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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 easy, Vegetarian, on August 25th, 2017.

grilled_halloumi_tomato_jam

My new cheese love. Halloumi. A meal in itself.

More and more, lately, I’m eating vegetarian meals. I’m an omnivore, but I do love vegetables, and I’m quite happy to make a meal of a variety of different veggies. I eat plenty of cheese too. We all need protein in one form or another. When I’m out, I eat chicken and fish, and occasionally I’ll buy a rotisserie chicken which keeps me in meals for several days. If I eat steak, I usually do it at home because I’ve got it down pat. Once in awhile I crave a hunk of beef or a ground beef casserole. Or a pork or lamb chop. I eat a lot of salads, sometimes with some tuna added, hard boiled eggs, or chicken. Oh, and yes, I do crave a hamburger once in awhile too.

If you read my post about the halloumi salad I had (and subsequently made), perhaps you were intrigued. Or maybe you already know halloumi. I knew of it, but had never cooked it. Once I found a package of it (hard to find) it had enough for 2 meals (the little square of cheese was ample for 4 slices). I made the halloumi salad (with watermelon) and enjoyed it very much. But then I still had 2 pieces left. As I stood at my open refrigerator door I spotted the Tomato Jam I’d made a week or so ago. I’ve frozen a dozen packets of it and have about half a cup in the refrigerator. I’ve had it with a little schmear of cream cheese on a cracker. One evening that was my dinner. I suppose you could say that’s a benefit of living alone (or being a widow) that if I don’t want to make a meal, I can always find something easy in the refrigerator like cheese and crackers.

So this particular night, with the 2 slices of halloumi needing to be eaten, I set my frying pan on low, added a bit of grapeseed oil to it and once it reached heat, I added the 2 slices to the pan. While it sizzled gently, I retrieved the tomato jam, sliced up some basil, grabbed a lovely orange heirloom tomato, EVOO, and the bottle of balsamic reduction, salt and pepper.

The cheese took about 4-5 minutes to cook on both sides (see the nice browning on them). This meal was ready in no time flat. I spread a bit of the tomato jam on each slice, topped it all with basil, then drizzled some of the balsamic reduction (syrup) and EVOO on top. Done. Dinner ready in less than 10 minutes. If you want some carbs, add a lovely slice of toasted artisan bread underneath the cheese. Like an open faced sandwich. My next project is to find another source for halloumi!

What’s GOOD: how easy this was to make – if you have the cheese on hand – and it was really delish. ‘Tis the season for heirloom tomatoes too. (And you can make an open-faced sandwich with adding a slice of toasted artisan bread.)

What’s NOT: the difficulty of finding halloumi. Otherwise, nothing at all! OH, one other thing – have you ever had cheese that squeaks? This cheese does – not when it’s raw, but once cooked, when you chew it, it squeaks. One of my readers, Toni, mentioned that she’d had halloumi once, one bite, but that was it because the squeak was off-putting for her. It doesn’t bother me.

I’m not writing up a regular “recipe” for this. Here’s an ingredient list to serve 2:

Grilled Halloumi with Tomato Jam

4 slices halloumi cheese (about 1/3” thick)

4 teaspoons grapeseed oil, or EVOO

6 tablespoons tomato jam (or other savory/sweet jam or chutney)

1/2 cup basil leaves, sliced (or very finely minced fresh rosemary or thyme)

8 slices heirloom tomato

balsamic reduction/syrup

EVOO to drizzle on top

salt and pepper to taste

————————-

Now, go find some halloumi cheese!

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on August 25th, 2017:

    Eek, squeaky cheese again! I am surprised that you have difficulty in finding it – it seems that we are awash with it:- http://www.highwealddairy.co.uk/index.php?webpage=product_detail.php&product_id=42448&cID=15293

    What I have trouble in sourcing is Caerphilly from my own country of Wales. It used to be ubiquitous. I know that I can buy it online, but the minimum quantities make it uneconomical since I eat very little and, as you know, I have no freezer. I shall continue in my search.

