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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, Uncategorized, on September 6th, 2017.

chilled_yellow_squash_soup

Uh, huh! More chilled soups in my repertoire. This one using yellow squash and chicken broth. With so few ingredients I was amazed at how flavorful it was.

My new favorite thing – chilled soups from easily accessible summer produce. As I write this I’m still finishing up eating a batch of chilled zucchini soup (my second batch in recent weeks). In the interim I attended a kind of a cooking class (sans recipes, what’s up with that?) where they made a raw cucumber soup. I’m not quite so fond of that kind (raw) – I prefer the cooked one.

This soup, though, came from a class taught by Susan Vollmer, who used to own a cookware store here in my county, but she closed it down (mostly, she says, because Amazon cut into her business too much) and is retired. But occasionally she gives a class in her home. It was a very warm day, and Susan was in and out of her kitchen door many times tending the barbecue, but first she showed us how she made this soup and then gave all of us a bowl. I have all the ingredients in my refrigerator as I write this, to make a batch.

It’s a very simple recipe, and yet it has plenty of flavor. Perhaps it depends on what kind of chicken broth you use – the more flavorful – the better the soup. Yellow squash doesn’t have a ton a flavor (does zucchini have a little more flavor? I don’t know . . . just wondering) so you need the other ingredients (chives, chicken broth, sour cream) to have enough. I don’t mean to sound “down” on this soup – I actually liked it a lot, and I love yellow squash. Someone mentioned in the class – have you noticed that you no longer see the crookneck – apparently the growers have bred that aspect out of it – now you see both zucchini and yellow squash lined up like soldiers. Usually next to each other.

So, this soup – yellow squash and white onion cooked together in some olive oil, then the chicken broth is added and the mixture is cooked for a brief time – it doesn’t take squash long to cook anyway. Susan had made the soup ahead of time and had used her immersion blender to puree it. She prefers it just slightly chunky, so the immersion blender did a fine job of it. Then she added lemon juice (plus more later on when she tasted it), sour cream, salt and pepper. It was chilled down for several hours (OR, you can eat it hot) and served with a little dollop of sour cream and more bright green chives on top. I slicked the bowl clean.

What’s GOOD: the overall taste is lovely – good for summer, or good even in the winter, served hot. The toppings kind of make the dish, and the lemon juice is an important aspect of the flavor profile. Be sure to use enough. Keeps for about a week, too, and it should freeze just fine. For me, a 2-cup portion makes a really nice lunch (it’s very low in calorie, too).

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 *

Chilled Yellow Summer Squash Soup

Recipe By: From a cooking class with Susan Vollmer, 2017
Serving Size: 6

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 pounds yellow squash — grated
2 tablespoons chives — chopped
2 tablespoons white onion — minced
2 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup sour cream — or full fat yogurt
1 tablespoon lemon juice — (may need more)
salt and pepper to taste
GARNISH:
1/4 cup sour cream — or full-fat yogurt
1 tablespoon chives — minced

NOTE: This soup may be served either chilled, or hot. If heating it, do not allow it to boil after you’ve added the sour cream, but keep it just below a simmer.
1. Heat oil in a large saucepan. Saute the squash and white onion for 3-5 minutes. Add broth, chives, then bring to a boil and simmer for about 5-10 minutes.
2. In two batches, puree the soup in a blender or preferably use an immersion blender in the pan itself.
3. Refrigerate soup until well chilled, at least 3 hours. If serving this hot, the soup will benefit from sitting a few hours in the refrigerator to blend the flavors, before reheating.
4. Whisk in the sour cream, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Taste for seasonings – add more lemon juice if needed. Ladle into small bowls and garnish with a dollop of sour cream and chives on top.
Per Serving: 118 Calories; 10g Fat (61.0% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 7g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 13mg Cholesterol; 34mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on September 14th, 2017:

    Oh no – Squash season again! 😉

    You’re so funny! I just bought more today . . . I’ve missed having squash on my road trip. I’m making more soup, but hot this time. . . carolyn t

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on September 16th, 2017:

    It is definitely hot soup weather here, last night it was 4 degrees centigrade – in September! Wet, too.

    How was your trip – will you be writing about it?

    Hi Toni – wow, can’t believe you’re already so very cold there. We’re still in summer here in California. Yes, I’ll be writing about my trip. In a couple of days you’ll read a post with an overview of the trip. Then I’ll write up some shorter posts about different segments of it. My fav place was in British Columbia – it was cold there also. But the rest of the trip was hot-hot with forest fires burning (inland from where I was) in many places, so we had smoke-filled air for about 6 days of the trip. . . carolyn

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