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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 Veggies/sides, on April 18th, 2011.

green_beans_balsamic_dill

It wasn’t all that long ago that we were eating in a nice, fairly upscale restaurant, and our waiter, a nice young man, was reciting his litany of specials. And he rattled off the sea bass preparation and said it was accompanied by “hair-a-cots verts.” I know I said “what?” He said “hair-a-cots verts. You know, little green beans.” So, being part of the foodie police, or maybe more like a closet teacher, I explained that it’s a French phrase, and it’s pronounced “hair-eh-co vehr.” He asked me to repeat it so he’d get it right. I was amazed that nobody in the restaurant hierarchy had told him how to pronounce it!

Our Costco sells  a lovely bag of haricots verts for a quite reasonable price, and I buy them every few weeks because I enjoy them so much. My go-to recipe for them is garlic green beans. I must make those about every 3-4 weeks for sure. We were having our friends Bud & Cherrie over for dinner, and ever since she had them at my house, she’s been making them regularly too, so I needed to find something new. I turned to my newest cookbook, the The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century, Amanda Hesser’s newly published 881-page book. I must write up a separate post just about this cookbook, as it’s SO interesting. I’ve left it sitting out on my kitchen counter and have been putting yellow stickies in it every day or two when I scan an interesting recipe.

Anyway, everything for this side dish can be done ahead of time. You can even dress the salad a couple of hours ahead and leave it out at room temp for awhile. That’s the kind of side dish I like when I entertain! I made the balsamic vinaigrette, then simmered the beans in a huge pot of boiling water, plunged them into ice water to cool them off (and keep the color), then minced the red bell pepper, dill and green onions. Just before serving I tossed some of the dressing on the beans – just enough to give them a light slick – and mounded them on a white platter, then garnished them with the red pepper, dill and green onions. It was delicious. Easy. Do put this on a white or light colored platter. Ever so pretty.

printer-friendly PDF

Haricot Verts with Balsamic Vinaigrette

Recipe By: Adapted from The Essential New York Times Cookbook by Amanda Hesser
Serving Size: 4

BALSAMIC VINAIGRETTE:
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3/8 cup extra virgin olive oil about 15 grinds of freshly ground black pepper
HARICOT VERTS:
1/2 pound haricot verts — or regular sized green beans
1/4 cup green onions — minced
2 tablespoons red bell pepper — finely minced
1 tablespoon fresh dill — minced
lettuce greens of your choice to serve under the beans, if desired

1. VINAIGRETTE: In a glass jar dissolve the salt in the two vinegars. Add mustard, pepper and olive oil. With lid on, shake vigorously until the mixture is thick and smooth. Yield: about 1/2 cup. This will keep for several days in the refrigerator. You need about 3 T. for the above salad.
2. BEANS: Steam the beans for 3-4 minutes (don’t over cook them) until they are just barely tender. Drain and pour beans into a large bowl of cold iced water. Stir until beans are cold, then drain and set aside in a colander until most of the liquid has evaporated. Remove the stem ends only of the beans.
3. In a bowl place the beans and add the vinaigrette, then toss. Taste for seasoning.
4. Place beans onto a serving platter and sprinkle the top with the red bell pepper, green onions and fresh dill. Serve, or cover and keep at room temp for an hour or two at the most. Per Serving: 184 Calories; 20g Fat (96.8% calories from fat); trace Protein; 1g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 417mg Sodium.

Two years ago: Pork Tenderloin with Pears and Mustard Port Sauce
Three years ago: Coffee Walnut Cookies

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