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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, 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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