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Since I’m a fan of Ann Patchett, it’s no surprise that I wanted to buy her most recent book, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage. It’s a book of short stories, but not fictional ones – it’s a compilation of essays and articles she’s written over the course of her writing life. My favorite is the one in which she describes in intimate detail how she goes about writing a book. About the process, her thinking, and the the hard, hard work it entails. I loved every one of the stories. She is quite self-deprecating about the book – it likely wasn’t her idea to put it together as she never thought any of her essays were worth much. She wrote them to make a living. Each of the chapters (essays) has been updated and/or addended to, so she did have to put some spit and polish on all of them before sending this group to the publisher. She’s written essays for a very esoteric group of publications; some I’d never heard of. But I enjoyed the book from beginning to end.

Also just finished reading The Invention of Wings: A Novel by Sue Monk Kidd. What a story. Sometimes it’s a good thing to read the author’s notes before you read a book. I guess I’m glad I didn’t (in this case the notes were at the end of the book) because it was then, afterwards, that I read that one of the characters in this novel is fictional; the other two (sisters) were real. There’s a bit about the Quaker religion in this book too, which was different. This is a slavery story and about the beginnings of the abolitionist movement. Interwoven between the 2 sisters who make waves about anti-slavery is the poignant story of one particular slave and her hard, hard life. It’s heartbreaking in many respects, not just because of the violence and abuse heaped upon her. The book is almost a page-turner. Very glad I read it.

Also read The Four Seasons: A Novel of Vivaldi’s Venice by Laurel Corona. It was recommended to me by a friend, and I enjoyed it a lot. It has a rather unusual story line, all envisioned by the author from reading a tiny line of elaborate script from a journal at what remains of a foundling hospital (run mostly like a convent by Catholic nuns) in Venice. It said something like Antonio Vivaldi purchased “a bow for Maddalena Rossa.” That started the author’s novel journey. Two sisters are raised at the Ospedale della Pieta. One becomes famous for her violin skills; the other for her voice. One is married “out” and the other stays cloistered her entire life. Then you throw Vivaldi himself into the mix, as he really was paid by the Ospedale for his compositions and for teaching some of the residents to play instruments. It’s an enlightening story about Vivaldi himself (a priest, with a lot of questions about his piety). It takes place in the early 1700s. Fascinating story and I want to listen again in total to Vivaldi’s very famous work, The Four Seasons, as a result of reading this. I’ve heard it many times before, but it will have new meaning now.

Also read The Time In Between: A Novel by Maria Duenas (translated). Apparently this book has been a runaway best seller in Europe as it deals with a little known, or I should say a part of WWII that you’ve probably never read about – Spain. The heroine is a Madrid seamstress, but is seduced by a young man to go to Morocco. She knows no one and is left high and dry when the lover disappears. She finds her way, makes friends, begins sewing couturier clothing in Morocco. The Spanish Revolution intervenes and merges into WWII. She becomes a spy of sorts (in Madrid) because she is coveted as a seamstress to the Nazi wives of Madrid. It’s a page-turner and informative. Good read.

IN THE POWDER ROOM: Our guest half-bath has a little tiny table with a pile of books that I change every now and then. They’re books that might pique someone’s interest even if for a very short read. The Art of Travel, a collection of essays about traveling (it’s not a how-to), gathering a variety of stories of some historic authors and where and why they traveled; The Greatest Stories Never Told; and Sara Midda’s South of France; also Forgotten Bookmarks: A Bookseller’s Collection of Odd Things Lost Between the Pages (just the cutest book – with a miscellany of things – letters, grocery lists, notes, reminders, confessions the author discovered hidden inside the books he purchased for his used bookstore); and The Trouble with Poetry (Billy Collins).

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small engraved sterling silver tea spoons that I use to taste as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Appetizers, Salads, Veggies/sides, on June 15th, 2009.

eggplant salad

You’ll have to take a gander at these little baby globe-shaped eggplant (below) – they’re called Hindu, or Indian, or Indian Paint. They’re full grown, not really babies. Cute little buggers. Offered at the local farmer’s market last week, and I wanted to do something easy but fun with them.

indian paint eggplant

I cut them in half (although you don’t have to) and baked them (drizzled with olive oil) at 375 for about 45 minutes, until the skins had begun to shrivel. But not enough that they’d dried out. I had ample ripe on-the-stem tomatoes, some red onion, green onion, fresh mint and parsley. Then I made a dressing with olive oil, lemon juice, sherry vinegar, salt, pepper and garlic. The recipe came from Chow.com. I’d never looked at the website before, but the recipe is credited to a restaurant called Nopa (in San Francisco). Chef Laurence Jossel. This could also be an appetizer, I think – the original recipe sounds more like one since you scoop it onto pita bread. So think of that as an option. I made it as a side dish with grilled lamb chops.

The salad, to be served at room temp, was easy. Just a bit of chopping and mincing involved. Be sure to include the wine vinegar – lemon juice isn’t enough to give this salad it’s bright flavor. The original recipe said just wine vinegar – I used sherry because I have some good stuff and like to use it in a salad such as this one when the flavor shines through. These small eggplant don’t need to be skinned – their skin is quite thin and quite edible.
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Charred Eggplant Salad

Recipe: Nopa Restaurant (Chef Laurence Jossel)
Servings: 3

1 large eggplant
2 tablespoons red onion — minced
1/2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1-2 teaspoons kosher salt — or more to taste
1 medium tomatoes — diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons basil leaves — finely chopped
3 tablespoons mint leaves — finely chopped
1 small scallion — thinly sliced
1/2 tablespoon Italian parsley — finely chopped
1/2 medium garlic clove — minced to a paste
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1. Heat a charcoal or gas grill to medium-high heat (375°F). Add the whole eggplant and allow skin to char all over, turning every 5 minutes. After about 30 minutes, the eggplant will collapse. Remove to a colander and allow to cool. Alternately, bake eggplant at 375 for 45 minutes – 1 hour, until you’ll see the flesh is collapsing inside and the color has taken on a golden hue.
2. Combine red onion, kosher salt, and vinegar in a medium bowl. Allow to marinate at least 5 minutes.
3. Once the eggplant is cool, scoop flesh from charred skin and coarsely chop. Combine eggplant with marinated onions and remaining ingredients. Mix together gently and season well with additional salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
4. Serve at room temperature with grilled pita or baguette toasts
Per Serving: 140 Calories; 9g Fat (56.4% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 14g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 952mg Sodium.

A year ago: Asparagus (everything you ever wanted to know about)
Two years ago:  Bacon & Tomato Dunk (oh yes, one of my fav’s)

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