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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 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.

Also read A Year on Ladybug Farm by Donna Ball. It’s a selection from one of my book clubs. An easy – very easy – read. Not a deep book by any means. It’s a story about 3 middle-aged women who decide to buy an old ram shackled house (maybe mansion) in the South and devote a year to fixing it up. There are many twists and turns with numerous people (a ghost, a vagrant, a handyman, and many neighbors) entering into the story. Much calamity ensues with house repairs and all 3 women questioning their sanity when they bought the place – Ladybug Farm. It’s cute. No swear words. No sex. Just a very pleasant story about friendship and an old house.

Probably the most in-depth book I’ve read recently is Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford. If you decide you want to read this, make sure you get THIS one by Weatherford – there are many books out there with “Genghis Khan” in the title. What I knew about Genghis Khan before I started reading this book could be put into a very small thimble. We’ve heard the descriptions of his viciousness and slaughter of thousands of people. Well, what you learn is that that kind of behavior was typical of the warring tribes of the time. His story was fascinating. Believe it or not, I found the book a page-turner. Weatherford has a gift for writing a good story – it reads more like a novel, but it’s a biography, an easily read one. The last third of the book is more about his son who took over the kingdom after his father’s death, and it’s every bit as interesting. A definite good read – and makes for interesting talk around the water cooler.

Oh, I can’t forget another monumental tome, The Accidental Empress: A Novel by Pataki. It’s about the Austro-Hungarian Empress and wife of Emperor Franz Joseph. From amazon: The year is 1853, and the Habsburgs are Europe’s most powerful ruling family. With his empire stretching from Austria to Russia, from Germany to Italy, Emperor Franz Joseph is young, rich, and ready to marry. And he marries Sisi, a little known 15-year old. The book is her story. If you enjoy historical fiction, this is a good one. Loved it.

Another good read: The High Divide: A Novel by Lin Enger. Takes place in the late 1800s in remote Minnesota. It tells the story of a young family, husband, wife, and 2 sons. The husband, without work, suddenly leaves his family with no explanation. The wife is left back at the homestead with her 2 sons with next to nothing to carry them through. The 2 young boys decide they have to go in search of their father, and very ill-equipped to do so. Then the mother also heads out to find her boys. She believes her husband left with good intentions, but she doesn’t know. You do learn a bit about the husband eventually. Made for a very riveting story if you enjoy that time in history, with a complex family relationship that is tested by the weather, the moral codes of the time, and by the meaning of family. Good story.

Another fascinating book I just finished is Three Daughters: A Novel by Baehr. It covers a part of the world and time that I’ve never encountered in my reading of fiction. From amazon: From the fertile hills of a tiny village near Jerusalem to the elegant townhouses of Georgetown, Three Daughters is a historical saga that chronicles the lives, loves, and secrets of three generations of Palestinian Christian women. It begins around 1900, near Jerusalem. There are a whole lot of family secrets that play parts in this book (adultery mostly) that certainly makes for an interesting read. If you overlook the immorality involved (which continues, in secret through the generations) you’ll find the story quite riveting. It’s a HUGE book, though, so don’t go further if that overwhelms you. It didn’t bother me a bit as I could hardly put it down.

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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