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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 Soups, on November 9th, 2016.

watercress_soup1

Are you tired of my stories? Seems like there always IS one to go along with most of my recipes. This soup is no exception.

The date was probably the early 1990s. My DH (Dear Husband), Dave, and I had been to England (we loved to travel the narrow roads of the countryside – we went there about 8 times and did just that). Once home I was making an effort to prepare more soups – because when we’d stayed with our good friends, Pamela and Jimmy, Pam had served a cold soup course for one of our prodigious meals we had there.

Not that I was planning to serve a soup course with our meals – usually that was just too much food – but on that trip we’d enjoyed soups in many places. And I had vowed to make more. Pamela had served us a cold soup (a cold green pea soup that’s already here on my blog) and my aim was to find some more cold soups to try. I made several over the period of a few weeks, but wasn’t enamored with any of them, particularly. I’d sent a thank you letter to her/them, and in it I asked for more recipes. This was back in the days when all we could do was snail mail, over the pond.

If you haven’t been reading my blog for very long, or you could have forgotten, but these friends, Pamela and Jimmy – we met them in a pub in Ilminster, Somerset, on our very first trip to England together (1981). I’ve told the story before, relating how Pamela introduced me to the art and precision of making a British pot of tea. Each time we visited, Pamela outdid herself preparing a sumptuous meal or two. Often we took them out for a very nice dinner somewhere too. Pamela was a professional cook. She didn’t go to culinary school, but after some early years in the RAF women’s corp, she stayed home to raise hers and Jimmy’s children, and then eventually took a job working for a young, but wealthy couple who owned a very large and lovely manor house some miles away. Pamela cooked for them 2-4 days a week, preparing meals they could reheat on other nights when she wasn’t there. She did all the cooking when they entertained, and especially when they had hunting parties. She regaled us with interesting stories about all of that. One year Dave and I got a tour of the manor house when the owners were away (on the Continent, you see). It was pretty gorgeous, including the Laura Ashley-decorated bedrooms. At the time, Laura Ashley was just the “in” thing, and this house had it in spades. The home was filled with incredible artwork spanning many generations of the family. And it had a dining room table that would seat easily about 24 with no problem whatsoever.

Anyway, back to my story, I’d sent the note to Pamela about more recipes for cold soups. Some months went by, and then I got a lovely envelope chock full longhand recipes, not written in a recipe format. I think she sent me about five, and 3 of them were for a cold watercress soup. Whatever was going on in my life right then, I set the pages aside and they were eventually filed in my pocket folder for SOUPS. And I promptly forgot about them. How rude of me!!

It’s now 20+ years later, and as I mentioned lately, I’ve been working on weeding through all of my old recipe clippings, etc. I’m done with the project now – thank goodness – it was a huge job. I threw out about 95% of them. Out went all the cheesecake recipes (it’s not at the top of my list; it was Dave’s favorite – he probably shed a tear as I tossed them in the trash – but hey, he’s in heaven and enjoying cheesecake every day). Out went nearly all the beet recipes – too much trouble. Out went most of the labor intensive recipes I used to think would be fun. And when I got to the SOUPS folder, there were Pam’s recipes. Oh my goodness. Pam and Jimmy are both gone now, so I can’t call to tell her that I really did appreciate her sending me the recipe, oh so long ago.

watercress_bunchSo here I am, making the soup that Pamela designated as her “favorite” watercress soup. She didn’t say why it was her favorite one – maybe because of the texture – silky – or because it was good either hot or cold. I bought good, fat bunches of watercress – I will only buy the real, full-grown stuff – not the ones that are very young leaves with a root ball. The flavors haven’t developed at all in that variety. One of my local markets almost always has watercress.

First I sweated some leeks and onion, then added one potato, chicken broth (or you could use vegetable broth), the watercress tops (not the thick stems) and cooked with a lid on, until the potatoes were tender. I added milk and half and half although the recipe indicated  using milk alone. Salt and pepper were added and I whizzed this up in my Vitamix blender, which gave it the smoothest, silky texture. I couldn’t wait to dig my spoon into it so I had a small bowl of it for lunch. Thank you, Pamela, for this old recipe.

What’s GOOD: the watercress flavor is subtle. By that I don’t mean that it was unidentifiable. It was watercress soup for sure, and it had the most wonderful texture, which is why I’ve renamed this soup as Silky Watercress Soup. It is similar in consistency to vichyssoise, but not as thick, by a long shot. It’s probably the one potato in it; and probably the power of my Vitamix blender. The soup can be diluted a bit more with milk if desired. It could be a main dish soup (probably to serve 3) or a smaller bowl to serve 6, along with a half sandwich or a salad. Just don’t overpower the delicacy of the soup with a strong flavored side dish. A winner of a recipe, and I’m so grateful I ran across this old recipe. More to come.

What’s NOT: gee, not a thing.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Silky Watercress Soup

Recipe By: From my English friend, Pamela James
Serving Size: 5

1 1/2 ounces butter
2 large leeks — cleaned, thinly sliced
1 large onion — chopped
8 ounces potato — peeled, diced
2 bunches watercress — about 4-5 cups, chopped
2 cups low sodium chicken broth
2 cups milk — or use some half and half
salt and pepper to taste
croutons for garnish

1. Melt butter in large saute pan; add leeks and onions; cook for 5 minutes without browning. Add potato and cook for 3 minutes.
2. Remove larger stalks from the watercress and roughly chop leaves. Add to pan with stock and salt and pepper.
3. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
4. Sieve mixture or puree in a blender until smooth.
5. Stir in milk; heat until it’s just below a simmer. Pour into bowls and garnish with a little swirl of cream and croutons.
6. May be served hot or chilled (chill for several hours).
Per Serving: 208 Calories; 10g Fat (43.5% calories from fat); 10g Protein; 21g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 32mg Cholesterol; 341mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on November 13th, 2016:

    I’ll never tire of your stories, Carolyn. They are what makes your blog such a pleasure to read.
    I’d love to try this soup, but decent watercress is a rarity at my market, and when I do see it, the bunches are small–I doubt that two would be enough for this recipe; it would probably take at least 4. Now, the state park where I hike has a stream just full of watercress, all off limits! So frustrating!

    Thank you, Donna. When days go by and nobody leaves a comment I wonder if anyone is still reading my blog. Statistics online say otherwise, but for whatever reason, my readers don’t leave comments. Even when they cook my recipes! Sorry about the lack of watercress. Do you get watercress in the summer? . . .carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on November 14th, 2016:

    I really don’t know when they have watercress at my store, as I don’t look for it often. I believe it used to be more of a staple years ago, but last time I wanted some, they didn’t have it, and I haven’t noticed any lately. I know the produce manager, and he’s always willing to try to get things in for me, so I ought to discuss it with him. He’s been trying to get me some savoy cabbage for two years now with no luck, though. He once called a guy he knows in California who can usually get anything for him, and the guy said he’d send him some right away, but it didn’t come.
    I am sure it is discouraging when you don’t get any comments.
    By the way, I did make your artichoke toasts for my dulcimer picnic, and it went over very well.

    I guess, living in California, we tend to take it for granted that we can get everything, year ’round. Whole Foods probably has the best selection of fruits and vegetables of anyone, but it’s one of my local chain grocery stores that carries watercress. The produce guy told me awhile back that he orders it because there is a loyal following at that store only, for watercress. So I make sure to buy it now and then. And gee whiz, we have savoy cabbage all the time. So sorry you don’t. We also have a lot of produce from Mexico, though I tend not to buy it during the months when it really isn’t in season. . . carolyn t

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