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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 Salads, on December 17th, 2007.

I was really prepared to NOT like this salad. I mean, Kalamata olives are strong. Pungent. Overwhelming in flavor sometimes. I certainly don’t like eating them straight away. And I thought they’d just overwhelm the tender watercress and Belgian endive leaves. I should know better than to distrust Phillis Carey, one of my favorite cooking teachers. She made this salad at the cooking class I attended in San Diego, at Great News, about 10 days ago.

She made this salad as part of a tenderloin of beef dinner. And it was absolutely delicious. I’ll be making this again and again. It would be perfect with nearly any kind of grilled meat. Even fish. It would make a lovely first course too. It’s colorful. Delicious.

Phillis soaked the red onion in acidulated water (with the vinegar) for 10-20 minutes. I’d forgotten that technique of getting the pungency, the bitterness, that sharpness out of onions. I might soak them longer, depending on the onion I used. And I found another use for my ball bearing whisk. I forget to use this thing, but it was perfect for the dressing here, so you didn’t mash up the olive pieces.
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Watercress & Belgian Endive Salad with Black Olive Vinaigrette

Recipe By: Phillis Carey, author, cooking instructor
Servings: 6

1/2 cup pitted black olives — Kalamata, divided use
1 clove garlic — minced
1/2 teaspoon fresh rosemary — chopped
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste
1 small red onion — halved, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 whole Navel oranges — skinned, cut in sections
2 bunches watercress — thick stems discarded
2 whole Belgian Endive — halved, thinly sliced, cut at last minute
1/2 cup Italian parsley — chopped

1. Coarsely chop 1/4 cup of the olives and place in a small, separate bowl.
2. Place remaining olives in food processor with the garlic and rosemary, pulse to chop. Add vinegar and pulse to combine. Add this mixture to the separate bowl of olives and using a ball-bearing whisk, combine the mixtures. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then cover and refrigerate up to one day ahead. May also be left at room temperature for up to 2 hours.
3. Salad: place the onion slices in a small bowl and cover with cold water. Stir in the vinegar and allow this to stand for at least 10 minutes (more if you’d like less pungency to the onions). Drain.
4. Using a sharp knife, peel the oranges, removing all the white pith. Cut between the membranes to release the orange sections and place in the salad bowl. Do this job over the bowl to save any of the orange juice. Add the watercress, endive, parsley and drained onion. Toss with dressing and season with salt and pepper if needed. Serve immediately.
Per Serving: 162 Calories; 13g Fat (66.3% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 13g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 109mg Sodium.

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