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Just finished reading How It All Began: A Novelby Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant (she arrived after the birth, actually). Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the father is a wealthy man in the area who carries a lot of clout. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

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 middle-aged 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, and wealthy) 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.


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 easy, Fish, on February 19th, 2010.

salmon salad

A couple of nights ago when I made this, I’d been working on our income taxes all day long. I mean all – day – long. We needed to eat dinner in a big fat hurry because it was Ash Wednesday and we were singing in the choir at services that night, with a 6:20 call time. Whew. At 5:10 I entered the kitchen.  Five minutes were used up finding a recipe. I started prep at 5:15 and I had dinner ON the table by 5:35 and we were out the door at 5:55. So, does that tell you that this recipe is FAST and EASY?

salmon salad cut The second part is that the taste was sensational. I mean, absolutely fabulous. I think I’m going to create a new category here on my blog for EASY. Not that I have all that many recipes that would qualify, since normally I don’t mind spending time chopping, dicing, mixing, etc. The marinade came from a Steven Raichlen recipe. He’s the barbecue king, multi-cookbook author and has his own TV series, Primal Grill which will show again sometime this year. This recipe, though, came from Food and Wine, in June of ‘07. Other than the marinade, I altered all the rest of the recipe. I had no time to make a vegetable, or a carb, but I did have the makings of a salad. His recipe called for grilling the steaks. I didn’t have time to heat the barbecue. His recipe called for marinating the salmon. Oops, no time for that either except for the 5 minutes or so I took gathering and chopping all the salad ingredients. But I thought, what the heck, at least the marinade will provide some flavor. And indeed it did!

So if you’d like to grill the dish Raichlen’s way, just click over to the Food and Wine version. In the headnotes to the recipe Steven said each year he works on “one embarrassingly simple recipe, but incredibly versatile.” This was the one from ‘07. It will become a regular on my menu. AND, it would be a great company meal. Really! I had some beautiful Norwegian wild salmon (from that same home delivery meat company). And oh yes, indeed, the salmon was so flavorful. Meaty. And the sauce, although it’s a marinade, I added in at the end of cooking and it became a drizzle on the salad too. Serve the salmon with a non-tannic Pinot Noir, if you’re serving wine. If you work at it, you might be able to beat my time of start-to-finish dinner on the table in less than 20 minutes. That even beats Rachel Ray’s timing!
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Arugula Salad with Salmon Steaks and Soy-Maple Glaze

Recipe By: Adapted from a Steven Raichlen recipe, Food & Wine, 6/07
Serving Size: 4
NOTES: Use your own choice of salad ingredients. No arugula? Use all Romaine. Just don’t use a real soft butter lettuce type or the hot salmon will wilt it to nothing. Add just enough salad dressing so the salad is barely slick – you’ll pour the marinade over the top as well.

1/4 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons maple syrup
3 tablespoons Asian sesame oil
24 ounces salmon steaks — 4 steaks – 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch thick
One 2-inch piece of fresh ginger—peeled — thinly sliced and smashed
2 whole garlic cloves — peeled, smashed
4 cups arugula
2 cups Romaine lettuce — chopped
1/2 cup fennel — very thinly sliced
2/3 cup sugar snap peas — trimmed, sliced
1/4 cup vinaigrette
16 whole cherry tomatoes — halved
2 whole scallions — thinly sliced

1. In a large, shallow dish, whisk the soy sauce with the maple syrup and sesame oil. Add the salmon steaks and turn to coat. Press the ginger and garlic onto both sides of the steaks. If time permits, cover and refrigerate for 2 hours, turning the salmon a few times.
2. Prepare the salad ingredients (and dressing) and set aside. Chop and set aside the garnishes.
3. Heat to medium-high a nonstick skillet (large enough to hold all 4 salmon steaks) and add a light coating of olive oil. Remove the salmon from the marinade (reserving the marinade) and saute them to sear both sides, about 2 minutes total. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and cook the salmon until just barely done to your liking (about 3-5 minutes depending on thickness). Add the reserved marinade, cover and simmer for one minute.
3. Lightly dress the salad with your choice of vinaigrette dressing, pour out onto serving plates and place the salmon on top of the salad. Garnish with tomatoes and green onions and serve.
Per Serving: 446 Calories; 24g Fat (49.1% calories from fat); 37g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 88mg Cholesterol; 1166mg Sodium.

A year ago:  Chocolate Sponge Roll (decadent chocolate and whipped cream)
Two years ago: Almond Bar Cookies

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  1. Linda Taylor

    said on January 11th, 2011:

    I made the Arugula Salad with Salmon Steaks and Soy-Maple Glaze last weekend for my family. It is a WINNER!! Easy & fabulous. I also made the marinated tomatoes as a side dish. Smashing. Linda

    Am SO glad you liked both of those, Linda. I agree, they’re both winners…carolyn t

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