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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 Appetizers, Veggies/sides, on July 31st, 2016.

artichoke_harissa_cream

Do you like artichokes? They’re not available everywhere, I know, and some folks just can’t seem to wrap their arms (or their mouths) around scraping the essence of the stem-end of each artichoke leaf through their teeth to gain this little tiny half a teaspoon of artichoke essence.

Growing up, my mother prepared artichokes frequently. They’re available many months of the year at the grocery stores here in California. They’re grown in abundance in the Salinas Valley, in the north end of the central part of California. And they grow well in other NoCal climes. My mother always put out a little bowl of mayo and we dipped each end into the mayo and scraped away. As I recall, my mom made ONE artichoke and the 3 of us shared it. It was never enough in my book.

When I married my DH, Dave, I soon discovered that he was an artichoke and BUTTER guy. He wanted a little bowl of melted butter to dip his artichoke. But after awhile he stopped using the butter and used nothing. He definitely didn’t like the mayo dip at all. My DH adored the artichoke heart, so I usually let him have my half too. He used to tell the story about his wonderful dog, Woof (a collie) who was a very bright dog. She died long before I met Dave. Dave taught her to scrape the artichoke. He’d hold the leaf and she’d ever so gently pull off the little bit of it. She LOVED them.

Recently I craved an artichoke, and saw some really pretty ones at the store. I pressure-cooked it for about 15 minutes. Just now I went on the ‘net and found recipes suggesting everything from 6 minutes (Kalyn’s Kitchen) to 22 minutes on one other, with several others suggesting times in between. Me? I added about a cup of water to the pressure cooker, squeezed half of a lemon into the water, cut the artichoke in half, leaving the choke intact, put them on a rack and pressure cooked them for the 15 minutes. Once cooled some, I used a spoon to remove the choke and let the artichokes cool to room temp. If the artichoke you buy is really big, use a longer cooking time; shorter if they’re smaller, obviously. Half an artichoke is a good-sized serving. I ate it with my dinner, but it also makes a nice appetizer too.

Then I mixed up the dipping sauce: nothing more than mayo, harissa sauce (if you want to know more about harissa, read my 2012 blog post about using it on lamb kebabs), a little bit of bacon jam (some high end markets carry this, it’s a refrigerated little jar, costs the moon, but it lasts forever), plus a little squeeze of lemon juice.

What’s GOOD: well, now, I love artichokes, so there’s no question any mayo-based sauce would taste great in my book, but if you want to make it special, try the addition of harissa and bacon jam. Delicious.

What’s NOT: nothing really, except the harissa is spicy; probably not to children’s tastes.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Harissa Bacon Mayo for Artichokes

Recipe By: My own concoction
Serving Size: 2

1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon harissa — or more to taste
1 teaspoon bacon jam
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice — or more to taste

1. In a small bowl combine all ingredients. If time permits, let rest in the refrigerator for an hour or so for the flavors to meld.
2. Serve along side a cooked artichoke.
Per Serving: 271 Calories; 32g Fat (97.6% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 1g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 14mg Cholesterol; 227mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on August 1st, 2016:

    Now that looks like an interesting and different dip for artichokes–I’m sure it’s delicious.

    It really was good. Since I have the bacon jam in the refrigerator already, I can always make up a sauce similar to this if I need something on the fly. . . carolyn t

    . Artichokes are a big treat around here. I wait for a sale, and those are few and far between lately. We only had them once this season. When we do, we always get one whole artichoke per person, and they are the star of the meal. They are a first course, and we don’t have much after that. I don’t think I’d be willing to share one with anyone! I will definitely try using the pressure cooker next time–what a good idea!

  2. Kris Thomas

    said on August 20th, 2016:

    Hi Carolyn – Made this tonight and thought it was a cool (not literally) alternative to my usual mayo/lemon/nutmeg dip. And, I’m REALLY glad you’ve added the ability to pin recipes to Pinterest!

    Hi Kris – how nice to have you reading my blog!! I like your idea of adding lemon and nutmeg! That’s very different, but sounds good. I added Pinterest links several years ago. . . carolyn t

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