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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 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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