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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 Fish, on March 7th, 2016.

shrimp_lemony_watercress

Scrumptious, tart, lemony, textures, ah. Worth making – and it’s easy to boot.

In late January, my friend Ann, who lives in frigid Idaho, flew down to SoCal and I picked her up at the Palm Springs airport. We then stayed at a VRBO condo for a week in La Quinta. Sometimes January is iffy weather in the California desert (rainy) and we did get rain one day. It was fairly cold out there, but in the sunshine it was comfortable. The condo had a lovely kitchen with plenty of kitchen equipment, so we didn’t lack for anything (except sharp knives, alas – there were plenty of them, but they were as dull as ann_pga_westcardboard – next time I’ll take some of my own good knives). I’d suggested to Ann that if I made one or two meals, maybe she’d come up with a meal she would prepare. We worked on all the cooking together, so it was a joint effort. She sent me several recipes and this is the one I preferred. Actually, this one is for scallops, but I don’t eat them – shrimp is preferable for me. So we made the same recipe, just with the shrimp instead. Pictured at left, Ann, at our VRBO condo, overlooking the rather brown golf course at PGA West.

This is really a salad only – there isn’t anything else hiding under all that watercress, but it was perfect for us. Real watercress is a bit hard to find these days – except the type you see above – it’s like baby cress – with the root ball attached. I don’t much like that type because it lacks that unique peppery flavor of full grown watercress. But if that’s all you can find, well, then, make do! The shrimp are cooked in nothing more than a speck of olive oil and seasoned with paprika and lemon zest. We had access to lemons out there in the desert – they were regular lemons, not Meyers (my preference), so depending on the type, you may want to adjust the sugar in the dressing.

The lemon vinaigrette is SO tasty – puckery, but sweet because you do add sugar, and it’s loaded with garlic too. The watercress was tossed with the lemon dressing, then we piled the shrimp on top and added parsley for garnish. The original recipe (with scallops) came from Cooking Light, in 2002.

What’s GOOD: it was so easy to make, and I just loved the lemon flavor. It was a zesty dressing (not hot, just vibrant) with the lemon. The shrimp were perfectly cooked through and we both slicked our plates clean. A definite keeper. Low cal and very low fat!

What’s NOT: nothing at all, except it might not be enough food for some people as a main entrée. Serve with bread and maybe a dessert? Just a thought.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Shrimp on Lemony Watercress

Recipe By: Adapted from a Cooking Light recipe, Oct. 2002
Serving Size: 4

2 teaspoons olive oil — divided
1 1/2 pounds large shrimp
1/2 teaspoon salt — divided
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
1 tablespoon Italian parsley — chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 cups watercress — about 2 1/2 bunches, washed, trimmed, dried
Italian parsley, chopped, for garnish

1. Heat a teaspoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle shrimp with 1/4 teaspoon salt and paprika. Add them to pan; cook 3 minutes on each side or until done. Combine rind and parsley; sprinkle over shrimp. Keep warm.
2. Combine a teaspoon of olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, lemon juice, sugar, garlic, and pepper. Place watercress in a large bowl; drizzle with lemon juice mixture, tossing gently to coat. Serve shrimp over watercress mixture and garnish with additional Italian parsley.
Per Serving: 222 Calories; 5g Fat (21.9% calories from fat); 36g Protein; 6g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 259mg Cholesterol; 547mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on March 7th, 2016:

    I like the sound of this especially with the Scallops, they are my favourite. I will wait until Watercress is in season here, probably April so not long to wait. I will use lime juice since it is easier on my digestion than lemon.

    The scallops will be perfect, and lime juice should be just great with this too. It’s an easy salad to make, beginning to end. Hope you enjoy it. . . carolyn t

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