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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 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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