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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 Veggies/sides, on August 23rd, 2007.

roasted-asparagus
I was trying to put away a stack of miscellaneous recipes yesterday. I’m an inveterate recipe collector. I even have a sort-of-a furniture piece where I now store all of my clippings and miscellaneous food related paper. It’s a sort of file cabinet, but looks more like furniture. Sort of. Since I’ve been doing this recipe-collecting for about 45 years, there are a LOT of recipes and papers in there. I rarely purge. I have, but not much. I’m always certain that as soon as I do so, I’ll decide I really wanted that recipe.

These are rattan-type baskets inside a kind of 3-shelf stand in a wrought-iron frame. Doesn’t look like a file cabinet, exactly, and isn’t too unsightly. It sits in a hallway about 15 feet from my kitchen. When I file, I have to take a chair there and sit and sort. Because it’s not very convenient, I tend to pile up recipes and other filing (restaurant reviews, and a little bit of other food trivia stuff) until I have a bunch to go through. There are frames inside each basket which allow you to hang Pentaflex folders, so then I have pocket file folders for lots of food categories. You can see one pocket folder sticking up there. In case you’re interested, you can buy this piece at FurnitureFind. That’s not where I bought it, but since I couldn’t remember where it came from, I did a search and they do have it for $218.

So, I got distracted there. I was going through my stack of recipes to file. I was really trying to find a cauliflower and bacon soup I’d made awhile back (we had some from the freezer the other day and it was just wonderful, but I can’t find the original recipe . . . I’d like to make it again). But while sorting I ran across this recipe for asparagus. Brought back a pleasant mouth-watering memory.

I really should be posting this in about March when asparagus hits the markets in abundance. We can buy it year around, but surely it’s at its peak in the late spring. Some years ago I bought a Dacor oven. I L-O-V-E my Dacor oven. It has convection and regular baking options. I’d had a convection oven before, but never seemed to figure out, exactly, the best ways to use it, or when NOT to use it. So I was delighted to know that I could attend a cooking class at the Dacor headquarters, which are here in Southern California. In fact they’re only about 15 miles from our house. My friend Cherrie, who also owns a Dacor full range, and I have been to 2 or 3 Dacor classes. They’ve been great fun. Some are for Dacor owners; others you can attend for a fee.

Twice now she and I have been to the convection class. We keep needing refresher courses. I probably should have some kind of cheat-sheet I use to help me decide whether to use convection or not. Even with classes, I don’t always know. But this recipe was by far the standout recipe for convection use. And it was served both times, and I’ve made this innumerable times myself. It’s super easy. And scrumptiously delicious. I could make an entire MEAL of this asparagus. Don’t overwhelm the piquant flavors with a complicated or highly spiced entree. Allow the citrus flavors to bloom and predominate. The first time I made this, for a company dinner, I bought 3 pounds of asparagus, assuming we’d have lots of leftovers. At least that was my plan. Ha. Gone. All gone.
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Roasted Asparagus with Chile Citrus Butter

Recipe: Dacor
Servings: 6

2 pounds asparagus
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup orange juice — freshly squeezed
1/2 cup lemon juice — freshly squeezed
3 tablespoons cold butter
1 tablespoon cayenne
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 teaspoon orange zest
salt and pepper — to taste

1. Preheat oven to 375° on pure convection, if available. Cut off the ends of the asparagus. Rinse to remove any dirt or debris. Dry them on a dry towel to remove all moisture and allow to sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes before proceeding.
2. Layer the asparagus in a flat pan and season with salt and pepper, then drizzle on some olive oil, and toss with your fingers to cover all of the asparagus.
3. Bake for 15 minutes if they are of medium thickness. Use fewer or more minutes depending on asparagus size. If you don’t have a convection oven, just increase cooking time by a little bit.
4. Meanwhile heat a small saucepan containing the lemon and orange juice. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 5-6 minutes until the juice is reduced by half. Whisk in the butter, cayenne, salt and pepper. When asparagus is cooked, toss with this dressing and garnish with lemon and orange zest.
Per Serving: 127 Calories; 11g Fat (69.6% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 8g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 16mg Cholesterol; 61mg Sodium.

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  1. Elizabeth eeclegg@yahoo.com

    said on August 23rd, 2007:

    Love your soup library photo, wish I had one! I’ll have to start, thanks for sharing your tips.

    I have made the Grandgirl’s Apple Cake recipe you have in your recipes, its so good, great one to have on hand during apple season.

    The Califlower Bacon soup you mentioned sounds really good, I really like califlower soup but have never made one with bacon, of course it would be good! Do you think this might be the recipe you tried? http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/236879. If not, I hope you post it when you find it. Thank you!
    Elizabeth.

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