    Yes, more squeaky cheese. I do like it! I can find it, but only at stores that have a fairly large cheese section.
    I think I have had Caerphilly here in the U.S. I’ll have to look next time I’m at a grocery store that has a good imported section. I know I like the cheese – it’s a type of cheddar isn’t it? . . .carolyn t

  2. KJill

    said on August 25th, 2017:

    Love, the squeaky cheese. First ran in to it a few years ago when living in England, so yes Toffeeapple is right, absolutely everywhere there. I have found that Trader Joe’s generally has it and sometimes International Grocery stores if they have a section with Greek/Cypriot foods. That tomato jam and basil combo looks wonderful. I usually make up a salad of greens, tomatoes and cucumbers with an olive oil-lemon-garlic sort of dressing and serve slices of the fried cheese on top. KJill

    Your salad sounds great. And yes, on occasion my TJ’s has it, but maybe there are a lot of Greek folk who live near me who grab it up as soon as it comes in! I have found it at 2 other grocery stores – I just have to drive a little further to go get it. Just had another dinner of it last night. So delish with heirloom tomatoes, some EVOO and a drizzle of honey balsamic vinegar. . . carolyn t

  3. hddonna

    said on August 29th, 2017:

    All your ideas for using the halloumi sound delicious. When I bought my first package, it was out of curiosity. I knew it was to be fried, but didn’t really have any ideas for using it, and it sat in my fridge for a long time–possibly a couple of years. Finally, after reading some reference to it in a magazine or blog, I just decided to check it out. I opened it, and it was just fine, so I sautéed a piece for breakfast, and I was hooked! Every once in a while I get a craving for it, and then I check the price at my local grocery. Then I look at the price and put it down again. But with you posting about it twice in a short time, I had it in mind when I visited the international grocery store yesterday, and they had it at a much better price, so there’s some in my fridge now, and I can’t wait to try both of your recipes. One thing I’ve learned–the stuff keeps really well, at least unopened!

    Wow, 2 years?? That’s amazing. I’m happy to find someone else who loves it like I do (now). Hope you enjoy the recipes. . . carolyn t

  4. hddonna

    said on August 29th, 2017:

    I’m going to have some for lunch. I don’t have watermelon on hand, but I have peaches and heirloom tomatoes, so I’ll use those with the halloumi, arugula and balsamic drizzle. I think there’s a jar of tomato preserves at the back of the fridge, too—
    As for the squeak, I kind of like it. But I can see how it could be bothersome for some.
    I’m pretty sure it was around two years that I had it. I kept finding it when I cleaned out the cheese drawer in my basement fridge and thinking that I needed to find a way to use it, then forgetting it was there. I was in perfect condition when I opened it, and once I did, it took me a few weeks to get around to using it up, and it didn’t suffer in the least. Must be all that salt. The new batch won’t be around that long, I can assure you!
    Do you use a lot of feta? I haven’t been able to find the Greek feta in brine lately, for some reason, even at my international grocery. They have French, Danish, Bulgarian, but no Greek. I tried the Danish, however, and it was amazingly delicious. I recommend it if you should run across some. That one doesn’t keep so well, though. I intend to freeze part of my new package this time.

  5. hddonna

    said on August 29th, 2017:

    When you grilled your halloumi, Carolyn, did it release any fat? The first time I had it, it released quite a bit of fat on the griddle and sizzled to a nice golden brown. This new batch didn’t release any fat at all, and it almost scorched because I didn’t realize it was actually cooking–I was expecting the fat to show me that it was heating up. I caught it before it actually burned, but will lower the heat a bit next time and keep a closer eye on it.

    Yes it releases some fat. Have to cook it low and slow. . . Carolyn t

  6. hddonna

    said on August 31st, 2017:

    Mine didn’t release any fat at all. I had better luck using a grill pan this morning. It got nice grill marks and got soft and melty without burning. The recipe called for marinating the cheese in a tiny bit of olive oil (just a teaspoon for 8 ounces) with cumin and mint. It was then grilled and served on a heated mini-naan with some slice heirloom tomato. It made a very tasty breakfast!

    Sounds delish! . . . Carolyn t

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