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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 Breads, on February 18th, 2010.

irish soda bread

Is there some salivating going on looking at that photo of Irish Soda Bread? Should be. Especially if you were here on my end of the camera and you could smell the fresh-out-of-the-oven aroma of this bread. There surely are lots of ISB recipes out there. I even have one here on my blog. But it wasn’t as good as this one –  THIS recipe from Ina Garten. And it’s not all that different (it is made with buttermilk just like the other one) except that it contains some grated orange zest and a bit more butter. Orange zest is non-traditional, but Ina was kind of cute and cheeky when I watched her make this a week or so ago on her show when she said she likes orange zest, and so what if it’s non-traditional. It tastes good, and that’s all that’s necessary to make the addition! You can see a little bit of the orange in the bread if you look closely.

It’s very easy to make. Really it is. Almost no handling at all. Ina recommended mixing it up in a stand mixer, although surely it could be done by hand, even. Once all the ingredients are added the wet dough is rolled out onto a floured board and you literally knead it about 4-5 times adding a bit more flour if needed (mine didn’t except to keep it from sticking to the countertop), shape it into a round (I did an oblong kind of shape – this isn’t an exact thing) and into a 375 oven it goes for 45-55 minutes. I took it out at 45 and it was plum-perfect! Not only did we eat it with our ham dinner, but we had some with an elegant cheese course which was served afterwards.

Ina mentioned how fabulous this bread is as morning toast. We did have one small end leftover from our Sunday dinner and we had it for breakfast. Oh my yes. Loved it.
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Irish Soda Bread with Grated Orange Zest

Recipe By: Ina Garten
Serving Size: 12

4 cups all-purpose flour — plus extra for currants
4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter — (1/2 stick) cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 3/4 cups buttermilk — cold, shaken
1 whole extra large egg — lightly beaten
1 teaspoon orange zest — grated
1 cup dried currants

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
2. Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the butter and mix on low speed until the butter is mixed into the flour.
3. With a fork, lightly beat the buttermilk, egg, and orange zest together in a measuring cup. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture. Combine the currants with 1 tablespoon of flour and mix into the dough. It will be very wet.
4. Dump the dough onto a well-floured board and knead it a few times into a round loaf. Place the loaf on the prepared sheet pan and lightly cut an X into the top of the bread with a serrated knife. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. When you tap the loaf, it will have a hollow sound.
5. Cool on a baking rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Per Serving: 257 Calories; 5g Fat (17.6% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 47g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 32mg Cholesterol; 386mg Sodium.

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  1. Melynda

    said on February 18th, 2010:

    This looks so good, it must be soda bread week. Yours was the second one I have seen in 2 days. I have currents, I really want to make this!

  2. Darice T

    said on March 22nd, 2013:

    I like to make French Toast with Irish Soda Bread. I add cinnamon, fresh nutmeg, and rum extract to the egg. Very good!

    Gosh, that sounds wonderful! Our soda bread is gone already, but I’ll try to remember that the next time I make some. Thanks. . . carolyn t

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