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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 Pasta, Salads, on August 27th, 2007.

sicilian-tuna-salad

It’s the capers, of course, that make this uniquely Sicilian. Whether the Sicilians were the first to utilize the little buds, I don’t know. I buy a giant economy sized bottle of capers at my local Italian market. A large jar isn’t cheap, but I’ve had this jar for about 5 years, I think. Caper berries are also available – they’ve just been allowed to mature to a bigger size, hence they’re berries, rather than buds. I do like capers a lot, but only in small quantity. I once ordered chicken piccata at some restaurant and it had so darned many of them, and probably a bit of the pickle juice, I couldn’t eat it. But in moderation, they add a kind of piquant character to any dish in which you choose to use them. Just be sure to rinse them a little before using them.

I think capers are not common in tuna salad, but when I had this, it was just really, really good. There’s nothing else in it that is that unusual. I’ve never been able to put my finger on why this combination is so darned good, but maybe it’s the capers and lemon juice together that bring something different to the equation. And the fact that you use imported tuna packed in oil. And there’s no mayo in it. There’s just lots of flavor there.

sicilian-tuna-salad-closeupSicily abounds with lemons. There are lemons on trees obviously, lemons in the market, lemons in art, lemons in ceramics, lemons even in the ancient carvings. If you buy dinnerware, often it will contain pictures of lemons. The early people obviously found every possible way to utilize the citrus. Sicilians use lemon juice in lieu of vinegar, so it’s found in every avenue of their cuisine. And how could I forget Limoncello? Oh, so good is that liqueur.

But we’re talking about a pasta salad here . . . this came from a Joanne Weir cooking class some years ago. I’d have gone right on by this recipe had I not tasted it, figuring what’s one more cold pasta salad with tuna. But this was just different. Better. Tastier. Tangier. Every time I’ve made this it has renewed my enjoyment of it.
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Sicilian Tuna Salad

Recipe: Joanne Weir, author and instructor
Servings: 4
COOK’S NOTES: Buy the oil-packed tuna, since the flavor is significantly better. The salad is really good and can be made up ahead. It keeps for 4-5 days with little or no deterioration. It is a fairly dry pasta salad – you can add more oil if you want to. If it’s summer and you can find good tomatoes, they are a wonderful addition to the top of the salad or on the plate with it.You can use different pasta if you would prefer.

6 ounces tuna in oil — drained
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 pound penne pasta
2 tablespoons lemon juice — must be fresh
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons capers — rinsed and drained
1/4 cup Italian parsley — chopped
1/4 cup fresh basil — chopped
1/4 cup fresh cilantro — chopped

1. Drain the tuna as much as possible. Place tuna in a large bowl and using a fork break it into flakes. Set aside.
2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a teaspoon of salt, then add the penne, stir well, and cook ONLY until pasta is “al dente,” firm to the tooth. This will be about 10-12 minutes depending on the brand. Drain well.
3. Meanwhile, into the bowl add the lemon juice, olive oil, remaining salt, and the pepper. Then add the hot, drained pasta and stir well.
4. Add the capers, parsley, basil, and cilantro and mix gently. Taste and adjust for seasonings. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.
5. Transfer the salad to a serving bowl or divide amount individual plates. It is better if it is served at near room temperature. Garnish with additional Italian parsley sprigs or basil leaves.
Per Serving: 359 Calories; 11g Fat (28.4% calories from fat); 20g Protein; 44g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 8mg Cholesterol; 970mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on August 20th, 2016:

    Made this after you linked to it in your Clementina’s Tuna Pasta Salad post, and it went over very well at my house! It was super easy and quick to make, perfect for a summer evening, and we all liked it. I put in some halved cherry tomatoes from my garden, otherwise following the recipe as written.

    I’m so glad you liked it. I occasionally get a craving for that salad. I’ve been making it for years and years, ever since I attended the cooking class where it was made. It’s the capers in it, I think, that make it unique. . . carolyn t

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