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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 Vegetarian, Veggies/sides, on August 16th, 2007.

calabacitas_july_2015

Ever heard of Calabacitas? I hadn’t until a few years ago when DH and I traveled to New Mexico and the mountains of Colorado. Dear friends from England joined us and we took a late September driving trip. We met up in Denver, rented an SUV and headed out. It took us 10 days to do the mountains of Colorado, then we headed south to New Mexico, ending up in Santa Fe. Our last night there we had dinner at the restaurant in the Inn at the Anasazi, and with my entree came this vegetable side. of zucchini, corn and poblano chiles. I was in heaven. I nearly licked the plate. Asked the waiter to tell me all about it, which he did.

So once I reached home I started searching around the internet for recipes for Calabacitas. It’s quite common in Southwest cuisine – it’s just a combination of some typical vegetables of the southwest but the seasoning and chiles from Mexico. Found several recipes, and have made a couple of different versions. But once I found this one from Rick Bayless (from the internet, but it’s from his cookbook Authentic Mexican), I’ve reverted to it more times than not. Most calabacitas versions are served without cream – traditional calabacitas just combine those three vegies -corn, zucchini and poblano chiles (that have been blackened over the gas range or under the broiler). But with the addition of the cream (or fat-free half and half as I’ve used also) it’s just meltingly delicious in the mouth. I really do plan to make this as my full meal one night. It’s that good. Or, I could just add to the dish some chicken broth and make it a great soup. The calories come from the cream, so really, do use the fat-free product instead and it’ll be nearly healthy.

Poblano (aka pasilla) chiles are quite mild – don’t be tempted to use any kind of hot chile in this recipe. If you can’t get poblanos, you could use a hotter chile but in very reduced quantity. Adding poblanos is not about heat, but about the depth of flavor poblanos bring to any dish. Since corn is on the wane these days, I want to enjoy this one more time before the season is completely gone.
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Calabacitas con Crema

Source: Rick Bayless, restaurateur, from his book Authentic Mexican
Servings: 8

1 lb zucchini — (about four small)
1 1/2 cups corn kernels, fresh if possible
1/2 whole onion — thinly sliced
2/3 cup heavy cream (or use fat-free half and half) – optional
1 whole poblano pepper — roasted, seeded, peeled and cut in thin strips
1 tsp salt
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1. Chop the zucchini in large chunks (about 3/4 inch to 1 inch) and set aside. Prepare onions ahead and set aside. Grill the poblano chile directly on a gas flame, cool, remove skin, then cut into small strips.
2. Using a very large skillet, heat butter and oil until very hot. Add zucchini and toss until tender. Remove the zucchini from the pan with a slotted spoon, allowing it to drain well. In the remaining oil and butter, fry the onion slices until soft and sweet, then add the corn and pepper slices. Add the zucchini and cream and cook until nice and hot. Taste for salt and pepper and serve.
Per Serving: 449 Calories; 46g Fat (89.9% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 9g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 58mg Cholesterol; 395mg Sodium.

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  1. Kate

    said on August 18th, 2007:

    This sounds SO delicious! I love all those ingredients, and zucchini is so ridiculously cheap at the Farmers market that I could make this every day. Poblanos are a terrific pepper, I just love them grilled and roasted.

    You might like my Poblano Rice dish that I make (a lot, it seems…its quite delish)

    http://cooknkate.wordpress.com/2006/09/18/poblano-rice-with-vegetables/

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