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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, Vegetarian, on September 2nd, 2007.

pastatomatocreamsauceIt was a few years ago and we flew from California to Philadelphia to attend the wedding of a young couple, friends. They’d met in San Diego, actually sailed with us on our boat one afternoon soon after they’d met. He was, is, a Navy pilot and close with dear friends of ours from Philadelphia. We thought they made a fine couple and wished them much happiness. The groom’s mother prepared a lovely feast for the rehearsal dinner. There were many hands helping in the kitchen, mine among them, and I fell in love with this incredibly easy side dish (or, it could be a main dish as is, or add some protein of some kind too).

I watched as MaryAnn made this sauce – she opened cans of chopped tomatoes, cubed up some cream cheese, chopped some basil, added a tad of wine vinegar, fresh garlic, and olive oil. All this was stirred up in a very large bowl, covered with plastic wrap and left to sit out for about 6 hours. The flavors developed, obviously and the cream cheese kind of dissolved, sort of. At serving time she made a heap of hot penne, combined the sauce and poured it onto a very large platter with additional basil and sprinkled the real-thing Parmesan cheese and it was done. The total amount of actual work in this is about 5 minutes. (I’m not counting the time to cook the pasta, of course.) Maybe 10 max. If you need to hold the sauce for longer, put it in the refrigerator. Just bring it back to room temp before serving. The dish can be served at room temp, actually, but I think it’s best hot.

And I’ll tell you, this is absolutely fabulous. I’ve made it many, many times since. It’s a cinch for guests. Tastes beyond wonderful.  Thank you, MaryAnn.

What’s good: well, that it’s so incredibly easy to make. You and your guests will rave about it. And yes, you DO leave it out at room temp. I think the acid in the tomatoes must be what keeps the dairy (cream cheese) from developing bacteria. It’s also delicious as left overs. A must make.
What’s not: nothing whatsoever.

printer-friendly (CutePDF Writer) PDF
MasterCook 5+ import file – right click to save file, run MC, then File|Import

Pasta with Tomato Cream Sauce

Recipe: MaryAnn Quinn, a friend of a friend in Philadelphia
Serving Size : 10 (as a side dish, 4 as main dish)
COOK’S NOTES: This takes about 5 minutes to prepare the sauce and it’s DONE! You can use any kind of pasta, but choose one that will hold some of the sauce (i.e., not linguine or spaghetti) in its crevices. These days it seems odd to let food sit at room temp for several hours, but when I was first served this, it was left out and later served to 30 people without a problem. A double batch was JUST enough (small servings) for 30 with an entree, green salad and ample appetizers. My favorite tomatoes are Muir Glen fire roasted, but any brand will really be fine. Muir Glen is carried at Whole Foods.

28 ounces tomatoes, canned — diced with juice
8 ounces cream cheese — cubed
2 cloves garlic — minced
1 bunch basil — minced
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 pound penne pasta

1. Combine all ingredients (except pasta and cheese) in a large bowl, cover and allow to sit for several hours at room temperature.
2. Boil pasta just until barely tender, drain, add sauce to pasta, stir and pour into a large serving bowl. Sprinkle cheese on top and additional basil, if desired.
Per Serving: 383 Calories; 22g Fat (50.8% calories from fat); 11g Protein; 36g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 31mg Cholesterol; 239mg Sodium.

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  1. Kalyn

    said on September 2nd, 2007:

    It does sound beyond fabulous! Going right into my del.icio.us cookbook for sure.

    I agree, the Muir Glen tomatoes are great!

  2. Sue

    said on March 24th, 2012:

    How large are the cans of tomatoes? Did you use 28oz cans of 13-14 oz cans? Just wondering – would likely be good either way … Great blog by the way, just discovered your site!

    You use the smaller cans – about 2 cups of tomatoes per can. Thanks for the compliment – stop back and visit again. . . carolyn t

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