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Just finished reading How It All Began: A Novelby Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant (she arrived after the birth, actually). Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the father is a wealthy man in the area who carries a lot of clout. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

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 middle-aged 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, and wealthy) 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.


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 Pork, on May 1st, 2007.

As mentioned in the previous recipe, my friend Cherrie and I attended a cooking class recently, which was a Cinco de Mayo celebration of recipes by Phillis Carey. This is different than any carnitas I’ve ever had, and it’s really tasty. It doesn’t take long to simmer the meat, and the steps to make this are relatively simple. With a green salad, this could be dinner if you put out condiments like the salsa and guacamole. Shredded lettuce would probably be a nice addition too. In this version, instead of serving shredded (cold) cheese as a condiment, Monterey jack cheese is melted and baked with the meat and you merely scoop some of this combination into a hot flour tortilla and serve.
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Caramelized Carnitas Tacos

1 1/2 pounds boneless pork center rib — or pork shoulder, cut in 1 inch cubes with some fat
2 cloves garlic — minced
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon tequila
1 tablespoon molasses
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 cup water
1/2 cup green onions — sliced
1 pound Monterey jack cheese — grated
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1 tablespoon cilantro — chopped
8 small flour tortillas
1 1/2 cups salsa — freshly, not bottled
1 cup guacamole

1. CARNITAS: Place pork cubes in a medium bowl. Toss with garlic, brown sugar, tequila, molasses, salt and pepper. Transfer to a 10-inch skillet, spreading pork out to a single layer. Pour the water on and bring to a boil. Simmer until the pork is tender and the water is cooked out, stirring occasionally. Toward the end of the cooking time watch the pan carefully. You do not want it to scorch. Taste meat for tenderness and add a bit more water if needed to continue cooking. The cook time should be about 45 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cook slightly before adding the green onions.
2. QUESO: Preheat oven to 375°. Place the cooked carnitas in a deep pie plate or casserole dish and top with the grated cheese. Sprinkle with garlic salt and bake for 20-25 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly. During the last 10 minutes of cooking, wrap the tortillas in foil and bake along with the casserole.
3. SERVING: Spoon carnitas and fonduta into the hot tortillas and add some salsa and guacamole on top, fold over and serve.
Per Serving : 688 Calories; 37g Fat (49.1% calories from fat); 37g Protein; 50g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 96mg Cholesterol; 1194mg Sodium.

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