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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 aging 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, wealthy women) 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.

I’ve written up an entire blog post about this book. (It hasn’t been posted yet, but will soon.) It may be one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a memoir by Pat Conroy (an author I’ve long admired). He died a year or so ago – sad, that. In order to get the most out of My Reading Life, I recommend you BUY THE HARDBACK. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s an autobiography of sorts, but not really. He never wrote one, I don’t think, and I doubt he would ever have written one as he likely didn’t believe anyone would want to read about his (sad) life. In this memoir, he chronicles the books (and the people who recommended them) that influenced his life. Starting at his mother’s knees and continuing through influential teachers and mentors and friends. One of my book clubs read it, and I devoured it, cover to cover, with little plastic flags inserted all the way through to re-read some of the prose. Pat Conroy was a fabulous writer – he studied words from a young age and used them widely and wisely throughout his writing, but better than most authors would. He adored his mother, and hated (with venom) his aviator military father who physically abused everyone in the family, including his mother. They all took it like stoic Buddhas. I’m going to have to read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel because of reading this book. I’ve never read it. Conroy says that book’s first page is the best first page of any book he ever read in his life. Wow. And maybe my book group is going to re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Vintage Classics) too because of the chapter on that book. We might have to assign that to a 2-month or longer read. If you have friends or family who are avid readers, this would make a great gift, this book, My Reading Life. If YOU are a reader, it needs to be on your bookshelf, but in hardback, so you can go back to it and re-read his stories. It’s a series of essays, each one about a sub-section of his life. A must-have and a must-read.

Also read The Towers of Tuscany by Carol Cram. It was a bargain book through amazon or bookbub (e-book). Back in the Middle Ages women were forbidden to be artists. Their only place was in the home, caring for children and sewing and cooking. But the heroine in this book was taught to paint by her widowed artist-father (in secret, of course). When her father suddenly dies, all hell breaks loose and she must fend for herself. Much of the book takes place in Siena (and also San Gimignano) as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.


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 Appetizers, on September 25th, 2007.

OMG. This bread. Oh, this bread. It is so out of this world, I can’t believe it. While we were visiting with our friends Karen & Phil, where they now live in a town west of Allentown (Bethlehem) Pennsylvania, she showed me her 3-ring binder that has become her “favorite recipes” file. I always enjoy leafing through other people’s recipe collections. So, I ran across this recipe for bread, mentioned something about it to Karen and she said, let’s have that for dinner.

This picture shows you what it looked like, slathered each direction and ready to be sealed up in foil. You can visualize the concept from the title – like the bloomin’ onions from Outback Steakhouse. But this bread, of course, isn’t deep fried, but it blooms something like it. It’s such a clever idea, why didn’t I think of it? You make a batch of fresh pesto, mix it with cream cheese and goat cheese, spread it on the bloomin’ style cut of the bread, bake and serve. The cutting of the bread is not difficult, but does require a good bread or serrated knife. You cut the bread almost through, turn the bread 90 degrees and cut again almost through, thus creating these little tall towers or cubes of bread about 3/4 inch or up to 1 inch square and about 2 inches high. Higher if you use a taller loaf, of course. Then you slather the pesto mixture on all 4 sides of the bread. Use a big plastic spatula and spread the cheese mixture down into the bread. Try to cover all sides of each little tower. It does this without working too hard at it if you just do it like you would sliced bread.

Once baked, you grab the very top of each tower and pull. Usually it breaks off right at the base and you have this warm, soft, garlicky mushy bite of unbelievable bread. What was left on the bottom (see picture at top) was cut up into pieces, baked in a hot oven very briefly and became croutons for the Caesar salad we had with dinner. Get thyself to the grocery store and try this. My only suggestion: Karen decided to use ready-made pesto this time since we were tight on time. But the garlic flavor is much less pronounced, so I’d add more fresh garlic to the cheese mixture in the food processor, then add pesto to your liking.
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Pesto-Cheese Bloomin’ Sourdough Bread

Recipe: My friend, Karen B, via her friend Erin

1 medium whole sourdough bread
All-purpose pesto:
2 T pine nuts
2-3 cloves garlic,
1 t salt
1 1/2 cups fresh basil
approx. 1/4 cup olive oil
Cheese mixture:
8 ounces goat cheese
4 ounces cream cheese

1. Combine in food processor: nuts, garlic and salt, then add basil. Process until mixed. Slowly add olive oil. You can use less olive oil if you want to – it’s just for a binder. If you choose to use ready-made pesto, add additional fresh garlic to the cheese mixture.
2. Cream together, then add pesto mixture and mix thoroughly.
3. Slice bread about one inch apart, not cutting all the way through the bottom crust. Turn loaf 90 degrees and slice bread again, also about 1 inch apart. You’ll end up with a cubed effect, but the loaf is still intact.
4. Spread pesto cheese mixture on the bread – going one direction, then turn 90 degrees and spreading again so all the cubes are covered in the pesto cheese mixture. This part can get messy. Wrap bread in foil and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes at 350. Or, on the barbecue, top rack, for about 15 minutes. Serve on a platter and let guests pull each cube.

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