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Just finished reading The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. What a WONDERFUL book. It opens up a shameful part of America’s past, but one you might not have heard about before this. In the late 1800s thousands of Chinese workers were brought to the West Coast to help with a variety of construction projects and a myriad of other things where laborers were needed. Many settled, married and made a new life for themselves. But suddenly the white population didn’t want them here anymore and they summarily ordered them ALL out of our country. This book chronicles a young Chinese girl, who was on a ship that was supposed to take her family to China, but the ship’s captain decided en route to dump them all overboard, to drown. The girl’s father knew it was going to happen and in order to save her, he threw his daughter off the ship as they were passing Orcas Island (in the San Juan Islands west of Seattle). She was saved. The book switches from that time to current time as a woman is rebuilding her family’s home on Orcas and finds a beautifully embroidered silk Chinese robe sleeve hidden under a stair step. The book is about that sordid past and the young girl’s descendents, and about the woman who is rebuilding. Stunner of a novel. Good for a book club read, I think. It has a reader’s guide at the back with good questions for book groups.

How It All Began: A Novelby Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant (she arrived after the birth, actually). Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the father is a wealthy man in the area who carries a lot of clout. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

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 middle-aged 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, and wealthy) 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.

 

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 Appetizers, Vegetarian, Veggies/sides, on May 6th, 2015.

grilled_veggie_antipasto

That photo doesn’t look like much. Where’s the tiny sprinkle of chopped parsley? Or maybe a green vegetable in there? Well, none. When I made this, I’d been home from my trip only a few days. I’d purchased the veggies (Trader Joe’s was out of zucchini) and chose the red bells, yellow squash and the eggplant. And then I was just so sick, making this became an afterthought. I did make it, I just didn’t eat it for about a week.

While I was in Italy, I was quite enamored with the trays and platters of grilled or roasted vegetables that were in every trattoria. Of course, each and every time we were served the antipasto, we had a big basket of bread to go along with it, and a bottle of olive oil to drizzle on anything and everything (they provide it on the table, like we do salt and pepper). So once I got home, this was the first thing I wanted to make. To figure out how the Italians do it, if it’s anything different than just rubbing oil on veggies and grilling or roasting them. My darling DH was really good at grilling sliced veggies like that, and particularly red peppers, but also zucchini and onions. I’m still far from an expert at grilling – it’s a new skill since I always had Dave to do it for me. Now it’s a hassle to me, to uncover the BBQ, clean it, oil it, heat it, stand there and watch the grilling, getting hot and sweaty, then waiting until everything cools off to put it all away (and covered) for another day. [Message to my dear DH in heaven: thank you, honey, for all the years of grilling you did for me, even weeknight dinners, and for always being willing to do it.]

I have a bunch of Italian cookbooks, and some in my upstairs, little-used bookshelves of cookbooks. I hunted and hunted for what I thought we’d had. Finally, I concluded that maybe it’s such a simple thing – just like I mentioned – oiled and grilled – that nobody considers it a “recipe” as such. I did find one recipe, though, that has you soak the veggies in an Italian vinaigrette for a day before grilling. Although I wasn’t so sure that had been done in any of my Italian samplings, I decided to try it. It’s certainly more fancy than what we had, but I figured it would be good no matter what.

Dutifully, I followed the recipe and soaked the sliced vegetables in the vinaigrette for about 24 hours. In that time the veggies soaked up just about every bit of the liquid. Because I wasn’t feeling all that great (the food poisoning I had was really kicking me down), I decided not to grill them, but to make it easier on myself, I roasted them at 350° using another recipe I’d found.

I have the most wonderful readers . . . my reader Donna W, who frequently leaves comments (bless you, Donna!) emailed to suggest that she was sure she’d seen a very simple veggie antipasto in one of Frances Mayes books, so I went looking for what books I have of hers. I don’t have her cookbook (Under the Tuscan Sun – the cookbook) but I did have Bella Tuscany, and sure enough, there’s a short paragraph in that book about a very simple grilled veggie. But by then I’d already begun marinating them, so next time I’ll try Frances’ version, which truly is grilling oiled veggies.

