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Just finished reading How It All Began: A Novelby Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant (she arrived after the birth, actually). Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the father is a wealthy man in the area who carries a lot of clout. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

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 middle-aged 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, and wealthy) 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.

 

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 January 22nd, 2017.

roasted_tom_soup_pesto

Can’t quite believe I’m posting yet another tomato soup recipe. But yes, I am, and is it ever good. And contains no cream or dairy at all, but you’d never know it.

One of my favorite recipes is a tomato soup I learned at a cooking class about 10-12 years ago. It’s on my list of FAVS, called Cream of Tomato Soup. Just typing those words makes my mouth water. Guess I need to make some soon. But maybe I’ll make THIS one instead, as it was almost as tasty and has no cream in it but is loaded with flavor.

This one came from a cooking class with a French chef, and it’s one of her favorites, made with roasted Roma tomatoes. The day of this particular class, the chef, Caroline, couldn’t find good looking Romas, so she used on-the-vine tomatoes instead, and they were delicious. This time of year it’s hard to find really red-ripe tomatoes, so Caroline was disappointed in the orange-y color of the soup – she blamed it on the under ripe color of the tomatoes. The quartered tomatoes and a red bell pepper are tossed with olive oil and roasted 45 minutes. Meanwhile, you cook a yellow onion in EVOO and add the roasted tomato mixture to it, along with some chicken (or vegetable) stock. It’s pureed in the blender and reheated. If you like a really silky consistency, put the soup through a strainer or a Chinois to remove all the pulp and other stuff – I probably wouldn’t bother as I like texture.

If you have ready-made pesto, use it – chef Caroline diluted some store-bought with just a tiny bit of water so it would drizzle. Done. Easy. She served the soup with little French bread croutons with melted goat cheese on top – it was just an easy accompaniment to the soup to help round out the course.

What’s GOOD: how delicious the soup is – it must be the roasting that gives it so much flavor – it’s easy to make. Just be sure to buy good tomatoes.

What’s NOT: not a thing – a delicious soup – but if you can’t find good tomatoes, skip making this until you can.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Roasted Tomato Soup with Pesto Coulis

Recipe By: Caroline Cazaumayou, Chef, Antoine’s, San Clemente
Serving Size: 6

3 pounds Roma tomatoes — (ripe) stemmed, quartered
1 whole red bell pepper — stemmed, seeded, cut in 1″ squares
5 large garlic cloves — peeled, smashed
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
Ground black pepper — to taste
1/4 cup EVOO — (for tomatoes)
2 tablespoons EVOO — (for onion)
1 large sweet onion — peeled, chopped
2 cups chicken broth — or vegetable broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste
PESTO COULIS: (optional)
1 tablespoon pesto sauce — store bought is fine
1 tablespoon water — or more if needed

NOTE: If Roma tomatoes aren’t nicely red and ripe, substitute on-the-vine tomatoes.
1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
2. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. On the parchment, toss the tomatoes, bell pepper and garlic, with salt, pepper and the larger quantity of olive oil.
3. In a large saucepan, cook the onion in the smaller quantity of olive oil over medium heat until golden brown. Add the roasted tomatoes and broth. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
4. Cool slightly, then puree soup in a blender, in batches so it doesn’t overflow. Press through a sieve if you’d prefer it that way. Adjust seasonings.
5. In a small bowl combine the pesto and water – if the pesto is particularly thick, it may need more water to make it somewhat runny. Drizzle on top of the hot soup.
OPTIONAL: toast baguette slices lightly brushed with olive oil, then top with a little spread of soft goat cheese. Bake or broil just until golden and serve alongside the soup.
Per Serving: 206 Calories; 16g Fat (65.7% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 14g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 1mg Cholesterol; 627mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on January 22nd, 2017:

    I think you might successfully substitute good quality canned tomatoes if you can’t get decent fresh ones. I know that we have some cans of excellent provenance.

    I make a similar soup, without the roasting, using tomatoes, red bell pepper and red onion. In fact, the red peppers come from a jar of Gaea flame roasted, I love the flavour of these.

    I agree with you, Toni. Especially if the tomatoes are from Italy. We have large cans of really delicious Roma and San Marzano types. I think the latter are just great, and I’d be happy to substitute. Your soup sounds lovely. We don’t have that brand (Gaea is a brand, right?) here in the U.S. . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on January 23rd, 2017:

    Am always ready to try another tomato soup recipe. I like the idea of the roasted red pepper–and roasting the tomatoes. When I make tomato soup, it’s usually on the spur of the moment. Either I remember seeing a recipe recently, or I check one of my cookbooks, and I haven’t made one with roasted tomatoes only because there’s no time to do that. Guess I’ll have to plan ahead to give this one a try.

    This was a very nice soup, and truly, I don’t know if you didn’t roast them, would they change in flavor all that much. My blogging friend Toni, who commented here on this recipe, suggested canned tomatoes are equally flavorful, and I agree with her. Unless you made a batch with roasting and one using canned, good quality tomatoes for the other, whether there would be all that much difference between them. I’m too lazy to do that! . . . carolyn t

  3. hddonna

    said on January 24th, 2017:

    How about canned fire-roasted tomatoes, such as Muir Glen?

    Yes, those should be JUST as good, don’t you think? . . .carolyn t

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