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Just finished a quirky book, Goodbye, Vitamin: A Novel by Rachel Khong. She’s a new writer (newly published, I guess I should say) and this story is about Ruth, a 30+ something, trying to readjust to life without her fiance, who’s dumped her. She goes back home to help with the care of her father, who has Alzheimer’s. Written in a diary style, it jumps all over about her life, her mother, the funny, poignant things her father says on good days, and the nutty stuff he does on not-so-good days, her ex-, and her very quirky friends, too. Then a woman flits through who had had an affair with her father –  you get to observe all the angst from the mom about that. Mostly it’s about her father, as he’s relatively “together” early in the book, but then he disintegrates. Reading that part isn’t fun, although the author is able to lean some humor into it. I’m not sure I recommend the book exactly – I read it through – and felt sad. It doesn’t tie up loose ends – if you want that kind of book – you may not want to read this one.

Also finished Julian Fellowes’s Belgravia. You know Julian Fellowes, the producer and writer of Downton Abbey? He lends his mind to a story about a family or two from the similar time period as Downton, who live in London. There’s some amount of intrigue, romance, observations from within the halls of wealthy Londoners and moderately well off tradesmen and their families. There’s affairs, shady business dealings, an illegitimate child, the comings and goings of the “downstairs” staff too, etc. The characters were well done – I had no trouble keeping all of the people identified. The story is somewhat predictable, but it was interesting clear up to the end.

The Letter by Kathyrn Hughes. It’s a very intricate tale. At first it’s about Tina, a battered wife [at which point I paused and wondered if I wanted to read any further, but I’m glad I did]. She tries to get the courage to leave her husband. Then enters the letter she finds in a suit pocket in the thrift shop where she volunteers. It’s old – sealed and stamped, but never mailed. Then you learn about Crissie, decades earlier, a young pregnant girl who is sent off to Ireland to a distant relative by her father, then to a rigid (meaning horrible) convent [the book takes place mostly in Manchester, England and in rural Ireland]. The letter is addressed to her. Jump forward decades and William, the adopted child Crissie gave up, tries to find his birth mother. William meets Tina in Ireland [a serendipitous moment] as she’s trying to find the woman to whom the letter is addressed. This book is the #2 best seller on Amazon at the moment. It’s a riveting tale and I really enjoyed it.

The Muralist: A Novel by Shapiro. It tells the story of a young woman, an artist, who was part of the U.S.’s WPA mural project from the 1930s-40s (she is fiction, the WPA is not). As with so many artists, even today, they live in abject poverty through much of their lives. This woman, though, had family in France, desperately trying to escape before Hitler’s henchmen rousted them into concentration camps. The story, a bit of a mystery but not of the mystery-genre, is about Alizée Benoit, this young painter, who slightly captivates Eleanor Roosevelt’s help. It also skips into current time when the painter’s great-niece uncovers paintings she believes were painted by her aunt. The painter had disappeared into thin air in 1940, and her relative tries desperately to find out what happened to her. It’s a really good story including such Abstract Expressionist painters as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner well-woven into the narrative. It keeps you guessing right up to the end. A good read. The author also wrote The Art Forger: A Novel a few years ago.

Also recently read News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a free-lance job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her family was killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of an old (wild) west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many. Just read this one first!

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 Vegetarian, Veggies/sides, on August 25th, 2009.

If you have tomatoes accumulating at a rapid rate at your house, oh, do I have a recipe for you today. To say this pie is delicious is a gross understatement. It’s not my recipe – it’s Elise’s, over at Simply Recipes. She got it from an acquaintance. And what a winner it is. The words of wisdom here are: sometimes the simplest of recipes are the best. This pie is nothing fancy – it contains onions, lots of tomatoes, fresh basil, cheese, mayo and some hot sauce. All piled into a pie shell in layers. And just so you know:

This recipe contains fat in the pie crust.

This recipe contains cheese (uh, yea, calories and fat)

This recipe contains mayonnaise (3/4 cup for the whole pie).

Other than that, it’s good for you  – nice chunks of tomatoes. (BG).

I’m going to write up a separate post about the pie shell (otherwise this post would be pages and pages long). So here we’ll just talk about the pie itself. I started off with a mixture of tomatoes (red and yellow heirlooms plus a small pile of smaller tomatoes right out of our garden. The heirlooms were very moist – VERY juicy. And that can be the slight undoing of this recipe – you’ve just got to get out as much of the liquid as possible. It’s not that the pie won’t be good, but the bottom shell will be soggy (as mine was). But I have a “fix” for it – next time I’ll add an extra step. More on that later.

