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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 Salad Dressings, on April 27th, 2007.

garlic_vip_dressing

In most things in my life I’ve learned moderation. Like when a recipe calls for 2 teaspoons of crushed thyme, I know to use 1-3 teaspoons. Not 3 tablespoons. Or if it calls for 2 teaspoons of Madras curry powder, I won’t use 2 tablespoons. Now cookbooks are another matter. Well, I’ve never learned moderation there, as my sagging family room bookshelves can attest. And when it comes to garlic, there’s hardly ever enough. If a recipe calls for 1 clove, I’ll generally use 2, maybe even 3 cloves. And I like to buy good-sized heads – I can’t stand those little, puny cloves that need microsurgery to remove the skins and chop. I seek out a couple of markets that always have good, fresh garlic where each clove is the size of a thimble. We’re not talking “elephant garlic” here, but just your everyday garlic. And it’s a rare day when my kitchen is without at least one or two heads in my kitchen-counter bowl. Hence, I have numerous recipes for garlic-enhanced salad dressings. And the more the merrier.

So the next question is, how do you like your garlic – minced, mashed, chopped, squeezed through a press, food processed or blended? I suppose each method would have its proponents. For me, it depends on what it’s in. Bigger pieces go into stews and braises. Minced and chopped might go in a salsa. Food processed I don’t do much anymore because my trusty Cuisinart doesn’t always get the pieces uniformly cut. So what’s that leave? Ta-da:

THE BLENDER METHOD: So, some years ago I heard or read about a method for enhancing garlic flavor. Salt, as we know, can suck the juice out of most things, and that’s exactly what it does here. Using a chef’s knife I mash the clove of garlic with the side of the blade just to remove the skins. Drop the clove(s) into the blender and then add table salt. Whiz briefly (lid solidly affixed) and let it sit for about 5 minutes. That’s while you go collect all the other things that go into this dressing. Measure things out, and you’ll be ready to finish it. I’ve made this with olive oil, but find the olive flavor overwhelms the dressing, so I prefer using Canola oil or other unflavored vegetable oil.

This recipe was given to me in the 1960’s by a family friend. And it’s become one of my standard dressings ever since. Although I’ve tried making the salad itself with lots of different vegetables, I keep going back to the way it was originally served to me – the salad must contain mostly head lettuce, small florets of cauliflower, some shaved almonds and crumbles of Feta cheese. I like the way head lettuce holds a lot of that garlic-whammy dressing. And I will add, although this dressing keeps, it’s the very best an hour after making it.

What’s GOOD: the garlicky flavor is just wonderful – it’s the mingling with the salt that makes this, I’m convinced. A good all-around dressing. You’ve gotta like garlic, however! This is one of my favorite dressings that I make over and over and over.
What’s NOT: if you don’t like garlic, pass this one by. The only downer to this dressing is that the pungency of the garlic dissipates after a day and after refrigerating it. It keeps for a week or 10 days, but still, it’s not as garlicky as it is within an hour or so of making it.

Printer friendly CutePDF
Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click link to open in MC)

Garlic VIP Salad Dressing

1-2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon celery seeds
½ teaspoon paprika
3/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/3 cup vegetable oil

1. Place garlic in blender with salt. Blend briefly and allow to sit while you assemble other ingredients.
2. Add all remaining ingredients and blend until well combined. Pour into a covered container and allow to sit about an hour (ideally) before serving.
3. About ½ cup will dress a side salad for 4 people. Refrigerate remainder and use within a week. Make salad with head lettuce, Romaine, tiny cauliflower florets, Feta cheese and sliced almonds.
Per Serving: 208 Calories; 21g Fat (86.1% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 5g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 4mg Cholesterol; 593mg Sodium.

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  1. Susan Downey

    said on December 29th, 2012:

    I put VIP Salad Dressing in Google search, because I was trying to remember where it came from – it’s in some cook book. It’s been a favorite in my family forever. I mash the garlic and salt together with a fork – A LOT – then mash in the other spices, then put in the blender and add lemon juice and finally, oil in a stream with blender on, like you would hollandaise. I use about half romaine and half head lettuce (recipe also says you can use watercress in place of romaine). However, we use toasted slivered almonds (family tradition – my recipe says sliced also), cauliflower (like yours), no feta, halved grape tomatoes and avocado pieces. You sound like someone who would enjoy hearing about the variations, so I thought I’d share. I’m happy to have found your bog – looks like lots of good recipes to try! Thank you.

    Hi Susan – what fun with the different variations. I rarely make my salad with the cauliflower (unless I happen to have a head on hand, but I usually don’t) and rarely add the almonds either. But it is one of my favorite dressings. I’ll have to try it your way next time and see how I like it! Thanks for sharing . . . carolyn t

  2. Susan Downey

    said on December 29th, 2012:

    And I wanted to add – I agree with you completely about the oil. Tried olive and went back to Crisco oil, which is canola.

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