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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 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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