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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 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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