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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 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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