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I’m going to write up an entire blog post about this book. 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 Florence as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

Also finished The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: A Novel by Gabrielle Zevin. It popped up on a list I subscribe to and was available for $1.13 as an e-book. As it begins, you’re hearing from A.J., a grieving widower who owns a bookstore on an obscure island off the East Coast. He’s angry, rude and every other negative adjective you can imagine. A book rep comes to visit and he’s awful to her, yet she perseveres and manages to sell him a few books. You get to know his friends (a friendship with him is full of sharp points) and one day an abandoned toddler is found in his bookshop. In between the story line about A.J., the book rep, the little girl and others, you will learn all about A.J.’s book tastes. If you’re an avid reader, you’ll really enjoy that part. It’s a charming book; loved it.

Also read 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 need that kind of book – you may not want to read this one.

 

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, Vegetarian, on July 3rd, 2016.

mitsitam_wild_rice_salad1

This post is going “up” on July 3rd. Just before you might need a nice, different salad for the celebration of America’s 4th of July, Independence Day. Since we should be remembering our forefathers, and their sometimes friendliness to the native American people, this one is appropriate.

This recipe has been posted before, about 5 years ago. My D-I-L gave me a cookbook from the Mitsitam Café (at the Smithsonian Native American Museum), and when she and the family had visited the museum, they had lunch at the café, and ordered this wonderful salad. It’s so good and worth repeating. As I write this, I’m taking the salad to their house to celebrate Karen’s birthday, and this is the salad she requested. I think Powell remembered I’d made it before so he asked for a repeat. He’s doing duck as the main course.

I’ve updated my photos on the 2011 post (with the ones I took today) which highlight the freshness of the ingredients – the just slightly chewy wild rice, the crunchy carrots, toasted pine nuts and pumpkin seeds, and with no question, the watercress is the #2 star of the dish (wild rice, obviously, must be the #1 star). You do want to make the wild rice ahead – it needs to chill, and it is so easy to put this together about an hour before serving. Adding the dressing (apple cider vinegar, honey, canola oil + S&P) gives time to be absorbed into the rice (and maybe add a jot more dressing when you DO serve it).

mitsitam_wild_rice_saladIdeally, you’ll eat it all – in which case you can toss the watercress in with the salad. If you think you might have leftovers, either add the watercress on top (and maybe add a bit more half way through as people take salad) OR optionally, keep some watercress reserved, remove the watercress that got left in the salad (it gets withered and is not appetizing after a day or so if it’s been soaking in the dressing) and just add more watercress when you serve it the next time.

I’m a fanatic about watercress – I don’t like the “baby cress” they offer at some grocery stores these days – the one that’s in a root ball. It bears little or no resemblance to full-grown watercress that has that peppery bite to it. If that’s all you can find, well, use it I guess, or buy arugula instead. It’s not the same, but it does have that peppery bite that I’d be looking for in this recipe.

It’s a very pretty salad to look at. It’s healthy (although there IS an oil/vinegar dressing on it), hearty, and could serve as a vegetarian entrée as well. Throw some quinoa in there and you’d for sure have ample protein – or maybe a can of rinsed and drained garbanzo beans. Not authentic to the recipe, but I think it would be tasty in it.

What’s GOOD: I love wild rice (it’s not really a rice, but a wild grain) and it contains good-for-you stuff. The crunchiness of the salad is part of what appeals to me – the dressing is fairly innocuous, but it is a good foil for the carb aspect of the salad. There are some chopped green onions plus a few dried cranberries (think Pilgrims) in there too, and I just love-love the watercress. If watercress wasn’t so expensive (I had to buy 5 bunches at $1.29 each) I’d reverse the order of things and make the wild rice the #2 item here. Either way, though, this salad is delicious. It’s a beautiful looking salad too. Don’t overcook the wild rice – it’s not very nice when it’s “popped” as it does when it’s overly cooked – I started watching it at 40 minutes and it was done to my liking at 45 minutes.

What’s NOT: the only thing I’d say is the washing and prepping of the watercress. It took me about 30 minutes to wash, then pinch the young leaf bunches off the watercress stems (bigger watercress stems are almost woody and certainly not very tasty). But then, I was making this to serve 18 people. If you only bought 1-2 bunches it wouldn’t be so formidable a task. Do plan ahead – make the rice the day before if at all possible. Otherwise, everything about it is pretty easy. I rinsed and picked the watercress the day before and rolled all those tender leaves in tea towels to get all the moisture out.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Wild Rice Salad with Watercress

Recipe By: From Mitsitam Cafe Cookbook (Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian)
Serving Size: 8

VINAIGRETTE:
6 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup honey
3/4 cup canola oil Salt and pepper to taste
SALAD:
6 cups vegetable stock
1 1/2 cups wild rice
1 whole carrot — chopped or in matchsticks
3 tablespoons dried cranberries — chopped (or use golden raisins)
1 whole plum tomatoes — chopped
5 whole green onions — diced
1/2 cup pine nuts — toasted
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds — roasted
3 bunches watercress

NOTES: The nutrition info assumes you’ll use all the dressing; you don’t – you’ll use about 3/4 of it.
1. Combine vinaigrette, cover and refrigerate for one hour (dressing will keep for 10 days).
2. Combine wild rice and vegetable stock in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer for 40-50 minutes, or until cooked through. Start checking at 40 minutes, and do NOT overcook the wild rice. Drain and spread the rice out onto a large baking sheet to dry.
3. Scrape rice into a large bowl, add carrots, cranberries, tomato, green onions and nuts. Add about half the vinaigrette, toss together and refrigerate for an hour. Taste for seasonings (it likely will need more salt) and add more dressing if it appears to be dry.
4. Place watercress on individual plates and top with wild rice mixture. If you have leftovers, remove all of the watercress as it turns icky if it’s kept past the first serving. Alternately you can place the salad in a large bowl and toss it all together and either serve it buffet style or place the tossed salad on individual plates.
Per Serving (not accurate): 535 Calories; 29g Fat (48.0% calories from fat); 13g Protein; 59g Carbohydrate; 7g Dietary Fiber; 2mg Cholesterol; 1234mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on July 4th, 2016:

    I had forgotten about wild rice, it is a tasty thing to eat. I, too, love watercress but I only buy it when in season, any other time it has very little flavour.

    Well, THAT’s interesting – you have seasons for watercress? When is that? I can buy it year ’round usually, and haven’t had any difficulty with the flavor. I’m guessing it’s not wild, but “farmed.” . . . carolyn t

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on July 5th, 2016:

    Spring is the time to buy and eat watercress. It flowers in summer so is not usually sold then. It grows in ‘beds’ which are watered by natural springs so everything is clean and fresh.

  3. Susan Dillard

    said on July 6th, 2016:

    I made this last night and it is so good! Thank you for sharing. I didn’t have watercress, but used a mixture of different lettuce and radicchio and another salad green that I don’t know the name of. 🙂 It was very easy to put together and I loved it. Thanks again.

    I’m so glad you like it, Susan! It has subtle flavors, yet the citrus shines through for sure. Thanks for telling me! . . .carolyn t

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