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me_in_paris_198That’s me, on a trip,  sitting in a Paris restaurant.
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Just finished reading Unsaid: A Novel by Neil Abramson. I think I read about it on amazon because I don’t remember anyone telling me about it. Perhaps amazon recommended it to me because I’ve read several books about African animals lately. The narrator of the book is the soul and voice of a woman who has just died of cancer. So she’s a ghost, of sorts, or an angel. But she’s hanging around her old life (her husband, her friends, her co-workers – she was a veterinarian) because she’s so very worried about her menagerie of animals she owned and worked with. The crux of the story is about a chimpanzee that is part of a U.S. government study – measuring the intelligence and sign language ability of this one chimp. The funded study is suddenly ended, and the intelligent and sentient animal (that word, sentient – I had to look it up – is used several times in the book – it means with “feelings”) is going to be returned to the general population of chimps used for maybe not-so-nice drug studies and likely would die from an inflicted disease. The widower is an attorney, and he’s thrown into battle with the U.S. government about saving the chimp. There’s a huge message here about the use of animals in drug studies and it’s hard to come away from this book without feeling “feelings” for the sweet chimp, whose intelligence was measured as the age of a 4-year old human. You’ll be drawn into the many other animals, the husband’s grief, and the team of people trying to save the chimp. Quite a story.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah – many reader friends recommended it, and oh, is it good! If you’re at the end of your tether with reading WW II resistance stories, you’ll want to skip this one, but you’ll be rewarded if you do read it. It’s the story of 2 sisters who live in a remote area of France and both get caught up in the war. There are some very terror-filled moments in this book – I won’t kid you – the deprivation, torture, hunger, betrayal; all the things that make a book real, wartime real. The relationship between the sisters isn’t always good. One becomes a resistance fighter; the other is a mom whose husband fights for France, but is imprisoned for years. She eventually participates by shepherding Jewish children to safety. It’s a riveting book, and the 2 women are portrayed with great realism.

Also read The Secret Chord: A Novel by Geraldine Brooks. It’s a novelized biography of King David, the man who was a sinner from his youth. If you’ve studied the Holy Bible, then you’ll know that he reformed, eventually, and he is credited with writing most of the Psalms. If you’ve spent much time reading Psalms, then you’ll know there is so much angst contained within the poetic verses. David was a consummate writer and poet – no question about that – and he was a musician as well. But he had his appetites, which betrayed him over and over and over. He laments his bad character in the form of the Psalms. I can remember singing in our church choir one of the Psalms about Absalom, his beloved son, that he had killed. King David’s time was primitive, life for life, where trust wasn’t taken lightly. It’s a really fascinating portrayal of the man, his vices, and his eventual redemption.

If you’re already a fan of Molly Wizenberg, then you’ll know about her book Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage. Molly started off writing a blog some years ago, called Orangette. She wrote a book (part memoir and cookbook) a few years ago, and her prose is a delight to read. She’s a commander of words. This book is the story of meeting and marrying her husband Brandon, and their journey to realizing HIS dream of opening a pizza restaurant (Delancey) in Seattle. It’s a very interesting read since they built the restaurant in a questionable neighborhood; they had insufficient money. Let’s just say that along the road to getting the restaurant open, there are many hurdles, including her own belief in the project. I loved the book. And yes, there are a few recipes included too.

After I read The Elephant Whisperer (which was a fabulous book), I read online that Lawrence Anthony considered his best book The Last Rhinos: My Battle to Save One of the World’s Greatest Creatures. So I had to read that, of course. It’s the very sad story about his effort to extract 6 rare white rhino from deep in the jungle of Africa, in an area controlled by guerrillas. He’s unsuccessful, and now the only known white rhinos left are in zoos. They’ll likely be extinct in the next generation. I wasn’t as enamored with the book as I was with the elephant book – maybe because the mechanics of trying to find and negotiate to get the rhinos wasn’t as riveting as the elephant stories. Jungle politics, nighttime helicopter flights, slogging in the mud all play important parts. If you want to know more about rhinos, the rare northern whites, then you’ll want to read this book. Maybe you’re lucky enough to have one in your local zoo. Great literature this is not, but it tells an important story about poaching and why we must fight to eliminate it with education.

Also read, for one of my book clubs, Circling the Sun: A Novel by Paula McLain. It’s the biography of Beryl Markham, but only of her early life. Beryl’s own book, West with the Night has long been a favorite of mine, but she only wrote about her later life once she learned to pilot a plane and flew all over Africa. The McLain book is about her youth on her father’s horse farm, her coming of age and about falling in love (she was a philanderer from way back), her young adulthood, her marriages, her successes in life and her failures. It’s a VERY good book that I enjoyed reading from beginning to end. Markham is known more compellingly for her piloting career, but she led a fascinating life before she ever began to fly. Worth reading.

Read Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. Oh my goodness. When one of my book groups met to discuss this book, we all talked about the crying we did at the end. Oh yes, me too. This is a novel with a point to make (somewhat like Jodi Piccoult’s books). In this case it’s the right to die issue and it’s cloaked in a fast-paced page turner. A young woman who is a bit at loose ends, accepts a new job as a caregiver, something she’s never done before, to a young man who had recently become a quadriplegic. There are numerous sub-stories (about her family, her relationship with her sister, her boyfriend and her relationship with him, the patient himself, who is grumpy, and his relationships with his mother and father and ex-girlfriend). And, it’s about his wish to end his life. During the last 100 pages I could hardly put it down. I don’t want to jinx the story. It’s a romance of sorts. It’s gritty in a way, but charming. Loved the book. Now I’m going to order the sequel, the book the author never really intended to write, but so many people wrote her asking for one. I’m right there too. This book is being made into a movie.

