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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 Salads, on January 20th, 2009.

radicchio-belgian-endive-salad

You’re going to l-o-v-e this salad. I really mean it. It’s worth every second of effort to make it. The pecans need to be seasoned and caramelized a little bit, you need to soak the dried cranberries in bourbon (or omit this step if you don’t want the alcohol – soak them in orange juice instead), and you need to chop up all the salad stuff. And, the apple needs to be sliced just before serving. And you have to make the vinegar and oil dressing (easy, however).

This recipe has been in my to-try file for many years. What’s funny about it is the real title – “Even Men Love This Salad.” I found it on the recipe bulletin board at Martha Stewart’s website 15 years or so ago.  (I was unable to locate the recipe there now.) The contributor, Susan (no last name given) said that every time she served it men told their wives to get the recipe. She mentions that yes, indeed, there are lots of flavors floating around in this salad, but she says when you put it all together, it’s sublime. I absolutely agree.

I did make just a few minor changes to the recipe – Susan used black raisins – I used dried cranberries instead. She added frisée greens to her salad. I thought there was enough salad quantity without it (there was) so I omitted the frisée. There’s a LOT of celery in it. Don’t eliminate that – it’s an essential ingredient somehow. The pecans are just mildly warm from the cayenne, but they are wonderful in this salad, or for nibbling if you have leftovers. Susan didn’t soak the onion – I do, to remove some of the harshness, the sharpness of raw onion. I actually tossed everything together except the pecans, but her recipe indicated adding the cranberries, Feta and pecans on top when it’s served. If you eat radicchio and Belgian endive very often, you know that they have a slight bitterness to them. The caramelized pecans and the dried cranberries totally balance that. MAKE THIS SALAD! Okay?
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Radicchio & Belgian Endive Salad with Spicy Pecans

Recipe: adapted from a recipe found on Martha Stewart’s bulletin board, about 1995
Servings: 8

1/2 cup dried cranberries
3 tablespoons bourbon (or orange juice)
PECANS:
1 cup pecans — chopped
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
SALAD DRESSING:
1/4 cup red wine vinegar — better the quality the better the dressing
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper — to taste
SALAD STUFF:
2 heads radicchio
3 heads Belgian endive — leaves separated, chopped
1/2 medium red onion — thinly sliced
2 medium Granny Smith apple — peeled, sliced
2 cups celery — chopped
1/4 cup Feta cheese — crumbled
1 head
frisée lettuce — (optional)

1. Soak cranberries in bourbon for 2+ hours. You can reuse the bourbon multiple times.
2. Place the sliced onions in cold water and set aside (removes some of the sharpness).
3. In a medium nonstick skillet combine the pecans, sugar, cayenne and cumin. Heat until the pecans are lightly toasted and brown sugar has caramelized. These nuts are not highly caramelized, so don’t expect a coating of sugar.
4. In a jar or small bowl combine the vinegar and mustard. Use a whisk to mix well, and then drizzle in the olive oil until it’s thickened. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate dressing until ready to serve. (You will probably use all the dressing.)
5. Chop up the radicchio, Belgian endive, red onion (drained and blotted dry with paper towels), apple and celery and combine with the salad dressing (taste it to make sure you don’t use too much dressing). If using the frisée, add it also. Serve on salad plates and top with cranberries, pecans and Feta cheese.
Per Serving: 331 Calories; 31g Fat (83.1% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 11g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 4mg Cholesterol; 109mg Sodium.

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