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Since I’m a fan of Ann Patchett, it’s no surprise that I wanted to buy her most recent book, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage. It’s a book of short stories, but not fictional ones – it’s a compilation of essays and articles she’s written over the course of her writing life. My favorite is the one in which she describes in intimate detail how she goes about writing a book. About the process, her thinking, and the the hard, hard work it entails. I loved every one of the stories. She is quite self-deprecating about the book – it likely wasn’t her idea to put it together as she never thought any of her essays were worth much. She wrote them to make a living. Each of the chapters (essays) has been updated and/or addended to, so she did have to put some spit and polish on all of them before sending this group to the publisher. She’s written essays for a very esoteric group of publications; some I’d never heard of. But I enjoyed the book from beginning to end.

Also just finished reading The Invention of Wings: A Novel by Sue Monk Kidd. What a story. Sometimes it’s a good thing to read the author’s notes before you read a book. I guess I’m glad I didn’t (in this case the notes were at the end of the book) because it was then, afterwards, that I read that one of the characters in this novel is fictional; the other two (sisters) were real. There’s a bit about the Quaker religion in this book too, which was different. This is a slavery story and about the beginnings of the abolitionist movement. Interwoven between the 2 sisters who make waves about anti-slavery is the poignant story of one particular slave and her hard, hard life. It’s heartbreaking in many respects, not just because of the violence and abuse heaped upon her. The book is almost a page-turner. Very glad I read it.

Also read The Four Seasons: A Novel of Vivaldi’s Venice by Laurel Corona. It was recommended to me by a friend, and I enjoyed it a lot. It has a rather unusual story line, all envisioned by the author from reading a tiny line of elaborate script from a journal at what remains of a foundling hospital (run mostly like a convent by Catholic nuns) in Venice. It said something like Antonio Vivaldi purchased “a bow for Maddalena Rossa.” That started the author’s novel journey. Two sisters are raised at the Ospedale della Pieta. One becomes famous for her violin skills; the other for her voice. One is married “out” and the other stays cloistered her entire life. Then you throw Vivaldi himself into the mix, as he really was paid by the Ospedale for his compositions and for teaching some of the residents to play instruments. It’s an enlightening story about Vivaldi himself (a priest, with a lot of questions about his piety). It takes place in the early 1700s. Fascinating story and I want to listen again in total to Vivaldi’s very famous work, The Four Seasons, as a result of reading this. I’ve heard it many times before, but it will have new meaning now.

Also read The Time In Between: A Novel by Maria Duenas (translated). Apparently this book has been a runaway best seller in Europe as it deals with a little known, or I should say a part of WWII that you’ve probably never read about – Spain. The heroine is a Madrid seamstress, but is seduced by a young man to go to Morocco. She knows no one and is left high and dry when the lover disappears. She finds her way, makes friends, begins sewing couturier clothing in Morocco. The Spanish Revolution intervenes and merges into WWII. She becomes a spy of sorts (in Madrid) because she is coveted as a seamstress to the Nazi wives of Madrid. It’s a page-turner and informative. Good read.

IN THE POWDER ROOM: Our guest half-bath has a little tiny table with a pile of books that I change every now and then. They’re books that might pique someone’s interest even if for a very short read. The Art of Travel, a collection of essays about traveling (it’s not a how-to), gathering a variety of stories of some historic authors and where and why they traveled; The Greatest Stories Never Told; and Sara Midda’s South of France; also Forgotten Bookmarks: A Bookseller’s Collection of Odd Things Lost Between the Pages (just the cutest book – with a miscellany of things – letters, grocery lists, notes, reminders, confessions the author discovered hidden inside the books he purchased for his used bookstore); and The Trouble with Poetry (Billy Collins).

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small engraved sterling silver tea spoons that I use to taste 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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