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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 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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