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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 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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