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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 October 7th, 2016.

artichoke_crostini

Such a fun appetizer – artichoke hearts (frozen, defrosted) with garlic and a bit of fresh spinach, then pureed with lemon juice, Parmesan, Feta. THEN, the best part, served with a light sprinkle of lime salt (fresh lime zest mixed with flake salt). I absolutely loved it.

My assignment for the dinner group was an appetizer. Someone else was bringing gazpacho, so the hostess asked for something else, finger food of some kind. I scanned through my many recipes and found this, that I’d recently read from Valerie Bertinelli’s cookbook One Dish at a Time: Delicious Recipes and Stories from My Italian-American Childhood and Beyond. If you haven’t caught it, she has a show on the Food Network. Every dish I’ve prepared from the show, and now from the cookbook (at the library) has been gosh-darned good.

artichoke_puree1First, I defrosted a 12-ounce package of frozen artichoke hearts (Trader Joe’s), drained them, then lightly sautéed them in a little olive oil, then added the garlic and fresh spinach (just a few handfuls). That mixture got pureed in the food processor with a light amount of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, some Feta, fresh parsley, lemon juice, salt and pepper. It is improved with a bit of sitting in the refrigerator. Meanwhile, I made the LIME SALT. Nothing but a zested lime (the juice is not used in the dish) and some good flake salt. Some fresh, tasty radishes were thinly sliced, a baguette was sliced and the pieces lightly toasted, and it’s all done.

lime_saltMy friend Sue was visiting and she helped me make this, then we assembled them at the host’s home just before serving. One side of each baguette slice is rubbed with a raw half of a garlic clove (the mixture is fairly heady with garlic – it took about 2-3 garlic cloves to rub all the bread slices), then you pile the artichoke mixture on top, and wedge a slice or two of radish on top and sprinkle with the lime salt. See photo at right of the lime salt .

What’s GOOD: For me, this dish was just fabulous, and the lime salt is what makes it. You definitely taste the lime and the salt, but it enhances the subtle artichoke and garlic flavors. The crunch of the fresh radishes is also a big boost of flavor and good mouth-feel. I’d definitely make this again. Do note, if you’re interested, this is very low fat but high on flavor. If I’d had sufficient left overs, I was going to add a bit of olive oil and add it to some hot pasta. But no, didn’t have any left overs!

What’s NOT: There is a bit of prep to this, but it’s not excessive. It helped that I had a friend to help me with it and we got it done in less than 30 minutes. It takes very few minutes to assemble it if you have all the parts done ahead.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Pureed Artichoke Crostini with Lime Salt

Recipe By: Adapted from “One Dish at a Time by Valerie Bertinelli
Serving Size: 12

1 tablespoon olive oil
12 ounces frozen artichoke hearts — thawed and patted dry
2 cups baby spinach
2 cloves garlic — chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice — plus 1 teaspoon
1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated
3 tablespoons feta cheese — crumbled
2 tablespoons Italian parsley — chopped
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
LIME SALT GARNISH:
2 tablespoons sea salt flakes
1 lime — zested
SERVING:
1 baguette — sliced into thin rounds and toasted lightly
2 cloves garlic — halved
4 radishes — very thinly sliced, for garnish

1. Heat the oil in a medium saute pan over medium heat. Add the artichokes, spinach, chopped garlic and 1 teaspoon of the lemon juice and saute until the spinach begins to wilt and the garlic becomes fragrant, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and transfer to a food processor. Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano, feta, parsley and the remaining tablespoons lemon juice and pulse until smooth. Add the kosher salt and season to taste with pepper.
2. SALT: In a small bowl, combine the sea salt flakes and lime zest with your fingers. Set aside.
3. Cut the remaining garlic cloves in half and rub, cut side down, onto one side of each slice of toasted bread. Spread the artichoke mixture generously among the slices, place on a platter and serve with radishes standing up in the artichoke mixture and sprinkled with a tiny pinch of the lime salt (so you can see it on the radishes); or, spoon the artichoke mixture into a serving bowl and serve with the bread slices on the side. Garnish with the radishes and lime salt.
Per Serving: 139 Calories; 3g Fat (19.2% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 23g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 2mg Cholesterol; 1385mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on October 10th, 2016:

    This really sounds yummy. Looks like just the thing to bring to the fall dulcimer club picnic! We’re supposed to bring a dessert, appetizer, or side, and this should fill the bill nicely!

    Just don’t assemble them ahead of time – the baguette slices would get soggy, and can’t have that! Hope you enjoy this as much as I did. . . carolyn t

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on October 10th, 2016:

    I wonder if we have frozen artichoke here – I never look in the frozen food aisles in our supermarkets – though I know we can get them in jars. I like the concept of this recipe, thank you.

    Well, you can try using jarred or canned artichoke hearts, but NOT the ones that are marinated. That would totally destroy the delicate flavor of these. Good luck! . . . carolyn t

  3. hddonna

    said on October 11th, 2016:

    I was thinking that for the picnic it might work better to serve it as a dip with the toasted baguette slices alongside. I thought I could decorate with the radish slices and sprinkle on the lime salt at the last minute. In fact, though it wouldn’t be quite as pretty, perhaps I should julienne the radishes or make a fine dice so it would be easier to dip.
    As long as you think people will do the steps. The radishes add such a great crunch and the lime salt. Maybe a little sign in front saying “don’t forget the radishes and lime salt.”. . . Carolyn

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