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Carolyn

Sara

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Just finished reading A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts by Therese Anne Fowler. My friend Ann, from Idaho, brought it with her as we spent a week in Palm Desert. She handed it to me and said I’d really like it. Oh, did I! Loved the book. This book is a novel, but based on the life of Alva Smith Vanderbilt (Belmont). She was nearly destitute (and faking it) when a marriage was proposed for her with William Vanderbilt. There is lots of dialogue in the book, which is made  up, but I’m guessing the author probably read many diary entries of Alva (and the family) to create a very intriguing and readable story. A life of unbelievable privilege. Several children, including one who marries into a titled family in England. You see the inner life of Alva – her day to day busy work, charity work, visiting for afternoon tea, the undercurrent of society’s morals – men were nearly expected to have mistresses or affairs. This was the Victorian Age when sex between and man and a woman was not necessarily, and usually not, passionate. I loved this book from page one until the end.  She was a suffragette of the first order. Having read the book, I have a lot of admiration for her, even though she lived in the highest echelons of society.

Also read In Falling Snow: A Novel, by Mary-Rose McColl. From amazon: Iris, a young Australian nurse, travels to France during World War I to bring home her fifteen-year-old brother, who ran away to enlist. But in Paris she meets the charismatic Dr. Frances Ivens, who convinces Iris to help establish a field hospital in the old abbey at Royaumont, staffed entirely by women—a decision that will change her life. Seamlessly interwoven is the story of Grace, Iris’s granddaughter in 1970s Australia. Together their narratives paint a portrait of the changing role of women in medicine and the powerful legacy of love. The book  gives you a vivid picture of the state of nursing in WWI, but the story is quite mesmerizing. And there’s a twist almost at the end. Highly recommend.

Also couldn’t put down The Secret Wife by Gill Paul. A long story that begins in war-torn Russia. Cavalry officer Dmitri falls head over heels in love with one of the daughters of Tzar Nicholas. But events intervene, as history tells us. That was 1914. Cut to 2016 when a young woman inherits an ancient cabin in upper New York State and she discovers a jeweled pendant. The two times weave together to make a really riveting story. Lots of Russian history; well written; as I said, couldn’t put it down.

Uncommon Woman. A book about Colonial America, but really the western frontier at that time, which is in western Pennsylvania. The warring native Americans play large in this book. There is a romance, yes, but this book is not “a romance.” It’s more than that – about the hardships of living on the land, away from protection, Tessa and her family struggle to make a living and avoid the angered natives who take revenge when their people are murdered. Clay Tygart is a respected officer/soldier and commands a fort near where Tessa lives. Clay was captured by Lanape Indians when he was a young man, so he straddles both sides of the equation – first hand, he knows how the natives feel, but also his role in the lure of American exploration of the west. The natives wish to preserve their hunting grounds from the encroaching settlers. This book takes place in the mid-1700s I think. Loved it. Not only the history that is brilliantly detailed, even to the summer heat they experience. The crops they raise, the constant fear of attack. And the sweet love that weaves through it. Not a speck of sex in it.

Reading mysteries has never loomed large in my reading life. Occasionally, yes. And some espionage type books. But light mysteries have not intrigued me much. But one of my book clubs had us read Louise Penny’s novel, A Rule Against Murder (Chief Inspector Gamache Novel). The member actually handed out a cheat sheet of the characters in the book (many) and posed several questions of us as we read through it. The cheat sheet really helped. She asked us when (or if) we caught the foreshadowing of the murder culprit (I never did). The book takes place at a lovely inn in Canada and Chief Inspector Gamache (he is quite a character – along with his wife – are vacationing there) when a murder occurs. None of the characters escape the C.I.’s scrutiny. Lois, our book club member, led us through a very thorough and lively discussion of the book. Usually, my complaint about murder mysteries is that they don’t make for good discussion at a book club – but this book was an exception, for sure. Many of my learned book club friends rave about Louise Penny. One told me I should read Still Life next, and probably should have read it before I read this one.

Rachel Hauck is an author I’ve enjoyed reading over the years. Just finished reading The Memory House. It’s about relationships. Love. About family. About secrets. Doesn’t that just describe about 90% of every novel out there these days? Beck is a cop in NYC; a series of events occur and she is forced to take leave. Just then she inherits a house in Florida. She barely remembers the woman who bequeathed the house to her. Then you meet Bruno, a sports agent who will figure large in Beck’s life. Then the book jumps back in time to Everleigh, the woman who owned the house and you learn her story. Really stories of her two husbands. And how do those stories connect to present day. Very sweet book. Not a speck of sex in this one, either.

