. Do not “cook” them in the microwave – once you actually start to cook them in a frying pan, they’ll cook unevenly if they were partially cooked in the microwave and will tend to dry out.

The only advice I have – don’t over cook them – if you make these you’ll learn how quickly these cook and to remove them just when they’re done. They go from tender and juicy to dry and firm (and not very tasty) in a jiffy.

What’s GOOD: we like everything about this combination. We feel a little bit healthier because we’ve cut out half the pork, but with some in it, it still has all the pork flavor I’m looking for. I really like the subtle mixture of spices – be sure to sprinkle the red chili flakes all over the bowl – they’re potently hot – I speak from the voice of experience here.
What’s NOT: nothing, really. It’s a bit of a nuisance to make, but you’ll have enough to last awhile. Or make a double batch like I do.

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Pork & Turkey Breakfast Sausage

Recipe By: Adapted from my friend Sue, from a friend of hers
Serving Size: 30

1 pound lean ground turkey — (a mixture of light and dark meat)
1 pound ground pork — (not seasoned, just plain ground pork)
2 teaspoons dried sage
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/8 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves — rounded

1. Place ground pork and turkey in a mixing bowl. As you add the seasonings, sprinkle them all over the meat, which makes it easier to distribute it when you mix it in.
2. As gently as possible mix in the herbs and form into individual patties (about 2 T each and use a cookie scoop if you have one) and place on a waxed-paper lined sheet pan. You can cook them at this point, but I freeze the whole batch. So, freeze them, then remove from waxed paper and store in a Ziploc freezer bag. To defrost, remove and use a low setting to defrost in microwave or place them in the refrigerator the night before you want to prepare them.
3. Fry the patties over low heat (they cook quickly and will dry out if cooked over high heat). When frying them, add just a little jot of canola oil to the pan if desired.
Per Serving: 62 Calories; 4g Fat (62.7% calories from fat); 6g Protein; trace Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 21mg Cholesterol; 161mg Sodium.

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