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Just finished a quirky book, Goodbye, Vitamin: A Novel by Rachel Khong. She’s a new writer (newly published, I guess I should say) and this story is about Ruth, a 30+ something, trying to readjust to life without her fiance, who’s dumped her. She goes back home to help with the care of her father, who has Alzheimer’s. Written in a diary style, it jumps all over about her life, her mother, the funny, poignant things her father says on good days, and the nutty stuff he does on not-so-good days, her ex-, and her very quirky friends, too. Then a woman flits through who had had an affair with her father –  you get to observe all the angst from the mom about that. Mostly it’s about her father, as he’s relatively “together” early in the book, but then he disintegrates. Reading that part isn’t fun, although the author is able to lean some humor into it. I’m not sure I recommend the book exactly – I read it through – and felt sad. It doesn’t tie up loose ends – if you want that kind of book – you may not want to read this one.

Also finished Julian Fellowes’s Belgravia. You know Julian Fellowes, the producer and writer of Downton Abbey? He lends his mind to a story about a family or two from the similar time period as Downton, who live in London. There’s some amount of intrigue, romance, observations from within the halls of wealthy Londoners and moderately well off tradesmen and their families. There’s affairs, shady business dealings, an illegitimate child, the comings and goings of the “downstairs” staff too, etc. The characters were well done – I had no trouble keeping all of the people identified. The story is somewhat predictable, but it was interesting clear up to the end.

The Letter by Kathyrn Hughes. It’s a very intricate tale. At first it’s about Tina, a battered wife [at which point I paused and wondered if I wanted to read any further, but I’m glad I did]. She tries to get the courage to leave her husband. Then enters the letter she finds in a suit pocket in the thrift shop where she volunteers. It’s old – sealed and stamped, but never mailed. Then you learn about Crissie, decades earlier, a young pregnant girl who is sent off to Ireland to a distant relative by her father, then to a rigid (meaning horrible) convent [the book takes place mostly in Manchester, England and in rural Ireland]. The letter is addressed to her. Jump forward decades and William, the adopted child Crissie gave up, tries to find his birth mother. William meets Tina in Ireland [a serendipitous moment] as she’s trying to find the woman to whom the letter is addressed. This book is the #2 best seller on Amazon at the moment. It’s a riveting tale and I really enjoyed it.

The Muralist: A Novel by Shapiro. It tells the story of a young woman, an artist, who was part of the U.S.’s WPA mural project from the 1930s-40s (she is fiction, the WPA is not). As with so many artists, even today, they live in abject poverty through much of their lives. This woman, though, had family in France, desperately trying to escape before Hitler’s henchmen rousted them into concentration camps. The story, a bit of a mystery but not of the mystery-genre, is about Alizée Benoit, this young painter, who slightly captivates Eleanor Roosevelt’s help. It also skips into current time when the painter’s great-niece uncovers paintings she believes were painted by her aunt. The painter had disappeared into thin air in 1940, and her relative tries desperately to find out what happened to her. It’s a really good story including such Abstract Expressionist painters as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner well-woven into the narrative. It keeps you guessing right up to the end. A good read. The author also wrote The Art Forger: A Novel a few years ago.

Also recently read News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a free-lance job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her family was killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of an old (wild) west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many. Just read this one first!

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 Desserts, on November 6th, 2009.

rice pudding

Rice pudding may not be on everyone’s radar. Maybe too comforty. Too old time. Too yesterday. But even though I don’t make it very often, whenever I do, it’s just so gosh darned GOOD. Hits the spot. And this one may be my forever go-to recipe from now on. My friend Norma thought rice pudding sounded good. She’s still recovering from very major surgery and because of radiation damage to her throat, has a very hard time swallowing. She’s had major skin cancer caused by anti-rejection medication she must take for the rest of her life. Taking the medication allows her to live with her transplanted lung, but she seems to be one of the many who develop skin cancer because of it. She’s getting better, but slowly.

A day or so ago I made another big, huge batch of the Italian Sausage and Tomato Soup that I just posted about 3 weeks ago. It was so good I had to make more of it. Half went to Norma and she says it tastes good. She just can’t swallow very much of it. But puddings she can do. They go down more easily, as long as they’re kind of soupy. There isn’t a pudding I haven’t made. I’ve done butterscotch, chocolate, tapioca, vanilla, milk chocolate and rice. So we’re starting back on ones I’ve made before, this time rice.

I did a search for rice puddings – even though I’d made Dorie Greenspan’s recipe the last time, I wanted to try something different. Norma wanted a thin, not too rich one. I found one at Elise’s blog, Simply Recipes that intrigued me. Basically I used her recipe, but I changed it a bit. I like the proportion of milk to rice (I added a tetch more rice than Elise did). And I used part 2% milk and part half and half. I used converted rice because I’d read a story awhile back about why it provides a better texture in rice pudding. I also used a part of a cinnamon stick to flavor enhance the milk/rice mixture. I also used  half the amount of brown sugar. I tasted it and thought it was just fine. I also added nutmeg. The real freshly grated stuff – both to the pudding and just a whiff of it on top too. This one’s a keeper.
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Rice Pudding

Recipe By: Adapted from Simply Recipes (blog)
Serving Size: 6

3 1/2 cups 2% low-fat milk
2 cups half and half
3/4 cup converted rice [Uncle Ben’s], or regular rice
2 pinches salt
1/2 whole cinnamon stick
2 large eggs
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 cup raisins

1. In a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring the milk, rice, cinnamon stick and salt to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer until the rice is tender, about 20-25 minutes. Stir frequently to prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Remove scum from top of milk if any forms (and discard). Remove and discard the cinnamon stick.
2. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together egg and brown sugar until well mixed. Add a half cup of the hot rice mixture to the egg mixture, a tablespoon at a time, vigorously whisking to incorporate.
3. Add egg mixture back into the saucepan of rice and milk and stir, on low heat, for 10 minutes or so, until thickened. Be careful not to have the mixture come to a boil at this point. Stir in the vanilla, ground cinnamon and nutmeg. Remove from heat and stir in the raisins. Serve warm or cold.
Per Serving: 364 Calories; 14g Fat (33.7% calories from fat); 12g Protein; 49g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 111mg Cholesterol; 177mg Sodium.

A year ago: Butternut Squash Soup with Pancetta

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on November 6th, 2009:

    I have to ask, what is converted rice?

    Gosh, never thought that might not be available everywhere. Here it’s “Uncle Ben’s” brand. It’s rice that’s been parboiled and dried, then packaged. It develops a bit of a harder skin, if you can call it that, which, when it is finally cooked (the same as regular rice, but uses less water and a bit shorter cooking time), is considered a low-glycemic rice – it takes longer to disgest (a good thing) and the kernels are more defined and don’t stick together at all. In this recipe you could just use regular rice. No change to the recipe at all. Thanks for asking . . . carolyn t

  2. julie

    said on November 6th, 2009:

    It really does sound heavenly 🙂 I love all the warm comforting flavors mixed in there together..yum!

    It is good – it’s really just rice pudding – I put the “heavenly” superlative on it. But it delish. . . carolyn t

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