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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 Cookbooks, Veggies/sides, on November 25th, 2007.

mashed-potatoes-crockpot

Do you run out of oven space on holidays? Especially Thanksgiving? Fortunately, I have 2 regular ovens AND a microwave/convection oven too. When we remodeled our kitchen a year ago we put in 2 ovens. They are just 27″ wide, so the two turkeys took up both regular ovens with no room to spare for side dishes. We baked yeast bread in the small convection oven an hour or so before dinner, and heated up one of the vegetable dishes in the microwave.

Making mashed potatoes at the last minute is not my idea of fun cooking on Thanksgiving. Recently a friend mentioned that she keeps mashed potatoes in her crockpot for holiday dinners. What a great idea, I thought. She said, as long as your potato recipe has a goodly amount of fat (butter, sour cream or something), the potatoes will hold for hours. I’m here to tell you the technique works like a charm. I’ll be doing this year after year after year.

Again, I turned to Rick Rodgers’ book, Thanksgiving 101, and he has a “Make Ahead Mashed Potato Casserole” in the 1998 edition. His are baked, but I used the recipe with just one substitution, then piled the 10 pounds of mashed potato mixture into the large crockpot. [I made a double batch.] The recipe below is for 5 pounds of potatoes. I have a very old crockpot – with a ceramic insert. It has the high, low and auto settings, but it’s big. Good thing since we filled the pot to the brim with potatoes. These can’t be called healthy in any way, but this was Thanksgiving, after all. I didn’t skimp – I used full fat cream cheese, and full fat sour cream. Were they good? Abso-posi-tutely, as my dad used to say. I’m looking forward to all the leftovers for tonight’s dinner. The pumpkin pie is gone and the broccoli with Hollandaise is gone, but we have lots of the other stuff: the super-moist kosher turkey, dressing, green beans, broccoli/leek puree, gravy AND mashed potatoes!
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Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click link to open MC – 14 contains photo)

Make-Ahead Mashed Potato Casserole/Crockpot Method

Source: mostly based on a recipe from Thanksgiving 101 by Rick Rodgers
Servings: 8

5 pounds russet potatoes, peeled
8 ounces cream cheese, cut in chunks
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup buttermilk (original recipe used milk)
Salt and pepper to taste
About 1 T. butter
1. Fill a large pot with water and cut up the potatoes in quarters (or more, depending on the size of the potatoes). Simmer until potatoes are tender, but not falling apart. Drain.
2. Using a hand masher or a hand mixer, puree the potatoes until smooth, then add the cream cheese, sour cream and buttermilk. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
3. Pour potatoes into crock pot and dot the top with about a tablespoon of butter. Put lid on and set crock pot at lowest setting. Will hold for several hours.
Per Serving: 391 Calories; 16g Fat (36.8% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 54g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 44mg Cholesterol; 132mg Sodium.

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  1. kari b

    said on November 27th, 2007:

    What an amazing idea & it works perfectly! No more slaving over the stove right before the meal to get hot mashed potatoes! Thanks for the great idea….

  2. Kate

    said on November 28th, 2007:

    I always do my Thanksgiving turkey on the grill- mostly because I love to smoke it, but it also saves on oven space, which then eases my stress. This year’s bird turned out beautifully.

    This is a great suggestion, and I just love cream cheese in my mashed potatoes.

  3. Nancy

    said on December 2nd, 2008:

    I use an almost identical recipe and these mashed potatoes always get rave reviews. My recipe states that you can make them up to 5 days in advance and I’ve read other versions stating that they can be frozen. I just found your blog and am enjoying it. I love food blogs!

    Wow, 5 days, huh? That will make Thanksgiving even easier if they could be made a day or so ahead of the big day. Thanks for the suggestion. Thanks for stopping by my blog! . . . Carolyn T

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