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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 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.
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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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