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Just finished reading How It All Began: A Novelby Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant (she arrived after the birth, actually). Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the father is a wealthy man in the area who carries a lot of clout. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

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 middle-aged 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, and wealthy) 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.

 

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, easy, on February 28th, 2014.

crostini_grape_leaves_olives

Need an easy artichoke heart mixture to serve to guests that’s tasty and very quick to put together? And has no mayo or sour cream in it?

This recipe has been in my arsenal for years, from a decades-ago class I took from Joanne Weir. I’d forgotten all about it, but noticed that it didn’t have a photo attached to it (this in my MasterCook software program I use for all my recipes). That’s an automatic signal that I took the class long before I began taking a quick pix of the food when I attended the class. It also meant I’d not written it up here on my blog either! Since it’s an easy recipe to make, I chose to include it for a dinner party we were having recently.

Making it the day before is no problem – in fact it helped me to get at least one dish done ahead of time. This topping/dip keeps for about a week or so. In the class Joanne just chopped up the ingredients on a cutting board. It calls for canned or defrosted artichoke hearts, not marinated type, a few brined grape leaves, garlic, green olives –  Joanne called for picholine but I couldn’t find that type the day I went shopping so I used a plain green olive – some Parmigiano cheese, lemon juice and just a little bit of EVOO to smooth it out. That’s IT. Easy, huh? Changing the type of olive in this would likely change the flavor profile a little bit. Don’t use kalamata – they would overpower the mixture. Don’t use ripe olives, and don’t use the green stuffed olives either.

When I made this I used the food processor – I was into “easy” that day. If you’d prefer a bit more texture to the spread, then definitely do the mince and chop version. Do allow the mixture to refrigerate for a few hours – so the garlic isn’t so harsh and it has time to permeate it all.

What’s GOOD: how easy it is to make, plus it keeps for awhile. Make it 2 days ahead – that’s fine too. Very tasty – you definitely know it’s artichoke hearts but you can’t exactly pick out the grape leaves (it adds just a little bit of sharpness) along with the lemon juice. Very delish appetizer that I’ve made over and over.
What’s NOT: you might not have brined/jarred grape leaves on hand (I didn’t) but I found them easily enough at my local upscale market. And you might not have the right olives – but I substituted some other small green olives instead.

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Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click link to open in MC)

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Crostini with Artichokes, Grape Leaves and Olives

Recipe By: From a cooking class with Joanne Weir
Serving Size: 8

6 large artichoke hearts — frozen, defrosted (or canned, drained)
4 whole grape leaves — bottled, rinsed
1/3 cup green olives — Picholine, pitted, chopped
1 clove garlic — minced
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel
8 shaves Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — crumbled
1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
24 pieces French baguette sliced
lemon wedges for garnish

Notes: This can be made ahead, but don’t add garlic until just before serving. Use a country bread – coarse textured, about 2 inches in diameter. You can also grill the bread slices rather than bake them. I made this in a food processor until it was smooth, so I didn’t do quite so much mincing and chopping and let the processor do all the work.
1. Remove the stems from the grape leaves before mincing.
2. In a bowl combine the chopped artichoke hearts, grape leaves, olives, cheese, garlic and lemon zest. Pour mixture onto a cutting board and continue to chop together until coarsely chopped. Place mixture back in the bowl and add cheese, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. Use plenty of salt, as once you put it on bread, it dilutes the salt. Taste for additional lemon juice as well. If made ahead, allow mixture to sit out at room temp for at least 30 minutes.
3. Coat the thin bread slices with olive oil and a little salt, then bake in a 400° oven until just crisp. Do not overbake. Serve crostini with a thin slather of the artichoke mixture.
Per Serving: 292 Calories; 7g Fat (21.3% calories from fat); 11g Protein; 47g Carbohydrate; 6g Dietary Fiber; 4mg Cholesterol; 709mg Sodium.

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