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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 Soups, on June 16th, 2007.


Remember a couple of weeks ago I posted about my dinner visit to Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen in St. Helena? And I showed a picture of the soup Cherrie and I had that night that we thought was so terrific – Tomatillo, Poblano and Asiago soup? And I researched on the internet and found a recipe from Stephan Pyles restaurant in Dallas.

Here’s what Cindy’s soup looked like:

Here’s my soup: Well, I’m here to tell you, this is very close if not one and the same. It looks the same. It tastes just about the same. And I’m a very happy camper, because now I can make this soup in a big quantity and freeze it like I do with most of my soups.


So what’s different at all? Well, the waitress at Cindy’s told us they sauteed the tomatillos for one thing. And they use masa to thicken the soup. I hunted all over in my pantry, but didn’t have any. I didn’t have any fine grind corn flour either (other than cornstarch, and I was certain that wasn’t what we wanted here). I did have polenta and cornmeal, but they’re both too coarse. So I used the regular flour called for in the recipe. And she thought there wasn’t any cream in it, but this soup (with milk and a little cream) looks JUST like theirs, so I’d say they did. Make sure you don’t get a single poblano chile seed in the soup – it won’t puree very well.
If I changed anything next time I make it, I will use less cheese. Asiago has a slightly bitter taste on the palate, and I think less would be an improvement. I only had a little over 1/2 pound, and the recipe called for 10 ounces. I think it has ample at that, and could easily be reduced, so I’ve changed the quantity in the recipe below. Asiago melts into the soup well – it’s doesn’t become stringy and difficult as some cheeses can do when added to hot soups. I did quick/flash fry the tomatillos first. A little olive oil, a hot burner and they browned in a hurry. Tomatillos have a lot of water in them, so once that was rendered out, they reduced to small pieces. I also sauteed the onion with the tomatillo, then the poblanos before adding any of the liquid. I’ve changed the recipe to that effect. I also didn’t strain the soup. I think the little bit of texture tastes just fine. I blended it well, though, so it wouldn’t have to be strained.

I can tell you I love simple soups, and this is one. You’re not likely to have all the ingredients on hand, however, but this one is certainly worth a trip to the market to buy the poblanos, the tomatillos, Asiago cheese, spinach and cilantro. Oh, yes, I’ll be making this again. Most definitely. Soon.
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Roasted Poblano-Asiago Cheese Soup

Recipe adapted from one by: Chef Matthew Dunn,
Stephan Pyles (restaurant), Dallas Servings: 6  – Makes about 7 cups

5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons butter — at room temperature
2 whole poblano chiles — roasted, peeled, seeded, chopped
1 whole onion — chopped
3/4 pound tomatillos — husked, rinsed, chopped
3 cloves garlic — chopped
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 cups milk
1 cup spinach — cleaned
4 ounces Asiago cheese — grated, or more to taste
1/2 bunch cilantro — chopped
Salt — to taste
Fresh ground pepper — to taste

1. In a mixing bowl, mix the flour and butter with a fork until the flour is totally incorporated.
2. Place the poblanos, onion, tomatillos, garlic, chicken stock, cream and milk in a pan and bring to a boil. Whisk in the flour and butter mixture and continue to whisk until lumps of flour disappear. Cook over medium heat until the mixture thickens. While stirring, add spinach, Asiago cheese and cilantro and continue to cook for 30 seconds. Transfer to a blender in batches and blend until completely smooth.
3. Strain through a medium strainer back into the heavy pan, season with salt and pepper and keep warm. Ladle the soup into warm bowls and garnish with tortilla strips and Pico de Gallo, if desired. Or sprinkle with additional chopped cilantro.

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  1. Kelly

    said on January 18th, 2011:

    I’m in love with this soup from Stephen Pyles. I’m so glad to find the recipe on your site, I can’t wait to make it!
    Thanks!

    I’m so glad! It’s not available anywhere else (the recipe disappeared from his website right after I found it) so far as I know. Let me know what you think about it. . . carolyn t

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