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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 Soups, on May 22nd, 2008.

Chilled Cucumber Soup, with just the hint of thickness to it. You can garnish it with fresh dill if you have it, or do as I have, sprinkle the top with some toasted sliced almonds (good for the crunch).

It’s been years – eons even – that I’ve been making cold cucumber soup. And I always thought my recipe was just the greatest. Well . . . until I tasted my friend Jackie’s soup recently. It was a lovely bridal shower at her home, and this cold cucumber soup was served as a first course. It was absolutely wonderful. Smooth. Extra smooth, with a different texture than mine has. Jackie graciously shared the recipe with me (thank you, Jackie!), and come to find out this is a COOKED soup (mine is a raw soup only, although it also has buttermilk added). And this one has the addition of Cream of Wheat (just a little bit) to thicken it very slightly. You have no idea it’s there, but that’s what the elusive texture was.

You cook up some green onions with butter, then add chicken broth, vinegar and dill weed (fresh), also some Cream of Wheat and finally the chopped-up cucumbers. The soup is smoothed twice in the blender and sour cream is added at the end. Then you garnish it with a bit more dill weed. I did make it with full-fat sour cream. Next time I might try it with low-fat just to see how it tasted. A lovely soup. Try it. Highly recommended.
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Cream of Cucumber Soup

Recipe: From my friend, Jackie P.
Serving Size: 8

1/2 cup green onions — minced
3 tablespoons butter
6 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon dill weed
1 1/2 pounds cucumbers — peeled, seeded, chopped fine
4 tablespoons Cream of Wheat — (farina)
salt and pepper — to taste
2 cups sour cream
2 tablespoons dill weed — for garnish

1. In a large saucepan melt butter over medium heat and add green onions. Sauté for 3-4 minutes. Add chicken broth, vinegar and dill weed. Bring to a boil, add the Cream of Wheat and the chopped cucumbers. Simmer, partially covered, for 20-25 minutes.
2. In batches, blend soup mixture in a blender (hold lid and don’t overfill or the heat will blow off the top). Add salt and pepper to taste. Allow to cool completely, then refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.
3. Blend soup again with the addition of sour cream. This can be done up to an hour before serving. Whisk soup just before serving. Serve cold sprinkled with dill weed on top.
Per Serving: 225 Calories; 18g Fat (69.5% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 11g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 37mg Cholesterol; 652mg Sodium.

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  1. Alanna @ A Veggie Venture

    said on May 23rd, 2008:

    Of all the vegetable soups I’ve made, cream of cucumber I’ve yet to try. I love the idea of the farina as a thickener plus — oh whoa — all the sour cream. Delicious, delicious!

  2. Carolyn

    said on May 24th, 2008:

    It was (is) delicious. I still have some in the refrigerator and it’s kept just fine for 5 days. It has a very VERY smooth texture, which I like a lot. My previous soup was very chunky, crunchy with the raw cucumbers (although grated). This soup is so much better.

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