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Just finished reading How It All Began: A Novelby Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant (she arrived after the birth, actually). Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the father is a wealthy man in the area who carries a lot of clout. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

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 middle-aged 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, and wealthy) 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.


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, Veggies/sides, on January 17th, 2008.

This is another recipe from the cooking class the other day. We had a short discussion about this salad at the December cooking class, when one of the members mentioned it, that she orders it every time she goes to a restaurant here in Newport Beach, called Gulfstream (no website, but it’s on the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and MacArthur and you can read lots of reviews of the restaurant if you search online). It’s a very lovely, upscale restaurant, and quite pricey. I’ve never been there, although when it first opened I did go in and read the menu. I don’t know why I haven’t been back to try it, but just haven’t. But this salad definitely will encourage me. Our instructor, Tarla Fallgatter, loves to try to dissect a restaurant dish, and she had the salad there, promptly came home and worked out her version. We all really liked it. A lot.

I don’t seem to make rice salads much. I don’t actually make many carb-rich dishes anymore since my DH and I both prefer to limit our carbs. But this tasted so darned good, I think I’ll have to. What made this salad was the dressing. Tarla explained that she prefers to use a fruit-based vinegar on salads such as this one. She said we could substitute champagne vinegar, but she finds it much more acetic (meaning too acetic for her tastes), so encouraged all of us to run right out and find some pear vinegar. Lo and behold, I just happen to have some pear vinegar. If any of you read my posting about the contents of my oil and vinegar cupboards, you’ll understand why I say that. I’d have been amazed that I didn’t have it. Sure enough, I have a bottle (unopened, I might add) of Sparrow Lane D’Anjou Pear Vinegar. I think I bought it in Healdsburg last spring at a cute eclectic market on the plaza.
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Wild Rice Salad

Recipe: Tarla Fallgatter, cooking instructor
Servings: 6 (small)
Cook’s Notes: Tarla liked adding the dried blueberries, but some others in the class thought they were too sweet. So, use dried fruit of your choice. She also suggested that if the red onion is really pungent (you’ll know because you’ll tear up more from an older, sharper onion) soak the onion in water for about 5 minutes before adding to the salad. Be sure to use fresh, raw corn. Not frozen corn. But note there’s only 1/4 cup of corn in this recipe, so that’s only one ear or less.

1 cup wild rice
1/2 cup basmati rice
1/4 cup corn kernels — fresh
1/4 cup dried blueberries
1/4 cup red onion — minced
1/4 cup pecans — toasted
3 tablespoons Italian parsley
2 tablespoons pear vinegar — or Champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon Sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon mustard
1 pinch curry powder
4 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

1. For this salad, you want 1 cup of COOKED wild rice and 1/2 cup of COOKED basmati rice. Proportions shown in the ingredient list probably aren’t accurate.
2. Mix salad ingredients together in a bowl.
3. Dressing: whisk ingredients together and pour over rice mixture. Serve.
Per Serving (assuming you eat all the rice and wild rice listed in the ingredient list, which you won’t, in this dish anyway): 293 Calories; 13g Fat (38.4% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 40g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 24mg Sodium.

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  1. Anonymous

    said on January 19th, 2008:

    this rice was great! we are going to make this recipe again this weekend for the Charger game…GO CHARGERS!!!! we get al of our veggies from Celebrity Foods so this worked well with the order we had already. Thank you!

  2. Carolyn T

    said on January 19th, 2008:

    Am glad you enjoyed it. My friend Cherrie and I went to the restaurant, Gulfstream, a couple of days ago to try the “original” version, and we actually liked Tarla’s recipe better. The restaurant used almonds instead of pecans, and their dressing was much heavier, thicker. Good, but Tarla’s was more tasty, we both agreed.

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