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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 Soups, on October 1st, 2007.

Okay, friends. Listen up. I’m sharing today one of my very favorite recipes ever. I’ve been making this soup/stew since about 1966. That’s 40 years. Wow. Even surprises me! So why have I waited 6 months to tell you about it, you ask? Simple. It wasn’t soup season. This is one of those dishes that sticks to the ribs. Hearty. Hot. If I had a restaurant, say, Carolyn’s Country Kitchen, this would be at the top of the menu as Carolyn’s signature soup. Or stew. Or stoup, as Rachel Ray calls these kinds of concoctions.

This is so much of a favorite that it’s going onto my Carolyn’s Fav’s , a tab at the top. Now, you need to love soup and stew to like this recipe. And vegetables. And cumin (although you could leave that out). To me, the cumin is an important component, however, even though it wasn’t in the original recipe; that was one of my additions. And you need to like mashed potatoes.

Many of you know how much I like soups, and that I keep a regular stock of soups in my frozen soup library.

Here it is in the pot, stewing away. Note the thickness to it – I had just added the cabbage. Over the years I’ve adapted it with my own additions (garlic, cumin, shrooms, some heat, etc.) but the basics are the same. A ground beef (or turkey or chicken) and vegetable soup (cabbage, tomatoes, mushrooms, onions and kidney beans) with a mound of buttermilk-enhanced mashed potatoes on top. As you eat it, the mashed potatoes just begin to kind of melt into the soup. This recipe is very forgiving. You don’t like cabbage? Fine, leave it out. Same with mushrooms. Add corn. Or substitute something else or just leave out the things you don’t care for. But, when you prepare it, it needs to have a thick consistency – not a lot of liquid, in other words, but mostly veggies. Here, below, it’s in the bowl, ready for the mound of mashed potatoes. The soup mixture is not thickened (like a creamed soup where you’ve added flour), but it’s “thick” with vegetables.

I make this in a very large quantity when I do it because it’s a real winner for freezing. I make the mashed potatoes too, and pile them into smaller Ziploc freezer bags (doing the same procedure, flattening them out so they freeze and defrost easily), then the soup goes into a larger bag. When I want a quick dinner I just take out one soup and one potato bag to defrost.

Now mashed potatoes become a weird duck when you freeze them. They lose all their form and become mostly a liquid. So just a warning here – don’t be alarmed and think the potatoes are ruined. Once you heat them up, the starch firms them right back up again. Amazing, but true. Sometimes I even put the potato bag (smaller) into the larger Ziploc bag, then pour the soup around it. Then it’s all contained in one package. But then you can’t get so much soup into the larger bag, so I usually separate them.

About 7-8 months ago, before I had my own blog, I was reading Tummy Treasure, Erika’s blog. She was trying to make some thrifty meals, so I emailed her this recipe. She liked it so well she wrote up a blog post about it. I was so thrilled! Wow, my recipe in lights! If you’d like to read it, click

If soup season has arrived at your house, I highly recommend this one. A lot. Our son-in-law, Todd, is visiting us at the moment, and he ate two full bowls last night and would have licked the bottom if he could. My suggestion: you need to order up a bowl right away.
printer-friendly PDF

Cabbage Patch Stew

Recipe: Originally from a Betty Crocker cookbook.
Servings: 8

SOUP:
1 pound ground beef (or chicken, turkey or soy protein chunks)
2 medium onions — sliced thin
1 1/2 c cabbage — shredded or sliced thinly
1 1/2 c celery — diced
2 cloves garlic — minced
2 c kidney beans — canned, undrained
2 c tomatoes — canned, undrained
2 c fresh mushrooms — sliced
2 tsp chili powder — or more to taste
1 tsp ground cumin – – or more to taste (I usually add about 1 T.)
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 c chicken broth – – or water (or vegetable broth)
1 tsp beef broth concentrate — diluted in water (or vegetable concentrate)
salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 c water
POTATOES:
10 med potatoes
1/2 c buttermilk (or soy milk)
salt & pepper to taste
1 tbsp butter

1. Brown ground beef over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, cabbage and celery and cook until vegetables have lost their raw color. Add beans, mushrooms, tomatoes and seasonings (and some water if it appears to be too thick) and continue to simmer for 15-25 minutes. The original recipe called for the addition of 2 cups of water, but I’d recommend about 1 cup, maybe 1-1/2 cups.
2. Meanwhile, boil potatoes until fork tender and mash them using the butter, buttermilk and salt & pepper to taste
3. Serve about 1 to 1-1/2 cups stew per person in large bowls, then add scoops of hot potatoes on top.
Per Serving: 505 Calories; 18g Fat (30.9% calories from fat); 26g Protein; 63g Carbohydrate; 16g Dietary Fiber; 53mg Cholesterol; 155mg Sodium.

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  1. ann

    said on October 2nd, 2007:

    Oh that sounds delicious! Faintly Polish or Hungarian or something, but perfectly Betty Crocker. Thanks for sharing. It does sound perfect for that first truly cold fall day. I’ll keep it in mind!

  2. Erika W.

    said on October 2nd, 2007:

    Mmm. It IS delicious. This reminds me that I should pick up some cabbage and make it soon. My favorite part is the beans- I’m on a bean fetish right now, and anything that includes beans is a winner in my book.

    Carolyn, I’d love to add a link to your blog in my blogroll, but I thought I should ask if that would be okay with you. You have some great stories to tell- I would love to share them with my loyal readers.

  3. FOODS & BEVERAGES

    said on October 4th, 2007:

    Mmmmmm,oh my god just reading this blog entry made me hungry!N now i’m going to the store to get some cabbage and try it.Thanks buddy for sharing.

  4. Pixie

    said on January 20th, 2008:

    What a wonderful soup, I’ll definately try this recipe as well within the next few weeks!

  5. Carolyn T

    said on January 20th, 2008:

    Pixie – I do love this soup. It’s one of my all-time favorites, and what’s so funny is that there’s nothing all that special in it. Ordinary ingredients, but put them together and they make magic.

  6. Mary S

    said on November 4th, 2013:

    I would never have thought to put a scoop or two of mashed potatoes in the middle of a bowl of stew, but now that you mention it…. What a wonderful idea!! I can’t wait to make this stew. I think when I do make this, I will add a couple cups of corn to the mix. I feel about corn, the way your husband does. Yum!

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful recipe, especially now that the weather has turned towards the cold and wintery.

    The soup/stew is a wonderful comforting bowl of goodness. I’m sure you’ll like it. And I like the idea about adding corn – I know my DH would love it too – I’ll have to remember that. The dish is also very, very simple! . . . carolyn t

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