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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 August 21st, 2017.

corn_chile_lime_soup

Refreshing. Filling. Elusive flavors. Piquant. Worth making.

This soup has a story. (Of course, nearly all my recipes have some kind of back story.) Some years ago my DH and I took a trip to the northeast during fall leaf season. Sadly, we didn’t see many leaves as one of the hurricanes  slowed itself down through the entire northeastern states. In fact, the area was still having some rain and winds when we were there. We darted here and there in Western Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, in search of scenic roads where we hoped the winds hadn’t denuded the trees. Alas, we found very few leaves remaining on any of the trees. Don’t you just hate it when you make a special trip for something (fall leaves) and there aren’t any? I’d plotted the trip before we left, and we overnighted in Shelburne, Vermont. The B&B owner suggested a restaurant within walking distance of the hotel, The Bearded Frog. It was still cold and windy that night, so we trotted across to the restaurant and were glad for a warm, cozy table inside.

Our waitress greeted us with menus and mentioned the specials, which included a cold soup that the chef had just made (with the last of summer corn). The waitress raved about it, so I had to order some. I swooned over it, and eventually cornered the waitress again to ask if she knew what was IN the soup. She got a quizzical look on her face and said “I’ll find out.” Some time later she appeared with a piece of paper with the ingredients. Just the ingredients, but not any quantities. When I got home, I made it and knew I hadn’t quite gotten it right. Then I forgot about it.

So, here I am, many years later, during a very hot summer in Southern California, and I’ve been overdosing on cold soups. I can’t seem to get enough of them. As I write this, my friend Kit gave me a gigantic zucchini that’s sitting on my kitchen counter waiting to be made into another batch of Chilled Zucchini-Mint Soup. I’ll probably freeze some of this batch, as it’s a HUGE zucchini.

Anyway, I began searching through my soup recipes for more cold soups and ran across this one, that I’d never really tweaked correctly since I wasn’t sure of quantities. I had some notes I’d made, and had changed some of the quantities last time too. This time I didn’t have any canned creamed corn, so I just substituted more frozen corn for that part. Canned creamed corn doesn’t have any cream or dairy in it, it’s just cooked and processed to look like it does. I’ve included it in the below recipe because I think it’s a nice addition – but if you don’t have it, just use more frozen or fresh corn. I am good about figuring out (sometimes) what’s in a sauce or a dish when I eat at a restaurant, but I just couldn’t pinpoint ingredients in this soup, so I was so happy when the waitress was able to give me the ingredient list.

corn_chile_lime_closeupThe chef never said she had cooked the onion, but raw onion in a cold soup has a bit of a bite, so I decided to cook the onion first. Everything else in the soup is raw. It takes a day for the flavors to meld, so do make it ahead – at least 8 hours or so, or preferably the day before you wish to serve it. It will keep for about a week. I haven’t tried to freeze it, but likely it would be fine. Do read my notes in the recipe about the pureeing of it – whether to strain or not. I didn’t because I was fine with including all that corn fiber in my servings. I used white corn, so the color of the soup is more off white than yellow. At the restaurant, way back, it was definitely yellow, so the chef had obviously used yellow corn. Your choice.

What’s GOOD: good, wholesome corn flavor, and if you don’t strain it, it has nice toothsome chewing, sort of. I loved the elusive flavors in this – there IS some heat from the jalapeno and ginger. It’s refreshing for sure. Easy. Altogether delicious, I think. It looks pretty too, if you use the garnishes. The chef had added lima beans. I didn’t have any of those, so didn’t use them.

What’s NOT: nothing, really. A lot of ingredients to gather up, but once in the blender, it’s pretty darned easy to make.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Chilled Corn, Green Chile and Lime Soup

Recipe By: Ingredient list from Bearded Frog restaurant, Shelburne, VT
Serving Size: 8

1/2 cup red onion — chopped coarsely
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 whole jalapeno chile pepper — seeded, chopped
1/4 cup fresh ginger — chopped coarsely
4 cloves garlic — peeled
1 1/3 cups creamed corn — canned
1 pound frozen corn — defrosted
1 quart milk — or half and half or soy milk
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons ground cardamom
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup EVOO
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
GARNISH:
3/8 cup fresh corn
3/8 cup lima beans — frozen, defrosted (optional)
Fresh cilantro sprigs
May also drizzle a bit of EVOO on top and squeeze a tiny bit of fresh lime juice

NOTE: If you want a thin soup, strain the finished soup. If you prefer the corn solids and a thicker consistency, just puree the heck out of the soup until it’s nearly a liquid. It never quite liquefies, but it’s very edible that way. If you have an old blender, it may not puree as well as the newer, high speed ones capable of liquefying just about anything.
1. In a skillet, heat a small jot of olive oil and add the chopped onion. Saute over low heat until the onion is thoroughly soft. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
2. Combine all the soup ingredients (including the cooked onion) in a blender and puree until smooth. Refrigerate the mixture overnight.
3. Strain the soup of any solids and taste for seasoning. (Straining the soup is optional.)
4. Serve with a few corn kernels sprinkled over the top plus lima beans and cilantro. May also drizzle the top with EVOO and a tiny bit of lime juice.
Per Serving: 356 Calories; 20g Fat (48.8% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 39g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 17mg Cholesterol; 190mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on August 24th, 2017:

    Goodness, Carolyn, I just can’t keep up with all the tempting recipes you’ve been posting! Love the cold soups, and this one is going on the list of to-tries. That Sweet Fresh Corn Soup with Mushrooms in the “You might also like” suggestions looks appealing, too. I have your avocado soup on the list for this week already–I’ve done that one before and liked it a lot.
    I just read a “make gazpacho without a recipe” post on Epicurious, and it occurred to me that that would be a perfect way to use up leftover tomatoes. There always seem to be a few slices or odd bits left after a meal, and I started collecting them in a container in the fridge. I’m the only one here who really likes gazpacho, so it doesn’t take much to whiz up a pint of it for myself, and it doesn’t matter that the tomatoes have been refrigerated–it just means I can eat some right away and save some for another meal. It worked great on my first try and I’ll be doing it regularly now.

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