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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 Fish, Salads, on February 11th, 2008.


You can’t see the toasted couscous on the bottom, but it’s there, topped with watercress, then lightly breaded shrimp, and drizzled with a delicious orange mayo sauce.

Another recipe from the “stack” I sorted through the other day. And this one is an absolute over-the-top winner.

Ordinarily I might have passed by this recipe. We don’t eat couscous, generally, because it’s a high glycemic carb. Couscous is actually little tiny orbs of pasta, and takes no more than adding water (hot) to it and it’s cooked and ready. But, this recipe won a cooking contest at Cooking Light in 2006. (I know, I told you, I’ve been behind in filing my recipes :-), and the rest of the recipe sounded so delish that I held onto it. DH and I went to a local farmer’s market and had bought some fresh shrimp with no plan as to what I’d make with it.

Here’s the crux of the recipe: you make a mayonnaise-based cold sauce with reduced orange juice, lime juice, cilantro, ginger and cumin. Then you toast the dry couscous in a large pan. THAT I’d never done before, but it added a wonderful taste to the simple prep of couscous. You add chicken broth and orange juice to plump up the couscous, then green onions and almonds at the last. The shrimp: rolled in egg white, then tossed around in a plastic bag with panko, cilantro, fresh ginger and some pepper. You quickly saute the shrimp, then start the artful arrangement: couscous on the bottom, a nice mound of fresh watercress, the hot shrimp, then you drizzle the whole thing with the sauce.


First photo, the couscous toasting golden brown in the pan.

The mayo sauce (small amount, really) based orange ginger sauce that’s drizzled over the top and becomes a kind of salad dressing.
Lastly, the crunchy shrimp moments before serving. They’re crusted with panko, cilantro, fresh ginger and ground black pepper.

The history of the recipe: Cooking Light – the Ultimate Reader Recipe Contest, 2006. There were several categories, but the judges were all, hands down, in love with this dish, which won first prize. The cook: Karen Tedesco of Webster Groves, Maryland.

Notes: I think next time I’d make a little more of the sauce – it was barely enough (because it’s so darned good). Watch the couscous when you’re toasting – it goes from normal to toasted in a matter of about 30-40 seconds. I’d chop up the watercress just a little bit. I’m kind of haphazard when I wrench off most of the stems, but even medium stems are hard to eat. This is a one-dish meal – you need nothing else with it. No salad. No side. It takes about 30-40 minutes from start to finish. Would make a lovely company meal.
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Crunchy Shrimp with Toasted Couscous and Ginger-Orange Sauce

Recipe By: Karen Tedesco, Webster Grove, MO via Cooking Light
Servings: 4

SAUCE:
1 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 1/2 tablespoons low-sodium chicken broth
1 teaspoon fresh ginger — grated
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
COUSCOUS:
1 cup couscous — dried
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup chopped green onions
2 tablespoons sliced almonds — toasted
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
SHRIMP:
20 jumbo shrimp — peeled and deveined (about 3/4 pound)
1 large egg white — lightly beaten
1/2 cup panko
1 teaspoon chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger — grated
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 cups watercress — washed, trimmed, coarsely chopped

1. To prepare sauce, bring 1 cup orange juice to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat; cook until reduced to 1/4 cup (about 10 minutes). Remove from heat; cool completely. Stir in 1 tablespoon cilantro and next 7 ingredients (through red pepper); set aside.
2. To prepare couscous, place couscous in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat; cook 3 minutes or until toasted, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add 1 1/2 cups broth, 1/2 cup orange juice, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; bring to a boil. Cover and let stand 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork; add onions, almonds, and butter, stirring until butter melts. Keep warm. If made an hour ahead, briefly reheat in same pan until it’s hot all the way through.
3. To prepare shrimp, combine shrimp and egg white in a bowl, tossing to coat. Combine panko, 1 teaspoon cilantro, 1/2 teaspoon ginger, and black pepper in a large zip-top plastic bag. Add shrimp to bag; seal and shake to coat.
4. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat; arrange shrimp in a single layer in pan. Cook 2 minutes on each side or until done.
5. Divide couscous evenly among 4 plates; top evenly with watercress and shrimp; drizzle sauce over shrimp.
Per Serving: 423 Calories; 17g Fat (34.3% calories from fat); 21g Protein; 52g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 63mg Cholesterol; 557mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on February 11th, 2008:

    What an interesting recipe. I’ve heard about dry frying pasta before boiling it but couldn’t quite see the point. You have made it clear to me. The flavourings in this dish are some of my favourites, especially the cilantro; or coriander as we call it over here.

  2. Karen

    said on February 12th, 2008:

    Hi Carolyn,

    I’m glad to have found your blog – this is my recipe! It’s so fun to see that you enjoyed making it – this is one that I actually make a lot for company, too. And I agree; the amount of sauce is too small AND I usually add a little more oil to the pan when cooking the shrimp.

    In order for this to be a “light” recipe, the fat portions are strictly portioned – you know how that goes.

    Cheers!

    Karen

  3. yvette

    said on March 17th, 2010:

    Hi Carolyn,
    I served this at a dinner party at my home for my sister Yvonne’s
    50th birthday celebration. The meal was amazing. No wonder it is on your
    “Favorites Lists”. It surely belongs there !!
    I will make this again and again and again.

    Yvette

    I think that recipe is SO unique. And really very easy too. Glad you and your family enjoyed it. . . carolyn t

  4. yvonne

    said on March 23rd, 2010:

    Hi Carolyn,
    I knew I had to make to this recipe after having it at Yvette’s house for my birthday. I hosted a Bunco party at my house and invited 12 of my friends for dinner. It was a huge success. I received rave reviews on the
    dinner. All the gals left with a copy this recipe. The general consensus was “This is what I would expect from a fine dining restaurant”. Thank you!

    Yvonne
    (Yvette’s sister)

    Hi Yvonne – so glad you enjoyed the salad. It’s one of our favorites too, and relatively easy as well. . . carolyn t

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