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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, Veggies/sides, on April 22nd, 2016.

pea_radish_sugar_snap_salad2

How much more Spring-y could you get for a salad than with green peas? A very simple salad of peas, radishes sliced super thin, some sugar snaps and a light olive oil and lemon juice dressing. AND with fresh mint and parsley.

As it happened, I had a small dinner for Easter with son Powell and his family. They had just returned from skiing in Colorado that day, so we had a simple dinner at my house with leg of lamb, roasted root veggies, this pea salad, and a lemon dessert. sliced_leg_lamb_bonelessI prepared the lamb in my sous vide. After 10 hours in the 134° water bath, it was cooked well, although I’d have liked a little bit more pink. It was barely so. Good though. I’m not going to share the recipe since I doubt that many of you have a sous vide. If you do, and want the recipe, email me.

Since I’m retired and home during the day if I’m not out and about, I do occasionally watch daytime TV. The week before Easter I watched an episode of The Chew. It was their pre-Easter show and this salad just jumped out of the TV screen at me. Although, I did change it up a bit. I tried it Carla Hall’s way, but it just didn’t have any zing (to me, anyway), so I added in some lemon juice and some sliced sugar snap peas.

pea_radish_sugar_snap_salad1Carla’s recipe called for fresh peas, and although they had them at my local markets, I just don’t trust them – frozen peas are SO much easier and reliable. So I merely defrosted some. Radishes were sliced on the mandolin and dropped into ice water so they’d crisp up. Sugar snaps were de-stringed and sliced. Mint and Italian parsley chopped fine, and at the last minute I tossed it all together with good extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. It seemed to lack something, so I added in some lemon juice and more salt and it was ready. The leftover salad lost some of its color (from the lemon juice) and didn’t have much appeal.  The radishes had lost all of their crispness and the herbs were totally wilted. I sent the family home with enough lamb, veggies and salad for them to have another meal. I have at least one meal for myself too.

What’s GOOD: I loved the “fresh” part of a pea salad. It was easy to make, though there was a bit of slicing and mincing. But most of it could be done ahead and the salad combined just before serving. Adjust the lemon juice to your taste. I used Meyer lemon juice, which is sweeter, so if using regular lemons, taste before adding too much. It was a great side for lamb.

What’s NOT: not so good for leftovers – the green peas lost some of their color with the acid in the dressing. And the salad was kind of sad – wilted and not very zippy as leftovers. Eaten right after making it, it was a stellar recipe.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on April 24th, 2016:

    Yes, very Springlike indeed. Don’t you slightly cook the Sugar Snaps before slicing? It tends to be the done thing here.

    I have been overdosing on the Spring vegetables too, including Asparagus which I made into a Fritatta, with Spring Onions – delicious with a little cheese added.

    I like the sugar snaps raw, string(s) removed and cut into 3-4 little diagonal pieces, but small ones you can leave whole. I will, on occasion, cook a vegetable side dish that’s just sugar snaps, butter and toasted pine nuts. Delicious! Your fritatta sounds fabulous!. . . Carolyn

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