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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 Pasta, Salads, on July 4th, 2007.


I’d forgotten about this salad and how much I love it until last weekend when I went to Joan’s daughter’s home to greet their newly adopted infant, and Joan had made it as part of a lovely luncheon. Joan is rather “famous” for this salad – it’s one other people request too, not just me. We used to have season tickets to our local summer symphony series, and we’ve had many a picnic dinner on the lawn at the amphitheater, and every time Joan and Tom would attend I requested she make this. And she graciously gave the recipe to several people. So, thanks very much, Joan. I needed a salad for an outdoor dinner, and this just fit the bill.

Nothing about it is hard. It probably takes about 40 minutes to make it, including boiling the pasta. Be sure to not overcook the pasta. You don’t have to use penne, but that’s the way Joan makes it, and that’s the type I prefer too. You can add more sun-dried tomatoes if you wish – her recipe calls for 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup. I used 1/4. And our basil plant is proliferating, so I pruned it back for this salad. The basil is crucial in my opinion. It also will keep a few days, although it’s best the day it’s made.
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Joan’s Pasta Salad

Serving Size : 10
Serving Ideas: If this is served as a main course, it would probably serve about 6 people.

SALAD:
1 pound penne rigate — cooked al dente
1 cup cherry tomatoes — halved
1/4 to 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes — chopped
4 ounces Feta cheese — crumbled
1 cup Parmesan cheese — Fresh, grated
1/2 cup Italian parsley — chopped
1/2 cup fresh basil — chopped
1/2 cup green onion — chopped
1/2 cup pine nuts — toasted
DRESSING:
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon salt — or more to taste
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic — minced
1/4 teaspoon sugar

Make dressing and set aside. Gather salad ingredients in a large bowl and pour dressing over. May be served immediately or chilled, but bring it back to room temp.
Per Serving: 382 Calories; 20g Fat (46.5% calories from fat); 13g Protein; 39g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 16mg Cholesterol; 529mg Sodium.

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  1. Anonymous

    said on July 7th, 2007:

    Carolyn,
    I copied this into my Master Cook program from our friend Joan. It looks yummy. Do you use sun dried tomatoes in oil and dried ones that you rehydrate?
    Your MC Pal …..Linda
    P.S. Thanks for everything!

  2. Carolyn T

    said on July 7th, 2007:

    Yes, I use sun dried in oil. You just blot some of the oil off before cutting them up. I have used dried ones, but it’s better with oil.

  3. yvette

    said on April 1st, 2012:

    I have been wanting to make this pasta salad for some time because it
    is listed under “Carolyn’s Favorites”. It belongs there ! I have never been crazy about pasta salads until this one !
    The dressing was an extra bonus on the pasta salad.

    Thanks, Yvette. My friend Joan will be happy to hear it! . . . carolyn T

  4. Jeannie Wolff

    said on September 25th, 2012:

    This salad is awesome!!! It deserves 10 stars! Thank you very much for sharing your friend’s recipe. My husband and I made this salad for dinner last night and today we’re still in awe of it. 🙂 BTW, is there something you can do with garlic so there’s not such a strong lingering aftertaste? That’s the only negative.

    Hi Jeannie – yes, there is something you can do: (1) Mix the dressing up the day before and let it sit; (2) Use a lot less garlic; (3) Cook the garlic just a little bit in a bit of oil (I’ve never done that, but it would be possible); or (4) Use garlic powder instead of fresh garlic. Try those things and see how it goes. I love it because of the maximum garlic flavor in it, but I know not everyone does. . . carolyn t

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