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Just finished reading How It All Began: A Novelby Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant (she arrived after the birth, actually). Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the father is a wealthy man in the area who carries a lot of clout. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

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 middle-aged 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, and wealthy) 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.

 

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 Salads, on February 25th, 2011.

belgian_endive_orange_salad

At the dinner party we did recently I wanted to serve something other than a green salad. Even though they’re good and generally reliable, I wanted to do something different. This certainly fits that requirement.

The recipe comes from an old Gourmet issue (from 2006). It’s available online if you want to go there. I bought the multi-colored Belgian endives (at Trader Joe’s), 2 greens and 1 red in each package of 3. Navel oranges are in season at the moment, and they’re so juicy and sweet. And then there’s the vinaigrette. The headnotes to this recipe said:

It’s impossible to overstate just how well the ingredients come together in this beautiful salad. The textural contrast of juicy ripe orange and crisp endives is enhanced by a surprisingly complex vinaigrette containing sweet, spicy and smoky flavors.

chipotle_canIt was that information that made me clip out the recipe 5 years ago. I’d just never gotten around to making it. And it definitely is the dressing that makes this salad. The sweet comes from the orange juice and maple syrup, the spicy and smoky both from the chipotle chile in adobo. You won’t use all the dressing (at least I didn’t – I have about a third leftover). The dressing does have a few other additions (sherry vinegar, red onion, lemon juice) and it’s just full of flavor.  I served this with a pork roast, so the fruit addition to the salad blended well with the meat. I think pork marries well with fruity sides. We had leftovers, and unfortunately this salad doesn’t keep very well – the Belgian endive leaves begin to wilt. So make just as much as you think you’ll eat. I served it on a large, flat platter – so you could see all the fruit and colorful endive.

chipotle goop_540I’ve talked about chipotle chiles in adobo sauce before on my blog. They’re jalapeno chiles that have been smoked and cooked in a sauce. I hope you can find it at your market – they’re usually in small, 8-ounce cans (see photo above of one of the many brands available). One of the cooking classes I went to years ago provided a really helpful hint about this stuff – once you open the can, mash up the ingredients in a bowl. Do be extra careful touching it – it’s spicy hot – don’t get it in a cut or abrasion – ouch! Spread it out flat (about 1/8 inch thick or so) on a piece of aluminum foil (see photo  – that is the frozen goop resting on a piece of aluminum foil), cover with plastic wrap and seal in foil, then freeze in a Ziploc plastic bag. When you need some of it, pull it out and chop off a little chunk of it – use a sharp, heavy knife to cut it. Then return the rest to the freezer for another time. The chunk I have in my freezer has been there for nearly a year and it’s just fine. If you’ve never had chipotle chile, you’re in for a treat. Just beware – use it in moderation until you know what your heat-comfort level is. Generally I reduce the amount of chipotle in things until I know how hot it’s going to be. You can always add more, right?

One of the best parts of this recipe is that I made up everything ahead of time – the separated endive leaves in a bag, the orange slices in another, and the dressing in another. Took but a minute to put the finished salad on the platter and dress it.

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Orange and Endive Salad with Maple Chipotle Vinaigrette

Recipe By: From Gourmet magazine, March 2006
Serving Size: 5
NOTES: The smoky vinaigrette (the smoky part comes from the chipotle chile in adobo) is what makes this salad. You probably won’t use all the dressing.

1/4 cup fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons maple syrup — dark type if possible
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon red onion — chopped
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon chopped canned chipotle chile in adobo plus 1 teaspoon adobo sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 whole navel oranges
4 large Belgian endive — ends trimmed

1. Whisk together orange juice, syrup, oil, vinegar, onion, lemon juice, chipotle with adobo sauce, and salt in a bowl until combined well.
2. Remove peel and any white pith from oranges with a sharp knife. Cut oranges crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Separate endive leaves and arrange with oranges on a platter, then drizzle with vinaigrette.
Per Serving (assumes you use all the dressing): 126 Calories; 6g Fat (37.2% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 215mg Sodium.

A year ago: Broccoli Casserole
Two years ago: Slow-Cooker Tamale Pie
Three years ago: Warm Bean Brie Dip

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