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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 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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