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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 Veggies/sides, on May 19th, 2007.

For me, serving a variety of vegetables is the spice of life. I can always sauté zucchini with a little onion and garlic and call that the veggie side for a dinner. But other times I really like finding new and different ways to make vegetables. Hence this recipe. Some people don’t like Ina Garten. I don’t really understand why, because every dish I’ve tried of hers has turned out very well. Agreed, the woman has made millions with her TV Food Network show, and her cookbooks, but I have concluded that she is a great cook. My friend Linda gave me Ina’s book Barefoot in Paris. This recipe comes from that book, and I’ve made this about 5 times in recent months.

What I really like about the dish – other than the fabulous taste – is that you only dirty up two pans to make it. Even though you may think a gratin might be complicated, you make it in a large sauté pan and pour it into a baking dish, so this absolutely is NOT complex or difficult. I guarantee it. So, here are the stages:

1. You can do the slicing by hand, but this is what I do. First I dug out my Oxo mandoline. I may only use this every two weeks, but when I do I fall in love with it all over again. It makes slicing so incredibly easy.
2. I sliced up the onion and got that cooking in my large sauté pan. Meanwhile, I sliced up all the beautiful farmstand zucchini I bought a few hours before. It took me about 5 minutes total to slice everything. Then I added that to the pan and cooked it for a short time.
3. Then I add the flour, salt, pepper, freshly grated nutmeg to the pan, then the hot milk and in a jiffy you have the thickened dish ready to go. You pour the whole thing into a large baking dish.

4. Do you know Panko? I’d heard of it, but never bothered to buy it. I said – gee, it’s just bread crumbs, right? That was until a few years ago when a cooking instructor served it on a
chicken dish, and I was amazed at how good it was. It’s not that the Panko crumbs have a lot of taste. They don’t, because they’re simply a bread product, a Japanese bread product to be specific, chopped up very fine. But, it stays crispy throughout the cooking, so there is something they do differently to make it act like that. That’s what’s so unique about Panko, and I use it regularly now. Trader Joe’s carries it under their own label (see package picture below); otherwise most major grocery stores also have it, usually in the Asian food section. So you mix the Panko with grated Gruyere or Parmesan (I have always used the latter), sprinkle it on top, bake and you’re done.

The casserole will sit for awhile waiting to be baked, or you can refrigerate it earlier in the day too. It’s a very forgiving recipe in all respects. Less zucchini? No problem. Not much cheese? No problem. Only have fat-free milk? No problem. You have yellow squash instead? No problem. You get the drift.

Our friends, Bud & Cherrie (my cohort in crime at many cooking classes) came for dinner last night, and the amount I made should have served at least 6 people. Hmmm. Guess what? We four slicked it up clean. You need to try this recipe; you’ll be very glad you did.


Printer friendly CutePDF
Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click link to open in MC – 14 contains photo)

Zucchini Gratin

Recipe: Barefoot Contessa in Paris by Ina Garten
Servings: 8

NOTES: Ina Garten’s recipe calls for 2 tsp. of Kosher salt, but I tested it first using less, and thought it was fine, so have reduced the recipe by 1/2 teaspoon. Taste it before you decide for yourself. I also use Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese if I don’t have Gruyere on hand. This can be made ahead and refrigerated, then reheated later. The baking time is very forgiving – if the dish is sharing the oven at 350°, it will be just fine, just bake a little longer. I much prefer using Panko crumbs as they stay nice and crunchy throughout the baking time.

6 tablespoons butter
1 pound yellow onions — cut in half, then sliced
2 pounds zucchini — sliced 1/4″ thick
1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg — freshly ground
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk — hot
3/4 cup bread crumbs — or Panko crumbs
3/4 cup Gruyere cheese — or Parmesan, grated
1 tablespoon butter

1. Preheat oven to 400°.
2. Melt butter in a very large (12 inch) sauté pan and cook the onions over low heat for about 20 minutes, or until tender, but not browned. Add the zucchini and cook, covered, for 10 minutes, or until tender. Add the salt, pepper and nutmeg and cook uncovered for 5 more minutes. Stir in the flour until you no longer see any dry bits of flour, then add the hot milk and cook over low heat for a few minutes until it makes a sauce. Pour the mixture into an 8×10 baking dish.
3. Combine the bread crumbs or panko and cheese together in a small bowl, then sprinkle on top of the zucchini mixture. Dot the 1 tablespoon of butter cut into very small bits and bake for 20 minutes, or until bubbly and browned.
Serving Ideas : This could be a main dish for a vegetarian meal. You could also add a little bit of goat cheese to the mixture before baking.
Per Serving: 232 Calories; 15g Fat (57.3% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 18g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 42mg Cholesterol; 596mg Sodium.

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  1. kelli groth

    said on April 21st, 2010:

    I love your site, however when I went to print a recipe the picture printed but the recipe didn’t, 3 times, just wanted to let you know.

    Thank you, Kelli. I emailed you some suggestions. The recipes print fine for me, so wasn’t sure whether the difficulty might have been your own computer. All my recipes are done in pdf, so it should not be a problem to print any of them. Do let me know if you’re still having problems. . . carolyn t

  2. Edie Lang

    said on February 8th, 2015:

    I really enjoyed your dialogue along with the recipe. Your dialogue actually convinced me to try the recipe. You should be a writer. I also enjoyed your reading recommendations. This is one recipe site I might need to sign up for.

    I hoped you liked the recipe. Glad you stopped by .. .carolyn t

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