Baking them took about 45 minutes, turning the veggies every 15 minutes, and the eggplant was the quickest to cook through, so I removed that after 30 minutes. And although I like eggplant, the one I purchased was a fairly big one – and it was too seedy. (Next time I should try to buy the smaller, narrower ones.) I peeled it, which also takes away from the “beauty” of an eggplant. Once roasted, the eggplant takes on that kind of ugly brown look. Not pretty. In the photos I have from my trip, the eggplant was definitely done on a grill (grill marks visible) and it was definitely very fresh, because the flesh is still white-ish, not brown or gray. So, I suppose the eggplant was cooked over a medium hot grill – the interior was soft and silky smooth, but the outside still retained its shape. Next time I’d not marinate the eggplant at all.

Also, I must have been too liberal with the acid in the vinaigrette (red wine vinegar and lemon juice) so I needed to drizzle a bit more olive oil onto the veggies once they were done.

What’s GOOD: these were good, but I won’t say they were exceptional. Maybe when I was in Italy I was enamored with the moment, the thrill of being in Italy, eating in different little places every single day, exploring the varieties of vegetables they did grill or roast – like leeks and long-cooked cippolini onions. The other thing is that the vegetables grown in Italy may very well be more tasty than what we can buy here. I think organic veggies usually have better flavor, but I don’t think that’s what I bought here. Europeans are much more veggie-pure, I’ll call it – they are looking for flavor, not fertilizing for size and greedy prices! As I mentioned, next time I’m going to just oil and grill using a different, much more simplified recipe and I’ll try organic too.  I added more herbs (I had only dried, not fresh) and totally forgot the parsley at the end. In most of the trattorias they served red bell peppers, sometimes green ones, small eggplant and zucchini. Sometimes whole tomatoes also. Never yellow squash. It probably wasn’t in season yet.

What’s NOT: I didn’t think the vinaigrette added that much to the dish. Maybe my palate was still “off,” also because of my food poisoning I was still recovering from when I finally ate this. It may not have been the fault of the veggies or the marinating. Guess I won’t know until I do this again. I have some zucchini in the refrigerator right now, so perhaps I’ll try them, just them, and see how I do, if I like it better.

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Roasted Vegetable Antipasto

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Foodgeeks blog.
Serving Size: 4

1/3 cup olive oil — or a little more as needed
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh basil
1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon crumbled dried thyme
2 cloves garlic — minced
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh parsley — minced
Salt and Pepper to taste
VEGETABLES:
1 small yellow squash
1 zucchini
1 small eggplant — buy the small, thinner ones
1/2 red bell pepper
1/2 yellow bell pepper
1/2 large red onion
Fresh parsley for garnish — minced
Parmesan cheese shavings, optional
More olive oil drizzled on top, if desired

1. Mix all ingredients of the marinade in a heavy-duty plastic Ziploc bag and squish so it’s well blended.
2. Trim all vegetables and slice lengthwise in ¼-inch thick slices. Add the sliced vegetables to the marinade bag, making sure all the vegetables have had contact with the marinade. Let stand, covered and chilled for at least 4 hours or overnight.
3. Turn the bag of vegetables occasionally to ensure they stay coated with the marinade. Before cooking, drain the vegetables, reserving the marinade.
4. GRILL: Heat a grill pan over moderately high heat until hot. Add vegetables and grill, in batches, for 3-4 minutes on each side, or until tender. Transfer vegetables to a serving platter, drizzle with remaining marinade and sprinkle with parsley, olives and Parmesan shavings. OR ROAST: roast the vegetables in a single layer, on parchment paper, in a 350°F oven, turning the pieces over every 15 minutes. The eggplant will take about 30 minutes or less, the others about 45 minutes. Allow to cool, decoratively place the vegetables on a serving platter, taste for seasonings (like more salt and pepper) drizzle the remaining marinade over the top and garnish with parsley, cheese and more olive oil if needed.
Per Serving: 224 Calories; 19g Fat (70.1% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 15g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 31mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on May 6th, 2015:

    Why not browse the internet for recipes by Yottam Ottolenghi or Giorgio Locatelli? I am sure you’ll come up with what you need.

    I will.

  2. hddonna

    said on May 6th, 2015:

    Glad I could help just a little. I think you might be on the right track regarding skipping the marinade, especially with the eggplant, as you said. Perhaps it just soaked up too much liquid before cooking, so you didn’t get the texture you were looking for. I haven’t had the pleasure of traveling to Italy, but after reading Frances Mayes’ books, I certainly do get the impression that the vegetables there must be more flavorful. I like the idea of putting some parmesan on top to serve. Yum! I do love grilled peppers, eggplant, and onions. It’s easy to scorch the eggplant, though–I have to be sure the fire’s not too hot and I keep a close eye on it.

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