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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 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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