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 9th, 2009.

pork chard soup in bowlI’m SO ready for fall weather. We’ve had a few days of cooler weather – very welcomed since October is often a warm month for us here in Southern California. As soon as I heard we were going to have a day with a high of 69 degrees, well, it needed to be a soup day. We’d offered to take dinner to our son’s home, and it needed to get cooked and finished by about 4pm, so I wasted no time at all getting this soup cookin’. I had a pork shoulder in the freezer, so that defrosted in the morning, and into the crockpot this went. No browning of the meat or onions. Just pile in all the stewing ingredients and let it burble away for a few hours.

Spanish pork, white bean and Swiss chard soup

You can see some of the nice ciabatta bread sopping up the juice.

This soup was very easy. Pork, onion, some prosciutto, some bacon, broth (I used Penzey’s pork broth, which is VERY flavorful, although you can use canned beef broth), later some rutabaga and kale or Swiss chard, and some cannellini beans.  Served over a thick slice of country bread that was  toasted under the broiler. See? Easy. You do need to remove the pork shoulder at some point (once it’s cooked) and shred it in coarse pieces. It gets added back in at the end just to heat through. And you do need to clean the Swiss chard, remove the center ribs, then chop it up coarsely. I used canned beans, just because they’re easier. I bought a nice loaf of sourdough bread (whole) and cut thick pieces, broiled those just to get them brown, then they went into the soup bowl. Then you just ladle the soup over the bread. The thick pieces of bread, although they soaked up the broth big time, the crispy edges still had some texture, which I liked a lot. We all thought this soup was a winner. A keeper. It should freeze well, although I don’t have enough hardly to freeze since I gave half the leftovers to our kids. We have enough for another dinner. I added some Parmesan cheese on top the 2nd time I served it (the pictures are from those seconds), although the cheese is not in the recipe.

The recipe was out of a soup cookbook I have, but I’ve changed the recipe so much, it’s not really James Patterson’s recipe anymore. But the concept is. His recipe called for beef brisket. I didn’t want to use beef, but pork. So I improvised some. Whether the Spanish really make a soup with pork shoulder, I’m not certain, but I decided to give them the credit for it – it’s called Caldo Gallego in that country. The recipe below is for stovetop cooking, but am sure you can figure out easily enough how to adapt it to a crock pot, as I did. My crock pot insert will go right on the stove, which is what I did to cook the rutabaga and the Swiss chard at the end. Otherwise in a crock pot you’d want to add those ingredients about 30-45 minutes earlier, maybe longer. So anyway, go get yourself some pork shoulder, some chard and make a soup. I’m going to be making this again soon, with fresh pork, then I’ll divide it up for freezing. For those cooler winter nights when I don’t feel like cooking. You probably think I never have those kinds of nights, but I DO.
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Spanish Bean Soup with Pork Shoulder & Swiss Chard (Caldo Gallego)

Servings: 8
NOTES: If desired, add some grated Parmesan cheese on top just before serving. It was not in the original recipe, but tasted just great!

1/4 pound bacon — preferably slab, rind removed, cut in small pieces
32 ounces canned beans — cannellini or Great Northern beans,
1/4 pound prosciutto — preferably chunk, cubed (I used some sliced prosciutto)
1 pound pork shoulder — leave whole
1 medium onion — chopped
1 bouquet garni
2 quarts beef broth — or chicken broth or water
2 teaspoons salt — (may not need salt)
2 medium rutabaga — peeled, cubed
2 pounds Swiss chard — or kale, stems removed, coarsely chopped
Pepper and salt to taste (be careful of adding too much salt)
8 slices bread — crusty country bread, thick sliced

1. Place the bacon in a 6-quart Dutch oven and add an inch of cold water. Simmer the bacon for 10 minutes to eliminate some of its smoky taste. Drain off the water.
2. Combine the bacon, the prosciutto end, pork shoulder (all in one piece), onion, bouquet garni, and broth. Bring to a slow simmer over medium heat and use a ladle to skim off any froth or scum that floats to the top.
3. Cover the pot and simmer slowly for 30 minutes. Add salt if it’s needed and simmer for about 1-1/2 hours more, until the pork is almost tender. Remove pork and allow to cool for 15 minutes, then pull it apart into small, long but bite sized shreds. Add the rutabagas and the canned beans, simmer for 15 minutes more, until all the vegetables are soft. Add the Swiss chard (or kale) and cook for about 5 minutes, then add the pork and continue cooking just long enough for the meat to heat through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
4. Toast the bread under the broiler until pieces are just brown, turn and brown other side, then place in bottom of wide, deep soup bowls. Ladle soup over the top, with some of the toast visible.
Per Serving: 503 Calories; 17g Fat (31.1% calories from fat); 39g Protein; 47g Carbohydrate; 9g Dietary Fiber; 52mg Cholesterol; 3340mg Sodium.

A year ago: Traveling near Mt. Shasta
Two years ago: Anise Pound Cake (a specialty of the American Southwest)

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