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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 Salads, on May 12th, 2008.


Goat cheese is one of those comforting foods that always hits the spot with me. I like it anytime as an appetizer, either plain with crackers, or with a topping of chutney or some fruit thing. And one of my favorite things to order in restaurants is any green salad with coins of chèvre. My all-time favorite use of chèvre is when the goat cheese coins have been covered in some chopped nuts and warmed before being put on a salad. I have a goat cheese cookbook; although I must sheepishly admit I’ve never made anything in it.

So anytime I see goat cheese or chèvre anywhere, I usually look more closely at said recipe or menu. This time it was in Food and Wine magazine, May of 2006. More sheepish looks here, but I just got around to reading it. I took a trip to France in May of ’06 and there were a bunch of my magazines that didn’t get read for about 2 months before and at least several months after. My DH had major surgery just a month later, so I lost many months of recipe clipping. I’ve been making a diligent effort lately to get a few stacks of magazines read and tossed out.

When I was planning a large dinner party for this last week, I knew I wanted to make salmon, so worked on rounding out the menu. This clipping spoke to me more than others. And the recipe itself is really quite different. In the explanation about it the article described the dressing as similar to ranch, but goat cheese instead. I wouldn’t have described it anywhere close to ranch except in color and opaqueness. It’s much thicker than ranch dressing and has a totally different taste and texture.

The room temp cheese is mixed by hand with some garlic, salt, white wine vinegar, a splash of water even, then some olive oil and walnut oil. Oh yes, and some fresh, chopped thyme. The salad is composed of light lettuces (they called for Belgian endive, frisee and arugula). Visiting 3 local grocery chains produced no frisée, except a few sprigs in a lettuce combo package. So I used arugula, both regular and red Belgian endive plus the combo lettuces. The salad is also dressed with some sliced apple and toasted walnuts.

I liked it a lot, actually. Our guests didn’t take much per serving, so we had leftovers, and they tasted pretty good the 2nd day (normally I toss out salads that have been dressed since I don’t like soggy salad) but for whatever reason, this didn’t soggify much. (You like that new word, soggify?)

Maybe you’ll have better luck finding frisee, but if not, just use whatever light lettuces you can find.
printer-friendly PDF

Greens with Chèvre Dressing

Recipe By: Food & Wine, May 2006
Serving Size: 4

3/4 cup walnuts — halved
1 small garlic clove — smashed
Kosher salt to taste
3 ounces soft goat cheese — chèvre, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon walnut oil
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves — chopped
Freshly ground pepper
2 heads Belgian endive — cored and leaves halved lengthwise
1 head frisée — torn into bite-size pieces
1 cup arugula — baby arugula if possible
1 whole Granny Smith apple — cored and thinly sliced

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the walnuts in a pie plate and bake for 8 minutes, or until toasted. Transfer to a plate and cool.
2. Meanwhile, on a work surface, sprinkle the garlic with a pinch of salt and mash to a paste with the side of a large, heavy knife. Transfer the garlic paste to a bowl and whisk in the goat cheese, then the vinegar and water. Add the olive and walnut oils, thyme and pepper and whisk until blended.
3. In a large bowl, toss the endive, frisée, arugula and apple slices with the walnuts and some of the dressing. Taste the salad and add more dressing or salt and pepper if needed. Serve at once. If you have leftovers, bring it to room temp before using it – it becomes very firm when chilled and impossible to toss in a salad.
Per Serving (the nutrition info assumes you use all of the dressing, which you may not): 290 Calories; 25g Fat (72.7% calories from fat); 11g Protein; 10g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 10mg Cholesterol; 104mg Sodium.

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