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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 Veggies/sides, on April 17th, 2017.

kabocha_cornmeal_polenta

Polenta usually is made with cornmeal only. This one veers off the grid and uses mostly kabocha squash and some cornmeal. It has a very similar consistency, but maybe more healthy for us!

Polenta is really, really good stuff. And I just wish it weren’t so heavy in carbs. In this version, made with kabocha squash (which is a winter squash and a carb) it has all the benefits of flavor, but maybe because of the squash, it might be a bit healthier. Just sayin’. A serving of this has 44 grams of carbs. That’s a lot, but oh gosh, was it ever good with the Sicilian Chicken Stew. My downfall is that once I have a serving of polenta, I want more. It’s kind of like popcorn at the movies – I don’t EVER buy it, because I can’t stop eating it once I start!

Image result for kabocha squashDo you know kabocha squash? It’s mostly credited to Japan (but it isn’t, really). Like the photo at left (from Trader Joe’s), they’re round, globe-like, sometimes more squat that this one shows. They’re very nutritious and have lots of good flavor.

According to Wikipedia, Portuguese sailors introduced kabocha to Japan in 1541, bringing it with them from Cambodia. The squash claims a whole lot of beta-carotene.

In any case, they’re tasty things. At the cooking class, Chef Caroline said that she usually cooks the kabocha for about about 20 minutes (at 425°F) BEFORE she tries to cut it open. It has a pretty hard shell. Once cooled a bit, she cuts it in half crosswise, then puts the squash, cut side down onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and roasts it for about 35 minutes. At that point the flesh is totally soft and scoops out easily. As with regular polenta, the cornmeal is slowly added to simmering vegetable broth and in this case, some milk, and then cooked gently for about 5 minutes. Then you add some salt, butter and the mashed up squash – which gives the polenta a more orange color. Taste for seasonings. Serve while it’s HOT.

What’s GOOD: loved the added flavor from the kabocha – an unexpected treat. Still tastes like polenta, but perhaps more nutritious.

What’s NOT: maybe just the nuisance of having to bake the squash – not difficult, just a bit time consuming, plus having to cut it. Winter squashes are sometimes really hard to handle – and cut.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Cornmeal and Kabocha Squash Polenta

Recipe By: Caroline Cazaumayou, chef, Antoine’s San Clemente, CA, 2017
Serving Size: 8

3 1/2 pounds kabocha squash — yield: about 4 cups flesh
4 cups vegetable broth — low sodium
1 cup whole milk
1 cup cornmeal
2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Poke a few holes in the kabocha squash (upper half) and roast it whole for about 20 minutes. This will allow you to cut in half with ease. Cool for about 20 minutes, then cut in half crosswise. Turn it cut side down onto a parchment lined baking sheet and bake an additional 35 minutes or so. Cool, then scoop out the flesh and set aside to cool.
2. In a 4-quart saucepan, bring the broth and milk to a boil. Lower heat and slowly whisk in the cornmeal. Cook, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
3. Stir in the salt, butter and squash and stir until well combined, the squash is completely heated through and butter is fully melted. Add seasonings to taste. Serve immediately.
Per Serving: 319 Calories; 9g Fat (27.4% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 44g Carbohydrate; 9g Dietary Fiber; 21mg Cholesterol; 1301mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on April 18th, 2017:

    It’s high in carbs, all right, but I think the squash is responsible for most of that nine grams of fiber per serving. That’s a good thing!

    Yes, that’s why I decided to post the recipe. Not only was it a bit different, but felt that it was likely more healthy as polenta made the traditional way. .. carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on April 19th, 2017:

    And thanks for the idea. I love polenta, too, and I’ll try this next time I want to serve it.

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