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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 November 14th, 2016.

shrimp_orzo_salad_feta

A stunning combination. Shrimp, orzo pasta, a light lemon juice dressing, sugar snap peas, green onions, some red onion and nice big chunks of Feta cheese. Absolutely yummy.

I made this some weeks ago, when it was still very much summer. My friend Cherrie was in NoCal visiting family and Bud, her husband, was alone.

Often when Cherrie is away I’ll invite Bud over for dinner. This time he came to help me figure out a mechanical problem with my pool. Mechanical engineering isn’t my strength, and I have to rely on others to help me me unravel house problems of that nature. Suffice to say, the problem was that I have too much water pressure to my house (and outside landscaping, etc.). I had no idea there was such a thing as a pressure regulator that should be installed on a home’s incoming water supply. Hence, the automatic pool fillers I have were over filling. These things hang on the edge of both the pool and spa and when the water goes below a certain level, it signals to open the valve to add water and then shut off (supposedly) when it reaches an acceptable level. Well, they weren’t shutting off when they should and my pools were over filling. Badly. To the point of overflowing both pool and spa. Who knew it could be such a simple thing as too much pressure. Hence the tiny mechanical thing that says it’s time to shut off the water couldn’t react fast enough.

So, it took Bud awhile to diagnose the problem (with help from my friend Lynn in Colorado who suggested testing the water pressure – Lynn did some diagnosing of my problem when they were visiting a couple of months ago). Anyway, I am hoping it’s fixed now. I must wait until evaporation takes the water level low enough to fill again. Meanwhile, my plumber has come to install the regulator, to the tune of several hundred dollars.

Okay, now, back to food. I’m sure you were all so interested in hearing my house problems. My DH always took care of these kinds of things, so I’ve had to learn about them.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts about my project of clearing out my old recipes so I can dispose of a basket file cabinet thing. In the process I re-found a lot of recipes I’m anxious to try. One I will post soon. This one wasn’t from that mass of recipes, but from a luncheon I attended a few months ago and all of us were asked to bring a salad. Two people brought shrimp and orzo salads. What a kick! And yet, both of them were different. My friend Joan made this one, a recipe from Ina Garten. The recipe is on her website, but I have to say, some of the ingredients are hidden in the directions and not listed in the ingredients, so I’d suggest you use the recipe below which has it complete.

Big, huge shrimp are a favorite of mine. Love them! But I don’t eat them all that often as I have to be careful not to consume too many purines (of which shrimp and shellfish contain them in spades). If I have them, I like the big ones – I ate 3 of them in this salad. Vegetables were chopped (cucumber, sugar snaps, green onions, red onion, Italian parsley, dill) and Feta cheese is cubed to add in later. Orzo pasta is cooked just al dente (10 minutes), then it’s tossed with an olive oil and lemon juice dressing, then all the other stuff is tossed in, including the shrimp. Ina has you roast the shrimp – I didn’t want to heat the oven, so I just cooked them on the cooktop – took about 5-6 minutes total. The shrimp are added in and then the Feta, stirred and served. Ina suggests letting the salad sit for an hour (or overnight, even) to help meld the flavors – I didn’t do that and it was still sensational. If time permits, do that.

What’s GOOD: everything about this salad is good. The combo of shrimp and Feta is a good one. The addition of dill is inspired. Ina is a master of bringing good flavors together and this recipe is a real winner. I’m so happy I have some leftovers!

What’s NOT: can’t think of a thing!

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Roasted Shrimp & Orzo with Feta

Recipe By: Barefoot Contessa
Serving Size: 6

3/4 pound orzo
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup EVOO
2 teaspoons salt freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds shrimp — (16 to 18 count) peeled and deveined
1 cup minced scallions — white and green parts
1 cup fresh dill — chopped
1 cup Italian parsley — chopped
1 hothouse cucumber — unpeeled, seeded, and diced
1/2 cup red onion — minced
3/4 pound Feta cheese — large-diced

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
2. Fill a large pot with water, add 1 tablespoon of salt and a splash of oil, and bring the water to a boil. Add the orzo and simmer for 9 to 11 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it’s cooked al dente. Drain and pour into a large bowl. Whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Pour over the hot pasta and stir well.
3. Meanwhile, place the shrimp on a sheet pan, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss to combine and spread out in a single layer. Roast for 5 to 6 minutes, until the shrimp are cooked through. Don’t overcook! [I pan sauteed the shrimp with olive oil and they were cooked through in 5-6 minutes.)
4. Add the shrimp to the orzo and then add the scallions, dill, parsley, cucumber, onion, more salt and pepper. Toss well. Add the feta and stir carefully. Set aside at room temperature for 1 hour to allow the flavors to blend, or refrigerate overnight. If refrigerated, taste again for seasonings and bring back to room temperature before serving.
Per Serving: 706 Calories; 34g Fat (43.2% calories from fat); 47g Protein; 52g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 281mg Cholesterol; 1582mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on November 15th, 2016:

    I think I might enjoy that salad but I would prefer the tiny brown shrimp that we have here, such sweet little things.

    It’s a really nice salad – you could use any kind of shrimp you want. . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on November 19th, 2016:

    Sounds delicious!

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