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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, Vegetarian, on July 16th, 2017.

watermelon_haloumi_salad

The best halloumi I’ve ever had – grilled and served with watermelon and arugula and mint, plus pine nuts and a balsamic glaze drizzled over the top.

My only experience with Halloumi (see Wikipedia info here) has been at a local Greek restaurant, where they serve it fiery hot in a small pan with some bread. My take-away (that one and only time at least 20 years ago) was that it was so salty I couldn’t eat it. Since then I’d never tried it! What I’ve learned is that people in the “west” prefer a less salty version. I suppose the Greek restaurant serves it the way they do in Greece where it’s aged and cured some, so the salt content is more pronounced. (FYI: the 4-ounce package I bought when I finally did locate some shows an ounce of Halloumi contains 673 milligrams of sodium. A lot. Some brands contain less sodium – look for them if you can.) My guess from my reading is that if you buy a U.S. made version, it will likely be less salty. You might check the sodium level before you buy it. Halloumi is usually made from a mixture of cow and sheep milk.

sub_zero_wolf_showroomRecently my friend Joan invited me to a cooking demo at our local Wolf/Sub-Zero Demonstration Kitchen. I said SURE, I’d be happy to go along. We had much fun with seats right in front of the chef. She was a fountain of information (mostly about Wolf kitchen appliances, though they also have Sub-Zero refrigerators and freezers – the two companies are merged somewhat). My Sub-Zero freezer (separate unit) and refrigerator (also separate) are models that date back 15 years or so. Newer ones have lots of new features not available when I had to replace the ones in this house I’m in (that was in about 2004). When we remodeled the kitchen in ‘06 I kept the two, obviously, since they are very pricey! Though I’m very happy with them – I’ve been a fan of Sub-Zero since I bought them for our previous house when we remodeled it in 1990.

Anyway, Joan and I watched as the chef took out nice little rectangles (measuring about 3” x 3” by 1/4”) of halloumi and placed them on the olive oil greased Wolf flat grill. (I was very impressed with the grill – wish I had it in my kitchen – it kind of looked like a mini-restaurant flat grill). My stove top is made by Dacor and then I have 2 Dacor matching ovens under my kitchen island. I’m not in the market for any new appliances, but Joan is, as she’s about to remodel her kitchen. (If any of you are considering remodeling your kitchen, I’d recommend  you at least look at Wolf – their appliances are pretty darned amazing and you can attend a cooking class in their demonstration kitchens without having purchased any of their units.)

haloumi_grilledhaloumi_grillingThe chef grilled the cheese at a very low heat, so it just barely bubbled and sizzled and got just gorgeously golden brown (see photos). The Wolf grill top can be set to a specific temperature (nice) which was 375°. She prepped the salad first by laying the little strips of sweet watermelon on the plate, then the little mound of arugula and mint which she dressed with a bit of olive oil. Then she just placed the hot halloumi on the side. Then she sprinkled the toasted pine nuts on top and drizzled it with balsamic glaze (I buy it at Trader Joe’s, but you can make your own if you want to – you can find lots of recipes online for how to do it).

The cheese was just outstanding – I wanted more, it was so good. I’ve been looking for halloumi at my local markets since this class and so far have not found it. I’ll need to go to a more upscale market or a Whole Foods or Bristol Farms to find it, I suppose. I want some!! It keeps frozen for months and months.

This dish could easily be a light entrée and if you served it with more of the cheese, it could be dinner, for sure. In this case, at the class, it was a first course as we were served fried chicken (done in the Wolf deep fryer) and delicious mashed potatoes. Then we were served a fresh peach half with a bread crumb, nut and brown sugar topping on it (done on convection bake in one of their numerous Wolf ovens). All delicious. But this salad won the day for me. I’ll be making this if only for myself.Perhaps you live in a location where there is a substantial Greek population and Halloumi is very popular. I don’t, so it’s a bit harder to find. Seek out a store that carries a goodly selection of world cheeses.

What’s GOOD: if you find the less-salty halloumi, this is a winner of a recipe. All prep-able ahead of time, so easy to serve with just a few minutes of arranging and drizzling.

What’s NOT: nothing that I can think of.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Watermelon and Halloumi Salad

Recipe By: Wolf Demonstration Kitchen, 2017
Serving Size: 8

4 cups watermelon — cut in 3″ long batons
8 ounces halloumi cheese
1/2 cup fresh mint — chopped
6 ounces arugula
3 tablespoons EVOO
1/3 cup pine nuts — toasted
4 tablespoons balsamic glaze
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat griddle or flat pan to 375° F.
2. Cut thin rectangles of Halloumi cheese and gently brown the pieces on the flat grill or pan for about 3-5 minutes per side, or until the cheese is golden brown.
3. Meanwhile, in a bowl combine the arugula and mint. Toss with a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.
4. On each plate, place two slices of watermelon side by side. Mound the arugula on top, but allow most of the watermelon to show. Place hot cheese leaned up against the arugula, then sprinkle with toasted pine nuts. Drizzle salad with balsamic glaze and serve immediately.
Per Serving: 219 Calories; 17g Fat (70.2% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 7g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 361mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on July 21st, 2017:

    I had Halloumi once and it squeaked on my teeth so I won’t ever try it again. When you eat Watermelon in a restaurant – how do you get rid of the seeds from your mouth? I am sure you would not spit them out…

    Ha . . . in a restaurant I’d probably use a knife and fork to cut around the seeds and push them aside. But here, we can buy mini-watermelons that have very small seeds that are completely edible. When serving watermelon, from a big one, a hostess would likely remove all the seeds – or only use the heart of the watermelon where there aren’t any seeds! I LOL’d when I read about squeaky teeth – yes, you’re right about that. It does have a squeaky texture to it. That’s so funny. I guess it didn’t bother me enough to not eat it, though . . . carolyn t

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on July 24th, 2017:

    I have the same problem with squeaky beans! Green beans and our own Runner Beans have to be cooked to a precise stage, I can’t stand them when they squeak. Funny that it didn’t bother you but it would be a big thing for me.

    I’m giggling here, I guess that’s what makes the world go ’round – we all have our little idiosyncrasies! I made the grilled Haloumi cheese last night for dinner (on beautiful heirloom tomatoes, with a mound of basil, and dressing on top). I tasted the Haloumi first, and yes, it was salty – not unbearably – and it had no squeak. BUT, once I cooked it – it squeaked! It didn’t bother me, though! . . . carolyn t

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