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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 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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