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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 Soups, on May 9th, 2007.

A short time warp to 1981. Dave and I were on our first trip to England. At a small pub and restaurant in Ilminster, Somerset, an older gentleman simply pulled up a chair as we were served our dinner. Friendly sort, he was. Said he enjoyed hearing Yanks talk. Shortly, he called over to the bartender and asked him to phone his wife to come join us, which she did. That began a friendship that has withstood the years. Jimmy (a retired RAF Wing Commander) had a hundred and one WW II war stories to tell. Pamela, who had also served in the WAAFs (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force), the ground transport wing of the RAF, had an equal number of stories to tell, and among other things, she was a professional chef. To this day, we still discuss food whenever we talk. Either in person, or on the phone. Sadly, Jimmy passed away a few years ago. But we have visited them and now her many, many times over those years.

But the summer of 1990, when two of our children were nearly graduated from college, we took them to England and Ireland for a few weeks and included a visit to Jimmy & Pam. The weather was fair that day, the sun shone brightly, and we enjoyed a multi-course luncheon on the back lawn. It was glorious. It was magical. It was memorable. They were so happy to meet our children. We were so proud to show them off. They were so delighted it was a pretty day. We were thrilled to enjoy Pam’s cooking again. Jimmy was in rare form, warbling on about his military past (mostly he ferried planes from Canada to England) to our kids, and Pamela had outdone herself with an elegant meal. We had a Pimm’s, with fresh cucumber, mint and raspberries (pronounced raws-brees) on special twigs in each drink. We had a summer pud(ding), a very seasonal treat only available in mid-summer when berries are at their peak. Our daughter vividly remembers that summer pud to this day. A summer pudding is made in a large round bowl, with layers of soft de-crusted white bread, sugar and fresh berries. It sits for 24 hours while the berries give up their juice to soak into the bread, then it’s unmolded onto a platter and served with whipped cream. And, naturally, we had some good English tea. The main dish was a large, cold poached salmon elegantly festooned with layered, thinly shaved cucumber slices to resemble fish scales. What was almost comical was that our daughter didn’t eat fish. So poor Pamela insisted on returning to the kitchen to cook her an egg.

It’s the soup that has become one of my regulars and it may be one of the very simplest recipes I make. When the weather turns hot (it will be in the mid-90’s in Southern California today), I remember this soup, which is so refreshing. As long as you have the frozen peas (only the very best will do, the smaller the better), consommé or beef stock, the half-cream (that’s half and half in British-speak), and the fresh mint from the garden you’re in business. Allow to chill thoroughly before serving. You can make this with fat-free half and half, although most of those products contain some sugar or sweetener, which doesn’t always taste as good as a natural dairy product in a savory soup. Sometimes I add a splash of cream sherry to the mixture too.
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Cold Green Pea Soup

Recipe: From my dear friend, Pamela J., England
Servings: 6
NOTES: This is very refreshing, either summer or winter, and oh, so easy. You can add a splash of cream sherry to the mixture if you like it.
Yield: 4 cups

1 pound frozen peas — defrosted, or rinsed briefly in hot water
12 ounces canned consommé or beef broth
1 cup half and half
2 tablespoons fresh mint
3 tablespoons sour cream or créme fraiche

Place defrosted peas in a blender with the consomme and mint. Purée it until it is completely smooth then add the cream. Pour into a container and chill for several hours. Serve with a small dollop of sour cream, and sprinkle with additional mint or chopped chives. Taste for seasoning.
Per Serving: 134 Calories; 6g Fat (42.4% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 13g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 18mg Cholesterol; 255mg Sodium.

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