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Just finished 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 want that kind of book – you may not want to read this one.

Also finished Julian Fellowes’s Belgravia. You know Julian Fellowes, the producer and writer of Downton Abbey? He lends his mind to a story about a family or two from the similar time period as Downton, who live in London. There’s some amount of intrigue, romance, observations from within the halls of wealthy Londoners and moderately well off tradesmen and their families. There’s affairs, shady business dealings, an illegitimate child, the comings and goings of the “downstairs” staff too, etc. The characters were well done – I had no trouble keeping all of the people identified. The story is somewhat predictable, but it was interesting clear up to the end.

The Letter by Kathyrn Hughes. It’s a very intricate tale. At first it’s about Tina, a battered wife [at which point I paused and wondered if I wanted to read any further, but I’m glad I did]. She tries to get the courage to leave her husband. Then enters the letter she finds in a suit pocket in the thrift shop where she volunteers. It’s old – sealed and stamped, but never mailed. Then you learn about Crissie, decades earlier, a young pregnant girl who is sent off to Ireland to a distant relative by her father, then to a rigid (meaning horrible) convent [the book takes place mostly in Manchester, England and in rural Ireland]. The letter is addressed to her. Jump forward decades and William, the adopted child Crissie gave up, tries to find his birth mother. William meets Tina in Ireland [a serendipitous moment] as she’s trying to find the woman to whom the letter is addressed. This book is the #2 best seller on Amazon at the moment. It’s a riveting tale and I really enjoyed it.

The Muralist: A Novel by Shapiro. It tells the story of a young woman, an artist, who was part of the U.S.’s WPA mural project from the 1930s-40s (she is fiction, the WPA is not). As with so many artists, even today, they live in abject poverty through much of their lives. This woman, though, had family in France, desperately trying to escape before Hitler’s henchmen rousted them into concentration camps. The story, a bit of a mystery but not of the mystery-genre, is about Alizée Benoit, this young painter, who slightly captivates Eleanor Roosevelt’s help. It also skips into current time when the painter’s great-niece uncovers paintings she believes were painted by her aunt. The painter had disappeared into thin air in 1940, and her relative tries desperately to find out what happened to her. It’s a really good story including such Abstract Expressionist painters as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner well-woven into the narrative. It keeps you guessing right up to the end. A good read. The author also wrote The Art Forger: A Novel a few years ago.

Also recently read News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a free-lance job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her family was killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of an old (wild) west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many. Just read this one first!

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, Veggies/sides, on September 5th, 2016.

orzo_pancetta_feta_greens_salad

What a lovely and tasty salad this is. It’s different – a little – because it’s served either warm or at room temp, and the Feta cheese adds such a lovely texture and the toasted walnuts too. Those are greens (baby spinach) mixed into the HOT salad, so they wilt.

My good friend Yvette made this salad at my house – so she gets all the credit for it. I provided some pots and pans, the bowl, pans for toasting the nuts, a cutting board, etc. At the very end we all tasted it to see whether it needed more feta or salt, or greens (yes, it did).

The recipe came from a cooking class Yvette took near her home, and it’s from Nancy Madok (a graduate of one of the C.I.A. culinary schools). I wasn’t able to find a website for her, but she gives cooking classes in her home in north San Diego County. Yvette has taken a number of classes from her over the last couple of years. So, the recipe credit goes to Nancy for a stellar recipe.

orzo_pancetta_feta_greens_salad1Pancetta is sautéed, then some red onions. A Dijon vinaigrette is made that contains quite a bit of fresh basil and lemon juice. Orzo pasta is cooked and drained, walnuts toasted, then you toss the orzo with all the other ingredients, while the orzo is hot, so the baby spinach greens wilt. You can serve it then – with the Feta and walnuts sprinkled on top, or mix it all in – doesn’t matter! Or, you can let it cool to room temperature (after a couple of hours I think I’d refrigerate it) and serve it that way. That’s how we had it, with a bit more dressing mixed in (pasta absorbs a lot of dressing if you leave it to sit) and some more Feta sprinkled over the top. There was just a little bit left over and I’m the happy recipient of that! Yippee.

This would make a lovely buffet salad either hot or room temp. I think you could make almost everything ahead of time – I’d toss the pasta with the spinach and some of the dressing and let it sit, refrigerated. Have everything else in a separate container and just toss it together when you’re ready to serve and add most of the dressing and leave a few pieces of walnuts and Feta to put on top. Taste for salt and pepper.

What’s GOOD: this was a GREAT salad. At the gathering where Yvette served this, there were about 15 other salads, so I’m happy it wasn’t all eaten! With the leftovers I’m going to mix in some additional baby spinach (that won’t wilt) and some more Feta too. As I’m writing this I have family coming for a week, so that will make a great accompaniment to some grilled pork chops.

What’s NOT: nothing that I can think of. It’s a great summer salad. Wonderful flavors throughout. You do have to make the dressing, cook the pasta, toast nuts, etc. but it’s not overly labor intensive, all things considered.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Orzo, Pancetta, Feta & Greens with a Basil Lemon Vinaigrette

Recipe By: Nancy Madok, C.I.A. instructor, Cucina Casa, near San Diego
Serving Size: 8

BASIL LEMON VINAIGRETTE:
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh basil — cut in chiffonade
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
SALAD:
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup pancetta — diced
1 medium red onion — finely diced
2 cloves garlic — crushed
1 pound orzo
4 cups baby spinach — roughly chopped
1 cup walnuts — toasted
8 ounces Feta cheese — crumbled

1. VINAIGRETTE: In a medium bowl, whisk the mustard and and lemon zest and juice. Slowly add the olive oil in a steady stream, whisking constantly until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in basil; set aside.
2. SALAD: In a medium saute pan over medium heat, heat 2 T olive oil; add pancetta and cook until brown and crispy. Using a slotted spoon, remove the cooked pancetta and drain on a paper towel lined plate. Allow to drain and then place in a large bowl. Set aside.
3. Place pan back on heat and add 1-2 T more olive oil (if necessary – you need about 2 T in the pan to cook the onions) and saute the onions until soft, 4-6 minutes. Add garlic and cook an additional 1-2 minutes. Add to bowl with pancetta; set aside.
4. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add one teaspoon salt, add orzo and cook as per package instructions. Drain the orzo and place in the bowl with pancetta and onion mixture. Add spinach. Toss with the hot pasta. Add most of the vinaigrette (add it all if desired) and continue tossing until the spinach has wilted. Add feta cheese and walnuts; toss until combined. Season with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature. If you make it ahead a few hours, the salad may need additional dressing and/or salt and pepper. May garnish with more Feta on top, if desired.
Per Serving (you may not use all the dressing and the Feta may contain a lot of sodium): 630 Calories; 39g Fat (54.4% calories from fat); 24g Protein; 49g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 45mg Cholesterol; 1121mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on September 6th, 2016:

    That sounds like a meal that I would enjoy. I do like Orzo, it has a nicer mouth-feel than rice, for me. Did you know that the word Orzo in Italian, means barley? An odd fact that I learned recently.

    I am off to France – the Dordogne – on Thursday, I shall raise a glass to you when we have a good dinner.

    How fun. I love the Dordogne. Once, years and years ago, I went to that region with 2 girlfriends and we stayed at a private home in Saint-Cirq Lapopie (not sure I’m spelling it right), near Cahors with a lovely English woman that I kept in touch with for a long, long time. She was a very sweet woman; I expect she’s passed away as she’s not responded to any of my letters in about 5 years. She had a lovely (but miniscule) home and a small but more sizable structure that was for guests. It overlooked the Lot. Have a grand time, Toni. . . carolyn t

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