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Just finished reading 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 easy, Soups, on June 2nd, 2015.

taco_soup_trimmings

Is it past soup season? My apologies for forgetting this recipe when it was still cold, and you wanted warmth in your tummy. And perhaps I’m the very last person on the planet who hadn’t ever HAD this soup. Oh my goodness, is it ever tasty! And it’s unbelievably easy too. I didn’t put all the trimmings on the soup when I took the photo – there should be cilantro and Fritos all over the top too.

My best friend Cherrie and her husband go camping (really, it’s glamping) a lot. They have a huge (long) 5th wheel that attaches to Bud’s BIG truck and they go up the coast of California, down the coast and inland too (and to Arizona for baseball spring training). Everywhere. And truly, theirs is big enough to live in. Cherrie is an immaculate housekeeper and the 5th wheel is always decorated as cute as a bug. They have several sets of friends and some relatives that they meet in these various places. And THIS is one of the gargantuan meals Cherrie now fixes for the gang. They usually take turns preparing dinner for everyone. Cherrie raved about it, so of course (and gave me a sample), so then I had to try this myself. Cherrie got the recipe from one of the other glamping couples.

Did I tell you this recipe is EASY? Yes, I did, but it bears repeating. This is SUPER EASY! Get out your slow cooker, friends. Make a huge batch and if you can’t eat it all now, freeze it in family-sized portions. The only thing you’ll have to do later is prepare the garnishes (of which there are a few).

It’s like a chili – you could use ground turkey – but the ground beef one was awfully good. You brown up the beef and onions, then pour everything into the crockpot (beans, tomatoes, corn, olives, chiles, taco seasoning AND, the surprise ingredient: a package of dried ranch salad dressing mix) and let it slow-cook for about 6 hours. Done. Meanwhile, prepare the toppings: grated Cheddar, sour cream (or yogurt if you prefer), Fritos, cilantro and avocado. That’s it. Put out bowls and have at it. My mouth is watering just writing up this post, and it’s been several months ago that I made it (small batch, all gone, none in freezer).

What’s GOOD: if it wasn’t extraordinarily tasty I wouldn’t be going on and on about it. It’s delicious. Really delicious. Tummy warming. And, it’s EASY. You could make it without meat, too – I bet it would be fine. I absolutely guarantee you’re going to hear “mmmmm’s” from everyone. I’m just sorry I don’t have any in the freezer, although it’s getting to be warmer weather and this is probably best in colder seasons.

What’s NOT: there’s no down side to this recipe. Make it.

printer-friendly CutePDF

Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click on link to open recipe in MC)

Slow Cooker Taco Soup

Recipe By: This one’s all over the internet, but this is
my friend Cherrie’s version.

Serving Size: 10

2 pounds ground beef — or ground turkey
1 large yellow onion — diced
30 ounces canned pinto beans — drained and rinsed
30 ounces canned kidney beans — drained and rinsed
15 ounces canned corn — drained
15 ounces canned tomatoes with green chiles — (Rotel)
15 ounces canned tomatoes
9 ounces diced green chiles
1 1/4 ounces Taco seasoning mix
1 1/8 ounces ranch-style dressing mix
GARNISHES:
Fritos (the small ones)
4 cups grated cheddar cheese
1 cup light sour cream — or Greek yogurt
1 whole avocado — diced
1/2 cup cilantro — chopped

1. Brown the meat and onions in a large skillet. Drain excess fat and transfer to slow cooker. Add beans, corn, tomatoes, green chiles, taco seasoning and ranch dressing mix.
2. Cook in slow cooker for 6-8 hours.
3. Into each serving bowl place some of the Fritos, then scoop about 2 cups of the soup on top. Serve all the garnishes in bowls for guests to take as they’d like.
Per Serving: 720 Calories; 44g Fat (54.0% calories from fat); 38g Protein; 46g Carbohydrate; 11g Dietary Fiber; 127mg Cholesterol; 1814mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on June 6th, 2015:

    Well now, I had to look up quite lot of things from this recipe – first I didn’t know what a Taco was, then I didn’t know what Taco Seasoning was, then, what are Fritos, after that what is Dry Ranch Salad Dressing (never heard of dry salad dressing over here), finally I had to investigate Pinto beans! It certainly sounds tasty though, after looking up recipes for the things I hadn’t heard of.

    I made red soup last week – Tomatoes, red onion, carrot and roasted red peppers – it was so cold here.

    I hope you are well?

    Oh gosh, Toni! Tacos are so popular here in the U.S. – you can buy them just about anywhere in the country except in some remote places. Mexican fast-food joints are probably the most popular after hamburger places. All our grocery stores carry taco seasoning (you can make your own, no problem). I suppose you’d have a hard time with the dry salad dressing mix – lots of people buy ranch dressing in a bottle/jar here, but it’s quite easy to make it from the dry mix. Ranch dressing (it’s a creamy mixture with buttermilk and sour cream, I think, or maybe it’s mayo) is thick and white with lots of herbs in it. Not healthy, but the dry mix is mostly herbs. You could use any kind of brown bean with this recipe – it wouldn’t need to be pinto. With our high population of Hispanics all over the country, they buy pinto beans in 25-lb. bags if they’re really into beans. You could substitute black beans. Just don’t use broad beans or big lima beans. I don’t know what’s available on your standard canned bean aisle!

    And Fritos . . . well, I hope you did an image search for them on the ‘net. They’re a corn chip, but not a tortilla chip. They’re a deep yellow. Have been around for at least 60 years here.
    . . . carolyn t

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