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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 Salads, on November 19th, 2016.

watermelon_nectarine_salad

What a different combination. Watermelon and nectarines. Then with a kind of Asian dressing poured over it and tossed with a lot of mint. Really unusual but very tasty.

New recipes are made when you’re missing something and you decide to substitute, or you’re lucky enough to be a genius about conjuring up an original recipe. Me, not so much the latter, but the former. When I decided to make this salad I was sure I’d just read a recipe for combining watermelon and nectarines, but when I went hunting for it I couldn’t find it (still can’t). So I just had to use the recipe that was in my MasterCook file that I’d just downloaded from the Food & Wine website, but instead of pea shoots (which I didn’t have) I used nectarines.

This is a very unusual salad, and if you’re at all put off by combining fruit with a kind of Asian twist on a dressing, you may want to pass this one by. But it was really delicious. I mean, really delicious. It would go best with a simple protein of some kind, maybe a teriyaki glazed chicken breast, or even a really plain piece of fish. In which case this salad would almost serve as a salsa. What I served it with didn’t go, particularly, with it, so I ate it separately. I finished my entrée, then I ate this salad, and that way it was fine.

It came together in a flash – chopped up watermelon, sliced nectarines, fresh mint, then a whisked together dressing of unseasoned rice wine vinegar (meaning it doesn’t have sugar in it), shallot, oil, sesame seeds, and a little splash of Asian fish sauce. Very different for a fruit salad, but it works.

What’s GOOD: the combo was really different. Next time I’d probably cut the nectarines into bite-sized pieces (halving the slices) as they were too big to eat in one bite. The dressing is oh so very different for a fruit salad, but I’d do it again. Because I knew there was fish sauce in it, I could taste it, but am not sure others would/could detect it. It comes together very quickly – if you have the ingredients this will make itself in about 5-6 minutes. Try it before watermelon season is gone.

What’s NOT: If you’re not a fan of fish sauce, you might not like it so much – it’s different, I’ll give you that. I enjoyed it a lot. I may make it again since I still have more watermelon and another nectarine.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Watermelon and Nectarine Salad with Mint

Recipe By: Adapted from Food & Wine, Aug 2016
Serving Size: 6

3 tablespoons unseasoned rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons minced shallot
2 tablespoons canola oil — or olive oil
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
1 1/2 pounds watermelon — seedless, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
2 medium nectarines — seeded and sliced
2/3 cup mint leaves — coarsely chopped
1 cup pea shoots — torn (1 ounce) optional
Kosher salt (maybe not needed)

1. In a small bowl, whisk the rice vinegar and shallot; let stand for 5 minutes. Whisk in the oil, sesame seeds and fish sauce.
2. In a large serving bowl, toss the watermelon with the nectarines, mint and pea shoots, if using. Add the dressing and toss well. Taste for seasonings (it shouldn’t need salt as the rice wine vinegar and the fish sauce both contain a significant amount of sodium). Serve right away as it gets soggy once it sits for awhile.
Per Serving: 123 Calories; 6g Fat (44.9% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 16g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 3mg Cholesterol; 211mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on November 19th, 2016:

    I like your new picture, is it a more recent shot?

    I’d be lucky to get a watermelon here, they make an appearance for just about two weeks in summer, and nectarines here are useless, they are picked too early and they never ripen. We don’t grow them but I am used to buying from the roadsides in southern France. There they are sold only when ripe.

    I like the idea of the dressing, I don’t mind fish sauce and frequently use an anchovy or two as a seasoning.

    Yes, new picture! My church does a new directory every 4-5 years and I just had that photo taken (very observant of you!). I took a picture of the picture and then had to do some photoshop-ing to it because it had an oval frame around it.

    Too bad about watermelon – we are so fortunate here in California, but then we’re a state that produces so much food. And nectarines grow here locally. . . Carolyn T

  2. hddonna

    said on November 19th, 2016:

    I believe you when you say it’s good. I hope I remember to try it next summer when I can get good nectarines. I do love sweet and salty combinations. Sounds interesting–and tasty.

  3. hddonna

    said on November 21st, 2016:

    I noticed the picture, too, and thought it was very good!

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