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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 Desserts, on May 4th, 2007.

Chapter 1 of the gelato story: After having made several trips to Italy in the last 10 years, I’ve come to be a real aficionado of gelato. And although I’ve had it here at home, it never seems to taste as good as it does there. Is it the air? Is it the fact that I’m on vacation? Is it just the romance of Italy? Or, more likely, I believe, milk in Italy is just different than ours, with a higher butterfat content, and the milk tastes different because of what the cows eat. I just picture all those Italian cows munching away on REAL grass and stuff, rather than the manufactured crap and exaggerated hormones American dairies feed their milkers in order to produce the highest possible amount of milk output. I’d love to be able to bring a half gallon of Italian milk home with me from some trip to Italy and see if there was a difference. Not likely with the TSA vigilant at the screening stations and us with 5-ounce limits of anything.

Chapter 2 of the gelato story: A few years ago when our friends Yvette & Joe were coming up to visit from San Diego, Yvette said she’d bring dessert. And, oh my goodness, was it wonderful. She frequents a little gelato store on India Street (Little Italy) near downtown San Diego. Called Caffe Vera, it’s run by a ubiquitous Italian man from the old country. His shop is small, his business brisk, and his gelato par excellence. Yvette brought her favorite, banana gelato, which we enjoyed after our wonderful dinner. We’ve been back several times to bring home a batch, although the banana flavor must be ordered in advance because he ripens the bananas for several days. I also made roasted banana ice cream a few days ago, but right now we’re talking about Lemon Velvet since it was my first, successful ice cream conquest.

One of the reasons gelato is different is that it’s made mostly with milk (whole milk), not cream as our traditional ice cream contains. So, theoretically, it’s a little healthier for us than ice cream. But any nutritionist would probably question my logic there. But anyway, I love making ice cream that doesn’t require making a custard (it’s traditional here in the U.S. – a sauce made with egg yolks and cream simmered until thickened, then cooled and chilled before freezing). So when this Lemon Velvet recipe appeared in the Los Angeles Times some years ago, I clipped it out in a flash because it contains more milk than anything else. The Velvet Turtle restaurant chain was widely known in Southern California for many years, and this recipe was a regular on their dessert menu. The original recipe is printed below. Normally I substitute the evaporated milk and the regular milk with Trader Joe’s fat-free half and half. And I usually add some heavy cream instead of the half and half called for.

So, now, we finally get the segue for what the photo is all about. Are you getting really bored wondering when I’m ever going to get to the recipe? Just a little more explanation. About 3 years ago when Dave asked me what I’d like for Christmas I said “a Cuisinart ICE-50BC Supreme Ice Cream Maker.” Now these dream machines aren’t cheap (photo from Amazon.com). At the time they were only available at Williams-Sonoma. So, with great anticipation I began making some different kinds of ice cream and gelato every few weeks. This is one of our favorites. Okay, now you get the recipe:
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Lemon Velvet Ice Cream

Recipe: Adapted from the Velvet Turtle, and
printed in the Los Angeles Times
Servings: 10
NOTES: This is a really smooth ice cream, and with our home-grown Meyer lemons, the perfect complement to their sweetness. This may be the best ice cream I’ve ever made in my machine. Because I like to enjoy this all year around, I freeze the lemon juice (with zest included) in 1-cup containers. Then in December when I want a little lemon pucker, it’s no trouble to prepare this. If you use other varieties of lemons the mixture may need additional sugar, so taste it and adjust as needed.

1 3/4 cups sugar
lemon zest from 2-3 lemons
1 cup fresh lemon juice
2 cups half & half
1-12 1/2-ounce can evaporated milk (I use fat-free half and half)
1 1/2 cups full-fat milk (I use fat-free half and half)
1 dash salt

1. Remove the zest from some of the lemons with a microplane grater, if possible. Combine with the fresh squeezed juice in a blender. Blend well. If you don’t have a microplane for the zest, blend this for awhile so none of the zest appears in big chunks. Pour into a large bowl with the other ingredients. Stir well to dissolve sugar. Taste for sweetness or tartness and adjust. If time permits, refrigerate.
2. Follow ice cream freezer directions and freeze in one or two batches, as needed. Scoop into a freezer container and freeze for at least one hour before serving.
Per Serving: 338 Calories; 18g Fat (47.2% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 43g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 65mg Cholesterol; 93mg Sodium.

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  1. Erika

    said on May 6th, 2007:

    What a wonderful post Carolyn! It makes me want to hop a plane and go track down some real gelato. I really need to make more homemade ice cream, although now I’m thinking I need your ice cream maker.

    Found your blog through my technorati links, btw. I’m excited to see where your blogging takes you! I’ll link to yours next time I’m updating. 🙂

  2. Erika

    said on May 6th, 2007:

    I forgot to mention…you should enter this as a yellow food for Livestrong day. You can check out the details here:

    http://winosandfoodies.typepad.com/my_weblog/2007/04/a_taste_of_yell.html

  3. Ashlee and Bill

    said on January 6th, 2008:

    I’m so glad you found my lemon sour cream pie, because now I get to try your lemon Gelato! I too LOVE lemons and have already saved many of your recipes! Thanks!

  4. Elizabeth

    said on February 15th, 2011:

    Delicious!

    So glad you enjoyed it! . . . carolyn t

  5. Elizabeth

    said on February 15th, 2011:

    Forgot to add, I also used meyer lemons and reduced the sugar to 1 1/2 cups and thought it was sweet enough. Thanks!

    Oh good, glad to know! I do love that stuff! . . . carolyn t

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