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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, Veggies/sides, on October 22nd, 2017.

green_bean_salad_pears_parm

What a heavenly combination. You just don’t know they’re one of those matches made in heaven unless you’ve had green beans and pears together. The shaved Parm puts it over the top.

Since green beans are available all year ‘round, there’s no reason you can’t make this salad any time of year. It calls for Bosc pears, which are also available year ‘round, so see, you need to try this. I think it would make a beautiful salad for Thanksgiving or Christmas, if you have a big celebration. Or a small one, for that matter. I’ve offered to make this for Thanksgiving at my son and daughter-in-law’s home. It will go well with turkey, I think.

You can use haricot verts beans, or regular sized – but I’d cut the regular sized in half. They are cooked just barely – so they’re al dente (or you can cook them to whatever tenderness you prefer). Cool off in cold and/or icy water, drain and set aside. Then, you make a vinaigrette with walnut oil and Sherry wine vinegar. Add some chives and parsley, plus finely minced shallots too. And some fresh, shredded basil. Toast some walnuts, shave the Parmesan and lastly cut up the pears. You’ll want to make this just before serving. Toss together then add the shaved Parm on top. That’s it. You’ll be happy to have this recipe in your collection, I promise. It came from a cooking class I did last month with Susan V, although I found the recipe online at farmflavor.com.

What’s GOOD: the food combination (pears, green beans and Parm are just super together). You can make just about everything ahead of time and cut up the pears at the last. If you’ve used Bosc pears, the salad should keep well for a day (leftovers). Altogether wonderful.

What’s NOT: There are a few steps to this (preparing dressing, toasting walnuts, preparing the green beans, shaving the Parm, etc) but it’s all worth doing.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Green Bean Salad with Pears and Parmesan

Recipe By: From a cooking class with Susan V, 2017, but also at farmflavor.com
Serving Size: 6

1 1/2 pounds haricots verts — (French green beans) or other slender green beans, trimmed
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
5 tablespoons walnut oil — (can substitute vegetable oil)
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh chives — chopped
3 tablespoons fresh parsley — chopped
3 tablespoons shallots — minced
3 tablespoons fresh basil — chopped
2 small pears — firm but ripe pears, such as Bosc, peeled, cored and julienned (cut into matchstick-size strips)
1/2 cup walnuts — toasted and chopped
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — shaved with vegetable peeler (or more)

1. Cook haricots verts (French green beans) in large pot of boiling salted water until crisp-tender, about 6 minutes. Drain, then rinse with cold water. Drain well, and set aside. Can prepare beans ahead and chill in refrigerator if desired.
2. Whisk together walnut oil, vinegar, olive oil, chives, parsley and shallots in large bowl. Add haricots verts, basil, pears and walnuts; toss gently. Season with salt and pepper. Top with Parmesan, and serve.
Per Serving: 273 Calories; 22g Fat (68.3% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 18g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; trace Cholesterol; 9mg Sodium.

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