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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 July 5th, 2010.

Oh my goodness gracious is this salad ever good. I can take absolutely NO credit for creating it. But I urge you, if you enjoy pasta (the Israeli couscous) and a few grains (baby garbanzo beans and red quinoa), along with asparagus, almonds and goat cheese, to read on. Well, this recipe will make you sing! And, it’s going onto my carefully crafted “Carolyn’s Favs,” my separate page listing all of my favorites of everything I’ve ever posted.

We were at a family gathering a couple of weeks ago where someone brought this dish. After tasting it, and taking a small spoonful of seconds to try to deconstruct it, I found out our daughter-in-law’s cousin’s husband Chris brought it. I made a beeline to him, and began asking questions. After listing off the ingredients, he told me he’d found the recipe over at blog (it’s part of the Apartment Therapy website).  When I did a search for some of the ingredients there, this recipe popped right up. Oh, happy day! It was uploaded to their site in 2008 by Faith Durand.

The basis of the salad is a mix produced by Trader Joe’s (called Harvest Grains Blend). But, if you don’t live in Trader Joe’s country, then you can easily substitute Israeli couscous and farro (spelt) and call it even. The two types would need to be cooked separately (the farro will take a lot longer than the couscous), but you’ll still get all the greatness of this salad using those instead.

The recipe online calls for using half farro/spelt and half of the Trader Joe’s grains mix. But I didn’t have any farro, and Chris’  salad I’d tasted didn’t have it, either. So, I’ve altered the recipe to use just this mixture.

But what MAKES the salad is the overtones of fresh lemon juice. It really doesn’t have all that much other stuff in it (fresh asparagus, toasted almonds, olive oil, walnut oil, salt and pepper plus the zest and juice of a couple of lemons. I happen to have Meyer lemons, but you can substitute any kind of fresh lemons. Remember, though, that Meyers are a bit sweeter, so regular lemons might require less juice. Taste it and see what you think.

This salad is a shoe-in for a summer dinner/barbecue/picnic. It can be made aheadit also keeps well. I can attest to that – as I write this, it’s 5 days now since I made it and it’s every bit as good today as it was the first. Soooo, if you’ve learned to trust my judgment, and my recipes, please do print out this one and make it right away quick. OKAY? Okay! And my thanks to Chris for sharing the recipe origin.

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Meyer Lemon Grain Salad with Asparagus, Almonds and Goat Cheese

Recipe By: Adapted from Faith Durand at blog 4/2008
Serving Size: 8
NOTES: You can use a combination of farro (spelt) and Israeli couscous, if you’d prefer. Use 8 ounces of each, cook separately, then combine when they’ve cooled.

3 1/2 cups water
16 ounces Trader Joe’s Harvest Grains Blend — or see Notes
1 pound asparagus
Olive oil to cook asparagus
1 cup sliced almonds — toasted
4 ounces soft goat cheese — chilled and crumbled
2 whole Meyer lemons — zested and juiced (or regular lemons)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon walnut oil
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Cook the Harvest Grains blend according to package directions (3 1/2 cups water to 16 ounces of the grain mixture) in a medium saucepan. Simmer 10 minutes until just barely cooked through, remove the lid and cook, stirring, until any remaining moisture evaporates.
2. Snap off the woody ends of the asparagus and cut each spear into a 2-inch piece. Rinse out the large sauté pan and dry. Heat a little olive oil over medium heat, and cook the asparagus until just barely crisp-tender – about 1-2 minutes. Add to the grains and toss.
4. Also toss in the sliced toasted almonds, goat cheese and lemon zest.
5. Mix the Meyer lemon juice with the oils, taste, and adjust. Pour over grain salad and toss, along with salt and pepper to taste.
6. This salad lasts very well in the fridge; the herbal flavors of the Meyer lemons bloom nicely when it sits. If you want it to look particularly attractive, save some of the asparagus, almonds and goat cheese to sprinkle on top when it’s served.
Per Serving: 443 Calories; 22g Fat (44.0% calories from fat); 15g Protein; 49g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 7mg Cholesterol; 60mg Sodium.

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