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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, 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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