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Just finished a quirky book, Goodbye, Vitamin: A Novel by Rachel Khong. She’s a new writer (newly published, I guess I should say) and this story is about Ruth, a 30+ something, trying to readjust to life without her fiance, who’s dumped her. She goes back home to help with the care of her father, who has Alzheimer’s. Written in a diary style, it jumps all over about her life, her mother, the funny, poignant things her father says on good days, and the nutty stuff he does on not-so-good days, her ex-, and her very quirky friends, too. Then a woman flits through who had had an affair with her father –  you get to observe all the angst from the mom about that. Mostly it’s about her father, as he’s relatively “together” early in the book, but then he disintegrates. Reading that part isn’t fun, although the author is able to lean some humor into it. I’m not sure I recommend the book exactly – I read it through – and felt sad. It doesn’t tie up loose ends – if you want that kind of book – you may not want to read this one.

Also finished Julian Fellowes’s Belgravia. You know Julian Fellowes, the producer and writer of Downton Abbey? He lends his mind to a story about a family or two from the similar time period as Downton, who live in London. There’s some amount of intrigue, romance, observations from within the halls of wealthy Londoners and moderately well off tradesmen and their families. There’s affairs, shady business dealings, an illegitimate child, the comings and goings of the “downstairs” staff too, etc. The characters were well done – I had no trouble keeping all of the people identified. The story is somewhat predictable, but it was interesting clear up to the end.

The Letter by Kathyrn Hughes. It’s a very intricate tale. At first it’s about Tina, a battered wife [at which point I paused and wondered if I wanted to read any further, but I’m glad I did]. She tries to get the courage to leave her husband. Then enters the letter she finds in a suit pocket in the thrift shop where she volunteers. It’s old – sealed and stamped, but never mailed. Then you learn about Crissie, decades earlier, a young pregnant girl who is sent off to Ireland to a distant relative by her father, then to a rigid (meaning horrible) convent [the book takes place mostly in Manchester, England and in rural Ireland]. The letter is addressed to her. Jump forward decades and William, the adopted child Crissie gave up, tries to find his birth mother. William meets Tina in Ireland [a serendipitous moment] as she’s trying to find the woman to whom the letter is addressed. This book is the #2 best seller on Amazon at the moment. It’s a riveting tale and I really enjoyed it.

The Muralist: A Novel by Shapiro. It tells the story of a young woman, an artist, who was part of the U.S.’s WPA mural project from the 1930s-40s (she is fiction, the WPA is not). As with so many artists, even today, they live in abject poverty through much of their lives. This woman, though, had family in France, desperately trying to escape before Hitler’s henchmen rousted them into concentration camps. The story, a bit of a mystery but not of the mystery-genre, is about Alizée Benoit, this young painter, who slightly captivates Eleanor Roosevelt’s help. It also skips into current time when the painter’s great-niece uncovers paintings she believes were painted by her aunt. The painter had disappeared into thin air in 1940, and her relative tries desperately to find out what happened to her. It’s a really good story including such Abstract Expressionist painters as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner well-woven into the narrative. It keeps you guessing right up to the end. A good read. The author also wrote The Art Forger: A Novel a few years ago.

Also recently read News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a free-lance job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her family was killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of an old (wild) west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many. Just read this one first!

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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