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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 Salads, Veggies/sides, on April 19th, 2010.

This is a kind of a salad. Well, or a side dish. What do you call a pasta dish that’s served at room temperature? In any case, this was a very easy one to make and had lovely fragrances (saffron and basil). I think the clipping I have is from an ancient Gourmet article, but I’m not sure. I’ve changed it some anyway. Not a lot, but a little. And the best part is that you can make this ahead. We were entertaining the night before Easter, and I needed to take a carb for Easter dinner too. So I made a big portion and divided it in half. Just remember to add the garnishes (almonds, green onions and basil) just before serving. I had some extra fresh squeeze orange juice, so I drizzled that into the salad just before serving.
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Orzo with Dried Cherries and Almonds

Recipe By: Adapted from a recipe in Gourmet
Serving Size: 4
NOTES: If you squeeze extra orange juice, save it until just before serving and drizzle it over the pasta. It gives it a new little jolt of flavor. And if you make this as a part of a large dinner, it will serve more than 4 people.

1 cup orzo
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads — crumbled
2 teaspoons orange zest
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup dried cherries
2 tablespoons slivered almonds — toasted
2 whole green onion — sliced thin diagonally
1/2 cup fresh basil — minced

1. In a saucepan, boil the orzo in 6 cups boiling water with the saffron for 8 minutes, or until the pasta is al dente. Drain it and rinse under cold water.
2. In a bowl stir together the zest, orange juice and salt to taste, adding the oil in a stream, whisking, and whisk until it is emulsified.
3. In a bowl toss the orzo (drained well), with the dressing, the cherries and half of the green onions. Just before serving garnish with almonds and the extra scallion. Serve the orzo at room temperature.
Per Serving: 320 Calories; 13g Fat (37.1% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 44g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 7mg Sodium.

A year ago: Pork Tenderloin with Pears and Mustard and Port Wine Sauce
Two years ago: Coffee Walnut Cookies

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  1. Savvy in the Rockies

    said on July 24th, 2013:

    Just took this salad for picnic at outdoor concert at Deer Valley….22 hungry palates all agree this salad is a keeper!! Easy to make, can deal with 100++ temps, and made for even better leftovers the next day!! Will make it again- and again!

    That’s great – so glad you enjoyed it. I haven’t made it in awhile so thanks for the reminder! . . . carolyn t

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