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Just finished a quirky book, Goodbye, Vitamin: A Novel by Rachel Khong. She’s a new writer (newly published, I guess I should say) and this story is about Ruth, a 30+ something, trying to readjust to life without her fiance, who’s dumped her. She goes back home to help with the care of her father, who has Alzheimer’s. Written in a diary style, it jumps all over about her life, her mother, the funny, poignant things her father says on good days, and the nutty stuff he does on not-so-good days, her ex-, and her very quirky friends, too. Then a woman flits through who had had an affair with her father –  you get to observe all the angst from the mom about that. Mostly it’s about her father, as he’s relatively “together” early in the book, but then he disintegrates. Reading that part isn’t fun, although the author is able to lean some humor into it. I’m not sure I recommend the book exactly – I read it through – and felt sad. It doesn’t tie up loose ends – if you want that kind of book – you may not want to read this one.

Also finished Julian Fellowes’s Belgravia. You know Julian Fellowes, the producer and writer of Downton Abbey? He lends his mind to a story about a family or two from the similar time period as Downton, who live in London. There’s some amount of intrigue, romance, observations from within the halls of wealthy Londoners and moderately well off tradesmen and their families. There’s affairs, shady business dealings, an illegitimate child, the comings and goings of the “downstairs” staff too, etc. The characters were well done – I had no trouble keeping all of the people identified. The story is somewhat predictable, but it was interesting clear up to the end.

The Letter by Kathyrn Hughes. It’s a very intricate tale. At first it’s about Tina, a battered wife [at which point I paused and wondered if I wanted to read any further, but I’m glad I did]. She tries to get the courage to leave her husband. Then enters the letter she finds in a suit pocket in the thrift shop where she volunteers. It’s old – sealed and stamped, but never mailed. Then you learn about Crissie, decades earlier, a young pregnant girl who is sent off to Ireland to a distant relative by her father, then to a rigid (meaning horrible) convent [the book takes place mostly in Manchester, England and in rural Ireland]. The letter is addressed to her. Jump forward decades and William, the adopted child Crissie gave up, tries to find his birth mother. William meets Tina in Ireland [a serendipitous moment] as she’s trying to find the woman to whom the letter is addressed. This book is the #2 best seller on Amazon at the moment. It’s a riveting tale and I really enjoyed it.

The Muralist: A Novel by Shapiro. It tells the story of a young woman, an artist, who was part of the U.S.’s WPA mural project from the 1930s-40s (she is fiction, the WPA is not). As with so many artists, even today, they live in abject poverty through much of their lives. This woman, though, had family in France, desperately trying to escape before Hitler’s henchmen rousted them into concentration camps. The story, a bit of a mystery but not of the mystery-genre, is about Alizée Benoit, this young painter, who slightly captivates Eleanor Roosevelt’s help. It also skips into current time when the painter’s great-niece uncovers paintings she believes were painted by her aunt. The painter had disappeared into thin air in 1940, and her relative tries desperately to find out what happened to her. It’s a really good story including such Abstract Expressionist painters as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner well-woven into the narrative. It keeps you guessing right up to the end. A good read. The author also wrote The Art Forger: A Novel a few years ago.

Also recently read News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a free-lance job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her family was killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of an old (wild) west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many. Just read this one first!

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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