The Parrot Who Owns Me: The Story of a Relationship by Joanna Burger. Such an interesting book – nonfiction. The author is an ornithologist by profession (and a PhD) and this memoir of sorts is about her Red-Lored Amazon parrot she and her husband own. But no, it’s the parrot who owns her/them.

My Name Is Resolute by Nancy Turner. She’s the author of another book of some renown, These is my Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901 (P.S.). Resolute is what I’m discussing here. A book club friend recommended this book, I immediately bought it on my Kindle. I could NOT put the book down. I devoured it. Any other “work” I should have been doing was swept aside as I read and read of Resolute’s adventures. It’s fiction, but based some on a true story. Resolute, as a young girl from a privileged life on a plantation in Jamaica, was taken captive by slavers, eventually ended up in Colonial America. This book is the story of her life. The people she met, the men in her life, her children, and always about her indefatigable energy for life. Always hoping to return to Jamaica.

Finished The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek: A Novel by Kim Richardson.  It’s a novel about the first mobile library in Kentucky (this is the 1930s) and the fierce, brave packhorse librarians who wove their way from shack to shack dispensing literacy, hope, and, just as importantly, a compassionate human connection.

The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape by James Rebanks. This book was offered as a bargain book from Bookbub, and something about the description resonated with me – maybe because of my Old Testament readings regarding the lives of shepherds back in ancient days. I utterly loved this book. It might not suit everyone – it’s a memoir, so a true story, of a young man growing up in the Lake District of Northern England, the son of a farming family, who sabotages everything in his being regarding going to school and leaves as soon as he is able (probably about 8th grade, I’d guess). And becomes a shepherd. And at night, he read literature that he accumulated from his grandfather. He bickers with his father, eventually moves out. One night in a pub with his blokes (friends) he enters some kind of a contest in the pub and realizes he has a lot more knowledge than he thought he did. In time he applies to get what I’d call here in the U.S. a G.E.D (high school diploma), which he does, and then he applies to Oxford, on a whim. And gets in. He graduates. He applies his knowledge to his rural life. He marries, has children, but still, his day to day life is all about his Herdwick sheep, although he does have a day job too working for UNESCO. You’ll learn more about sheep than you might have wanted to know. I absolutely loved, LOVED this book. If you are interested, James Rebanks has a Twitter feed, called @herdyshepherd1, and you can sign up to get updates from him about his farm and his sheep. I don’t do Twitter or I would.

Moloka’i: A Novel by Alan Brennert. A riveting book about the early days of Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) in Hawaii, and the stigma attached to the victims AND their families. It chronicles the story of a young woman, diagnosed almost as a child, and ostracized from her family, subsequently learning to live alone and remote.

House by the Fjord by Rosalind Laker. What a darling story. From amazon: A touching and atmospheric love story – When Anna Harvik travels to Norway in 1946 in order to visit the family of her late husband, the country is only just recovering from five cruel years of Nazi occupation. So it is with surprise that she finds in this cold and bitter country the capacity for new love and perhaps even a new home. I just loved this book – could hardly put it down; yet it’s not a mystery. You’ll come away with a desire to find that house by the fjord. I want to go there and have some coffee with the Anna, who was a Brit, yet fell head over heels in love with Norway.

Running Blind (Jack Reacher) by Lee Child. A Jack Reacher mystery. From amazon: Across the country, women are being murdered, victims of a disciplined and clever killer who leaves no trace evidence, no fatal wounds, no signs of struggle, and no clues to an apparent motive. They are, truly, perfect crimes. Until Jack Reacher gets in the middle of it. A page turner, as are all of the Jack Reacher stories.

Say Goodbye for Now by Catherine Ryan Hyde. This story, which takes place in a kind of Texas backwater, sets a town into an angry mess when two young boys, one white, one black, become friends, something most folks don’t like. At all. There’s a dog involved, the father of the black boy, the father of the white boy plus a woman who lives in the town and does her best to avoid people altogether. But they all get fused. Wonderful story.

Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart. A sweet book, true story, of the author and her friend, during one summer in the midst of their college years, going by train to NYC and ultimately getting a job of Tiffany’s.  Cute read.

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann. You might think what a stretch – what does an Indian (Native American) tribe have to do with the FBI. Read and you’ll find out. This is back in time, 50s I think, and a number of murders have taken place on the Osage Reservation. A wake up call, even for today.

