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Just finished reading How It All Began: A Novelby Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant (she arrived after the birth, actually). Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the father is a wealthy man in the area who carries a lot of clout. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

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 middle-aged 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, and wealthy) 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.

 

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 Appetizers, on June 17th, 2016.

roasted_chickpeas_zatar

Oh, I want to just reach right into that picture and grab a small handful. Don’t you? They look oiled and maybe even mushy, but trust me, they’re crispy and just tossed with a tiny bit of oil and all the spices just before serving.

A few weeks ago I went to a cooking class – with a French chef – although she made a dinner of what she called Mediterranean food. Mostly I’d say the dinner was Moroccan. She cooked with a lot of zaatar, sumac, baharat and a tiny bit of fennel pollen. And one dish that was accented with apple cider molasses, which I’d never even heard of before. You’ll have the recipes eventually. All except for the pilaf she made, which was okay, but I think my own recipe, for Mujadara is better. Mujadara is a Lebanese version of pilaf. Hers was called a lentil pilaf with baharat (an herb & spice mix) and then she sprinkled some very pricey fennel pollen on top. I don’t think I got any on my portion – at least I couldn’t see any.

So, back to these chickpeas. Start off with 2 cans of garbanzos (chickpeas), drained, rinsed, and then you must let them rest and dry for an hour or so on paper towels – to DRY. Then the beans are spread out onto rimmed baking sheets lined with parchment – don’t crowd them – you’ll need at least 2 trays to do this right. They they’re roasted for quite awhile. If you’re using both trays in one oven then switch them back and forth and front to back so they all get dried and toasty. It takes about 35-45 minutes depending on your oven. Taste one now and then – you don’t want to to taste like corn nuts – that’s too much baking. But you definitely want them crispy all the way through. I’ll try this on convection bake and see how they do. Definitely don’t let them burn – that would be a total waste of them! Once they’re finally done, you need to remove a few of the skins that will have fallen off – you don’t want to serve those. The roasted beans are then tossed with a tablespoon or two or three of extra virgin olive oil and some Zaatar.

zaatar_componentsNow then, the Zaatar. I think I’ve posted a recipe for it before, but I can’t find it, if I did. At this class we got Caroline’s recipe for it, which is in the recipe below. It’s a combination of sumac, dried thyme, dried marjoram, dried oregano, roasted sesame seeds and salt.

You can see the parts of the mixture at left – Caroline made a big batch of it because she used it in several dishes. You can buy already-prepared Zaatar (also written as za’atar and zatar). Penzey’s has it, and at some better markets you’ll likely find it. You DO need sumac, though, and that’s not exactly something everyone has. In the photo, the sumac (the red stuff) is the largest component. You may find some zaatar without sumac, but I truly don’t think it would be authentic. Sumac has a kind of lemony taste – tart – but altogether delicious. It’s used in lots of Mediterranean cooking, but mostly from the southern side, like Syria, Morocco and Egypt. I’d guess sumac bushes must grow profusely in that climate.

The recipe below makes more than you’ll need for this appetizer – you can halve the recipe, or just use the rest of it for something else within a few months. You can prepare the zaatar a few days ahead of time.

What’s GOOD: loved the crunchy texture and the combo of the zaatar on them. They’re addicting, just so you know . . .

What’s NOT: nothing other than you’ll need to source the zaatar somewhere or make your own, in which case you’ll need sumac. Don’t try to make this without the sumac.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Roasted Chickpeas with Zaatar

Recipe By: From a cooking class with Caroline C., Califrench Cuisine
Serving Size: 6

28 ounces chickpeas, canned — rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons Zaatar — (see recipe below)
1/2 teaspoon salt — plus a little
ZAATAR:
1/4 cup sumac
2 tablespoons dried thyme
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, roasted
2 tablespoons dried marjoram
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon sea salt

NOTES: The Zaatar recipe makes more than you’ll need for this recipe – make half a recipe if you don’t think you’ll use it for other things.
1. Spread rinsed and drained chickpeas on paper towels to dry for at least an hour.
2. Preheat oven to 400F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and place the chickpeas on the pan.
3. Bake in the center of the oven for about 45-50 minutes, stirring and rotating them every 10 minutes. Taste a chickpea to see if it’s drying enough. If they’re crunchy, they’re done, but they should be crunchy all the way through. Do not over bake, however. Taste as you go.
4. Remove from oven and remove any loose skins that have broken loose during roasting.
5. Place hot chickpeas in a bowl and drizzle with the oil, Zaatar and salt. Serve hot or warm.
Per Serving: 197 Calories; 6g Fat (27.1% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 30g Carbohydrate; 6g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 575mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on June 17th, 2016:

    Do you think the chickpeas could be made ahead and rewarmed, adding the oil and seasonings to serve?

    Yes, I think they could be – do all the baking ahead and just reheat them in a skillet long enough to warm them without actually cooking them. Don’t use microwave. You want them to be crispy. . . carolyn t

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