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My reading of late has been short and fitful, somewhat like my sleeping pattern, ever since my dear husband passed away. I’m still in 2 book clubs, though, and have wanted to keep up with the reading for those.

When I started reading The Divorce Papers: A Novel by Susan Rieger, I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue. Initially, it brought back too many unpleasant memories of my divorce in 1979-80. But I kept reading and soon was engrossed in the unusual approach. It’s about Sophie Diehl, a young criminal attorney who gets roped into working on this very messy divorce taken on by her law firm. The entire book is written via letters, documents and email messages between the pertinent parties in this divorce (the couple divorcing, their daughter, both attorneys, her boss, and one of Sophie’s best friends). It’s a clever book. As I write this, I’m about 80% through, so I don’t even know how it ends, but I’ve enjoyed the read so far.

Recently finished Orphan Train: A Novel by Christina Baker Kline. It’s about a little known period of time (1854-1929) when orphaned children were loaded onto trains on the East Coast and sent to the Midwest to be adopted by families who needed or wanted children. Some were adopted by people who were unfit; some of the children were lucky and found good, loving homes. This is the story of one of the girls, Vivian Daly and her journey. Woven into the story is a much later period of Vivian’s life when many facts of  her earlier experiences are revealed. A very, very interesting book; there’s a love story in it too.

Since I’m a fan of Ann Patchett, it’s no surprise that I wanted to buy her most recent book, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage. It’s a book of short stories, but not fictional ones – it’s a compilation of essays and articles she’s written over the course of her writing life. My favorite is the one in which she describes in intimate detail how she goes about writing a book. About the process, her thinking, and the the hard, hard work it entails. I loved every one of the stories. She is quite self-deprecating about the book – it likely wasn’t her idea to put it together as she never thought any of her essays were worth much. She wrote them to make a living. Each of the chapters (essays) has been updated and/or addended to, so she did have to put some spit and polish on all of them before sending this group to the publisher. She’s written essays for a very esoteric group of publications; some I’d never heard of. But I enjoyed the book from beginning to end.

Also just finished reading The Invention of Wings: A Novel by Sue Monk Kidd. What a story. Sometimes it’s a good thing to read the author’s notes before you read a book. I guess I’m glad I didn’t (in this case the notes were at the end of the book) because it was then, afterwards, that I read that one of the characters in this novel is fictional; the other two (sisters) were real. There’s a bit about the Quaker religion in this book too, which was different. This is a slavery story and about the beginnings of the abolitionist movement. Interwoven between the 2 sisters who make waves about anti-slavery is the poignant story of one particular slave and her hard, hard life. It’s heartbreaking in many respects, not just because of the violence and abuse heaped upon her. The book is almost a page-turner. Very glad I read it.

Also read The Four Seasons: A Novel of Vivaldi’s Venice by Laurel Corona. It was recommended to me by a friend, and I enjoyed it a lot. It has a rather unusual story line, all envisioned by the author from reading a tiny line of elaborate script from a journal at what remains of a foundling hospital (run mostly like a convent by Catholic nuns) in Venice. It said something like Antonio Vivaldi purchased “a bow for Maddalena Rossa.” That started the author’s novel journey. Two sisters are raised at the Ospedale della Pieta. One becomes famous for her violin skills; the other for her voice. One is married “out” and the other stays cloistered her entire life. Then you throw Vivaldi himself into the mix, as he really was paid by the Ospedale for his compositions and for teaching some of the residents to play instruments. It’s an enlightening story about Vivaldi himself (a priest, with a lot of questions about his piety). It takes place in the early 1700s. Fascinating story and I want to listen again in total to Vivaldi’s very famous work, The Four Seasons, as a result of reading this. I’ve heard it many times before, but it will have new meaning now.

IN THE POWDER ROOM: Our guest half-bath 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); and The Trouble with Poetry (Billy Collins).

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 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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