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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 Fish, Salads, on May 24th, 2016.

salad_nicoise

Is there much of anything more French cuisine than a Niçoise salad? I think not.

Recently, a good friend, Joanne (who used to be an employee of mine, way long ago), invited me to come visit her at her home in Rancho Palos Verdes. Those of you not familiar with the Los Angeles region might not have heard of it – it’s a 20+ mile long coastline south of L.A. that’s right on the Pacific Ocean – and about 90 minutes or so from my home further south. The area is big and encompasses several miles inland and is a world apart from the bustling city of L.A. It had been years since I’d been there. Wayfarer’s Chapel is there – a place that’s entertained many weddings. Once upon a time I attended a wedding there – so beautiful. See photo below.

But I was just there to visit with Joanne and her husband Larry this time. It was a beautiful Southern California spring day – warm in the sunshine, but still almost cold without a light jacket. When you drive to Palos Verdes, it’s all city for the approach to the crest of the hills, and then you arrive at the top and it’s suddenly all residential, meandering, curving streets, even some open land, which is hard to come by in our part of the state of California. They live on a bluff overlooking the ocean. It’s ever so peaceful there – no city noises, and no city to view, either. Just the ocean.

When Joanne came to work for the ad agency I owned with my business partner, she was a brand new bride. This was back in the 1980’s. They’d moved from Brooklyn to California where Larry had taken a new position. They’d moved into a small home and she was so happy to set up housekeeping, and to decorate her house. Joanne says that I was her inspiration to learn to cook (she says she didn’t know a thing about cooking when she got married), and indeed, I recall we used to talk a lot about recipes, restaurants, cooking techniques, etc. And probably where to source some ingredients now and then. I‘m sure I shared recipes with her. Her husband is Lebanese by heritage, and he grew up with his mother making lots of ethnic dishes. Joanne brought one joanne_hparticular salad to some of our potluck lunches we had – her recipe is already here on my blog, a Syrian Pita Bread Salad that I posted way back in 2008. I haven’t made that salad in awhile – it’s SO good – very lemony, and delicious with the crunch of toasted pita chips.

Joanne prepared a gorgeous lunch – this salad (recipe below), a fougasse (a yeasted savory bread) and an apple cake. You’ll have the other two recipes within the next week or so. At right is Joanne in her lovely kitchen. Joanne and her family spent many years living abroad – first in Amsterdam, then for several years in Paris, and most recently they lived for 4-5 years outside of Geneva. Their 3 children grew up attending private schools, and learned French for sure. Their twin boys have just graduated from college here in the U.S., and their daughter is attending a university here in California. Larry is retired (gosh, does that make me feel OLD since they were young newlyweds when I first met them!) and enjoying it. Since their children were born Joanne has been a stay-at-home mom.

As Joanne put together the lunch salad, the Niçoise (that’s pronounced nee-SWAZZ), we talked. She mentioned that here in the U.S. sometimes restaurants will serve a Niçoise with seared ahi. Well, that is absolutely a no-no to the French purist, from whence this comes. It’s canned tuna. Period. The components of the salad must be prepared ahead – the green beans must be cooked al dente, the salad leaves cleaned and dried, the dressing prepared and allowed to sit for just a little while, the tomatoes chopped, the potatoes (a waxy type only) cooked and cut, eggs hard boiled, peeled and cut, all artfully arranged either on a large platter for everyone to help themselves, or on individual plates as Joanne did this day. She lightly dressed the lettuce with a bit of the dressing, and passed a pitcher of the dressing at the table. Ideally you’ll have Niçoise olives – they’re a black somewhat bitter olive, but so traditional in this salad. Capers are usually added too, just sprinkled on top. The salad is so satisfying – all good-for-you things. The dressing is piquant and so-very-French (it’s a French shallot vinaigrette) that will keep for a few days.

