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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, Soups, on October 8th, 2010.

Really, I thought I’d posted this recipe ages ago. I’ve had it for years. Have made it a few times. It’s incredibly easy. You can make it in less than 30 minutes. Which is probably why it was one of Rachel Ray’s recipes, although I got it at a cooking class some years ago. It was credited to Rachel, but I could not find this recipe anywhere online, so perhaps the cooking instructor had changed it a bit. Or perhaps it’s in one of Rachel’s cookbooks and not available online.

What’s a stoup, you ask? Something in between stew and soup. A thicker soup than a traditional soup. But not quite as thick as a stew. And I think Rachel Ray coined the word stoup. What makes this one thicker is the addition of 8 ounces of cream cheese. It could be made with ground turkey, I suppose (I use ground beef). And you can use any kind of pasta, really. I used egg noodles this time just because they were the handiest to reach in my pantry. You could use elbow macaroni, or penne, or bowtie pasta. It would be best to use some kind of short pasta – not long noodle type. Just keep that in mind.

First you cook up the ground meat, add garlic, then stock, Italian seasonings, then you add canned kidney beans (or any kind of beans would do – it’s just that the dark kidneys look good against the creamy backdrop of the soup) and canned, chopped tomatoes. Lastly you add in the pasta and cook just until al dente and add the cream cheese. It melts quickly enough if you stir it gently. Serve and sprinkle with fresh basil. Done. Now, wasn’t that easy? It’s all made in one pot. Great for a fall cool evening, I think. It’s almost soup weather around here.

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Beef with Cheesy Macaroni Stoup

Serving Size: 8

12 ounces extra lean ground beef
2 whole garlic clove — minced
2 1/2 cups beef stock
1 1/2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1 cup macaroni — like penne, bowtie, short egg noodles or elbow
16 ounces tomatoes, low sodium — canned, chopped
16 ounces kidney beans — canned, drained
8 ounces cream cheese
2 tablespoons fresh basil — for garnish

1. In a large saucepan cook the ground beef over medium heat until it loses all of its pink color. Add minced garlic toward the end. Drain the beef in a strainer or colander, then transfer to a large plate lined with 3 layers of paper towels. Blot the beef with additional paper towels. Return beef to the saucepan.
2. Add broth and all the seasonings (except basil). Cover and bring to a boil, then stir in the pasta. Return to a boil and reduce heat. Cover and simmer until the macaroni is al dente – just barely done, about 8 minutes (depending on the type of pasta, of course). Stir in the tomatoes and kidney beans, and return to a boil. Add the cream cheese, cut up into chunks and allow to melt. Serve immediately with a garnish of thin slices of basil.
Per Serving: 456 Calories; 18g Fat (35.4% calories from fat); 26g Protein; 48g Carbohydrate; 15g Dietary Fiber; 60mg Cholesterol; 796mg Sodium.

A year ago: Gingerbread Cupcakes with Lemon Frosting
Three years ago: Drop Biscuits

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