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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 Uncategorized, on May 2nd, 2017.

patio_wine_roses

What a lovely day and lovely event!

Months ago I signed up in my PEO chapter to host an event here at my home. A wine tasting (all wines contributed from my cellar) with food pairing. Two other gals agreed to co-host with me, and it was 2 days ago, on Sunday afternoon. What a nice time we had. Just wonderful food, and about 14 bottles of wine from my cellar. Each person paid $35 apiece (toward a charity within PEO) and the 3 of us coordinated the tasting of a bunch of lovely food. I worked hard at finding the right kind of combination of food to go with each of the wine courses.

As the folks were gathering on my patio, we served Trader Joe’s Secco Peach Bellini (pictured). It’s a very light sparkling wine with a bit of peach puree in it – it’s $4.99 at Trader Joe’s. We had some honey chevre out with crackers to go with that. We also had some delish hummus with pita bread too, although I don’t know that hummus necessarily goes well with peach Bellini, but one of my co-hostesses had a friend prepare the home made stuff and really wanted to bring it. It was very good and disappeared quickly enough.

Then we moved on to Chardonnay. Two different bottles were brought out from my cellar, and we had a cute Belgian Endive spear filled with a chicken salad with mango. Perfect with the dry, oaky chardonnay. (I don’t drink chardonnay, but I had two bottles in the cellar. There’s only one more bottle of chard in the cellar.) We also had some spinach turnovers to serve with the Chardonnay.

Next was sherry. I really enjoy Sherry, and hadn’t had any for years! It’s not much of a popular drink. I researched a bit about the bottles I had. Did you know that the dry, fino sherry should be consumed within 2 weeks, once opened? I sure didn’t. But then, I didn’t have any fino anyway. I had medium sherry, 3 different types, and we tried them all. Also had two dulce or sweet sherries too, which also got sampled along with almonds and Manchego cheese and crackers. I asked everyone to roll the wine on their tongues, then take a taste of the Manchego to taste the difference. Same thing with the almonds. Many of my guests were surprised they enjoyed sherry so much. The winner of the evening was Osborne Medium, in case you’re interested. I preferred Savory & James Amontillado (a medium). Most of the bottles I had on hand (all opened) were just fine – they tasted great, even though they’ve been there for years and years. Sweeter sherries have a stable shelf life even once opened. Except for one bottle, all the sherries were imported from Spain.

Next up was both Riesling and Gewürztraminer. I had a few bottles of each in the cellar, so chose the older vintages. Everyone was offered some of both wines to drink with some delicious pea, yogurt and lemon crostini (recipe will be up in a few weeks). I’d made that dish over Easter and felt it was a great success, so I asked one of my co-hostesses to make it. She did. It went really well with both wines.

Then we moved on to reds. My cellar has mostly red wine, so there was a big conundrum as to which ones to choose. I finally decided on pinot noir and cabernet. With the Pinot Noir we served a beautiful platter of home cold smoked salmon with crème fraiche, capers and fresh dill. I served Stephen Ross Pinot Noir (a really wonderful vintner in California). One was a 2004 and the other 2005. Both stellar bottles.

Next was Cabernet Sauvignon, a favorite of mine, though I think it needs to be drunk with food. I’d not ever sip a Cab before dinner – it’s too heavy and needs food to go with it. With that I grilled some sausages on my nearby grill (Polish sausage and some chicken Italian sausage). I cut them up into small bite-sized pieces and passed them, hot with toothpicks, as folks sipped the wine. And one of my co-hostesses had a friend prepare Tabbouleh, which was really great with the Cab. It was made the way it’s supposed to be – mostly parsley and very little cracked wheat. It was wonderful.

While all that wine and food settled, I went into the kitchen and started on the dessert. The recipe won’t be up here on my blog for awhile (June – I’m that far ahead with posts) but it’s a real winner and super-easy. It was a Raspberry Brown Sugar Gratin (find the recipe on Smitten Kitchen if you’re anxious to try it). I asked everyone to save a bit of the red wine in their glasses and we passed a platter of Humboldt Fog. That cheese is just to-die-for, in my opinion, and is such a winner to eat with a complex red wine. Most of my guests had never had Humboldt Fog, and I think everyone was a convert!

Then came the dessert – to serve with after-dinner wines. I had two half-bottles, one a French Sauternes, (a 2001 Chateau Lamothe), and I had a bottle of something called Chocolate Splash. It’s a red wine impregnated with chocolate. It’s very unusual – from Narrow Gate Vineyards, in case you’re interested. With THAT wine we served some milk and dark chocolate, just a bite for each person. The dessert was served with the Sauternes. Both winners – the dessert and that wine. I have about half a cup left of that in the bottle. I’ll enjoy it in coming days.

Lastly, I served coffee. It was a very warm evening and was surprised anyone wanted coffee, but several did! A lovely evening from beginning to end. I expected that some of the bottles I opened might have been “over the hill,” but every bottle was exceptionally good. I’m so glad. I certainly hope that my DH, Dave, happily in heaven, liked the fact that I contributed some of his wine collection to the event.

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  1. hddonna

    said on May 2nd, 2017:

    What fun! And what a great way to use some of your DH’s collection. I love learning about wine. I have seen the bottled Bellini at TJ’s and wondered if it was any good. I think I’ll give it a try next time I see it. It’s no overly sweet, I take it? A sherry tasting would be very interesting. I use sherry only in cooking–any time I’ve tasted it otherwise, I haven’t cared for it, mainly because I don’t care for much oak. It’s possible, even likely, that I haven’t tasted anything really good. I would love to find one an affordable one–I like to drink. (Had some Humboldt Fog on a cheese board at a restaurant once, and I agree, it’s marvelous.)

    Sherry comes in about 6 different levels from dry (fino) to cream/sweet. Perhaps you’d like the fino. And yes, I think all sherry is kept in oak barrels, though maybe they do some of it in stainless these days. I don’t really know. The TJ’s bellini is a bit sweet, but it’s very refreshing for a spring or hot summer’s day or evening. For $4.99 you can try it and not worry if you don’t like it, throw it out! . . . carolyn t

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on May 22nd, 2017:

    Sounds like a fun evening- I would love to try that kind of thing. Whilst I enjoy most wines, I would have no idea of what food would go with it. Well done you.

    Thx, Toni. How was your holiday in Scotland? . . . Carolyn T

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