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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 Veggies/sides, on September 21st, 2009.

cabbage sweet sour Even though it’s still the peak of summer here in Southern California, my mind is already jumping ahead to Fall. Onto some cooler evenings. Onto what few trees we have here that do change color. But we have weeks and weeks to go before that even beGINS to happen. September is usually the hottest summer month we have here in the Southland. Actually August was cooler than normal and with the exception of a few days of blisteringly-hot and humid weather, September has been mostly in the 80’s. More humid than usual, though.

But in Carolyn’s kitchen, my head was leaning towards some Fall things like gingerbread, sausages and onions, stews. I’ve put out the Fall decorations – a pumpkin wreath on the front door, some ceramic pumpkins that grace our kitchen island. A couple of Halloween candles. There must be more of them in the closet, so I’ll have to look further.

cabbage cooking With cabbage in the refrigerator, I decided to try some of the new pork chops we bought from the meat truck, Personal Gourmet. And a recipe from Gourmet magazine in September of 2006 attracted my eye. I had all the ingredients on hand. Love it when that happens!

This was an EASY dinner. The pork chops were seasoned and browned, then finished their cooking in the oven (briefly). I made the cabbage easily enough – and tomorrow I’ll actually print the complete recipe – the combination of the pork chops and the cabbage. But this cabbage recipe can really stand on its own, so that’s why I’m writing a post about this alone. I’ve extracted it from the combo recipe provided in the magazine. As you can see in the photo above (when it was cooking) I used both red and white cabbage. Pretty, I think! I’d definitely make this again – it’s simple, straightforward, and has a delicious piquant taste with the sweet and sour both going for it. I used Splenda for the sugar, but otherwise I made this almost exactly as written. Just be sure to cook the cabbage JUST until it’s barely done – further and the color fades and it becomes mushy.
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Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage

Recipe: Adapted from Gourmet, Sept. 2006
Servings: 4

2 slices thick-sliced bacon — chopped
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium onion — chopped
1 small red cabbage — halved lengthwise, cored, and sliced 1/4 inch thick (or white cabbage, or mixture)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
3/4 cup water
2 tablespoons sugar — or Splenda
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Cook bacon in a 4-5 quart wide heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp, and transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Measure fat and, if less than 2 tablespoons, add enough vegetable oil to bring total to 2 tablespoons.
2. Heat fat over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then cook onion, stirring occasionally, until it begins to turn golden, about 2 minutes.
3. Add cabbage and turn with tongs until coated with fat. Stir in red-wine vinegar, water, sugar, caraway seeds, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and braise cabbage over moderately low heat, covered, stirring occasionally, until tender, 25 to 35 minutes.
4. Stir the bacon into cabbage (or sprinkle on top) and serve.
Per Serving: 111 Calories; 7g Fat (51.9% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 11g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 5mg Cholesterol; 772mg Sodium.

A year ago: Chicken Posole
Two years ago: Green Beans in Garlic & Olive Oil (one of my most favorite recipes – so easy and SO delish – I can eat a mountain of them)

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