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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 Pork, on September 14th, 2017.

bbq_pizza

Ever done pizza on a grill? I did once years ago. It’s easy, really. This one has leeks on it, and that makes a difference – leeks just add a depth of flavor to things.

As much as I love pizza, I know it’s not exactly a healthy meal. I really do eat few bread-type carbs. I seem to make up for the calories in other ways – I don’t do this to diet. I know a lot about diabetes since my DH was a Type 1. And it was only in his last 25 years, I’d guess, that doctors figured out that blood sugar was directly related to carb consumption (whether they be bread, potatoes, rice, fruit or sugar or any kind). I began preparing a low-carb diet for us starting way back then, but even more so once we both retired. Dave loved pizza too, but he couldn’t stop eating it if is was put in front of him, so we kind of banned it from our menu. Ready-made pizza (like frozen from the grocery store) has never been all that great tasting – once in awhile I succumb getting a thin crust one. So that leaves making it from scratch.

Here on my blog I have one favorite pizza – I’ve mentioned it before – it’s one our daughter Sara introduced us to when she was visiting one weekend (when she was in college). There are other pizza recipes on my blog (just type in “pizza” in the search box top left), but this one, Pizza with Chicken, Red Onion, Pesto & Olives, is one I’ve returned to many times over the years. My mouth is watering as I type.

But I digress . . . pizza isn’t something I make much as a widow – I have my DH’s problem of not being able to stop eating it. But this pizza I’m writing about today, was really good. Really easy and worth the trouble to make your own dough. It’s from a cooking class with Susan V a few weeks ago. She made the dough earlier in the morning, so it had had a chance to do one rising before all the students arrived for the class.

She punched it down and let it rest another hour or so, then began working with it. She used cornmeal underneath the dough so it wouldn’t stick and used a pizza peel very successfully. Susan doesn’t like Trader Joe’s pizza dough – she says it sticks and she simply can’t roll it out. So she chooses to make her own, always.

Meanwhile, she sliced the tomatoes (I’d slice them thinner than you see in the photo above) and set them in a colander to drain. You don’t want lots of juices – save them, though, and put them in something else as the juice of tomatoes contain a lot of flavor. Add it to soup or a stew, or even a salad dressing. The leeks are sautéed in a little oil and cooked for 15-20 minutes until they’re very soft. You remove them, then sauté the pancetta until the pieces get lightly brown on the edges. Drain them on a paper towel and set aside.

bbq_pizza_doughThis recipe makes 2 pizzas – enough for 4-5 people, unless they’re really hungry. Susan divided the pizza dough in half and rolled them out to about 12” rounds, I’d say. Onto the peel it went and she placed both on the heated grill (medium-high). She cooked them until the TOP of the dough began to puff up – it gets these lovely little peaks and valleys. That took about 2 minutes! She brought them inside, turned them over (see photo) and patted them down, to break the puffy peaks underneath. She only cooked them on one side up to this point. Then she put all the toppings on to cooked side (leeks, pancetta, mozzarella, olive oil and lots of sliced basil, and lastly the sliced tomatoes). Back to the barbecue for only a few minutes (max 3-4). It doesn’t cook anything on top (the toppings) but merely cooks the dough on the other side and heats up everything and melts the cheese. Remove, slice immediately, and serve.

What’s GOOD: everything about this pizza was good. I wanted more (my downfall when it comes to pizza) than the one slice I got. It looks like fun making it – get your family involved – they can use their own selection of toppings. It’s easy (except for the 2 risings of the dough which takes awhile).

What’s NOT: just that making your own dough takes awhile. Nothing about this was difficult, though.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Barbecued Pizza with Tomatoes, Basil, Leeks, Pancetta & Mozzarella

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

PIZZA DOUGH:
2 envelopes active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
TOPPING:
1/2 pound Roma tomatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 leeks — rinsed well, thinly sliced, drained well
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 pound pancetta — diced (could substitute bacon)
1 1/2 cups mozzarella cheese — shredded
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh basil — sliced

1. Slice tomatoes and place in a colander to drain for 30 minutes.
2. Heat oil in a medium skillet and saute the leeks, stirring occasionally, for about 15-20 minutes, until wilted. Season with salt and pepper. Remove and set aside.
3. In same skillet cook the pancetta until it’s crisp and slightly brown. Drain on paper towels.
4. DOUGH: In a small bowl sprinkle yeast over the warm water. Let stand for about 10 minutes until it looks creamy and foamy on top. Stir to dissolve all the yeast.
5. In a food processor, combine the flour and salt and pulse briefly. With motor running add olive oil and gradually pour in the yeast mixture. Process for about one minute to knead the dough. Transfer dough to an oiled bowl, cover with a damp towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about an hour.
6. Punch down the dough and knead briefly on a floured surface. Return dough to the bowl, cover again and allow to rise until doubled in volume, about 30-45 minutes.
7. Divide dough in half. (If possible, allow dough to sit on your board for about 10 minutes to rest – it will make it easier to roll out. Pat or roll each piece into a 9″ round shape on a floured board. Brush the tops of both pizzas with olive oil. Place rounds on a pizza peel and transfer to a medium-high heated barbecue grill. Place pizza over direct heat (BUT, watch it like a hawk!) and cook until the dough begins to puff in places and the bottom is showing brown on the edges. Don’t overdo it!! Remove pizza from the grill and close lid on the grill to retain heat. Back in the kitchen, gently press down on the puffed-up parts of the dough, then turn grilled dough over (so the uncooked side is on top). Brush top with more olive oil. Divide the leeks between the two crusts, sprinkle each with about 3/4 cup of shredded Mozzarella. Divide and arrange the pancetta on both, then overlap tomato slices. Sprinkle top with basil.
8. Place pizzas back on the grill and cook for just a few minutes – only until the cheese is melted. Watch very carefully so they don’t burn. Remove from the grill, cut into wedges and serve immediately.
Per Serving: 629 Calories; 34g Fat (47.9% calories from fat); 24g Protein; 58g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 56mg Cholesterol; 1695mg Sodium.

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