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Currently Reading

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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 Pasta, Vegetarian, on January 22nd, 2010.

tomato sauce and butter

If you’d told me even a few days ago that I’d make a tomato sauce (without meat) for pasta and I’d be head over heels, I’d have laughed. I’m from that school-of-thought that says for any tomato or vegetable-based sauce to taste good, it’s got to have some meat in it somewhere. I’m definitely a carnivore. But something about the write-up at the Smitten Kitchen blog made me rethink my position. The original recipe is from one of Marcella Hazan’s cookbooks, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking (one I don’t own).

So, I actually made this a couple of days ago when we were in the midst of our rainstorms. I was inside the house, my DH was struggling outside for hours on end and I knew he’d be starving hungry for heavier fare than we usually eat for lunch.

Besides, I’d just read the blog post about this sauce. I had some canned San Marzano tomatoes in the pantry. I had butter. I had a yellow onion. And I had some Dreamfield’s pasta (the kind that’s a lower-glycemic carb). That’s all you need for this. The onion is peeled and halved, the large can of tomatoes and the onion are added to the pan, brought to a boil along with the 5 T. of butter and it simmers. The onion gets tossed out once it’s cooked (seems a shame, but it’s done its duty and out it goes). I happened to use San Marzano chopped tomatoes, but probably any kind of whole or chopped tomatoes would work here. The butter – well, obviously – that’s what gives it the supple smoothness.

I cooked up the pasta and spooned a glob of this sauce on top and sprinkled it with some freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and this was a mighty-fine meal. We really don’t eat pasta very much (not that we don’t love it, it just doesn’t love us), but oh my goodness, this may have to become a regular on some one of our menus. My DH loved it – really loved it. He asked questions about how I’d made it, so I knew he enjoyed it a lot.
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Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onions

Recipe By: Adapted from Marcela Hazan’s Essentials of Classic
Italian Cooking (read on Smitten Kitchen’s blog)
Serving Size: 4

28 ounces canned tomatoes — (San Marzano, if possible)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 whole onion — peeled and halved
Salt to taste
8 ounces spaghetti — cooked
1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated
1. Put the tomatoes, onion and butter in a heavy saucepan (it fit just right in a 3-quart) over medium heat. Bring the sauce to a simmer then lower the heat to keep the sauce at a slow, steady simmer for about 45 minutes, or until droplets of fat float free of the tomatoes. Stir occasionally, crushing the tomatoes against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon. Remove from heat, discard the onion, add salt and pepper to taste (adding salt might not be necessary) and keep warm while you prepare your pasta.
2. Serve with spaghetti, with or without grated parmesan cheese to pass.
NOTES: For me, the addition of grated Parmigiano was essential. Some might prefer it without. I used 2 ounces of pasta per person and divided the sauce equally. It was just enough to coat the pasta to my taste.
Per Serving: 386 Calories; 16g Fat (35.8% calories from fat); 10g Protein; 53g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 39mg Cholesterol; 302mg Sodium.
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A year ago: Pork Loin Roast with Apricot Glaze

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