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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 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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