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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 Salad Dressings, on May 3rd, 2007.

Do you have go-to salad dressings like I do? My repertoire contains a list of about 8 dressings that I rely on, depending on my mood or a particular meal when I want a specific flavor addition to a meal. This is one of those, and it’s been a keeper since I first tasted it at the Mexican Village Restaurant, a 1960’s vintage restaurant in Coronado, California. I loved this dressing whenever I went to the restaurant, and was overjoyed when, in the 1970’s the San Diego Union Tribune printed a recipe, purportedly the original, but maybe it was somebody’s interpretation. Why it was called “Mock” Caesar, I really don’t know. It does have garlic, Parmesan, oil and anchovy paste in it (no lemon juice, though). It’s really just another style of garlic-Parmesan-blue cheese vinaigrette. But whatever it really is, it’s really tasty. I go-to to this often.

Note: I have received an email message from one of the daughters of the original Mexican Village family. She says my recipe isn’t anything like the one at the family’s old restaurant. Oh well. She said she and her family are trying to produce the dressing and other food items from the “old days” of the restaurant. I don’t live in San Diego, so don’t know if they’ve accomplished that goal or not. But the recipe – at the time I thought the newspaper recipe was similar. And, by the way, the Mexican Village has re-opened in its same Coronado location, but it is not owned by the previous family. The new owners just bought the name. And I’ve not heard any good comments about the food.

It keeps stored in the refrigerator for several weeks. It is at its best during the first few days, but it’s really just fine for a long time. Years ago I used to make this with the Kraft dry, crumbled Parmesan cheese in the paper can, because I sure didn’t know much about the real, Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. I use the latter now, but it’s certainly possible that the Mexican Village used the paper-can type themselves. It’s certainly cheaper!

SIDE NOTES ABOUT WHITE WINE VINEGAR: In the photo above, you’ll notice at the top right is a gray bottle. That’s my white-wine-vinegar jar/pot. I have this white (well, gray) one and a red one. Into those bottles go any dregs of wine that doesn’t get consumed. Initially I started with about 1/2 cup of white vinegar and 1/2 cup of wine in each bottle. I let it marinate (room temp is fine) for several days to allow it to develop, then you merely add more wine remnants. It can go months without additions. These bottles just reside on my pantry shelves. Don’t use sweet wines. And occasionally taste the mixture – if it’s not sour or tart enough, add 1/2 cup of vinegar to the bottle.
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Mock Caesar Dressing

Serving Ideas: Use different kinds of greens, but few veggies in the salad so the dressing shows through.

3/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 large garlic clove
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon celery salt
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/8 teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons green onions
2 tablespoons parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons blue cheese
1 teaspoon anchovy paste

Smash the garlic clove with the side of a chef’s knife to remove the skin. Drop into blender container with the salt. Whiz briefly and allow to sit while you collect the other ingredients. Add all remaining ingredients and blend well. Refrigerate for a few hours before using. Makes about 2 cups.
Per Serving: 132 Calories; 14g Fat (95.0% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 1g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 1mg Cholesterol; 305mg Sodium.

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  1. Laurie

    said on March 8th, 2014:

    I have never forgotten how much I loved the salad dressing at the Mexican Village in Coronado, CA. It must mean something that I don’t remember any of the other menu items, although the salad was just the prelude to the meal. I remember my parents buying a container of the dressing for me to take home because I loved it so much…very fond memory.

    Yes, I agree. And this recipe isn’t that much like it. I’ve never tried to tinker with this recipe to try to make it more . . . something . . . to what I remember. . . carolyn t

  2. Cutting

    said on January 9th, 2016:

    Mexican Village Salad Dressing (close enough!)

    ½ c. Bleu Cheese
    1 cup vegetable Oil
    1 teaspoon Salt
    1 teaspoon Pepper
    1 Tablespoon Worcester S.
    1 egg beaten
    3 garlic cloves pressed or equivalent

    Let mellow after blending.
    Serve over Romaine/mixed greens with avocado chunks !!

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