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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 Beverages, on April 8th, 2009.

margaritas

What is it about beverages – they just don’t photograph very well. Of course, I was in our daughter’s kitchen, using ambient light, no background to speak of. And she didn’t have martini glasses (neither do I, for that matter). You’ll just have to trust me that this recipe is worth reading about and trying yourself. I don’t like a salt-rimmed margarita, so my glass was just kinda plain looking.

It was about 5-6 years ago when I read an in-depth article in Cooks Illustrated about margaritas. And because the prose about it was so grand, I decided I had to try it. I’m not a fan of bottled margarita mix. It’s got some kind of off flavor to my palate. It’s certainly easy; but I’d almost rather do without than have to imbibe the ready-made mix. So this recipe for the real thing, using JUST fresh lemon and lime juices plus some sugar (plus the tequila and triple sec) is SO, SO much better. I made a huge quantity (to serve 10 adults for our son-in-law’s birthday) and had about 2 cups of the lemon/lime juice leftover. The next night we invited our friends Sue and Lynn over for dinner. Lynn said, after he’d downed two of them, “this, I think, is the best margarita I’ve ever had in my life.” I concur.

What sets this recipe apart from other margarita recipes is the marinating time. What? Marinating? Yes, you marinate the juices along with some of the lemon and lime peel to give it a much more intense flavor. Indeed it does. I marinate for 24 hours, always, but the recipe says 4 hours or up to 24. The second thing about these is the use of Reposado tequila. This isn’t the cheap-cheap stuff you use here, but the aged agave Reposado variety. Maybe a little harder to find, and a bit more expensive (but not a lot). However, the liquor is more mellow, if you can say that anything that’s 70+ proof alcohol is mellow. I’ve made these 4 or 5 times in the ensuing years and have heard good reviews every time. Don’t be lazy and use just lemon juice – the drink needs both lemon and lime juices. Perfect for a warm afternoon or a dinner outside!
printer-friendly PDF

Margaritas

Recipe: Chris Kimball, America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook, 2001
Servings: 5
Notes: Depending on how sour or sweet your lemons are, you may need to tinker with the sugar quantity. Taste it. Know that the drink is potent, but taste for sweetness. I used mostly Meyer lemons in mine, and they’re sweeter than regular lemons, so the 1/4 cup of superfine sugar was sufficient.

4 teaspoons grated lemon rind — or 3-5 shaved pieces of peel
4 teaspoons grated lime rind — or 3-5 shaved pieces of peel
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar — superfine, if available
1 pinch salt
2 cups crushed ice
1 cup tequila — 100% agave, Reposado
1 cup Triple Sec (not Cointreau; Bols brand triple sec is the best)

1. Shave pieces of lemon and lime to use for the marinating (easier to remove). Or, use a rasp grater. In a large liquid measuring cup combine lemon and lime zests, juices and sugar. Stir to combine, cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.
2. Remove peels, or strain the juice mixture to remove zests and pour into a 6-cup pitcher. Add tequila and triple sec and the pinch of salt. Stir to combine and refrigerate to chill the liquor.
3. You may also add the mixture and ice to a blender to give you a even more mellow drink (my preference).
4. Pour into 5 glasses. If you want salt-edged glasses, squeeze some lemon juice into a flat plate or saucer (just larger than the glass you’ll serve it in), then lightly touch the rims into margarita salt, pour margaritas in the glasses and serve immediately.
Per Serving: 325 Calories; trace Fat (0.2% calories from fat); trace Protein; 30g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 31mg Sodium.

A year ago: Chocolate Chunk & Dried Cherry Oatmeal Cookies

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  1. Marie

    said on April 8th, 2009:

    Carolyn, I think all of your food pictures look fantastic. Even the drink ones. I have not had a margarita in years. I really used to like them. I wonder is it possible to make one without alcohol?

    Hmmm. I suppose you could substitute some orange juice concentrate for the triple sec. Tequila? Well, probably nothing to sub there. If you whizzed that concoction up with ice, it would be pretty tasty. But probably nothing like the piquant taste of the tequila. . . carolyn T

  2. Carolyn Jung

    said on April 8th, 2009:

    Marinating a margarita! Who would have thunk? But it makes absolute sense. I’m going to have to try this in the summer, when the tequila is pouring. 😉

    I know, it sounds crazy, but it works. Of course, using the better quality reposado tequila doesn’t hurt, either! Hope you enjoy them. . . carolyn t

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