The recipe came from one of Joanne’s favorite cookbooks, Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table: More than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours. Joanne has prepared many of the recipes in that cookbook and had raves for each and every one. I own the cookbook too – I don’t remember if I’ve shared any of the recipes from it or not. It’s a beautiful cookbook – almost worthy of a coffee table book, but it’s a practical and entertaining guide to many homespun recipes, the kind the French would eat any normal day, not necessarily for entertaining. I love to read Dorie’s headnotes – the stories she writes about the origin of the recipe or about the ingredients.

What’s GOOD: all the mix of ingredients are sublime – the potatoes even, the tuna mixes with everything, and the dressing just brings it all together. It’s a keeper of a recipe for sure. (Thank you, Joanne.)

What’s NOT: the only thing is the time it takes to prepare some of the ingredients – cooking the potatoes, the eggs and the beans and giving them time to chill. The dressing is easy enough, though. Try to prep the potatoes, eggs and beans the day before.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Salade Niçoise

Recipe By: Around My French Table, Dorie Greenspan
Serving Size: 4

12 small potatoes — scrubbed
2 cups haricot verts — green beans
4 hard-boiled eggs
8 ounces canned tuna — packed in oil, drained
5 cups salad greens
1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes — or regular tomatoes cut into chunks
1/2 cup Nicoise olives
1/4 cup capers — drained and patted dry
8 small anchovy fillets — rinsed and patted dry
DRESSING:
2 tablespoons wine vinegar — red, white or sherry
1 shallot — finely minced
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
a few pinches sea salt
fresh black pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil

1. Boil the potatoes in a large pot of salted water. Cook until they are tender enough to be pierced easily with the tip of a knife, 10 – 20 minutes. Scoop them out of the pot and put them in a bowl to cool.
2. Blanch the green beans in the potato water until they are crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Drain the beans and put them in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain, then pat dry.
3. Make the vinaigrette: Add vinegar, shallot, mustard, salt, and pepper to a small glass measuring cup or jar and let sit 10 – 15 minutes to mellow the shallot. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil while whisking constantly.
4. Assemble the salad, on one large platter, or individual plates: salad greens, halved potatoes, green beans, halved eggs, tuna, tomatoes, olives, capers, anchovies and drizzle with the shallot vinaigrette.
Per Serving: 629 Calories; 22g Fat (31.7% calories from fat); 33g Protein; 76g Carbohydrate; 10g Dietary Fiber; 236mg Cholesterol; 813mg Sodium.

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  1. soozzie

    said on May 24th, 2016:

    The canned tuna used in France and Italy is of a much higher quality than we find in American grocery stores. Often it is whole cuts from the tuna belly — tender, rich, fatty, and not as fishy and fibrous as American canned tuna. There are a couple of Italian brands that appear occasionally in the US, but even these are not really what stars in the traditional “salade”. I think this is why Americans often default to seared tuna or other protein. So keep a look out for the real deal, and your salad will be elevated to new heights!

    I have an Italian deli nearby that has shelves stacked with all kinds of canned goods from the old country. I think I’ve seen tuna there – I’ll be sure to look for it. Thanks for the info. . . carolyn t

  2. Madonna

    said on May 24th, 2016:

    This is such a delicious salad. I found really good tuna at Wholesome Choice on Culver and Michelson. It spoils you- it is difficult to eat any other tuna once you have had “good tuna”. 🙂
    Are you talking about canned tuna? What brand did you buy? . . . carolyn t

  3. Madonna

    said on May 25th, 2016:

    Tonnino Tuna Fillet in Olive Oil, 6.7 Ounce. It comes in a jar.

    THANK you, Madonna. I’ll look for it!!! . . . carolyn t

  4. Toffeeapple

    said on May 27th, 2016:

    I have never had this salad without it being ‘composed’ that is to say, not separate ingredients on a plate, always mixed, at least it is in France. Not that I would eat it nowadays, I simply cannot stand the smell of the Tuna even though I used to love it. Life is strange, no?

    I can’t imagine not liking tuna anymore, but then I don’t drink hardly any wine anymore, myself. Never thought that would happen. . . carolyn t

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