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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 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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