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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 Salads, Veggies/sides, on May 14th, 2007.

This could be another garlic post. But it’s not. Although there certainly is garlic in this dish. I think it’s the combination of garlic and lemon juice that gives it the tart and tangy flavor. The carrots, when cooked, become mellow, so it’s a perfect foil for the dressing.

I prefer this served cold or better yet, at room temperature. It will keep for at least a week, so I suggest doubling or tripling the recipe. You’ll be very glad to have some leftovers to serve at another meal.

On one California road trip I bought this cookbook: The Good Cook’s Book of Oil and Vinegar by Michele Anna Jordan (it’s no longer in print, but if you’re intrigued you can find a used copy). She focuses in on specifics about all kinds of oils and various vinegars, and she knows her stuff. I’ve used a number of recipes from the book over the years, but this is probably my favorite. And it’s easy. The toughest job is slicing the carrots. In the picture above I cut them much thicker than usual (note to self: re-read the recipe before I begin!). I prefer them when they are very thinly sliced, so use your mandoline or food processor slicing blade if you have one. The benefit of the thin slice is that more of the dressing permeates the carrots. And do give the carrots time to marinate in the dressing – it’s much better. And for goodness’ sake, don’t overcook the carrots. You don’t want to be eating carrot mush, and the thinner the carrot slices, the greater the risk of overcooking. Oh yes, I almost forgot, whatever you do, do not use those abominable “baby” carrots in the little bags. You know, don’t you, that those really are not baby carrots – they’re big carrots trimmed down to look like baby carrots. I prefer using young carrots, but even medium sized ones will work fine in this recipe.
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Algerian Carrots

Recipe: Good Cook’s Book of Oil & Vinegar, by Jordan
Servings: 6
NOTES: This recipe originally came from a Sonoma bistro called Chez Nous. I’ve altered the recipe by reducing the amount of dressing called for. So, if it seems too light for you, just double the amount of dressing. It’s very garlicky, so if you don’t really like the taste of garlic, reduce the amount.

1 pound carrots — peeled
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
2 cloves garlic — minced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon Italian parsley — minced

1. Cut the carrots (at an angle if you can) to make slices about 1/8 inch thick. Steam the carrots until they are just tender, about 10 minutes. Do not overcook!
2. Combine the dressing in a small bowl (or blender, if you want) and mix together. Remove the carrots from the heat and allow them to cool a little. If serving immediately, drain and just add dressing. Or place all the carrots in a large ziplock plastic bag and add dressing. Seal and mix around so the dressing covers well. Refrigerate, if desired and serve cold, or re-heat.
3. A variation noted in the recipe suggests steaming an equal amount of zucchini and adding the same quantity of dressing to it – more garlic added and more lemon juice. Omit brown sugar and parsley. Then, serve both vegetables side-by-side.Serving Ideas : Since it’s good cold, would be great for a picnic.
Per Serving: 73 Calories; 5g Fat (54.5% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 8g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 25mg Sodium.

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