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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 Salads, on January 7th, 2016.

spinach_jicama_orange_saladAn absolutely lovely spinach salad. A special occasion salad, for sure – lovely for the holidays, although I’m not posting this until now, in January. With the fruit in it (and the pomegranate molasses in the dressing), it has a nice sweet tinge to it. It’s beautiful, too. The photo was Phillis’ from the class. My photo was good, but hers is better.

Last month my friend Cherrie and I attended a bonanza cooking class in San Diego. The venue where our favorite cooking teacher, Phillis Carey, taught, closed a couple of months ago. That was a sad day.

Once a year Phillis and Diane Phillips taught a double class, usually in December, that were recipes for the holidays. So Phillis and Diane found a new venue, although I think it may be the only time they teach there, so I won’t even tell you about it. Where it was held was not important anyway.

Diane prepared an Italian inspired menu. I’ll share 2 recipes from that one – a delish gratin, and some Brussels sprouts. Oh, and a very nice filet mignon. Later on those . . .

Phillis did a more California-ish menu – a shrimp cocktail, this salad, a buttermilk-brined pork tenderloin that was to die for, a really fantastic savory bread pudding, some unusual green beans with a tomatillo salsa, and the finale was a chocolate tres leches tiramisu. Oh my gosh, was it wonderful.

But today we’re just going to talk about this salad. Luscious salad. I think I could eat this salad at least once a week, but it takes a bit of prep, so no, I won’t be doing that. If somebody would make it for me, then absolutely, I’d be asking for it on the menu every week.

Tip: buy pomegranate molasses to make the vinaigrette if at all possible. Otherwise you can boil down pomegranate juice to make it yourself. The vinaigrette for this salad is just so good – the pomegranate molasses gives it the sweetness, but it’s tempered by balsamic vinegar and white wine vinegar. The salad itself is just spinach, jicama that’s julienned into itty-bitty pieces, a red onion that’s soaked in acidulated water (to take the sharpness and heat out of it), fresh oranges (or use mandarin oranges, canned) and a modicum of fresh pomegranate seeds that you can buy at Trader Joe’s already prepped. So easy.

Phillis prepared a candied pecan to go on this, but I’m giving you the recipe for the peppered pecans that have been a big-time favorite of mine for years. You can make those a day or so ahead of time. This is a sturdy salad (from the spinach) so you could get everything ready ahead of time and just toss it all at the last minute.

What’s GOOD: this salad is special. A real special-occasion type salad, but if you had the dressing made and the pecans already prepared, well, you could throw this together in no time. The jicama takes a bit of time to prepare – if you have a mandoline, then you could do it in a flash. Jicama is a bit unwieldy to work on, but it added a really nice crunchy texture. The jicama soaked up the red colored dressing, so it was also juice and tasty. Altogether delicious salad. A winner.

What’s NOT: well, all I can say is the time it takes to prepare. More than a normal green salad for sure. But you’ll be wowed when you eat it, so it might make all the effort worthwhile.
printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 14/15 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Spinach, Jicama, Red Onion and Orange Salad with Pomegranate Vinaigrette

Recipe By: Phillis Carey cooking class, 12/2015
Serving Size: 8

VINAIGRETTE:
1/3 cup pomegranate molasses
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
PEPPERED PECANS:
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup pecan halves
SALAD:
16 ounces spinach leaves
1 cup jicama — julienned
1 whole red onion — sliced and soaked in vinegar water for one hour, then drained
4 whole navel oranges — or substitute mandarin oranges (easier)
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds

NOTES : If you don’t have pomegranate molasses, use 2 cups pomegranate juice and boil it down until you have about 1/3 cup – it’ll be thick and full of flavor. Don’t let it burn.
1. VINAIGRETTE: Combine in a bowl the pomegranate molasses, olive oil, honey, vinegar, mustard, pepper and salt. Can be made ahead by 3 days.
2. PECANS: Place a baking sheet or jelly roll pan next to your range before you start.
3. In a small bowl combine sugar, salt and pepper, and stir to combine.
4. Heat a large wok or heavy skillet over high heat. Add pecans and toss until pecans are warm, about 1 minute.
5. Sprinkle pecans with HALF of the sugar mixture and toss until the sugar melts. Add remaining sugar mixture and toss again until sugar melts, then IMMEDIATELY pour out onto the baking sheet. Spread nuts out and allow to cool. These will keep, stored in a plastic bag, for about 3-4 weeks.
6. SALAD: In a large bowl toss together the spinach, jicama, drained red onion slices, oranges and enough vinaigrette to coat all the spinach. Plate the salads and top with pomegranate seeds and peppered pecans. Serve immediately.
Per Serving: 352 Calories; 27g Fat (66.6% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 28g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 286mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on January 9th, 2016:

    I am craving a salad today but since pomegranate and I don’t get along and I have no idea about jicama, I would have to leave those out. I do like using oranges in salads though.

    Certainly, leave out the pomegranate, jicama and oranges. But do use the pomegranate molasses, if you can find it. . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on January 10th, 2016:

    You come up with the best salads and dressings, Carolyn! When I am looking for a special one, I can usually find something if I check your recipe index. I made this for dinner yesterday, and it was excellent–the pecans make this salad and any other salad they are featured in. I first made them for the spinach salad with roasted apples and pecans you posted a couple years ago. That one is my favorite of the two, but this one was less work (no need to roast the apples) and very appealing with its mixture of soft and crunchy textures. It would certainly complement a fancy dinner, but I didn’t think it was too much bother for a simple family meal, simple being the key word. Most of the effort for the meal went into the salad, and now there are leftover pecans and dressing, so the next salad will be a snap!

    I agree – this one’s a keeper. So glad you enjoyed it like I did! . . . carolyn t

  3. gayle tucker

    said on January 16th, 2016:

    Carolyn, as usual you have came up with another winner. I made this for our quilt guild and all, save one, enjoyed it. We live in northwest Montana and anything resembling pomegranate molasses does not exist. But, I soldiered on and made the pomegranate reduction and it was delicious. I had some left over and used it as a glaze on a pork tenderloin and it, too, garnered applause. I had never used jicama but will in the future. Nice and crispy.

    I’m delighted! I’ve served this salad several times in the last 6 weeks, and everyone has enjoyed it. I’m lucky that I have a Middle Eastern market near me and they had not one, but SIX varieties of pomegranate molasses. But the reduction works too. So glad the recipe was a hit with your group. . . carolyn t

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