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Just finished a quirky book, Goodbye, Vitamin: A Novel by Rachel Khong. She’s a new writer (newly published, I guess I should say) and this story is about Ruth, a 30+ something, trying to readjust to life without her fiance, who’s dumped her. She goes back home to help with the care of her father, who has Alzheimer’s. Written in a diary style, it jumps all over about her life, her mother, the funny, poignant things her father says on good days, and the nutty stuff he does on not-so-good days, her ex-, and her very quirky friends, too. Then a woman flits through who had had an affair with her father –  you get to observe all the angst from the mom about that. Mostly it’s about her father, as he’s relatively “together” early in the book, but then he disintegrates. Reading that part isn’t fun, although the author is able to lean some humor into it. I’m not sure I recommend the book exactly – I read it through – and felt sad. It doesn’t tie up loose ends – if you want that kind of book – you may not want to read this one.

Also finished Julian Fellowes’s Belgravia. You know Julian Fellowes, the producer and writer of Downton Abbey? He lends his mind to a story about a family or two from the similar time period as Downton, who live in London. There’s some amount of intrigue, romance, observations from within the halls of wealthy Londoners and moderately well off tradesmen and their families. There’s affairs, shady business dealings, an illegitimate child, the comings and goings of the “downstairs” staff too, etc. The characters were well done – I had no trouble keeping all of the people identified. The story is somewhat predictable, but it was interesting clear up to the end.

The Letter by Kathyrn Hughes. It’s a very intricate tale. At first it’s about Tina, a battered wife [at which point I paused and wondered if I wanted to read any further, but I’m glad I did]. She tries to get the courage to leave her husband. Then enters the letter she finds in a suit pocket in the thrift shop where she volunteers. It’s old – sealed and stamped, but never mailed. Then you learn about Crissie, decades earlier, a young pregnant girl who is sent off to Ireland to a distant relative by her father, then to a rigid (meaning horrible) convent [the book takes place mostly in Manchester, England and in rural Ireland]. The letter is addressed to her. Jump forward decades and William, the adopted child Crissie gave up, tries to find his birth mother. William meets Tina in Ireland [a serendipitous moment] as she’s trying to find the woman to whom the letter is addressed. This book is the #2 best seller on Amazon at the moment. It’s a riveting tale and I really enjoyed it.

The Muralist: A Novel by Shapiro. It tells the story of a young woman, an artist, who was part of the U.S.’s WPA mural project from the 1930s-40s (she is fiction, the WPA is not). As with so many artists, even today, they live in abject poverty through much of their lives. This woman, though, had family in France, desperately trying to escape before Hitler’s henchmen rousted them into concentration camps. The story, a bit of a mystery but not of the mystery-genre, is about Alizée Benoit, this young painter, who slightly captivates Eleanor Roosevelt’s help. It also skips into current time when the painter’s great-niece uncovers paintings she believes were painted by her aunt. The painter had disappeared into thin air in 1940, and her relative tries desperately to find out what happened to her. It’s a really good story including such Abstract Expressionist painters as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner well-woven into the narrative. It keeps you guessing right up to the end. A good read. The author also wrote The Art Forger: A Novel a few years ago.

Also recently read News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a free-lance job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her family was killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of an old (wild) west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many. Just read this one first!

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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