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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 Pasta, Veggies/sides, on April 30th, 2008.

armenian rice and noodle pilaf

Only vaguely do I recall when Rice-a-Roni came on the market. Way so many years ago. 1958 to be exact. It was a time when food producers were coming up with just the beginnings of boxed mixes. Cake mixes had been around for awhile, but not much of anything else. I thought the rice mixture was quite good. Tasty for such an easy combination in a box. But then the food police told us about sodium, and I began noticing how much was in lots of the foods I purchased. There still is a lot of sodium in many prepared foods. I started avoiding those products, especially after the medical experts told us we were only supposed to consume a max of 2,000 milligrams a day. It’s easy to consume double or triple that if you eat out and/or eat pre-packaged foods. Because Rice-a-Roni was so high in sodium I stopped buying it. By the way, it’s now owned by Quaker Oats.

Beginning in the late 1960’s I started avoiding nearly all packaged and ready-made foods altogether, in favor of making things myself, adding only fresh food, fresh vegetables, my own herbs and spices. And I’ve continued to adhere to that with only a few exceptions. There are a couple of cake mixes I do use for some family favorites. I do buy an occasional frozen vegetable, some Trader Joe’s mixes (that contain no additives or preservatives). And once in awhile I buy Pillsbury biscuits because I have one recipe that is just so good and easy. I try to buy organically fed meat. Sometimes I buy organic produce. Not always, depending on the quality or freshness of it.

Having done a search for this posting today, I discovered that the combo of rice and pasta is an Armenian thing. I thought it was Italian, but no. The founders of Rice-a-Roni actually created it from something served to them by an Armenian neighbor. Thus, the rice boxed mix was born. And why they must add so much sodium to it is beyond me. But they sure enough do.

Because I always walk right past that boxed mix section in my grocery store, I’d forgotten all about the rice/noodle combination until a recipe was printed in my local food section last week. Labeled Carrie’s Rice, it is identical to hundreds of other pilaf recipes out there on the internet. Some add mushrooms, garlic, maybe some dill weed, pine nuts perhaps, but they all contain noodle-type pasta or orzo, white rice, butter, onion and chicken broth. Some recipes brown only the pasta; others brown both pasta and the rice. If you use low-sodium chicken broth, as I did, you’ll likely want to add some salt to it. And you can vary the amount of butter. Many recipes call for a full stick of butter for 1 cup of rice and 1 cup of pasta. I cut it down by half, and think that was still too much. So I’ve reduced the amount even more in the recipe below. It’s a very quick side dish. The kids will like it, and since you’re doing all the cooking of it, you know exactly what’s in it. Unadulterated rice, pasta, butter and canned broth. Maybe some onion, and/or garlic too.
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Armenian Rice & Noodle Pilaf

Serving Size: 6

1 cup long-grain rice – raw
1 cup vermicelli – broken into small bits, or thin linguine
1/2 cup onion – chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup mushrooms – cleaned, sliced [optional]
3 tablespoons pine nuts – toasted, garnish
2 teaspoons fresh dill — minced
Salt and pepper to taste

1. In a heavy skillet or saucepan melt butter, then add pasta, rice and onions. Stir and cook until the mixture is lightly browned. Add mushrooms at this point, if using, and cook them for about 2 minutes.
2. Add broth all at once, bring to a simmer, cover and cook over very low heat for about 20 minutes, until rice is completely cooked, but not mushy. Taste for seasonings (salt and pepper). Garnish with pine nuts and dill, if using. Serve immediately.
Per Serving: 246 Calories; 8g Fat (26.1% calories from fat); 11g Protein; 38g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 10mg Cholesterol; 24mg Sodium.

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