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My reading of late has been short and fitful, somewhat like my sleeping pattern, ever since my dear husband passed away. I’m still in 2 book clubs, though, and have wanted to keep up with the reading for those.

When I started reading The Divorce Papers: A Novel by Susan Rieger, I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue. Initially, it brought back too many unpleasant memories of my divorce in 1979-80. But I kept reading and soon was engrossed in the unusual approach. It’s about Sophie Diehl, a young criminal attorney who gets roped into working on this very messy divorce taken on by her law firm. The entire book is written via letters, documents and email messages between the pertinent parties in this divorce (the couple divorcing, their daughter, both attorneys, her boss, and one of Sophie’s best friends). It’s a clever book. As I write this, I’m about 80% through, so I don’t even know how it ends, but I’ve enjoyed the read so far.

Recently finished Orphan Train: A Novel by Christina Baker Kline. It’s about a little known period of time (1854-1929) when orphaned children were loaded onto trains on the East Coast and sent to the Midwest to be adopted by families who needed or wanted children. Some were adopted by people who were unfit; some of the children were lucky and found good, loving homes. This is the story of one of the girls, Vivian Daly and her journey. Woven into the story is a much later period of Vivian’s life when many facts of  her earlier experiences are revealed. A very, very interesting book; there’s a love story in it too.

Since I’m a fan of Ann Patchett, it’s no surprise that I wanted to buy her most recent book, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage. It’s a book of short stories, but not fictional ones – it’s a compilation of essays and articles she’s written over the course of her writing life. My favorite is the one in which she describes in intimate detail how she goes about writing a book. About the process, her thinking, and the the hard, hard work it entails. I loved every one of the stories. She is quite self-deprecating about the book – it likely wasn’t her idea to put it together as she never thought any of her essays were worth much. She wrote them to make a living. Each of the chapters (essays) has been updated and/or addended to, so she did have to put some spit and polish on all of them before sending this group to the publisher. She’s written essays for a very esoteric group of publications; some I’d never heard of. But I enjoyed the book from beginning to end.

Also just finished reading The Invention of Wings: A Novel by Sue Monk Kidd. What a story. Sometimes it’s a good thing to read the author’s notes before you read a book. I guess I’m glad I didn’t (in this case the notes were at the end of the book) because it was then, afterwards, that I read that one of the characters in this novel is fictional; the other two (sisters) were real. There’s a bit about the Quaker religion in this book too, which was different. This is a slavery story and about the beginnings of the abolitionist movement. Interwoven between the 2 sisters who make waves about anti-slavery is the poignant story of one particular slave and her hard, hard life. It’s heartbreaking in many respects, not just because of the violence and abuse heaped upon her. The book is almost a page-turner. Very glad I read it.

Also read The Four Seasons: A Novel of Vivaldi’s Venice by Laurel Corona. It was recommended to me by a friend, and I enjoyed it a lot. It has a rather unusual story line, all envisioned by the author from reading a tiny line of elaborate script from a journal at what remains of a foundling hospital (run mostly like a convent by Catholic nuns) in Venice. It said something like Antonio Vivaldi purchased “a bow for Maddalena Rossa.” That started the author’s novel journey. Two sisters are raised at the Ospedale della Pieta. One becomes famous for her violin skills; the other for her voice. One is married “out” and the other stays cloistered her entire life. Then you throw Vivaldi himself into the mix, as he really was paid by the Ospedale for his compositions and for teaching some of the residents to play instruments. It’s an enlightening story about Vivaldi himself (a priest, with a lot of questions about his piety). It takes place in the early 1700s. Fascinating story and I want to listen again in total to Vivaldi’s very famous work, The Four Seasons, as a result of reading this. I’ve heard it many times before, but it will have new meaning now.

IN THE POWDER ROOM: Our guest half-bath has a little tiny table with a pile of books that I change every now and then. They’re books that might pique someone’s interest even if for a very short read. The Art of Travel, a collection of essays about traveling (it’s not a how-to), gathering a variety of stories of some historic authors and where and why they traveled; The Greatest Stories Never Told; and Sara Midda’s South of France; also Forgotten Bookmarks: A Bookseller’s Collection of Odd Things Lost Between the Pages (just the cutest book – with a miscellany of things – letters, grocery lists, notes, reminders, confessions the author discovered hidden inside the books he purchased for his used bookstore); and The Trouble with Poetry (Billy Collins).

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small engraved sterling silver tea spoons that I use to taste 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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