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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 Salads, Veggies/sides, on August 11th, 2009.

layered salad peppers

When I saw the photo in Cooking Light for this salad, I figured I’d have to make it sometime. It was perfect for our outdoor dinner party the other night. I could make it ahead (at least 24 or up to 48 hours even), it provided a bit of carbohydrate for the meal, it was tangy with fresh lemon juice from the fruit of our Meyer lemon trees, and last but not least, it had lots of fresh veggies in it. With only two tablespoons of oil in the entire dish.

I set up my little photo studio as I made it. As if you didn’t already know how to layer things. But here goes. First I started with my tall glass trifle dish. I’ve served a green salad in it before, but it’s just perfect for this layered salad. The recipe said it served 8 – we were having 6 – so with some of the vegetables I used slightly less. It would depend on the bowl you used, too.

layered salad bulgar

First went in the dry bulgur wheat. Just poured it in there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

layered salad dressing

The dressing was mixed up – 3/4 cup of fresh lemon juice, the 2 T. of olive oil, some fresh garlic and salt. I poured it in and stirred it briefly to make sure all the bulgur was in contact with the dressing.

 

 

 

 

 

layered salad onions

The layer of onions was next. The recipe called for red onions, but I didn’t have any. However, I did have some Washington sweet onions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

layered salad tomatoes

Then I chopped up about $6.00 worth of heirloom tomatoes. It made two cups of chopped tomatoes. Almost hated to use them for this since I wasn’t sure the superior flavor would shine through. But it’s what I had on hand.

 

 

 

 

 

layered salad herbs

I cut some fresh mint from our garden, added some fresh Italian parsley and some fresh dill. Chopped it up finely, mixed it together with my hands, and sprinkled that on top of the tomatoes.

 

 

 

 

 

layered salad cukes

Next went a generous layer of cucumbers. I used the hothouse type and left the dark-green skin intact. That was spread around a bit to fill in the outer edges.

 

 

 

 

 

 

layered salad peppers small

Lastly, a mixture of red and yellow bell peppers was added. The top was sprinkled with some kosher salt and freshly grated black pepper.

Then I sealed it tight with plastic wrap and refrigerated it for 24 hours.

Just tell your guests to dip down deep, so they get some of the bulgur at the bottom. Once the first person dips in, the salad loses some of its form, but that’s okay. You need to put the bulgur on the bottom, because it needs to absorb all that lemon dressing.

What I love about this kind of salad is the tang from the lemon juice. I have a favorite Syrian salad I make every summer that has crushed up toasted pita bread in it. (Joanne – thanks again for that great recipe – she shared it at an office potluck many years back – and now lives in Switzerland ) I just adore that salad. This is reminiscent of it, except it has the bulgur as the carb. If you have extra room at the top of your bowl, just before serving, chop up some lettuces and pile that in. The dressing will spread around once you dish this up so the lettuce would have some tang. Or, toss the salad with a bit of lemony dressing, then scoop it on top. I’ll make this again – particularly because I can make it the day before.
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Lebanese Layered Salad

Recipe: Cooking Light
Servings: 8

1 cup uncooked medium bulgar
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic — minced
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups red onions — finely chopped
5 cups tomatoes
1/2 cup fresh parsley — chopped
1/2 cup fresh mint — chopped
1/4 cup fresh dill — chopped
2 cups hothouse cucumber — chopped
1 cup red pepper — chopped
salt and black pepper for garnish
1. Place bulgar in a large bowl.
2. Combine juice, oil, salt, and garlic in a small bowl, stir well. Drizzle juice mixture over bulgar. Layer onions, tomato, parsley, mint and dill.
3. Add cucumbers and bell peppers. Sprinkle with additional salt and black pepper. Cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate overnight – at least 24 hours or up to 48 hours before serving.
Per Serving: 149 Calories; 4g Fat (22.8% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 27g Carbohydrate; 7g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 286mg Sodium.

A year ago: Zucchini (everything you always wanted to know)
Two years ago: Baked Fennel

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  1. Melynda

    said on August 12th, 2009:

    This looks wonderful! I want to make this for the next Sunday Cafe. Thanks.

    This was REALLY good. I was amazed it was with so little oil. It was still good 3 days later too. The last time I served it I added a bit of chopped Romaine. That was good too. . . . carolyn t

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