Oh wow. Just finished reading David Guterson’s book, East of the Mountains. You know this author from his most well known book, Snow Falling on Cedars. I loved the Cedars book when I read it years ago, and assumed I’d like this other book (not new) as well. Have you learned to trust my judgment when I tell you, you HAVE to read a book? When I tell you the story line, I can already hear you thinking . . . oh no, I don’t want to read this kind of a book. Please trust me. You’ll come away from it being glad you did.

A fabulous read – Catherine Ryan Hyde’s newest book, Have You Seen Luis Velez? I marvel sometimes about how authors ever come up with the ideas they do, to create the premise for a novel. And this one is right up there at the top of the list. Raymond, a youngster, an older teenager, who has a big lack of self-confidence and feels like an odd duck sometimes, reluctantly (at first) befriends an elderly woman in the apartment building where he lives with his mother and step-father. He discovers she’s blind and needs some help, which he gives her.

Magic Hour: A Novel

Excellent Women

Pachinko (National Book Award Finalist) by Min Jin Lee

An American Marriage (Oprah’s Book Club): A Novel by Tayari Jones.

Recently finished Sally Field’s memoir (autobiography) called In Pieces.

If you want grit, well, read Kristen Hannah’s newest book, The Great Alone: A Novel.

You’ve got to read Catherine Ryan Hyde’s book – Take Me With You. What a story.  From Amazon’s description: August Shroeder, a burned-out teacher, has been sober since his nineteen-year-old son died. Every year he’s spent the summer on the road, but making it to Yellowstone this year means everything. The plan had been to travel there with his son, but now August is making the trip with Philip’s ashes instead. An unexpected twist of fate lands August with two extra passengers for his journey, two half-orphans with nowhere else to go. What none of them could have known was how transformative both the trip—and the bonds that develop between them—would prove, driving each to create a new destiny together. Have a tissue handy at the end. It’s such a charming, sweet story. You’ll fall in love with the young boys, and fall in love with them again 10 years later.

The Last Letter from Your Lover: A Novel by JoJo Moyes.

Mark of the Lion : A Voice in the Wind, An Echo in the Darkness, As Sure As the Dawn (Vol 1-3)by Francine Rivers.

Flight of the Sparrow: A Novel of Early America

Answer As a Man

Celeste Ng Little Fires Everywhere.

The Rent Collector by Camron Wright.

C.J. Box’s book The Disappeared (A Joe Pickett Novel).

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng.

The Boston Girl: A Novel by Anita Diamant.

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers.

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen.

Leaving Blythe River: A Novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde. A

The Girl with Seven Names by Hyanseo Lee.

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian.

The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. W

How It All Began: A Novel by Penelope Lively.

 

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 February 10th, 2020.

shrimp_corn_chowder_salsa

Oh, is this stuff the food of the Gods? So flavorful.

Recently I went to a soup cooking class. Susan prepared four soups and a dessert. I liked three of the soups and I liked the dessert (raspberry chocolate brownies) but probably won’t post about it (couldn’t really taste the raspberry jam in the middle . . .). But this soup was the standout to me of the class.Image result for annatto seeds

But first I need to talk about annatto (or achiote). This may not be something in your cooking vocabulary. It’s a Latin kind of spice – seed pods, really. The Wikipedia article is very thorough if you’re interested. See them there in the photo at left. They’re a very irregular-shaped seed that come out of a pod of the achiote tree. I see annatto or achiote seeds in the Mexican area of my supermarket, the ones that hang in a cellophane bags. Or you can order them online – Whole Achiote Annato Seeds, 2 Oz. I have some in my pantry and use them so very rarely that I’m certain mine are over the hill. I’m going to be making this soup soon, so I need to buy some new ones. What you need to do is make a flavored oil out of simmering the seeds in a neutral oil (like avocado – definitely not EVOO). The oil will turn a brilliant orange color, which is why the finished soup has that bright hue to it. Annatto doesn’t have a ton of flavor – and yes,  you could leave it out, although your finished soup won’t have that color if you do. Online it says that annatto has a slight peppery taste with a hint of nutmeg. And it used to be used as body paint in tribal life. The tree grows from Mexico to Brazil.

