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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 aging 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, wealthy women) 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.

I’ve written up an entire blog post about this book. (It hasn’t been posted yet, but will soon.) It may be one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a memoir by Pat Conroy (an author I’ve long admired). He died a year or so ago – sad, that. In order to get the most out of My Reading Life, I recommend you BUY THE HARDBACK. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s an autobiography of sorts, but not really. He never wrote one, I don’t think, and I doubt he would ever have written one as he likely didn’t believe anyone would want to read about his (sad) life. In this memoir, he chronicles the books (and the people who recommended them) that influenced his life. Starting at his mother’s knees and continuing through influential teachers and mentors and friends. One of my book clubs read it, and I devoured it, cover to cover, with little plastic flags inserted all the way through to re-read some of the prose. Pat Conroy was a fabulous writer – he studied words from a young age and used them widely and wisely throughout his writing, but better than most authors would. He adored his mother, and hated (with venom) his aviator military father who physically abused everyone in the family, including his mother. They all took it like stoic Buddhas. I’m going to have to read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel because of reading this book. I’ve never read it. Conroy says that book’s first page is the best first page of any book he ever read in his life. Wow. And maybe my book group is going to re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Vintage Classics) too because of the chapter on that book. We might have to assign that to a 2-month or longer read. If you have friends or family who are avid readers, this would make a great gift, this book, My Reading Life. If YOU are a reader, it needs to be on your bookshelf, but in hardback, so you can go back to it and re-read his stories. It’s a series of essays, each one about a sub-section of his life. A must-have and a must-read.

Also read The Towers of Tuscany by Carol Cram. It was a bargain book through amazon or bookbub (e-book). Back in the Middle Ages women were forbidden to be artists. Their only place was in the home, caring for children and sewing and cooking. But the heroine in this book was taught to paint by her widowed artist-father (in secret, of course). When her father suddenly dies, all hell breaks loose and she must fend for herself. Much of the book takes place in Siena (and also San Gimignano) as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

 

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 Salads, on March 11th, 2008.

Spinach & Strawberry Salad

We’ve had an informal and infrequently-meeting gourmet group for a few years. Initially we met every couple of months, but then traveling got in the way of more than one gathering. Now we seem to meet only when one of us can manage to get everyone’s schedule to jibe. And initially the group was also a “healthy” gourmet group. We called it – and still do – the HGG (Health Gourmet Group). The healthy part lasted about 2 years, I’d say, and now it’s more like a “try to be healthy if you can” group. But when we do get together, we have a great time.

My friend Sue brought this salad to one of our dinners, and everybody just loved it. I’ve served it more than once since then, always to raves. There is an elusive flavor in this salad. Maybe it’s just the combo with the strawberries, which isn’t often seen in salads. Sue said the recipe came from one of her Junior League cookbooks. I’ve altered the recipe a little – reducing the amount of greens to serve 6 – it served way more originally, and I always had leftovers which didn’t keep, of course.

I made this as a separate course the other night for a large dinner party, while the main entrée finished off its cooking in the oven. I liked doing that because this salad is just so darned good to get diluted with more intense flavors from the beef we had for our entrée, or the seasoned vegetables either. Know what I mean?
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Spinach & Berries Salad

Recipe By: from my friend Sue, from a Junior League cookbook
Serving Size: 10
Cook’s Notes: Get everything all ready ahead of time and it’s but seconds to get the salad mixed and served. Sprinkle some of the nuts in the salad, then add a few more almonds on the top of each serving (or if you’re passing the salad, just sprinkle the remaining nuts on top). Be sure to use baby spinach, as full-leafed spinach is too cumbersome to eat easily and a bit too tough in my estimation.

SALAD DRESSING:
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
2 cloves garlic — minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
SALAD:
3/4 cup slivered almonds — toasted
12 ounces spinach leaves — baby spinach if possible
1 head butter lettuce
1 bunch green onions — chopped
1 pint strawberries — thinly sliced
1/4 cup fresh dill — minced

1. Mix salad dressing – olive oil through onion powder – and allow to sit to mellow flavors.
2. Combine salad ingredients in a large bowl and pour dressing (taste to see how much is needed) over.
Per Serving: 198 Calories; 17g Fat (72.3% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 11g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 75mg Sodium.

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  1. yvette

    said on June 7th, 2010:

    Hello Carolyn,
    I made this salad last night for Joe and me and dinner
    guests. I love this salad !!! The dressing is superb.
    I loved having the strawberries in the salad. The toasted
    slivered almonds gave the salad a nice crunch
    This is a “must have” summer salad recipe.I look forward to
    making this again and again. My dinner guest, Lynn, took home a copy
    of the recipe. This definitely belongs on the “Carolyn’s Fav List”.

    Glad you liked it, Yvette! It’s a favorite of ours too. . . carolyn t

  2. Elizabeth

    said on February 24th, 2011:

    I made this for my husband’s birthday dinner, he loved it! I had everything for the dressing(added a squeeze of meyer lemon too), but for the salad didn’t have all the ingredients so used strawberry, avocado, sliced almonds and parsley. Thanks for another great recipe.

    Isn’t that just a great salad? I agree. Thanks so much. . . carolyn t

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