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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 Desserts, on December 30th, 2010.

indian_rice_pudding

Last summer, every week I watched the Next Food Network Star, and from the very first show, when there were 12 or more candidates, I thought Aarti Sequeira had what it would take to win. I rooted for her from day one. And sure enough, she won, and now she has her own Food Network show, Aarti Party. I Tivo it every time it’s on (don’t you just love the new DVRs when all you have to do is set it up once and it forever records all new shows?). And I’ve made several of her recipes too. Her cooking schtick is comfortable American food with an Indian twist. At least that’s how I see it.

Anyway, after her first few shows ( her first “season,” she’s back on with more shows. And when she made Indian-style rice pudding using basmati rice, I knew I had to try it. All I had to buy was whole milk. I thought I had some pistachio nuts, but when I was ready to add them I   found none in the freezer. So the pudding doesn’t look quite as pretty as hers. Pistachios are on my grocery list now. What makes this pudding Indian is the addition of cardamom spice, rosewater (instead of vanilla) and pistachios.

The pudding is easy enough to make – you simmer the rice in whole milk with ground cardamom for about 45 minutes or so.

Caution:

use a larger pot than you think you need as simmering milk has a tendency to balloon over the edge of a moderate sized pan.

The milk reduces down, concentrating its richness. After it’s cooked you add the sugar and some rosewater (or vanilla). I’d have added the pistachios then (some in the pudding, more for garnish) if I’d had them.

The taste? Really unctuous. Rich. Smooth. Still a little tiny bit of tooth to the rice, even after that much cooking. I definitely didn’t want to over cook the rice. I like basmati rice as a rice pudding type. It’s a long-grained rice and retains a nice crunch, I think. Will I make this again? Definitely. Maybe it’s not quite up to my very favorite rice pudding, but it’s pretty close!

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Aarti’s Indian Rice Pudding

Recipe By : Aarti Sequeira, Food Network, Dec. 2010
Serving Size: 6

1/2 cup basmati rice
6 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 cup sugar — [I used Splenda]
1 teaspoon rosewater — or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons pistachio nuts — minced unsalted, plus extra for garnish (or almonds)

1. In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, bring the rice, milk, and cardamom to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly with a heat-safe spoonula to help keep the milk from burning.
2. Reduce the heat so that the milk is gently simmering and cook for 45 to 50 minutes, stirring often. The rice should be tender and the milk will have reduced by half, giving a porridge-like consistency.
3. Add the sugar, rosewater or vanilla, and pistachios. Stir and turn off the heat. Serve either warm or chilled, garnished with extra pistachios. Goes well with fresh fruit too.
Per  Serving: 290 Calories; 10g Fat (32.0% calories from fat); 10g Protein; 40g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 33mg Cholesterol; 130mg Sodium.

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