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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 Pork, on May 22nd, 2007.


Deciding what to serve guests? For me, making decisions about a company meal usually starts out with the decision about the entrée. So, is it beef, fish, chicken, pork or lamb? I’ll flip through my big personal cookbook (three large 3-ring binders containing all 500+ of my recipes, divided up by categories), and start making a list of the options. I may pull out those recipes (each is in a plastic sleeve) before I decide. Here’s what I do:

• make a list of a couple of the meat dishes that sound good to me. Then I’ll think about what should go with it;

• vegetables (depends on the season, maybe two vegies and no carb), add to the list;

• another side/carb (does this dinner need a carb, would my guests prefer not to have a carb, is it too many calories already? think about the color on the plate since we like to have some variety); add to the list;

• a salad (green type? or another? special additions like pecans or walnuts, a new dressing? an old favorite?), add to the list;

• dessert (look over the menu so far, think about my timetable, what I can manage with all the other dishes, does it need to be lower calorie? a splurge? chocolate or no?); add to the list;

• and lastly appetizers (do I need to make something homemade? can I make do with chips and salsa? if we’re not having carbs with the dinner, maybe hummus would be fine with crackers and vegies?).

So, for this particular dinner I wanted a pork roast using a recipe I’ve had for some years, after taking a class with Tarla Fallgatter, a local cooking instructor. But, I wanted a simple, but JUICY pork roast. The last few times I’ve baked a pork roast I’ve been disappointed and had concluded it was the pork, not the cook (moi, how could it be moi?). I was convinced it’s this new, leaner pork, the other white meat, that was just too lean, with not enough fat in the grain to provide any juiciness. So I consulted my local independent butcher. He told me that the pork I bought at Costco was probably the same pork I bought from him, or at least they were from the same or similar pork producers in Iowa as Costco uses (okay, no help there.) But, he did tell me that if I wanted a bit more marbling of fat, I should buy a roast from the rib end (more toward the country ribs part). He just happened to have one (oh good). BUT, he told me, the most important thing I should remember was to not overcook the meat (uh oh, maybe I am the culprit after all?). I asked him (always good to get a second opinion) at what temperature I should remove the pork. He didn’t know (hmm, not good, a butcher doesn’t know this?). Okay, back to my recipe, which said 145°.

So, once I’d decided on having pork, chosen the recipe (below) I rounded out the meal with the zucchini gratin (my posting on Saturday), a nice green salad, chips and salsa, and I made some strawberry mascarpone ice cream from over at Culinary Concoctions by Peabody. It was a very nice meal with a couple of bottles of red wine. We were all very mellow by 10:00 pm.

As for the pork, I was careful to use my meat thermometer. But, I found out
that the part of the sensor that reveals the oven temperature isn’t working, so think I’ll have to buy a new one – I dropped it a month or so ago and bent the connector that goes into the little digital box – most likely that’s the problem. I’m glad it wasn’t the interior meat temp that wasn’t working! I removed the roast at exactly 145°, let it sit for about 10 minutes while I prepped the rest of the meal. The pork was perfectly cooked. And JUICY! I have no qualms about spending the money to buy a new meat thermometer. It convinced me once again what an invaluable instrument it is in the kitchen!

The apricot compote is a bit different than some. The addition of a whole vanilla bean – well not the bean itself, but the contents – makes it unusual. Whole vanilla beans have such a fragrance – a perfume, if you will – that could easily overpower. You carefully slit the bean open, to butterfly it (it’s a little like microsurgery – attacking this tiny, narrow little thing – do use a small knife with a very thin and sharp point) and scrape the miniature grains out of the bean. You’ll get about 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon total. And you can see the grains in the finished sauce – you may want to tell your guests so they don’t think it’s sand!

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Roast Pork Loin with Apricot Compote

Recipe By: A cooking class with Tarla Fallgatter
Servings:  10

NOTES: It may be preferable to use two pork tenderloins for this recipe. If so, bake them for about 20 minutes total. You can, if necessary, use vanilla extract in place of the vanilla bean, but the flavor will be significantly reduced. It really is worth the time and trouble to buy the whole bean.

COMPOTE:
1 1/2 cups white wine — sweeter variety, if available
1 1/2 cups apple cider
2 whole cinnamon sticks
1 whole vanilla bean — split & scraped
2 tablespoons sugar
12 ounces dried apricot halves — chopped
ROAST PORK:
4 1/2 pounds pork loin — chine bone removed
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons oil

1. Compote: In a medium pan combine wine, cider, cinnamon, sugar and vanilla bean scrapings. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and add apricots. Simmer for 20 minutes or until a syrup consistency is achieved. If the syrup has not reduced sufficiently, remove apricots and boil the syrup until it reaches the desired consistency. Remove from heat and set aside or keep warm to serve. Can be made one day ahead.
2. Pork: Preheat oven to 350°. Season meat with salt & pepper. In a large pan heat oil over medium high heat and brown pork on all sides. Place on a rack in a roasting pan and bake for about 30 minutes, turn meat over, then bake an additional 30 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center registers 145°. Remove pork from oven, cover loosely with foil for 10-15 minutes, then cut into portions, and spoon hot compote over meat.
Start to Finish Time: 1 hour
Per Serving: 332 Calories; 9g Fat (26.6% calories from fat); 27g Protein; 30g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 64mg Cholesterol; 379mg Sodium.

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  1. Peabody

    said on May 21st, 2007:

    Yum, I love the use of the apricot compote.

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