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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 Soups, on January 11th, 2016.

veg_soup_bacon_herbs

Sometimes the simplest dishes are amazingly delicious. Vegetable soup can be so good, and yet when I order it out it’s usually got lots of root vegetables in it (which makes it a carb soup in my book – and definitely not my favorite in generic category of “vegetable” soups), tomatoes and has a red hue. This one is nothing at all like that – mostly green veggies with the hint of smoky bacon (optional) and a bit of milk and cream. This is a “dry” soup – not much liquid.

A year or so ago I began subscribing to a blog called Cooking in the Archives. It’s a blog from 2 very erudite women, both professors and researchers in English Lit, books in general, and rare books in particular. They must have become friends somewhere along the way and they both enjoy researching “old-tyme” recipes and updating them to today’s kitchens. I always enjoy reading their own journey as they identify a recipe (always shown in “old-tyme” language as well, then their translations) and about the permutations they make to the recipe.

A recipe that had me interested was one they posted earlier this year, called Herb Soop (no, that’s not a typo). Today I set out to make it – but then when I went to the grocery store I somehow forgot to buy some of the important ingredients that went into it. So I decided to make my own detour with what I had on hand. I’ll make that soup another day.

In February I’m hosting a luncheon here at my house (along with my friend Linda I.) for a small group of my P.E.O. sisters, as we watch a DVD on some thing yet-to-be-selected about American history, and I thought it would be fun to prepare a lunch that highlighted old-tyme food as well. The blog actually highlights recipes from 1600-1800, and not always American ones. But this soup recipe I made was just fabulous – although not necessarily an historical recipe.

Now, this soup. I started off with some very lean bacon, just because I think a bit of bacon adds SO much flavor to soups. You could leave it out if you’re a vegetarian. And you can use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth too. I rendered the bacon, then added a bit of oil (because the bacon had almost no fat in it), then half an onion chopped, and let that cook for a bit. Then I added Savoy cabbage (chopped), a poblano chile chopped up (certainly not in the original recipe) and celery and let that cook a bit. Then I added a package of frozen veggies I had on hand from Trader Joe’s (it’s a mixture of green beans, cauliflower, broccoli and peas). I didn’t really want cauliflower in this and I’ve not included it in the recipe below, but you can add it if you’d like to. Meanwhile I chopped up some fresh parsley and fresh mint and had those ready nearby. I added some chicken broth and allowed the vegetables to cook until they were nearly done, but not quite. Then I added a cup of milk to which I’d whisked in an egg (to thicken the soup just a little – this was in the Herb Soop recipe), and the herbs, plus a little sprinkling of freshly grated nutmeg (so good in creamy things – strictly my idea) and let that heat through and the veggies were cooked just perfectly. I scooped the soup into a wide bowl, garnished it with some more herbs and ate it with relish.

What’s GOOD: I threw this together in about 30 minutes of chopping and stirring. It’s a DRY soup – if you know what that means – it does not have a lot of liquid in it – so it’s mostly vegetables with a bit of a creamy base. I absolutely loved it. It was very filling, had a delicious variety of flavors and textures, enhanced by the herbs. I particularly liked the fresh mint in it – not something you see often. The poblano chile added quite a bit of heat – if you’re sensitive to hot stuff, leave it out. It will be just fine without it. You can add heat to your own taste with cayenne or some of the Slap Yo Mama Cajun seasoning. Don’t overdo it, though.

What’s NOT: Make sure you’ve GOT enough green veggies to make this – variety is the spice of life, and this soup! If you have a meat-eating family, they may not be satisfied with this. If I had to add some protein to this I’d add some shrimp, I think. Maybe some mild fish like sole.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 14/15 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Vegetable Soup with Bacon & Herbs

Recipe By: My own concoction but very loosely based on a recipe from Cooking in the Archives, 2015
Serving Size: 3

2 slices bacon — chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil — optional
1/2 yellow onion — chopped
1 cup celery — thinly sliced
1/2 Savoy cabbage — chopped
1/2 poblano chile — seeded, chopped small (optional)
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup green beans
1/2 cup broccoli — cut in small florets
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 pinch red pepper flakes
2 dashes Slap Yo Mama Cajun Seasoning — or cayenne
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg — freshly ground
1/2 cup Italian parsley — save some for garnish
1/4 cup fresh mint — save some for garnish
2 tablespoons chives — chopped
1 cup whole milk
1 large egg — beaten
1/4 cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

NOTE: This soup is very flexible – add what vegetables you like, but I particularly made this to NOT include any root veggies. If you add them you’ll need to adjust the cooking time accordingly and note that there isn’t a lot of liquid, so root veggies won’t be submerged in broth.
1. In a large high sided pan render the bacon over low heat until it has begun to crisp.
2. Add oil (if needed) to the pan then add the chopped onion. Cook for 5-7 minutes until onion is translucent.
3. Add celery and cabbage, and poblano chile. Turn heat to low and continue to cook for another 3-4 minutes, stirring several times.
4. Add chicken broth, then add green beans, broccoli, peas, red pepper flakes, nutmeg and Cajun seasoning. Cover and allow mixture to simmer for about 7-10 minutes until vegetables are not quite tender.
5. In a small bowl whisk the egg, then add the milk. Add it to the pan, then most of the parsley, chives and mint. Bring to a simmer and cook for 1-2 minutes (don’t let it boil), then add heavy cream. Heat just until mixture is hot and vegetables are cooked to your liking. Taste for seasoning (salt and pepper) and add to suit your own palate. Scoop into bowls and garnish with additional parsley and mint.
Per Serving: 314 Calories; 22g Fat (61.6% calories from fat); 13g Protein; 17g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 113mg Cholesterol; 726mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on January 11th, 2016:

    Oh, boy, I’m going to have to try this! I really like the idea of the mint, and the egg thickening is very unusual. I have been trying to find Savoy cabbage for over a year now. They used to have it at my supermarket every now and then, but I requested it from the produce manager, who’s always very accommodating, and he keeps trying, but they can’t seem to get it. I’ve checked the international grocery store I frequent also, several times, but no luck. It baffles me. This store has an excellent produce department. I may have to resort to planting some myself this spring. I’ll have to make do with regular green cabbage for now, but Savoy would be especially nice.

    How strange that you can’t get Savoy. I do love the stuff – better than regular. But I’m sure this would be okay with regular cabbage too. It might take a bit more cooking, depending on how thick the ribs are. Yes, the egg as a soup thickener is very unusual, and obviously was something they did back in the old days. Why, I don’t know. Flour surely is/was cheaper, but maybe it was more precious than using an egg yolk from the chickens in the coop behind the house. We’ll never know . . .carolyn t

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on January 12th, 2016:

    Without the milk and cream, this is my kind of soup.

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