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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 Soups, on August 19th, 2007.

Do you know what this is? It’s my soup library. We’re not into soup season yet. I look forward to making soups – lots of soups – when the weather turns colder. That certainly hasn’t happened here in Southern California – the weather turning cooler I mean. It’s been hotter in the last couple of days than it’s been all summer. In the 90’s. Sticky. At least it’s sticky for us. Yet I really love soups any time of year. But hearty soups don’t frequent my table when it’s hot. Except yesterday.
Soups are so comforting. Yesterday, my DH was (and still is today) suffering from a reaction to a drug he was taking, so I thought about defrosting some soup that will go down smoothly. His tongue is swollen. He’s itchy all over. Has a sore throat as part of the drug reaction too. So I said, how about I defrost some soup for lunch? He nodded yes since it hurts to talk.

When I make soup I usually make extra. Usually a lot of extra. It’s basically the same amount of work to make a soup for 4 as it is to make it for 10. Maybe a bit more chopping and mincing, but that’s it. But then we’ve got leftovers for a day or two later AND some to freeze.

My standard operating procedure is to pour hot soup out into a large flat pan (one of those quarter sheets) or anything large and flatish. Then I label the Ziploc half gallon size freezer bags (not the kind with a zipper) using a grease pencil, so the writing doesn’t come off in the freezer. I even write the quantity so I know how many each bag will serve. When the soup has cooled enough to handle, usually within 30-60 minutes, I scoop, ladle, or pour it into the bags, trying to portion out the contents – like getting equal amounts of chicken pieces or other chunky ingredients equalized. When I do this task I make sure there’s virtually no air in the bag. This is do-able with some patience by laying the bag flat on the counter and leaving just a corner of the bag open. Holding up that tiny open corner I slide the air bubbles toward the corner, easing air out of the bag before sealing it tight. Then I lay the bags flat on our cool granite countertop for a little longer to cool some more (maybe 20-30 minutes total, usually about 10-15 minutes per side, moving the bags to a different – cool – spot). Then they’re plopped into the refrigerator to cool down completely.

A couple of hours later, using a smallish cookie sheet that’s just the same size as the Ziploc bag, I lay a soup bag on the sheet and place it in a level place in the freezer. The levelness is critical because you don’t want to stand up bags later that are heavier weighted at one end. They cause problems in the “library.” I carefully straighten the bag first, so corners aren’t crinkled (wrinkled corners will sometimes crack in the freezer if you juggle the frozen “flats” around now and then. Once frozen solid, another bag goes onto the sheet and I continue until all bags are frozen. Once frozen the bags stand upright in the “library.” Much easier to handle. Much easier to see. Much easier to remove from the shelf too.
I still have 11 soups lined up in waiting, even after removing one today. We had some tomato soup for lunch. Some of that wonderful cream of tomato soup I made in June from the French bistro cooking class in Sonoma. You can spot the bags of tomato soup in the library – all the same color, all lined up like soldiers. Or sardines in a can. Or books on the shelf.

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  1. Kristen

    said on August 20th, 2007:

    You are brilliant. I love the idea of freezing soup like this. Fantastic idea!

  2. Susan

    said on September 22nd, 2008:

    My friend sent me your link and said “you’ll really enjoy this!” We too have done this very same thing and LOVE the way we can stack it like a “library” just like your picture. It is so FUN to see that someone else does this too. We freeze our spaghetti and chili this way . . making a large enough batch that we only have to make it once a season. Another advantage of freezing in the bags is they defrost quickly in a sink of water. We freeze many of the veggies/fruits from our garden this way and stack the bags of each veggie type in a wire baskets labeled with each veggie name. . . helps keep the ‘jungle in the freeze’ a bit tamed!

    Hi Susan – Am glad you liked my post. At the moment (September) we’re just starting to get into soup season again. In fact we’re having some tonight. I’m looking forward to making more soups this winter. I just have to make room in the freezer. Unfortunately, I’m a freezer pack-rat, and have a hard time throwing out things. We’ll have to EAT some soup before I can freeze any MORE soup! Good for you, though, for freezing so much of your garden’s produce. I also freeze chili and stews in the same manner. . . Carolyn

  3. Connie Langford

    said on February 3rd, 2011:

    Thanks, Carolyn for the great idea. More economical – spacewise. I only have a refrigerator freezer, so this will help a lot!!

    You’ll be so glad once you see how great it works. . . carolyn t

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