If you make the oil, it will be enough for two batches of this soup. It would be very difficult to simmer 2 tablespoons of oil in a pan with the seeds in it – it would burn, I think. Hence, you simmer the seeds in the oil (to make a larger quantity) over a very low flame. Then you strain out the seeds and toss them. Smelling the seeds they’re similar to a chile pepper (dried), but they have no chile flavor or heat at all. They’re not a chile. They’re just a mildly flavored seed. I remember attending a class decades ago about Puerto Rican cooking where she used annatto oil just like this recipe indicates. If you’re interested here is my PDF recipe from that long-ago cooking class. The one unique thing I remember about that dish was the use of sliced green olives (the ones stuffed with pimento). In any case, annatto is common in Latin cuisine. You can also buy annatto in a paste – but don’t buy that type as it has other things added to it – you want the whole seeds only. And I wouldn’t recommend buying powdered annatto/achiote as it won’t keep long enough.

So back to this soup. If you’re not a shrimp fan, make it with chicken, scallops, or some kind of firm white fish. The shrimp is marinated with some of the garlic, green onions, lime juice and salt – for an hour or up to 3 total. Meanwhile you puree the corn with milk until it’s a smooth puree, then you strain it to remove any of the solids. (No, you wouldn’t have to do that step – you’ll have a bit more texture in the soup if you don’t.) Then you start with a big frying pan or sauté pan, add the annatto oil and cook the rest of the garlic, the onion, bell pepper and cumin. Tomatoes go in, then the corn milk, chicken broth and more seasonings and you bring the mixture to just BELOW a boil (boiling it will curdle the milk), then you add the shrimp. Taste for salt and then serve it with the salsa you’ve made an hour or so ahead (corn, fresh tomatoes, green onions, cilantro and lime juice). That’s it.

What’s GOOD: oh, the flavorful broth for sure. You can use whole shrimp, but I’d suggest (as Susan did) to cut each shrimp in half lengthwise and as long as you didn’t use really large shrimp, the half of one of those is a bite, a mouth full, without cutting. The overall taste is just beyond delicious. I wrote “fab” on the recipe.

What’s NOT: only that you might not have any annatto seeds or achiote paste. Try to find it if you can.
printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Shrimp and Corn Chowder with Corn Salsa

Recipe By: From a class with Susan V, 2020
Serving Size: 8

SOUP:
2 pounds medium shrimp — shelled and deveined
6 garlic cloves — minced
2 green onions — minced
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Salt
2 cups corn — fresh or frozen, and thawed
2 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons annatto oil — (see below)
1 large red onion — finely chopped
1 red bell pepper — finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3 plum tomatoes — seeded and finely chopped
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons cilantro — minced
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
TANGY CORN SALSA:
1 cup frozen corn — thawed
3 Roma tomatoes — finely chopped
2 green onions — minced
2 tablespoons cilantro — minced
2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Salt and pepper to taste
ANNATO OIL:
1/2 cup neutral oil
1/4 cup annato seeds

NOTE: This soup could also be made with chicken, scallops, or a firm-fleshed white fish.
1. In a large, shallow glass or stainless-steel bowl, toss the shrimp with two-thirds of the minced garlic, the scallions, lime juice and 1 teaspoon of salt. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or for up to 3 hours.
2. In a food processor, puree the corn with the milk. Pour the puree through a coarse strainer, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible.
3. ANNATO OIL: Heat the oil and annatto seeds in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer, remove from heat and cool. Strain to remove seeds. Will keep in refrigerator for about 2 months.
4. Heat the annatto oil in a large saucepan or enameled cast-iron casserole. Add the remaining garlic, onion, bell pepper and cumin and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until the vegetables are slightly softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and cook for 2 minutes longer. Add the corn milk, stock, cilantro and cayenne and bring to a boil. Simmer over moderately low heat until very flavorful, about 20 minutes.
5. Pour the soup through a coarse strainer. Working in batches, puree the vegetables in a blender. Return the puree and the strained broth to the saucepan and bring to a simmer. Add the shrimp and its marinade and cook over moderate heat until the shrimp are just opaque throughout, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and serve in warmed soup plates or bowls with the Tangy Corn Salsa.
6. SALSA: Combine ingredients in a bowl, season with salt and pepper and allow to sit for at least an hour (refrigerate) then bring to room temp before serving.
Per Serving: 300 Calories; 10g Fat (27.1% calories from fat); 37g Protein; 25g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 181mg Cholesterol; 245mg Sodium.

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  1. Donna Woerth

    said on February 10th, 2020:

    Wow! I have every single thing I need for this one–even the annatto seeds! Now I just need to find the time to make it. And I will–it looks yummy!

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