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me_in_paris_198That’s me, on a trip, in a Paris restaurant.
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On a recent road trip, I listened to 2 books on CD that I checked out of the library. With long stretches of highway with nothing to occupy my time, I love doing books on CD. The better of the 2 was definitely Frances Mayes’ new memoir, Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir. She narrates the story herself, and I just loved hearing her southern accent all the way through, her lilting, slow manner of speaking. She tells the story of her youth, from as young as she can remember to about age 25 or so, with most of it her coming-of-age in her teens. Her parents were alcoholics. Her older sisters were away at college. She wasn’t from a wealthy family exactly, but there was some money, a maid that she loved dearly who protected her from her parents sometimes. A grandmother figures large for some of the years. Her thought processes are normal, although she says from the get-go that she always felt she was different than most people, not a traditionalist for sure. Having read her other books, I never picked up on all the angst she experienced as a young woman, a girl, really. I absolutely LOVED the book. Mayes has a gift of prose – of a kind you don’t often read – she uses amazing language and phrases, adverbs and adjectives. Describes scenes so well and with such detail you just know you’re right there beside her.  Didn’t want it to end. As I reached across to the passenger seat to pull out the last CD I was sad, knowing the story was coming to an end. Because she ended it at about age 25, I suspect there may be another book in her future. For several days after I listened to this book I could hear Mayes’ southern accent in my head (like I hear memorable music when I attend a concert or sing a hymn or praise song at church). Her voice resonated in my head. If you enjoy memoirs, and reading about a kind of a crazy family, AND you like Frances Mayes, well, then, you’ll like this book for sure.

The other book, that I am sorry to say I cannot recommend is Sue Miller’s book, The Senator’s Wife (Vintage Contemporaries). Reading the back of the CD box I wasn’t sure, but I took it anyway. And at first I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue listening to it (when the young woman digs into her neighbor’s personal letters when she’s supposedly taking in the mail and watering plants), then got engrossed in the story. It’s about a young couple who move to a new house, part of a duplex in New England. Their next door neighbor is the aging and somewhat estranged wife of a Washington Senator. The young woman is far too curious about her neighbor and her neighbor’s marriage, what there is of it, although she cares about her neighbor a lot. The chapters switch back and forth between the young wife and the aging woman next door with their personal daily trivia, interspersed with some drama on both sides. The Senator is a philanderer, hence the partial estrangement. The young woman has a baby and consequently spends lots of time at home, overwhelmed with motherhood, hoping for something to change her life. When the Senator has a stroke and returns “home” for his “wife” to care for him (her choice) the plot thickens. The young wife is asked to babysit, so to speak, for an hour or so once a week for the old man, and that’s when, something happens that sickened me. I disliked this young woman and felt her behavior was just so disappointing. I couldn’t continue. If you like that sort of thing, then maybe you’d like the book. I was on the last CD when the story took this turn, and I was sorry I’d wasted so many hours on it to get there. Friendship isn’t about betrayal – it isn’t a friendship then. If any of you have read this already and want to comment, send me an email. Go to my contact page above.

Read Maude by Donna Mabry. It’s a true story (but written as a novel) about the author’s grandmother, Maude. It takes place from the early 1900s to her death in the 1960s. She lived a hard, hard life (mostly in Detroit), and there’s information that even takes me back to things I vaguely remember about my own grandmother’s life. I was fascinated. I won’t say that I couldn’t put it down, but I looked forward each night to read what was going to happen next. It’s hard to tell you much about the book without revealing too much of the story – I won’t call it a happy book, because there is much sadness within its pages, but you admire Maude for what she did, the role she played, her inherent grit. But I wanted to smack her 2nd husband! A good read, though.

While I was on my 3-week trip to Europe, I read 5 books. Of them all, Sgt. Reckless: America’s War Horse by Robin Hutton, was by far the best story, a true story about an American Marine. Many books have been written about Sgt Reckless, this rather nondescript, small Mongolian mare that was purchased by American forces in Korea in the height of the war. She was reared as a race horse, but she spent her career as an heroic soldier for our military, saving countless lives as she willingly delivered munitions from one place to another. Everyone who came in contact with her loved her. She became a regular soldier, mostly so they could requisition food for her. Sometimes she survived on next to nothing to eat. She aimed to please, and please she did, as in one 24-hour period she ferried ammunition up steep slopes (too steep for soldiers to climb) and she did it all by herself. When the Marines unloaded her cargo, she immediately worked her way down for more. She knew what she was supposed to do. She was highly intelligent, amazing many people over the course of her life. If you love animal stories, you’ll love this one. Have a Kleenex box nearby.

Another really riveting story, one I could hardly put down, is The Headmaster’s Wager by Vincent Lam. My friend Joan recommended this one to me. Most likely  you’ve never read anything about Chinese immigrants living in South Vietnam during the war there, right? Neither had I. And you have to keep track of who is who, and the politics of the time. The Vietnamese don’t like Chinese people, so there’s that going on. The Chinese man runs an English school somewhere near Saigon. He has a right hand man who may or may not be what he appears to be. The Chinese man has a son who gets himself into trouble. Oh, webs woven every which way. As I said, I could hardly put it down. Will make a very good book club read.

IN THE POWDER ROOM: The guest half-bath in my house 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).

 

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 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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