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Currently Reading

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Just finished a quirky book, Goodbye, Vitamin: A Novel by Rachel Khong. She’s a new writer (newly published, I guess I should say) and this story is about Ruth, a 30+ something, trying to readjust to life without her fiance, who’s dumped her. She goes back home to help with the care of her father, who has Alzheimer’s. Written in a diary style, it jumps all over about her life, her mother, the funny, poignant things her father says on good days, and the nutty stuff he does on not-so-good days, her ex-, and her very quirky friends, too. Then a woman flits through who had had an affair with her father –  you get to observe all the angst from the mom about that. Mostly it’s about her father, as he’s relatively “together” early in the book, but then he disintegrates. Reading that part isn’t fun, although the author is able to lean some humor into it. I’m not sure I recommend the book exactly – I read it through – and felt sad. It doesn’t tie up loose ends – if you want that kind of book – you may not want to read this one.

Also finished Julian Fellowes’s Belgravia. You know Julian Fellowes, the producer and writer of Downton Abbey? He lends his mind to a story about a family or two from the similar time period as Downton, who live in London. There’s some amount of intrigue, romance, observations from within the halls of wealthy Londoners and moderately well off tradesmen and their families. There’s affairs, shady business dealings, an illegitimate child, the comings and goings of the “downstairs” staff too, etc. The characters were well done – I had no trouble keeping all of the people identified. The story is somewhat predictable, but it was interesting clear up to the end.

The Letter by Kathyrn Hughes. It’s a very intricate tale. At first it’s about Tina, a battered wife [at which point I paused and wondered if I wanted to read any further, but I’m glad I did]. She tries to get the courage to leave her husband. Then enters the letter she finds in a suit pocket in the thrift shop where she volunteers. It’s old – sealed and stamped, but never mailed. Then you learn about Crissie, decades earlier, a young pregnant girl who is sent off to Ireland to a distant relative by her father, then to a rigid (meaning horrible) convent [the book takes place mostly in Manchester, England and in rural Ireland]. The letter is addressed to her. Jump forward decades and William, the adopted child Crissie gave up, tries to find his birth mother. William meets Tina in Ireland [a serendipitous moment] as she’s trying to find the woman to whom the letter is addressed. This book is the #2 best seller on Amazon at the moment. It’s a riveting tale and I really enjoyed it.

The Muralist: A Novel by Shapiro. It tells the story of a young woman, an artist, who was part of the U.S.’s WPA mural project from the 1930s-40s (she is fiction, the WPA is not). As with so many artists, even today, they live in abject poverty through much of their lives. This woman, though, had family in France, desperately trying to escape before Hitler’s henchmen rousted them into concentration camps. The story, a bit of a mystery but not of the mystery-genre, is about Alizée Benoit, this young painter, who slightly captivates Eleanor Roosevelt’s help. It also skips into current time when the painter’s great-niece uncovers paintings she believes were painted by her aunt. The painter had disappeared into thin air in 1940, and her relative tries desperately to find out what happened to her. It’s a really good story including such Abstract Expressionist painters as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner well-woven into the narrative. It keeps you guessing right up to the end. A good read. The author also wrote The Art Forger: A Novel a few years ago.

Also recently read News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a free-lance job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her family was killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of an old (wild) west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many. Just read this one first!

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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