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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 August 16th, 2016.

clementines_tuna_pasta_salad

Tuna, pasta, some pickle action, radishes, celery and ample pepper. Oh yes, mayo. A nice salad for a warm summer’s day.

Lately it seems like I’ve allowed my palate, my wants, to rule what I fix in my kitchen. This day, I was craving tuna and I nearly made my favorite tuna salad, posted here on my blog ages ago, Sicilian Tuna Salad. BUT, I thought I might try something different. I used Eat Your Books to help me find something from my own cookbook collection, and sure enough, it located a tuna and pasta salad from Amanda Hesser’s cookbook, The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century. I did have to substitute a few things – I thought I had cornichons, but couldn’t locate them in my refrigerator, so I added some dill pickles instead. I also didn’t have chow chow and Tennessee chow chow to boot – that’s not something I ever stock since I really don’t eat it. It sounds like something my grandmother used to can every summer. Can you still buy chow chow? Anyway, peppadew pepperswhat I did have were peppadew peppers (sweet – see photo at left), so I added those instead (see them, some of the little red pieces in the photo). I also added radishes – just because I love them. Those weren’t in the recipe at all. Amanda used little elbow macaroni – I didn’t have any of that, either, so I used penne rigate.

You could say that this is a totally different salad – I used less mayo too. It took no time at all to mix this up – waiting for the pasta to cook, drain and cool took the longest. And since it made a bunch, I’ll have it for lunch several more times. I’ll likely be very tired of it before I eat it all. I should have cut it in half . . . the recipe indicated it served 1-2, but gosh no, it made a lot; enough for 3-4 lunch sized portions. Maybe more.

What’s GOOD: what can you say about a tuna pasta salad? It was good. Not exactly sensational – truthfully, my other tuna salad, the Sicilian one I linked above – is better, but this one was very good nevertheless. I’ll enjoy eating it, but when/if I get a craving again, I’ll go back to my favorite one (it doesn’t use mayo). This one is liberally slathered with it – if you don’t like mayo, you definitely wouldn’t like this salad.

What’s NOT: really nothing. Perhaps if I’d had chow chow (Tennessee chow chow, excuse me) and cornichons, that might have made the salad a bit different. I’m not sure.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Clementine’s Tuna Pasta Salad

Recipe By: Adapted significantly from Amanda Hesser’s New York Times Cookbook
Serving Size: 5

Salt
1/2 pound macaroni (I used penne rigate)
1/2 cup celery — minced
1/2 cup cheddar cheese — diced
4 whole green onions — minced
4 whole cornichons — finely sliced, or dill pickle finely diced
3 tablespoons chow chow — or peppadew peppers, chopped
2/3 cup radishes — sliced
2/3 cup mayonnaise
12 ounces canned tuna — drained, flaked
Black pepper to taste

1. Simmer pasta in salted, boiling water for 10-12 minutes, according to package instructions. Do not over cook. Drain and set aside to cool.
2. In a medium-sized bowl combine the celery, cheddar, green onions, radishes, chow chow, cornichons, mayonnaise, tuna and pepper. Do add more pepper than you might think it needs.
3. Add cooled pasta and stir to combine. If using penne pasta, it takes a bit of stirring to get the salad to mix thoroughly without clumps of the tuna/mayo mixture. Chill and serve. You might garnish it with a sprinkling of minced Italian parsley.
Per Serving: 530 Calories; 30g Fat (50.4% calories from fat); 27g Protein; 40g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 43mg Cholesterol; 637mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on August 17th, 2016:

    I’m familiar with the existence of chow chow, but don’t think I’ve ever had it, unless it was a church dinner during my growing-up years. Your Tuscan one sounds very doable, though. I missed that because I don’t think I was a blog reader when you posted it. Just got back from a trip to Kansas to see my son, his wife, and their two children, the food situation needs assessing, and I can’t go to the grocery store because I’m expecting a load of shingles. I was wondering what to fix for supper, and that sounds like just the ticket! I love capers; the guys aren’t crazy about them, so I’ll probably cut back on them and put extra on my own serving.

    Hope everybody will enjoy it. I do love that Sicilian (not Tuscan) salad. . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on August 20th, 2016:

    Thanks for pointing out that it is Sicilian, not Tuscan–I might have had trouble finding the recipe if it weren’t that you linked it here! Very tasty–comment over in the post for the Sicilian one.

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