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Just finished reading How It All Began: A Novelby Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant (she arrived after the birth, actually). Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the father is a wealthy man in the area who carries a lot of clout. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

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 middle-aged 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, and wealthy) 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.


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 Pork, Soups, on October 8th, 2009.

creamy cabbage sausage soup

A happy camper am I. Last week, mother nature provided us with a few days of temps only in the low 80’s. Hallelujah. And the nights have been cooler too, which makes for better sleeping. My mind had been turning to soup already even with the summer temps. So when this recipe appeared in our local paper recently, credited to Karen Collard of Anaheim, CA, it sounded so easy. And tasty. In fact, it’s so easy I almost didn’t clip out the recipe. But, I’m telling you, as simple as it is, the flavor is really good.

The other thing – this soup may not look like much, but appearance doesn’t matter. Trust me on this one. The original recipe was intended to be very low fat – just cabbage, onions, chicken broth, and a packaged gravy mix mixed with some milk. I decided to ramp it up a mccormick country gravy mix little by adding some spicy Italian sausage and some parsley for garnish. Otherwise the recipe is essentially the same. You could substitute turkey sausage (although I wouldn’t advise it as the pork/sausage provides a ton of good flavor), or eliminate it. I added a bit of olive oil too, to caramelize the onions just a little bit. This doesn’t cook a long time – in fact I think it’s better if it’s NOT cooked for hours. You still want just a bit of texture to the cabbage. But what it is, is EASY. Trust me on this. You’ll have dinner on the table in about 45 minutes.

It’s a rare day when I use any packaged mix for anything. I had to shop at a couple of grocery stores to even FIND the McCormick sausage flavored country gravy mix. Look in the big grocery stores for it. It just made the preparation so simple. It’s mixed with more liquid (milk and chicken broth instead of water) to give it a soupy consistency. So, go make this, okay? We just LUVVVVED it. I had a hard time keeping my tasting spoon out of the pot as it simmered at the end. We had leftovers two nights later and it was just as good, maybe better, the way soups often are. I gave the recipe to my friend Cherrie, who made it a night or two later. She and her husband slurped up two bowls of it the first night. More testimony that this is a keeper.
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Creamy Cabbage Soup with Sausage

Recipe: Adapted from a recipe found in the Orange County Register, 2009.
Servings: 6

1 pound Italian sausage — crumbled (hot or mild)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion — chopped
1 whole cabbage — coarsely chopped
4 cups chicken broth
3/4 cup milk — cold
2 5/8 ounces McCormick Sausage Flavor Country Gravy Mix — dry mix package
Salt & pepper to taste
3 tablespoons Italian parsley — minced, for garnish

1. To a large, heavy Dutch oven, heat olive oil and add chopped onion. While it sautes, crumble up the sausage meat and the cabbage.
2. When the onion is cooked through (10 minutes) add the sausage and continue cooking for about 10 minutes until the meat is cooked through. Add the cabbage and continue cooking for 15 minutes until cabbage is cooked, stirring frequently.
3. In a bowl combine the country gravy mix and milk. Stir with a whisk. Add it to the cabbage mixture, along with the chicken broth. Bring to a simmer and continue cooking until the sauce has thickened. Taste for seasonings (salt and pepper) and serve. Garnish with some Italian parsley, if desired.
Per Serving: 413 Calories; 32g Fat (72.6% calories from fat); 15g Protein; 12g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 62mg Cholesterol; 1497mg Sodium.

Two years ago: Drop Biscuits (delicious, rich and easy)

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