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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 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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