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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 October 31st, 2016.

sausage_chile_soup2

Is it soup weather? I have a passion for soup, even if it’s the middle of summer. But it’s winter thank goodness!

I don’t love hot soup when it’s hot and muggy, but I’ve been known to eat it anyway. Once the weather turns cooler, though, I’m all over the variety of mixed vegetables to add to a pot full of soup. This time I’d started off reading a recipe for a chicken crockpot soup, but as I added and deleted items, it stopped being an enchilada soup (a misnomer anyway) and became a vegetable soup with some leeks and chiles. And not in the crockpot. And not chicken, but sausage. By the time I started on this soup it was about 3pm, and no time to make it in the crockpot.

Leeks are a given in lots of my soups. They just add a ton of flavor. So then I added a can of red enchilada sauce (it could be green or red), some onion, carrot and celery, cumin for flavor and chili powder for some oomph. A single can of black beans went in (you could easily add more, and a can of white beans too if you/your family like the carbs), some low sodium chicken broth (Penzey’s soup base and water) and a soup was in the making. I let it stew for awhile, lid on, and then I added in about 4 ounces (half of an 8-inch block was what I had languishing in my refrigerator) of cream cheese. If you chop it up in small cubes it will kind of silky-slide or melt into the soup. Use a whisk if it leaves pieces. If you really want the cream cheese to be smooth, remove a cup or two of soup broth and whiz the cream cheese and the broth in a blender, then add it back into the soup. Lastly I added a scant pound of sweet Italian sausage that I just cut up with scissors. Once that was cooked, I added 1/4 cup of heavy cream. If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you know I like a bit of creaminess to my soups. That little 1/4 cup added a lot of smoothness to the soup along with the cream cheese. The type of chili powder I used for this soup (from Penzey’s) added a whole lot of heat – more than I’d planned on, actually, so use your own judgment on how much to add.

sausage_chile_soup1Don’t let the sausage cook in the soup for a long time or it will give up all its flavor to the soup. Instead, just cook it long enough so it’s done, add the cream and you’re ready to eat.

Heat the soup to a simmer, and it’s ready to serve. Meanwhile, prepare some toppings like grated cheese (Jack or Cheddar or Colby, or pepper-Jack), a dollop of sour cream (or yogurt), a lime wedge and some more cilantro to sprinkle on last.

This soup made a bunch – enough for about 8-10 servings, I think, unless you have a football player around. I took out about 4 cups for some friends (2 meals worth of a cup apiece, I hoped), and the husband had 3 servings that first night, so there went my idea of providing them with 2 dinner meals. He loved it. Obviously! I loved it too – had it for a lunch or dinner for several days. Some went into a freezer bag and will keep for another day when I don’t feel like cooking.

What’s GOOD: good, hearty meal. For my appetite, a bit over a cup provided a filling portion, but some may want more. Loved all the vegetables in it, and the chunks of Italian sausage were really nice. You could use turkey Italian sausage too. The toppings make it very colorful and full of more texture. I particularly like to add more fresh cilantro on top when serving. It was even better the day after I made it, FYI.

What’s NOT: really nothing – might require a trip to the grocery store for leeks (I never keep them on hand).

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Sausage and Chile Soup

Recipe By: Adapted from an online recipe
Serving Size: 7

10 ounces red enchilada sauce
3 medium leeks — chopped, rinsed
2/3 cup yellow onion — diced
2/3 cup carrot — peeled, diced
2/3 cup celery — diced
15 ounces black beans — drained, rinsed
4 ounces diced green chiles
10 1/2 ounces canned diced tomatoes
4 teaspoons chili powder — (or less to taste)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro
4 cups low sodium chicken broth
3/4 pound Italian sausage — cut in small pieces (or use chicken Italian sausage)
4 ounces cream cheese — softened
1/4 cup heavy cream
Optional toppings: pepper-jack cheese, sour cream, fresh lime wedges, more cilantro, maybe some tortilla chips

1. In a large soup or stock pot pour in the red enchilada sauce, chopped leeks, onion, carrot, celery and drained and rinsed black beans. Add the undrained diced fire-roasted green chiles, canned tomatoes, chili powder, cumin, coarsely chopped fresh cilantro, and chicken broth or stock.
2. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for about 30-45 minutes.
3. Chop the cream cheese into small cubes and add to the soup, stirring until it’s completely melted and smooth. Use a whisk if necessary (or whiz it up in the blender with some of the soup broth and add back in).
4. Add the raw Italian sausage and allow soup to simmer for about 15 minutes until it’s cooked through. Taste for seasonings and add salt or pepper if needed. Add the heavy cream and bring to a simmer. Serve with desired toppings.
Per Serving: 558 Calories; 25g Fat (40.6% calories from fat); 30g Protein; 54g Carbohydrate; 12g Dietary Fiber; 80mg Cholesterol; 1115mg Sodium.

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