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Just finished a quirky book, Goodbye, Vitamin: A Novel by Rachel Khong. She’s a new writer (newly published, I guess I should say) and this story is about Ruth, a 30+ something, trying to readjust to life without her fiance, who’s dumped her. She goes back home to help with the care of her father, who has Alzheimer’s. Written in a diary style, it jumps all over about her life, her mother, the funny, poignant things her father says on good days, and the nutty stuff he does on not-so-good days, her ex-, and her very quirky friends, too. Then a woman flits through who had had an affair with her father –  you get to observe all the angst from the mom about that. Mostly it’s about her father, as he’s relatively “together” early in the book, but then he disintegrates. Reading that part isn’t fun, although the author is able to lean some humor into it. I’m not sure I recommend the book exactly – I read it through – and felt sad. It doesn’t tie up loose ends – if you want that kind of book – you may not want to read this one.

Also finished Julian Fellowes’s Belgravia. You know Julian Fellowes, the producer and writer of Downton Abbey? He lends his mind to a story about a family or two from the similar time period as Downton, who live in London. There’s some amount of intrigue, romance, observations from within the halls of wealthy Londoners and moderately well off tradesmen and their families. There’s affairs, shady business dealings, an illegitimate child, the comings and goings of the “downstairs” staff too, etc. The characters were well done – I had no trouble keeping all of the people identified. The story is somewhat predictable, but it was interesting clear up to the end.

The Letter by Kathyrn Hughes. It’s a very intricate tale. At first it’s about Tina, a battered wife [at which point I paused and wondered if I wanted to read any further, but I’m glad I did]. She tries to get the courage to leave her husband. Then enters the letter she finds in a suit pocket in the thrift shop where she volunteers. It’s old – sealed and stamped, but never mailed. Then you learn about Crissie, decades earlier, a young pregnant girl who is sent off to Ireland to a distant relative by her father, then to a rigid (meaning horrible) convent [the book takes place mostly in Manchester, England and in rural Ireland]. The letter is addressed to her. Jump forward decades and William, the adopted child Crissie gave up, tries to find his birth mother. William meets Tina in Ireland [a serendipitous moment] as she’s trying to find the woman to whom the letter is addressed. This book is the #2 best seller on Amazon at the moment. It’s a riveting tale and I really enjoyed it.

The Muralist: A Novel by Shapiro. It tells the story of a young woman, an artist, who was part of the U.S.’s WPA mural project from the 1930s-40s (she is fiction, the WPA is not). As with so many artists, even today, they live in abject poverty through much of their lives. This woman, though, had family in France, desperately trying to escape before Hitler’s henchmen rousted them into concentration camps. The story, a bit of a mystery but not of the mystery-genre, is about Alizée Benoit, this young painter, who slightly captivates Eleanor Roosevelt’s help. It also skips into current time when the painter’s great-niece uncovers paintings she believes were painted by her aunt. The painter had disappeared into thin air in 1940, and her relative tries desperately to find out what happened to her. It’s a really good story including such Abstract Expressionist painters as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner well-woven into the narrative. It keeps you guessing right up to the end. A good read. The author also wrote The Art Forger: A Novel a few years ago.

Also recently read News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a free-lance job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her family was killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of an old (wild) west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many. Just read this one first!

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 easy, Salads, on July 26th, 2010.

Did you ever taste something – way back in your youth – and you never knew how to make it? And you’ve still not found out? Even though you’re a foodie? And you cook a lot? And you read a lot of cookbooks? And you know how to do internet searches? And you’ve still not found the recipe? That’s what this post is all about.

The neighbor who made marinated tomatoes and let me taste just a tiny bite, served them to me when I was in my 20’s. She would not share the recipe. She said it was her family’s secret recipe. Darn. My palate wasn’t as fine-tuned as it is now – sometimes I can dissect what’s in a dish if I really think about it. I close my eyes and allow the taste to roll around in my mouth. But sometimes flavors are very elusive. Like salty flavors – it could be salt itself, or it could be Vietnamese fish sauce in small quantities. I don’t suppose I could tell the difference, actually.

In any event, I’ve never been able to find a recipe that satisfies me – enough that I’d think it was the recipe. But this one comes close. I thought I’d try it as-is first, without making many changes to it, then if it worked, I’d try it again adding shallots. I do remember there were shallots in the marinade. At the time I don’t think I knew what shallots were, but I could tell they weren’t garlic, and they weren’t onions, either. Years later I had an ah-ha moment when I discovered shallots in a gourmet market and they were frightfully expensive. (And, no, I didn’t buy any.)

The marinade also contained oil and vinegar, I think. Maybe some lemon juice. And pepper and salt. But that’s all I could determine. At the time I’d never even heard of marinating tomatoes. Why, I thought? And yet when I tasted them they had a lovely piquant taste. Puckery almost. Yet the tomato flavor shone through. Especially with the summer tomatoes in full swing. I can even describe to you what kind of a dish this neighbor served them in. I was that tuned into wanting to have more of them. She’d put them in a 10×14 Pyrex dish, with each tomato perfectly flat in a single layer. Each slice was from a tomato about the same size. She didn’t even use the smaller ends. And there actually wasn’t any parsley on it. Well, TMI, I know . . .

