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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 Salad Dressings, Salads, on March 16th, 2014.

crunchy_napa_cabbage_salad

Oh gosh, this salad is just SO good. I think I could eat this every other night for the rest of my life and not get tired of it. Does that tell you anything? Like – – you need to make this? It’s that good!

So what is this stuff? It’s mostly Napa cabbage cut into narrow shreds, a whole bunch of radishes, some snow peas (or sugar snap, because that’s what I had on hand), some green onions and toasted almonds. All that cloaked in a really delicious mayo-based dressing that’s sweet with a little bit of sugar, sour with a bit of white wine vinegar (I used white balsamic), and flavored with ground ginger, a bit of cayenne, a garlic clove and just a smidgen of toasted sesame oil and soy sauce. Then you add a cup of mayo. The salad part can be made ahead; so can the dressing; then you just combine them before serving, although you don’t use all the dressing. The salad is best served immediately, or within a few hours. The next day the cabbage is somewhat wilted, but the salad is still edible. Not at its peak, but still tasty. I don’t eat left over green salad cuz the green leaves just get limp – and to me they’re inedible. This cabbage salad was nowhere near that, so it IS definitely edible one day later.

The CRUNCH? It comes from the cabbage, the radishes, the peas and even the toasted almonds. All of it is crunchy. The origin of this recipe is Sunset Magazine. A month or two ago the magazine did a 25-year retrospective of their favorite recipes. This recipe – THIS ONE – was the #1 nominated recipe (from both readers and editors). More reason to make it. Again and again and again.

What makes it special? I’d say it’s the salad dressing. It has just a hint of Asian flavor (from the soy sauce and toasted sesame oil) but it’s very subtle. Truly, it is subtle. And I particularly liked the hint of sweet in it too. And the faint hint of heat from the cayenne. And it’s probably from the variety of veggies. The combo is just different. I don’t know who came up with this recipe, but I tip my hat to her/him.

What’s GOOD: absolutely everything. Love-love-love this salad. It’s going to go onto my favs list if that’s any indication of just how good it is.
What’s NOT: Nothing, other than the time required to slice and shred the veggies. But worth it, for sure.

printer-friendly CutePDF
Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click link to open in MC)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Crunchy Napa Cabbage Slaw

Recipe By: Sunset, January 2014
Serving Size: 8

1 pound Napa cabbage — coarsely shredded
12 ounces snow peas — strings removed, thinly sliced (or sugar snap peas)
1 1/3 cups radishes — thinly sliced
1 1/3 cups green onions — (including green tops), thinly sliced
1 1/3 cups cilantro — lightly packed, chopped
2/3 cup slivered almonds — toasted
CREAMY SOY DRESSING: (you’ll use 3/4 of this to dress the above salad)
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 clove garlic — peeled, minced
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 cup mayonnaise

1. In a large bowl, combine cabbage, snow peas, radishes, green onions, and cilantro.
2. DRESSING: Whisk together sugar, white wine vinegar, soy sauce, garlic clove, ground ginger and toasted sesame oil, and cayenne. Whisk in 1 cup mayonnaise.
3. Add about three-quarters of dressing and the almonds to cabbage mixture; mix to coat. Taste and mix in more dressing if you like. Pour into a serving bowl.
Per Serving (not accurate as you don’t use all the dressing in the recipe): 342 Calories; 30g Fat (74.5% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 17g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 10mg Cholesterol; 306mg Sodium.

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  1. KalynsKitchen

    said on March 18th, 2014:

    I am laughing because Simply Recipes and I have both posted this recipe. And now you have discovered it and also raved about it as well, so obviously it is a classic!

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