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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 June 18th, 2011.

broth-braised-fingerlings

As usual, brown food lacks a bit of vitality in a photograph. Suffice to say these are delicious. Different, a bit. But brown. These happen to be fingerling potatoes (Trader Joe’s has this cute little bag of potatoes that are just enough for a dinner for 4). The potatoes are cut in half lengthwise, then simmered or steamed in a mixture of chicken broth, fresh garlic, a little squirt of olive oil, some thyme or rosemary and most importantly, some lemon zest. Once cooked through you can remove the potatoes and reduce-down the broth (actually my pan cooked dry and I had to add some water, so perhaps I simmered them on too-high heat). I sprinkled in some salt, but then decided it needed just a tiny bit of richness, so I added in a little pat of butter. Perfect.

The recipe came from Dorie Greenspan, in her most recent cookbook Around My French Table: More Than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours. There is nothing complicated about these potatoes – Dorie suggests the recipe works best with baby potatoes – they’re just simmered in a flavorful broth. I sprinkled on some freshly ground black pepper. You could add some minced parsley to give it some prettiness. Serve immediately if you can.

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Broth-Braised Fingerling Potatoes

Recipe By : Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan
Serving Size: 4

1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves — split and germ removed
1 strip lemon zest
1 bay leaf — [or a pinch of powdered bay leaf]
2 sprigs fresh rosemary — or 2 sprigs fresh thyme (or 2 fresh sage leaves)
salt freshly ground black pepper
1 1/4 pounds fingerling potatoes — or 12 new potatoes, cut in half (or large yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 3-inch cubes)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter — [my addition, optional]

1. Add all the ingredients except the potatoes and butter in a saucepan with a cover, seasoning the broth well with salt and pepper.
2. Bring to a boil, cover, decrease heat, and simmer for 5 minutes.
3. Add the potatoes, cover, and simmer until they can be pierced easily with the tip of a knife, about 15 minutes.
4. The time will vary with the type and size of the potatoes, so check a little before the 15 minute mark and then check frequently after it.
5. If you’d like to serve some of the cooking liquid with the potatoes, lift the potatoes from the pan with a slotted spoon; put them in a warm bowl and cover them; turn the heat up under the broth; cook the broth for a few minutes until it reduces slightly and the flavors are more concentrated. Add butter (if using it).
6. Taste for salt and pepper. Serve immediately.
Per Serving: 207 Calories; 10g Fat (41.2% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 27g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 16mg Cholesterol; 202mg Sodium.

A year ago: Mimi’s Buttermilk Spice Muffins
Two years ago: Madeira Onions
Three years ago: Pork Tenderloin with Mango Sambal
Four years ago: Pesto Pea Salad (Spinach)

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