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me_in_paris_198That’s me, on a trip, in a Paris restaurant.
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Just finished a very interesting novel, The Color of Water in July by Nora Carroll. It takes place in the upper peninsula of Michigan, an area I’ve never been to, but I have friends who live there and have been trying to get me to visit them for years, having told me (and sent photos) of how beautiful it is. The story takes place at a remote little cottage enclave on a lake. It’s clique-y, in that generations of families have kept these cottages in the family, not wanting any “outsiders” to come in. A young woman, Jess, who grew up partly with a crazy gypsy-like mother, and a loving but stern grandmother (who owns a home in the enclave) has a romance in her youth during the annual trek to the cottage, but a long ago tragedy ripples down through the years to affect her. When her grandmother dies, Jess has lots of mixed emotions about returning to the cottage. She wants to, but doesn’t. Finding papers in the house, she begins to unravel events over the course of two previous generations of family with startling revelations all along the way. Good character development for Jess, Daniel, her long-lost love, her grandmother, Mamie, and her current boyfriend, Russ. And great descriptions of the landscape of the area.

Champagne Baby: How One Parisian Learned to Love Wine–and Life–the American Way by Laure Dugas, another book I read recently. The author is very young, considering she’s written a memoir already (good for her, I say!). She was born to an old Champagne family in France, and paid little attention to anything regarding the wine business until her uncle (the CEO) offered to send her to the United States to do a 6-month tour with the vineyard’s distributor. She was fresh out of college and hadn’t really decided what she was going to do exactly. She’d be the spokesperson (brand ambassador they called her) for the family. Despite having a boyfriend, she made the leap anyway. Each chapter tells the story of her journey in America (with little language skills) or about what she learned about wine. And what she learned about long-distance relationships too. If you’ve never experienced much French wine, this would be a good introduction (she explains all about the different French wine regions and how/why they raise the grapes they do), but it’s woven into the very interesting life she led, living on a shoestring, meeting other French ex-pats in New York, and her thoughts on going to California, Boston, Memphis and other cities. When her 6 months were up, she wasn’t ready to go home. You’ll have to read it to find out what she did then. I liked the book immensely.

If you’ve been reading this sidebar much over the years, you’ve rarely seen mysteries here. Great for an airplane read, maybe, but I don’t find them (usually) gripping enough. But one of my book clubs is read a book by C.J. Box, called Open Season (A Joe Pickett Novel). Joe Pickett is a game warden in the wild country of Wyoming. He’s a good man. A family man. A good husband. AND a dogged investigator whenever anything goes awry in the hills. Usually it’s a murder of some kind. He writes a really good book that incorporates the mystery, lots of character study, some family stuff, but also a lot about the animals, the flora and fauna of the parks and land, and this one is also about an endangered species. I could hardly put it down. I’m SO glad I read this, and yesterday I visited my local library and checked out two more of his books. They’re easy reads; not overly long. But very absorbing. You’ll fall in love with Joe Pickett’s daughter Sheridan, too.

A page-turner of a book, Before the Fall by Noah Hawley grabbed me nearly from the first sentence. A small group of people take a private jet out of Martha’s Vineyard. Sixteen minutes later the plane crashes into the ocean. Two survive, a 4-year old boy and a single guy, an artist/painter, who ended up on the plane almost by happen-chance. What might have looked more like a fluke accident turns a bit sinister when you begin to learn more about the passengers on the plane, and the crew; the parents of the young boy, and a few others. Each person is scrutinized through the author’s lens and his/her culpability is analyzed. The painter and the boy form a bond because the man rescues the child and they swim miles and miles to shore. It’s just riveting. It’s not a James Bond type of thriller, but a real-life kind of drilling down into the core of each person on the plane. What I will mention, though, is that once you’ve read this, there isn’t a whole lot to discuss as a book club read, which is often the case for mysteries. Once the case is solved, there isn’t much to talk about except the characters, perhaps.

When one of my book groups gathered last week, we discussed a bunch of books that we might read for our next Sept-August “year.” We select them all, for the whole year, in advance. On the list of 18 possible ones (we’ll read nine only) was an old classic – I guess you could call it a classic – Plainsong – by Kent Haruf. Since it was published some years ago I dropped by the library, and sure enough, they had a copy. I came home and devoured it in one fell swoop. What a story. Tender, yet harsh in some respects. It tells the story of a group of small-town people (a teacher – a man separated from his wife, but he has the 2 boys who both play prominent roles in the book; a single woman caring for her aging and Alzheimer’s driven father; a young teenage girl who should have known better, but got pregnant; a couple of very old brothers, both single, struggling along with their ranch). All this takes place in a small town in eastern Colorado. I laughed. I cried. I wanted to reach through the pages to some of these characters to give them a hug. It’s a winner of a book. I may have to read more of Haruf’s books. The prose is spare, yet you can feel the anguish, the pain, the love, the caring. What a book!

 

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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