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Currently Reading

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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 aging 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, wealthy women) 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.

I’ve written up an entire blog post about this book. (It hasn’t been posted yet, but will soon.) It may be one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a memoir by Pat Conroy (an author I’ve long admired). He died a year or so ago – sad, that. In order to get the most out of My Reading Life, I recommend you BUY THE HARDBACK. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s an autobiography of sorts, but not really. He never wrote one, I don’t think, and I doubt he would ever have written one as he likely didn’t believe anyone would want to read about his (sad) life. In this memoir, he chronicles the books (and the people who recommended them) that influenced his life. Starting at his mother’s knees and continuing through influential teachers and mentors and friends. One of my book clubs read it, and I devoured it, cover to cover, with little plastic flags inserted all the way through to re-read some of the prose. Pat Conroy was a fabulous writer – he studied words from a young age and used them widely and wisely throughout his writing, but better than most authors would. He adored his mother, and hated (with venom) his aviator military father who physically abused everyone in the family, including his mother. They all took it like stoic Buddhas. I’m going to have to read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel because of reading this book. I’ve never read it. Conroy says that book’s first page is the best first page of any book he ever read in his life. Wow. And maybe my book group is going to re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Vintage Classics) too because of the chapter on that book. We might have to assign that to a 2-month or longer read. If you have friends or family who are avid readers, this would make a great gift, this book, My Reading Life. If YOU are a reader, it needs to be on your bookshelf, but in hardback, so you can go back to it and re-read his stories. It’s a series of essays, each one about a sub-section of his life. A must-have and a must-read.

Also read The Towers of Tuscany by Carol Cram. It was a bargain book through amazon or bookbub (e-book). Back in the Middle Ages women were forbidden to be artists. Their only place was in the home, caring for children and sewing and cooking. But the heroine in this book was taught to paint by her widowed artist-father (in secret, of course). When her father suddenly dies, all hell breaks loose and she must fend for herself. Much of the book takes place in Siena (and also San Gimignano) as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.


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 Veggies/sides, on October 12th, 2009.

butternut squash risotto with pancetta

I was totally prepared to be ho-hum about this dish. Until I took my first bite, that is. Then I ate every single solitary rice kernel on the plate. It makes a delicious side dish, or if you’re inspired to eat a meal without a meaty main dish, this is the answer. This isn’t vegetarian, because it does contain pancetta and chicken broth. I suppose you could leave those out, but am not sure it would be all that good. But then, vegetarians are used to eating some foods without the intense flavors provided by meat. So maybe it would be fine! Oh yes, it also contains a moderate amount of butter too. And the saffron – when Phillis Carey prepared it at the class, she meant to put in a pinch of saffron. When she dipped into it, though, her fingers grabbed a gob of it – probably more like 2-3 teaspoons. Not only did it color the risotto – that lovely rosy yellow gold that saffron does – but it also gave it HUGE flavor. So in the recipe below I increased the saffron. We had the leftovers a few nights later. Oh my goodness were they ever GOOD. Not quite as creamy, but almost. I could have just eaten THAT for dinner.
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Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto with Pancetta

Recipe: From a cooking class with Phillis Carey
Servings: 6

2 pounds butternut squash — peeled, 3/4 inch cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil Salt and pepper to taste
5 cups chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads — 4-5 pinches
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 ounces pancetta — diced
1/2 cup shallots — diced
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon fresh sage — chopped
3/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1. Preheat oven to 400.
2. Toss squash cubes with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread squash out on a parchment-lined (or Silpat) baking sheet and roast in oven for 25-30 minutes, tossing once, until very tender. Set aside.
3. In a saucepan bring the chicken broth and saffron to a simmer.
4. In a Dutch oven melt butter over medium heat. Add pancetta and shallots and cook for 10 minutes or until shallots are tender and pancetta cooked. Stir in arborio rice and toss with butter mixture.
5. Stir in white wine and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add 1/3 of the chicken broth mixture and cook, stirring often, until broth is almost absorbed. Continue cooking, adding ore broth as the rice absorbs it. Continue cooking until the rice is just about tender, about 30 minutes total time. Season with salt and pepper.
6. Stir in the sage and the roasted squash and heat it through, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the butter and Parmesan cheese. Stir to combine well. Serve immediately.
Per Serving: 441 Calories; 18g Fat (37.8% calories from fat); 12g Protein; 55g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 38mg Cholesterol; 909mg Sodium.

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