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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 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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