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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 Appetizers, on August 16th, 2007.

crostini with blue cheese, mascarpone, watercress, apple and honey drizzle

Crostini is an Italian word – I think it means little toasts, or something similar. That’s exactly what these are. The recipe calls for a nut or fruited bread. Here in Southern California we can buy bread from La Brea Bakery (Nancy Silverton’s famous bakery, although it’s been sold to a big baking conglomerate). They have a raisin and pecan baguette that is perfect for this crostini. Otherwise find some kind of nut bread or fruit bread if at all possible. You slice and lightly toast the pieces, spread on a little bit of the cheese mixture containing mascarpone and blue cheese, some thinly sliced apples, then you top each one with some watercress leaves, THEN you lightly drizzle the top with honey. Oh. My. Goodness. Delicious. This recipe is going into my TOP FAV’s over on the right column.

Last Fall Cherrie and I attended a cooking class at Our House South County, in San Juan Capistrano. It was all about apples. The cooking school had about 10 varieties of apples from New England shipped to them and they developed recipes all around them. We did a tasting of 6 different apples with 6 different artisanal honey varieties. Gosh were those good. Many of the apples are varieties we can’t buy here in California. They’re never available in our local markets. So they have to be shipped.

Remember my adage about cooking classes – if I come home from a cooking class with even one special recipe that I’ll make, then I count that class as successful and worth the class fee. THIS is the recipe from that class, and I’ve made them several times.

With apples, you sort of have to cut them up just before you eat them or they will turn brown. If you want to get everything ready before you serve them, you could toss the apples with lemon juice, but I’m not crazy about the lemon juice taste on the crostini. So maybe just acidulated water (a bit of lemon juice in a cup of water) would be better. You can leave the skin on the apples – in fact the crostini look prettier with it on, especially if you’re using a red skinned apple. Everything else can be prepared ahead and then it’s just a matter of assembling them. I’ve been known to ask a guest to make them for me. But, you may want to make one and taste it so you know the proportion of cheese to watercress, apple and honey. The honey helps everything stick, so usually you layer the cheese, then the apples, then a bit of watercress, then honey on top.

This is one of those recipes that had I read it in a magazine or a cookbook, I probably would NEVER have made it. Why? Well, I’m not sure I can say. There isn’t anything I don’t like in this combination, but I don’t know that I would have bothered to layer everything up, toast the toasts, etc. Lots of detail work. And yes, that’s true, there is a bit of fussy work to be done to serve these. But the end result is extraordinary. And worth it. Absolutely everyone I’ve served this to has raved about it. So will you, if you try it. I guarantee it.
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Crostini with Blue Cheese, Apples & Watercress

Recipe from: Our House South County Cooking School (now closed)
Servings: 30
NOTES: This sounds kind of ho-hum. But the combination of the mild blue cheese spread with the fresh, crispy apple slices, the watercress for crunch, and the drizzle of honey makes it sublime. I buy La Brea Bakery’s pecan and raisin bread, slice it thin, toast it for about 8-10 minutes at 350. This is best with some kind of fruited bread.

BLUE CHEESE SPREAD:
1 cup mascarpone cheese — softened
2 tablespoons heavy cream
4 teaspoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons fresh thyme — minced and crushed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper — freshly ground
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
2 cups blue cheese — crumbled
CROSTINI:
30 slices baguette bread — nut or raisin, toasted lightly
2 large apple — thinly sliced (use a crisp, sweet apple type like Gala, Honeycrisp)
4 teaspoons honey
3 cups watercress — leaves only
1. CHEESE: Mix mascarpone, cream, lemon juice, thyme, salt, pepper, cayenne together in a medium bowl. Gently stir in blue cheese. Cover and chill until ready to serve.
2. CROSTINI: Allow cheese spread to warm to room temperature, then spread it onto the toasted bread slices. On half of the blue cheese spread, place thin apple slices, and on the other half lay a few pieces of watercress, pushing it on slightly so it will adhere. Drizzle the honey over the top and serve.
Serving Ideas : You can’t assemble this ahead, but it doesn’t take much time to assemble if you have everything ready in small dishes. A tray of these will keep at room temperature for about an hour. AND, leftovers the next morning are just fine.
Per Serving: 123 Calories; 5g Fat (38.1% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 15g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 12mg Cholesterol; 280mg Sodium.

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  1. Raven

    said on May 12th, 2008:

    That spread recipe comes from Country Living, So you might have seen it in a magazine.

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