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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 Salads, Veggies/sides, on October 30th, 2009.


roasted_sw_pot_black_bean_saladReading as many recipes as I do in the course of a few months, unless I make notes, or recognize the print style, I can’t recall where I read or heard about a recipe. Such with this one. I think it was on somebody’s blog that I read about it. And the writer sent us off to the New York Times’ website to retrieve it, which I did, as it was in that week’s food section. I think. It wasn’t all that long ago – like a month. It’s  a Mark Bittman recipe – he of restaurant and TV fame. And cookbook fame too – he’s done one or more books about sw_pot_black_bean_widethe “Best” of specific recipes (kind of like Cook’s Illustrated in a way). I don’t own any of his tomes. But, I will tell you this recipe is awfully darned good. When I did a search for this recipe I noticed a lot of other food bloggers are on this recipe’s bandwagon too. I’m  delighted to join the parade.

jalapeno dressing It’s a salad, or a side vegetable combo. The list of ingredients is simple: sweet potatoes (I used the dark orange type we call yams), onions, both roasted with olive oil, S&P, then tossed with some canned black beans (rinsed & drained), some minced bell peppers, a passel of cilantro chopped, and then the very simple dressing (pictured at left) of olive oil, some minced green chile (hot type like jalapeno), garlic and lime juice. Very simple. And very extra delicious, I assure you. The recipe said to toss the salad with the dressing just before serving, but I think soaking it in the dressing for awhile just brightened all the flavors. There was still a bit of dressing in the bottom of the bowl which I just left there for the leftovers. My first foray into Mark Bittman’s world produced a great recipe. I’d make this again anytime.
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Roasted Sweet Potato Salad with Black Beans and Chili Dressing

Recipe By: Mark Bittman, in New York Times article 9/30/2009
Serving Size: 6

1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes — peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 large red onion — peeled, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups cooked black beans — drained (canned are fine)
1 red bell pepper — or yellow, seeded and finely diced (or mix with both)
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon jalapeno chile pepper (1 to 2)
1 clove garlic — peeled
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice — (from 2 limes)

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Place sweet potatoes and onions on a large baking sheet, drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil, toss to coat and spread out in a single layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast, turning occasionally, until potatoes begin to brown on corners and are just tender inside, 30 to 40 minutes. Do NOT overcook the mixture as the potatoes will dry out. Remove from oven; keep on pan until ready to mix with dressing.
2. Put chiles in a blender or mini food processor along with garlic, lime juice, remaining olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Process until blended.
3. Put warm vegetables in a large bowl with beans and bell pepper; toss with dressing and cilantro. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve warm or at room temperature, or refrigerate for up to a day.
Per Serving: 339 Calories; 19g Fat (48.3% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 38g Carbohydrate; 8g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 14mg Sodium.

A year ago: Peppers for Cold Meats (a kind of relish – I liked it so much I’ve posted about it twice and have made it 3 times in the last 6 months)

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  1. Ninette

    said on October 31st, 2009:

    This looks delish! I love your extreme close-up photos. Almost makes me want to pick up a fork and dig right in!

    Well, I’m glad, Ninette. That’s what I have in mind every time I take one of those close-up photos! . . . carolyn t

  2. Diana

    said on November 1st, 2013:

    I served this for a large group and everyone loved it. I keep getting request to make it again. My friend is not crazy about beans and asked me to make it for her birthday using quinoa instead of the beans. That was great too! I did have to double the dressing.

    I’m so glad you and your group enjoyed it. There is something about the taste combination of the sweet potatoes and the black beans that is unexpected (but particularly delicious). Quinoa sounds like a great substitution. . . carolyn t

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