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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 September 5th, 2007.


So, what is it about bacon that is so darned good? It’s that crispy porky piggy flavor, naturally! As with most people, especially those of us trying to watch calories and fat, bacon became a treat, a once-in-awhile kind of treat at least 20 years ago. But I miss it. However, I’ve found that a little bit goes a long way. Of course, we know that, right? But when a recipe calls for 3 strips, I use 1. I’ve used turkey bacon and it’s okay. I probably should use it always, but I’d rather have less of the real thing and get more of the real flavor. But, what do you do with a big package of bacon when you only need 1 slice? Here’s one of Carolyn’s tips coming your way. Once I open a package of bacon, I remove the slices I’m using for that meal, then the remaining ones are separated and rolled up, placed on a metal tray – raw – frozen, then the rolls are popped into a Ziploc bag and stored in the freezer. Then, when I need one slice, it’s easy to pull out just one. Here’s a photo of the bacon rolls currently residing in my freezer.

The photo looks blurry, but it’s the vapor in the Ziploc bag you’re viewing. Because bacon is mostly fat, it defrosts in a jiffy. And with these little bacon rolls if I really only want a half a slice, a sharp chef’s knife will easily cut that one roll in half. If you cut it lengthwise, it’s already cut into pieces. But you can chop it a bit more, easily enough.

I do want to talk a bit about bacon itself. I used to buy grocery store bacon. And for some, it may be all that you can afford. I understand – I’ve been there too. But I’ve never liked all the tinkering our food manufacturers do with our foods, so I try to avoid chemicals whenever it’s feasible. Now that trichinosis is a thing of the past, we needn’t worry about acquiring the disease from uncooked pork. So we don’t need the nitrates and nitrites so commonly part of the curing process in bacon and other pork products. I avoid them whenever possible. And it’s easy to do so if you have a source for Niman Ranch bacon. It’s smoked, but uncured. Our Trader Joe’s carries it nearly all the time. It’s without preservatives, and has a gorgeous taste. It’s thick-sliced too, which I prefer. There’s a photo of the bacon above – it is a smaller package – 12 ounces I think, rather than a pound. That’s to make it a bit more affordable, I’m certain. But I use so little of it, a package will last me months and months once it’s in my cute little frozen rolls.

So now, the salad. The recipe for this was published in our local newspaper, The Orange County Register, in 1994. I clipped that little gem out and made it with some home grown tomatoes we had from our garden. It was absolutely fantastic, and I’ve been making it regularly ever since. I added the basil and the croutons to the original recipe. You can eliminate the croutons if you’re watching carbs, but I enjoy the crunchiness of just a few of them. Add as much or as little of the bacon as you see fit. The recipe calls for more than I use, and we’re content with it. Certainly you need good, flavorful tomatoes. But even in the dead of winter Trader Joe’s and Costco both carry a variety of on-the-vine type that are quite good. So you can really have this year around.

I searched around on the internet today to just see what kind of recipes are out there for BLT Salad. What’s unique about this one is the use of rice wine vinegar. It adds a lovely sparkle to the dressing. You can use low-fat or fat free mayo if you want, and it doesn’t really make any difference in the taste. Normally I would say nothing but Best Foods (Hellman’s) will do, but since the mayo is diluted, there’s no appreciable change in the taste. What a great summertime treat. It was delicious for lunch.

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BLT Salad (Bacon, Lettuce & Tomato Salad)

Recipe: adapted from the Orange County Register, 1994
Servings: 4
COOK’S NOTES: This salad is deceptively easy and delicious. I use half the bacon, but then I always use thick-sliced and it’s very meaty bacon. Tomatoes need to be very ripe, so this is a salad I prepare mostly in the summertime. The basil and bread cubes are an addition I’ve made over the years.

1/2 cup mayonnaise — fat-free or low fat are fine
1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar
1/2 head iceberg lettuce — or mix Romaine and iceberg
4 whole tomatoes — fresh only
1/2 pound bacon — meaty slices only
1 1/2 cups bread cubes
2 tbsp fresh basil — minced

1. Allow bread cubes to stale slightly at room temperature, or you may toast them in the oven briefly. You don’t want to have real soft bread, as it will absorb too much dressing and get soggy.
2. In small pan sauté bacon until thoroughly brown and crisp; drain on paper towels and set aside. Break bacon into small pieces when cool. It is best to do this just before serving as bacon won’t stay crisp more than about 30 minutes.
3. In a small bowl combine mayonnaise and rice vinegar and stir (or shake in a small bottle) until thoroughly combined.
4. In a large salad bowl chop lettuce, add chopped tomatoes, basil and bread cubes. Add dressing, toss, arrange on serving plates and sprinkle bacon pieces on top.
Per Serving: 605 Calories; 52g Fat (76.0% calories from fat); 21g Protein; 16g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 58mg Cholesterol; 1176mg Sodium.

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