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Just finished reading How It All Began: A Novelby Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant (she arrived after the birth, actually). Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the father is a wealthy man in the area who carries a lot of clout. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

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 middle-aged 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, and wealthy) 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.

 

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, on September 29th, 2016.

Yoghurt & Spinach Dip, 'Borani Esfanaaj', in the Persian Manner

A really fabulous yogurt and spinach dip. Not hard to make. I forgot to take a picture of the finished dish, so am using the one from the original recipe. Photo: Food52

Every summer my family gets together to celebrate 4 birthdays within a 2-week period (used to be 5 birthdays in a 3-week span when my DH was alive). I offered to have it at my house providing everybody brought dishes to round out the menu. I dug into my freezer and brought out various chops, sausages and steaks to grill. Sara brought a mango chutney and a lovely salad which I’ll write up soon. Karen brought a farro salad and her home made tomato-cashew jam. I ordered a big, fancy decorated cake (lemon with strawberry filling). Barbara brought a kale and cabbage salad. I made this delicious spinach/yogurt dip and I made pineapple salsa to go with the various grilled meats.

Since I knew we were eating heartily, I wanted to make an appetizer that was somewhat healthy, and this recipe seemed to be the one. I’d read it over at Food52, as I mentioned above, and it won one of their contests as “Best Spinach Recipe.” So that gave this one a leg-up over any number of other spinach type appetizers I might have made. Commenters said it was just SO good.

persian_yogurt_spinach_dip_ungarnishedExpecting 10-12 people for dinner, I knew I needed to double the recipe, which meant 24 ounces of baby spinach (just that was $8.00; yikes), and it’s amazing once it wilted down how little there was of it! I chopped it up first (so I wouldn’t have to do it afterwards when it was wet). I suppose you could use frozen spinach – it would simplify this dish some, but I wanted to make it authentically.

It’s a Persian recipe called Borani Esfanaaj. I found similar recipes at other websites with other slight variations in ingredients and in name, but they’re all very similar. What makes this one different, I think, is the crushed walnuts on top AND the use of dried mint. According to the background on this recipe, Shayma, the recipe’s author, said:

“A borani is a cold yoghurt-based dish from Iran. But that is a bit of a boring piece of info, right? Well, apparently, it has been said that Poorandokht, the daughter of the Sassanian Persian King Khosrow Paravaiz, loved cold yoghurt-based dishes. When she was proclaimed Queen, the name Poorani was given to yoghurt-based dishes. Later on Poorani turned into Borani. I so do like to believe this story 🙂 I love spinach and how it melds so well with yoghurt.”

persian_dip_mixingShayma suggests in the recipe that the use of dried mint gives this a more earthy, woodsy taste – I like that aspect of it. I sprinkled some of the mint IN the mixture, then more on top with the walnuts. You can certainly use your own discretion. I added one ingredient – a bit of lemon juice.

There, at left, is the mixture before I mixed it up very much. I used very little oil to wilt the spinach, so I added in a couple of T. of oil into the dip itself and put just a tiny drizzle on top to serve it. I could just kick myself for not taking a photo of my finished dish, with the sangak bread I served with it.

Do try to make this a few hours ahead so the flavors can chill and get friendly before you pull it out to serve it.

What’s GOOD: this was SO tasty. Loved the spinach, and using Greek yogurt (thicker than regular) gave the dip a nice consistency. Although you can’t taste the garlic, there are some added flavors in this (lemon juice for sure, the walnuts and definitely the dried mint). Well worth making. Easy to mix up ahead too. My family devoured it. Definitely one to make again.

What’s NOT: really nothing. A bit of a nuisance to chop up and wilt all the spinach, but it doesn’t take all that long to do.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Persian Yogurt & Spinach Dip, ‘Borani Esfanaaj’

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from a recipe at Food52
Serving Size: 6

12 ounces baby spinach
1 clove garlic — minced and divided into two separate batches.
2 tablespoons olive oil
10 ounces Greek yogurt, full-fat
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
GARNISH:
1 tablespoon dried mint — do NOT use fresh mint
1 handful walnuts — crushed
EVOO to drizzle on top
Flatbread, crackers, or Middle Eastern soft flatbread, like sangak, to serve

Notes: do use regular inexpensive olive oil for the cooking and to add into the dip; for the garnish, use EVOO, your best stuff, to drizzle on top. The spinach quantity seems like a lot – it’s not, as it wilts down to next to nothing! This dip must have dried mint – it imparts a woodsy kind of flavor to this, which makes it very authentic.
1. Chop the baby spinach finely.
2. Heat a very large saute pan, add a drizzle of olive oil, then add the small amount of garlic. Do not brown it. Add the chopped spinach and over low-medium heat toss until the spinach is completely wilted. Add a bit of salt. Drain well, then using your hands, squeeze out all the liquid.
3. In a bowl, add yogurt, the remaining minced garlic, a bit more olive oil, the squeeze-dried spinach and lemon juice; stir gently. Add salt and pepper to taste.
6. Transfer to the bowl you are serving it in (shallow, round bowl) and sprinkle with dried mint, crushed walnuts and a lazy trail of olive oil. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours for the flavors to blend.
7. Serve with sangak bread, flatbread, pita chips or flat crackers.
Per Serving: 255 Calories; 22g Fat (75.4% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 8g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 19mg Cholesterol; 68mg Sodium.

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