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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, 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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