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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 Fish, Grilling, Salads, on April 13th, 2009.

mint-shrimp-tabbouleh

You know how it is about the weather influencing what you decide to cook for dinner? If it’s a rainy day I like to stay in and bake something. Cloudy, cold days often mean soup. A warm balmy night often triggers salads of some kind. Well, my bell weather was working the day before when the temps were in the 70’s and 80’s, but the next day it was cold. But I’d already decided what I wanted to make, so what can a girl do except follow through? So even though it was cool weather, I made salad for dinner.

The recipe came from a Bobby Flay episode I watched on the Food Network several years ago. It reminded me of a favorite recipe – one that won a reader’s recipe contest in Cooking Light for a Crunchy Shrimp on Couscous Salad with a yummy dressing. That’s what I was thinking about as I flipped through my to-try recipes. Mint is in season, I think, and this salad was perfect – hot, grilled marinated shrimp served on a bed of tabbouleh salad.

Since lemon and lemon juice are frequently seen in my recipes, it’s probably no surprise that I’d like tabbouleh, right? I remember exactly when I first had it – it was about 1970, served to me by a friend of my mother’s, Ruth Spilmer. Ruth was a very good cook, and one day she invited a few friends over for a lovely lunch. Remember, back in those days when most women didn’t work, that’s what we did to entertain . . . we invited lady friends over for a nice luncheon – crystal, china, the whole deal. No alcohol though. The other thing I remember about Ruth was her shoes. She always wore spiky high heels. She wore them morning, noon and night. At home, she wore the kinds with feathers around the toes. She said that for so many years she’d worn high heels that her tendons couldn’t stretch to wear flatter shoes, so she just had to wear heels from the moment she stepped out of bed. I can’t imagine! Isn’t it funny sometimes, the things you remember?

So back to this luncheon – what else Ruth served, I don’t remember, but the tabbouleh was a stand-out. I’d never had Bulgar wheat – didn’t really even understand what it was (a parboiled wheat berry that’s been sliced, chunked). But all it takes to make it chewy and edible is a soak in boiling water for an hour or two. And the addition of some key ingredients, namely lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and green onions makes it salad. Ruth always added diced cucumber and diced fresh tomatoes too. I’ve made her recipe off and on for years. So, this Bobby Flay recipe has been changed – only to make the tabbouleh salad like my friend Ruth did. We had it for leftovers a few nights later, and I just added bit more cucumber, tomato and that time I added radishes. And more arugula. So then I had to add a tad bit more lemon juice and olive oil too, but not much.
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Mint Marinated Grilled Shrimp
Tabbouleh Salad

Recipe: Adapted from Bobby Flay, Food Network
Servings: 4
NOTES: I think you could reduce the shrimp marinade to about half – if you just tossed it a couple of times during the 10-minute soak. You throw out the marinade anyway. I prepared the shrimp on my stovetop grill – heated up to a pretty hot temp – and they were done in a flash. Have the tabbouleh salad all ready before you start grilling as you want to whisk it to the table while they’re still hot.

BULGUR WHEAT SALAD:
1/2 cup Bulgar wheat — medium or coarsely cracked
1 1/2 cups boiling water
3/4 cup baby arugula leaves
2 large green onions — thinly sliced
3 tablespoons fresh mint — finely chopped, plus fresh mint leaves for garnish
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice — or lime juice
1 clove garlic — chopped to a paste
1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup cucumber — diced
1/4 cup fresh parsley — chopped
1/3 cup fresh tomatoes — diced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
GRILLED SHRIMP:
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons fresh mint — chopped
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound large shrimp — (20-24 count)
Salt, to taste

1. Place Bulgar in a bowl and pour the boiling water over. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand until bulgur is tender and most of the water is absorbed, about 1 to 2 hours.
2. Drain off any excess liquid from the Bulgar and allow it to sit in a colander for 15-20 minutes to drain off further water. Place Bulgar in a bowl and stir in the arugula, green onions, cucumber, parsley, tomatoes and mint.
3. Whisk together the lemon juice, garlic and oil and season with salt and pepper. Pour the mixture over the bulgur and taste again for seasoning.
4. Transfer tabbouleh to a platter and top with the grilled shrimp. Garnish with fresh mint leaves.
5. SHRIMP: Combine juice, mint, oil and pepper in a blender and blend until smooth. Place shrimp in a bowl, pour marinade over and stir to coat evenly in the marinade. Marinate for 10 minutes. Heat grill to high. Season shrimp with salt and grill for 1 to 2 minutes per side or until slightly charred and just cooked through.
Per Serving (assumes you consume the marinade, so this is all wrong): 442 Calories; 29g Fat (59.1% calories from fat); 26g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 173mg Cholesterol; 183mg Sodium.

A year ago: Salmon Filets with Orange & Leek Cream Sauce

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