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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 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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