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Just finished reading How It All Began: A Novelby Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant (she arrived after the birth, actually). Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the father is a wealthy man in the area who carries a lot of clout. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

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 middle-aged 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, and wealthy) 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.


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 Chicken, Pork, on July 2nd, 2011.


italian_sausage_risottoDuring a recent cooking class with Phillis Carey, she began the introduction to this dish by saying that this is one of her very favorite dishes. And that she makes it very frequently for herself and has never tired of the combination of flavors. I scribbled notes on my recipe in a hurry there – I always listen closely when Phillis tells us it’s a favorite of hers because I’ve never not liked any of her favorites. And she mentioned that yes, making risotto is a bit of a nuisance, what with all that constant stirring for 30-35 minutes. But she assured us that we’d be glad when we tasted it. And indeed we were. We heard “mmmmm” all around the classroom. My mmmm included! I nearly licked the plate. For risotto. It was so gosh-darned delicious.

It’s a traditional risotto in how it’s made – nothing different about the preparation or the stirring, or keeping the chicken stock hot. It was the combination of the sausage, the leeks, the corn. And the prettiness of the added spinach. And the red of the tomatoes. Well, just all of it.

Picnik collageI made the dish a few nights later, as I said, with the identical ingredients (except I used pork Italian sausage) and my DH and I nearly licked the plate. Don’t skimp on the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Or the butter – that’s an important addition at the end. Do use fresh, baby spinach too. If you have some fresh basil, sprinkle a bit of that on top as you serve it.

So, how’d we like it? Well, I’d had it at the cooking class, so I knew I’d enjoy it. My DH was so busy eating it he couldn’t even look up to say anything. Meaning that he loved it. We both did. It did take about 45 minutes to make, but I didn’t have to stir it every second. I was close by to stir it around every 30 seconds or so and add more broth as I chopped up the tomatoes, cut the fresh corn off the cob. I made it last week for our friends in Colorado too, and they both thought it was delicious.

What I liked: I loved it all. The texture of the arborio rice – it came out perfectly. The sausage added some great taste, but wasn’t overwhelming. The color with the spinach and tomatoes. The cheese. Oh goodness yes, it was all good. And this is now going onto my “favorites” list if that’s any indication of how delicious it is!
What I didn’t like: well, I suppose the stirring gets a little tedious, but that’s it.

printer-friendly CutePDF
MasterCook 5+ file and MasterCook 14 file

Risotto with Turkey Sausage, Corn, Leeks, Spinach and Tomatoes

Recipe By: From a cooking class with Phillis Carey, 6/2011
Serving Size: 4 (I think it will serve 5)

6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons olive oil — divided use
1/2 pound turkey Italian sausage — (or use pork Italian sausage, if preferred)
2 cloves garlic — minced
3/4 cup dry white wine — like Sauvignon Blanc (not vermouth), divided use
1 1/2 cups leeks — cleaned, chopped
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1 cup fresh corn — trimmed from the cob
6 ounces baby spinach
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated
3/4 cup plum tomatoes — seeded, diced
2 tablespoons Italian parsley — chopped
2 tablespoons fresh basil — sliced

1. Bring broth to a simmer in a medium saucepan over high heat. Lower heat and keep the broth hot.
2. Heat 1 T. oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and garlic. Cook, breaking up the sausage into small pieces. Add 1/4 cup wine to the sausage and simmer until the wine evaporates.
3. Heat remaining 2 T. oil in a 5-quart Dutch oven (Phillis suggests Le Creuset cast iron pots are the best for making risotto). Add the cleaned and dried leeks and cook for 6-8 minutes until they are softened. Add rice and cook, stirring often, until it turns white, but not brown, about 2 minutes. Add the remaining 1/2 cup wine and cook, stirring, until almost evaporated.
4. Add a cup of broth to the rice and cook, stirring constantly, lowering heat to just a simmer, until rice absorbs all the broth. Stir in another cup of broth and stir until absorbed. Continue adding broth and stirring until rice is just tender, about 20 more minutes.
5. Stir in the corn and sausage and then add the spinach by handfuls, cooking until wilted; season to taste with salt and pepper. Do not let the rice cook until it’s dry – add small amounts of broth (or water if you run out) even up until the end. Stir in the butter and Parmesan and stir until melted. Stir in tomatoes, parsley and basil and serve immediately with additional Parmesan to sprinkle on top, if desired.
Per Serving: 767 Calories; 35g Fat (39.7% calories from fat); 45g Protein; 75g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 88mg Cholesterol; 180mg Sodium.

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  1. Kathleen Heckathorn

    said on July 2nd, 2011:

    Carolyn, I made the spiced nuts recipe you posted earlier this week and took it to a barbeque today. It was easy to make, easy to transport and a real crowd pleaser. So I give it an A!

    Thanks, Kathleen. I did notice that I’d left out one ingredient – the cocoa. The recipe is fixed now, so you might want to correct the recipe – or print out a new PDF . . . carolyn t

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