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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 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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