So over the course of my life I’ve always honed in on any recipe that called itself a marinated tomato. Or if I saw a salad recipe using sliced tomatoes with anything on it. I’ve tried recipes up the gazoo over the years. Of course, I’ve had ample summers since my 20’s to test different methods too. Even though this may not be the recipe, it’s a great recipe. An easy recipe, that’s for sure. Colorful too. Makes an attractive plate to serve to guests. On a hot, summer night.

Now, this marinade is a lot about Italian parsley, as you can see from the photo at the top. A lot of parsley. Maybe too much. But the dressing is interesting. Well, I need to explain about the recipe – it appeared in our local newspaper, eons ago. There is/was a column each week along the lines of  “You Asked for It,” where readers submitted recipes to queries from other readers. Old time recipes they’d lost in a move. Recipes from grandmother’s time for pickles, perhaps. Or a restaurant recipe given out once upon a time. Anyway, this one must have made the rounds here in Orange County because two people had heard of it – the person who asked (for a recipe for “Mrs.. Nylander’s Marinated Tomatoes”) and the person who answered. Who in the heck Mrs.. Nylander was, I have no clue. I looked up on the internet for the recipe and Mrs. Nylander and found nothing. Although I did see that there was a Mrs. Nylander who served at an Assistant Secretary of Commerce, or something like that. Maybe she was from tomato country and it was her contribution to help sell tomatoes! Maybe one of you, my readers, know about this person? If so, please let me know. I’d be curious to find out.

I did make one change to the recipe – the original calls for tarragon wine vinegar (usually that’s a white vinegar, I think). And the recipe calls for “prepared mustard.” Well, I don’t even own hotdog mustard, so it would have to be Dijon. But I DID have some tarragon mustard (good stuff, imported from France, and it’s not like I use it very often!!!). So, I did change the recipe to include the tarragon mustard and upped the red wine vinegar. Regular wine vinegar. Do use good tasting tomatoes (I used heirloom and some vine-ripened ones). Since I did this post, I’ve made these tomatoes several times. The most recent time I used parsley and fresh mint (that’s the picture you see just above this – I used small vine-ripened hydroponic tomatoes. Great combination. So, you see, you can vary the herbs you put in it.

So how was it? Fantastic. I loved, loved this dish. And it was incredibly easy. Looked so pretty. I don’t think I’d marinate them for all that long, though – maybe an hour. But I think my search is over – I need look no further for marinated tomatoes! Whoopee!

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Mrs. Nylander’s Marinated Tomatoes

Recipe By: Adapted from an ancient newspaper clipping, The Orange County Register
Serving Size: 10
NOTES: If you want the best flavor, use heirloom tomatoes. To remove the skin, you can dip tomatoes into just simmering water for about 20-30 seconds. Remove, and the skin should come off easily. Alternately, if you have a swivel, serrated edged peeler, it will peel raw tomatoes quite well. If you don’t have tarragon mustard, add some fresh tarragon to the dressing mixture and use Dijon mustard instead. The original recipe called for red tarragon vinegar and regular red wine vinegar (equal quantities).

8 whole tomatoes — firm, peeled
1/2 cup parsley — chopped
2 whole cloves garlic — crushed, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
4 teaspoons tarragon mustard — or Dijon plus fresh tarragon minced

1. Cut tomato into 1/2 inch slices and place them in a rimmed, shallow serving plate. Sprinkle the chopped parsley all over the tomatoes (evenly as possible).
2. In a measuring cup combine the oil, vinegar, mustard, garlic, salt, sugar and pepper. Stir well to combine, then pour evenly all over the tomatoes. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 1-2 hours. Allow tomatoes to sit out at room temp for at least 20 minutes before serving. Do save the dressing (drain it through a mesh sieve to remove the wilted parsley and tomato seeds) as it tastes great on any kind of greens or other vegetables.
Per Serving: 124 Calories; 11g Fat (77.4% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 6g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 356mg Sodium.

Three years ago: Brunch Grantinee Eggs

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  1. Bob Smith

    said on July 26th, 2010:

    I will definitely have to try this. I too have such an experience with marinated tomatoes in my youth. A family friend married Suzi a French lady, before returning to the US after WWII. Suzi would make the tomatoes and they were heaven. I try to replicate it often in the summer. The taste is never exactly right, but what does after all these years. Sometimes the dish had chopped hardboiled eggs…but not always.

    Have you asked Suzi how she makes them? Or is it the same thing – no, it’s a family secret? I like the idea of the hard boiled eggs. I’ll try to remember that! Well, I’m tickled with this new recipe and will be making them again during the tomato season. . . carolyn t

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