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Just finished reading How It All Began: A Novelby Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant (she arrived after the birth, actually). Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the father is a wealthy man in the area who carries a lot of clout. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

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 middle-aged 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, and wealthy) 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.


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 17th, 2009.

italian sausage soup closeup Lately I’m sounding like a broken record – seems like every recipe is a winner. Five star. This one is no exception. And it’s another one of those recipes that has nothing but ordinary food in it. Italian sausage, onion, garlic, canned tomatoes, broth, canned cannellini beans, orzo, then some fresh basil and Parmesan cheese. With the exception of the beans and orzo, it’s a lot like spaghetti sauce. But don’t forget that anything you make is only as good as the ingredients that go into it. That means, in this case, using good quality Italian sausage. Fresh garlic. Oh yes, there’s a bit of bacon in this too.

It doesn’t take all that long to prepare this soup, either. The recipe is yet another Phillis Carey one. Wow, that gal is one stupendously good cook. I liked this at the cooking class, and liked it almost more so when I made it myself. I used Niman Ranch no-nitrate/nitrite bacon. I used Italian specialty meat market sausage. I used high quality frozen beef broth and some of Penzey’s concentrated pork broth. Trader Joe’s canned beans. Muir Glen fire-roasted canned tomatoes. Real Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Fresh basil leaves. I made a double batch – made enough for entertaining friends, and two portions for freezing, and some for another meal this week. If you make this as a main course, you probably won’t get 8 servings. You’ll have no trouble getting rid of it, I guarantee.
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Italian Sausage & Tomato Soup

Recipe: Phillis Carey cooking class
Servings: 8
NOTES: You can use turkey sausage, but the pork provides a lot more flavor. If you increase the quantity, don’t increase the amount of red pepper flakes.

2 slices bacon — thick sliced, diced
1 pound Italian sausage — sweet (or hot, if you prefer)
1 cup red onion — chopped
3 cloves garlic — minced
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 pinch red pepper flakes
1 whole bay leaf
28 ounces diced tomatoes — with juice
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup orzo
15 ounces cannellini beans — rinsed and drained
Salt & pepper to taste
1/2 cup fresh basil — chopped
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated (or more if desired)

1. Cook chopped bacon in a large pot over medium heat to render out the fat. Add the crumbled sausage and continue cooking and stirring occasionally, until sausage is browned. Add the onions to the pot and cook for 5 minutes. Add the garlic, oregano and red pepper flakes and toss for 30 seconds.
2. Stir in bay leaf, tomatoes and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes. Add the orzo and cook for 5 minutes. Add the beans and simmer until heated through and orzo is tender, about 8 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the fresh basil just before serving. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle top with cheese.
Per Serving: 456 Calories; 21g Fat (38.8% calories from fat); 31g Protein; 45g Carbohydrate; 10g Dietary Fiber; 45mg Cholesterol; 490mg Sodium.

A year ago: Chicken Hamburgese
Two years ago: Heavenly Cream Cheese Brownies (yum, makes my mouth water, guess I need to make these again soon)

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  1. Melynda

    said on October 18th, 2009:

    It does sound really good! Broken record or not, love to visit your blog.

    Thanks very much, Melynda. . . carolyn t

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