Obviously, first you have to make a pie shell. We couldn’t find any refrigerated pie shells in our local stores, so with barely enough time, I made a crust myself. It was a very buttery savory shell. Flaky beyond belief. It was blind baked (about 20 minutes at 350) first. Meanwhile, I started in on the filling.

tomato pie oions First went in the chopped raw red onions. Next time I’d chop them up finer AND I’d cook them a bit. The onions were still crunchy when we ate the tart after 40 minutes of baking.

tomato pie basil

Next went in the chopped tomatoes that I’d drained on paper towels for about 15 minutes, AND I squeezed them to get out even more juice. I used about 3 1/2 cups for my large 9-inch pie plate.

Then I sprinkled in about 1/4 cup of fresh sliced basil leaves from our garden.

tomato pie toppingNext I mixed up an equal quantity (approximately) of shredded Gruyere cheese and mozzarella (not fresh), along with some bottled mayonnaise and a dash of hot sauce. Using my hands I pressed the cheesy clumps all over the top of the pie. I didn’t mash it down or try to make it a solid layer – there were a few holes. But they all disappeared during baking. Bake for 25-40 minutes or so until the top is golden brown.

tomato pie whole

There it is, in all its gloriousness just out of the oven. We took it to our kids’ house and had it with some grilled Italian sausages and a delicious field greens salad topped with more garden-grown sliced tomatoes. The pie sat out for about an hour (uncovered in the trunk of the car for the 30-minute ride) and it was still nice and warm in the middle when it was served soon thereafter. Definitely eat it warm or hot. Next time I make this I’ll add a thin layer of cream cheese over the pastry – to keep the juice from waterlogging the pie shell. And a word of caution: Gruyere is what I used here – it was beyond wonderful – but it’s a very salty cheese, so I might not add any additional salt. Mozzarella can also be very salty too.

The result? Oh gosh. Juicy. Creamy. Cheesy. Flaky. Tomatoey. All over perfection. I’m writing this as we just had a tiny wedge as leftovers. I heated it in the microwave and it was just SO SO good. Can’t wait to have an occasion to make it again – before all the tomatoes are gone for the season.
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Savory Tomato & Gruyere Pie

Recipe: Elise at Simply Recipes
Servings: 8 (maybe more like 6)
NOTES: NEXT TIME-I’ll spread a layer of light cream cheese (very softened) over the bottom and up the sides of the pie crust. It needs to be solid, otherwise the juice will leak through to the flaky pastry. If using Greyere, it’s a very salty cheese, so go very easy on the salt. Also, cook the onions just a little bit first.

1 whole pie shell — 9 inch
1/2 whole yellow or red onion — chopped finely
3 1/2 cups tomatoes — cut in half horizontally, squeezed to remove excess juice, roughly chopped, to yield 3 -4 cups
1/4 cup basil — sliced in thin strips
2 cups grated cheese — (combination of Gruyere and Mozzarella or sharp cheddar and Monterey Jack)
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce — (or more to taste)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Basil leaves for garnish

1 Preheat oven to 350°F. Place pie shell in oven and cook for 8-10 minutes or longer until lightly golden. If you are starting with a frozen crust, you’ll need to cook it a little longer. If you are using a homemade crust, freeze the crust first, then line the crust with aluminum foil and pre-bake it for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and bake an additional 10 minutes.
2 Squeeze as much moisture as you can out of the chopped tomatoes, using either paper towels, a clean dish towel, or a potato ricer. Squeeze gently in your hands, too, to get the last bit of juice out, without pulverizing the tomato flesh in the process.
3 Sprinkle the bottom of the pre-cooked pie shell with chopped onion. Spread the chopped tomatoes over the onions. Sprinkle the sliced basil over the tomatoes.
4 In a medium bowl, mix together the grated cheese, mayonnaise, Tabasco, a sprinkling of salt and freshly ground black pepper. The mixture should be the consistency of a gooey snow ball. Spread the cheese mixture over the tomatoes.
5 Place in oven and bake until browned and bubbly, anywhere from 25 to 45 minutes
Per Serving (and higher if you only serve 6 servings): 388 Calories; 33g Fat (74.2% calories from fat); 10g Protein; 16g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 37mg Cholesterol; 450mg Sodium.

A year ago: Restaurant review of the Posh Peasant in San Clemente
Two years ago: Goat Cheese with Apricot Chutney

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