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Just finished reading How It All Began: A Novelby Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant (she arrived after the birth, actually). Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the father is a wealthy man in the area who carries a lot of clout. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

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 middle-aged 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, and wealthy) 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.

 

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 Appetizers, on February 19th, 2008.

Another fabulous Phillis Carey cooking class recipe. Shrimp in a marinade (which also is a dipping sauce), made with fresh lime juice, cilantro (fresh coriander, hence the coriander in the title), soy sauce, garlic and marmalade. The shrimp are quick fried in a nonstick skillet and you serve it with the wonderful, tasty, tender lavash crisps on the side. The lavash crisp doubles as a little “plate” to put the shrimp upon. One nice mouthful of deliciousness. After learning about this recipe at a class, my friend Cherrie brought this to a dinner party at our home the other night. She brought 3 pounds of shrimp; there were 8 people in attendance; we ate all but a smidgen. Does that tell you how good it was?
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Coriander Lime Shrimp

Recipe: Phillis Carey, cookbook author & instructor
Servings: 6
Cook’s Notes: if you don’t like cilantro, substitute Italian parsley with a bit of oregano instead. Be sure to reserve some of the marinade before you put the shrimp into it to marinate.

MARINADE & DIPPING SAUCE:
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup orange marmalade
3 large cloves garlic — minced or mashed
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cilantro — chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
SHRIMP:
1 pound shrimp — raw, 16-20 per pound, with tails
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons cilantro sprigs — for garnish
LAVASH CRISPS:
1 package lavash Armenian cracker bread — fresh, not dried crackers
1/2 cup butter — melted
2 tablespoons sesame seeds

1. In a measuring cup whisk together lime juice, marmalade, garlic paste, cilantro, 3 T. of oil, soy sauce, red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper to taste. RESERVE 1/3 CUP MIXTURE FOR DIPPING.
2. In a large sealable plastic bag or bowl combine shrimp with the remaining marinade. Chill, tossing occasionally, to coat shrimp, for about 45 minutes or up to 3 hours. Drain shrimp and pat dry between paper towels.
3. In a large nonstick skillet, heat HALF of the 1 T. of oil and saute HALF the shrimp until golden brown and cooked through, about 1 1/2 minutes per side. Saute remaining shrimp in the remaining oil in same manner. Garnish shrimp with coriander sprigs and serve with reserved dipping sauce and crisps.
4. LAVASH CRISPS: Preheat oven to 375. Cut lavash bread in half lengthwise and then across into 2-inch wide strips. Brush tops with melted butter and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Arrange on baking sheets and bake 8-10 minutes, or until crispy. Cool slightly before serving. Will keep for a few hours.
Per Serving: 385 Calories; 28g Fat (64.3% calories from fat); 18g Protein; 17g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 156mg Cholesterol; 828mg Sodium.

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  1. Karen

    said on February 21st, 2008:

    Oh, my gosh, this is right up my shrimp alley.
    I’m printing this out as we speak!

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