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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 Appetizers, on May 21st, 2008.

About eight years or so ago I tasted homemade hummus for the first time. Served to me by a friend who is Armenian (she’s a Parisian – not Persian, but Paris-ian, but she’s Armenian, and she lets you know you’d better not forget it!). My taste buds hit nirvana. I’d had nothing but ready made previously, and didn’t realize how incredibly easy it was to make. Or how delicious it could possibly be. Not long after that I attended a cooking class and the instructor demonstrated this method. Oh my gosh. It was so gosh-darned delicious!

The appetizer is not all that difficult, but it does have a moderate amount of work involved. I wish I could tell you there wasn’t. But, you can do most of it ahead – even the day before if you’re pushed for time. Because it has so much work involved, I tend not to make this when I’m doing a company meal with several courses. But, I’ll tell you, nobody has ever come away from the platter without oohs and aahs. Guaranteed.

Here’s what’s involved. One, you make the hummus in the food processor with canned garbanzos, garlic and tahini (sesame seed paste). Two, you slice up the eggplant and sauté it in batches in olive oil. Three, you concoct a simple balsamic vinaigrette which gets tossed with the eggplant once it’s chopped up. Mound the hummus on a lovely platter, then mound the eggplant on top of that and garnish with a bunch of chopped cilantro (or Italian parsley) and toasted pine nuts. That’s it. I serve it with toasted pita chips. The eggplant takes on a very rich mahogany color and when you serve this on a big platter with the eggplant on top, it’s very colorful. You don’t use all of the dressing, so the nutritional information is misleading.

This recipe is one of my all-time favorites and will be so marked on my recipe page (click Recipes in my right sidebar). We had a friend over for dinner last night and she helped with the preparation of this dish (thanks again for your help, Kathleen!).
printer-friendly PDF

Layered Hummus and Eggplant Appetizer

Recipe By: Judy Bart Kancigor, http://cookingjewish.com
Serving Size: 10

HUMMUS LAYER:
2 large garlic cloves
1 teaspoon salt
15 ounces garbanzo beans, canned, save liquid
1/2 cup tahini
1/2 cup water — or juice from garbanzos
1/4 cup vegetable oil
4 tablespoons lemon juice — or to taste
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
EGGPLANT:
1 1/4 pounds eggplant, whole — purple type, no bruises
1/4 cup olive oil
DRESSING:
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt — or to taste
1/4 teaspoon black pepper — or to taste
GARNISH:
1/2 bunch fresh cilantro — chopped
1/4 cup pine nuts — toasted

1. HUMMUS: Turn on processor and drop in garlic cloves, and process until minced. Add salt and allow to sit while you collect the ingredients down through ground cumin. Add those items to the processor and blend until smooth. Add a bit of water if mixture is too thick. This makes about 2 cups of hummus.
2. EGGPLANT: Slice the eggplant in 1/3 inch thick slices, or slightly thicker. Heat just enough oil in the bottom of a large skillet and fry over medium-high heat, in batches, on both sides until the eggplant is cooked, brown and slightly crisp, approximately 5 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels, then coarsely chop. Place in bowl.
3. DRESSING: Meanwhile, combine in a lidded jar the balsamic vinegar, oil, sugar, salt and pepper and shake until combined. An hour before serving, pour about 2 T. of the dressing over the eggplant and stir. Set aside.
4. Toast the pine nuts in a hot skillet until barely brown. Set aside. Chop cilantro a few minutes before serving.
5. To serve: spread the hummus on a large, flat serving platter. Spoon the eggplant over the top, leaving hummus layer visible around the edges. Sprinkle with cilantro (or Italian parsley, if preferred) and toasted pine nuts. Serve with torn or cut pita for scooping.
Per Serving (not accurate because you don’t use all the dressing): 351 Calories; 30g Fat (75.2% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 17g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 463mg Sodium.

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  1. Connie

    said on September 27th, 2013:

    I doubled this for a social gathering and it turned out great. I did not have any tahini, but I added a couple cups of fresh basil, an extra can of garbanzo beans (drained) and a cup of walnuts, minced. I found that the humus was too runny to support the eggplant so I had to beef it up. Perhaps using less garbanzo juice would have been better.
    In addition to the eggplant, I also added a half cup of onions (remember, I doubled it) and some fresh tomatoes, all sautéed.
    This was a great way to use all the japanese eggplant, basil and tomato form my garden.

    I improvise like that all the time – am glad it was successful for you. . . carolyn t

  2. Carol Distabile

    said on December 2nd, 2015:

    While on safari hummus was served as an appetizer. I tried to locate this recipe under vegetable dips but was unsuccessful. Perhaps I should try the hummus and eggplant instead.

    I haven’t updated my recipe index for several weeks. I did post it – go to this link:
    http://tastingspoons.com/archives/12766

    Carolyn

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