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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 Beef, easy, on August 12th, 2011.


Am sure I’ve mentioned before that I Tivo all of Ina Garten’s new episodes. And even though it’s summertime and the weather is warm and muggy, when I watched Ina make this easy-easy Bolognese sauce, I was hooked. I went online to download the recipe and noted a few comments from others who had made it (suggesting cooking a little longer than the 10+ minutes and reducing the salt). So I added a quarter of an onion to the sauce (sautéing it first), greatly reduced the salt in the sauce, and I also added a little dollop of beef soup base (my Penzey’s favorite flavor enhancer) to the sauce also.

Using orecchiette pasta was different – usually I opt for linguine – but I’m very glad I used the orecchiette because it did exactly what Ina said – it provided little “cups” to hold sauce. The only other unusual thing in this is 1/4 cup of heavy cream. What a great idea – and wow, did it ever add a delicious richness to the sauce. She also has you add 1/4 cup of the red wine toward the end – it does simmer off the alcohol in the 10 minute cooking then – but she said it added lots of good flavor. Some sliced basil was added in at the end also. Oregano and a pinch of red chile flakes are all the herbs that flavor the dish.

My DH loved it. I mean, he nearly licked the bowl. He raved about it. And raved about it. I thought it was delicious. And I mentioned above how EASY it is. If you don’t want to, or can’t add wine, use good, flavorful beef stock instead. I’m looking forward to the leftovers, for sure.

What I liked: how easy it was to make, beginning to end about 45 minutes; liked the added flavor from the heavy cream – it’s just 4 T. of it; really liked the orecchiette pasta too – would definitely do that again. It should freeze well, too. Next time I’ll make a double batch and freeze half.

What I didn’t like: nothing at all. Would and will make it again, sooner rather than later.

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MasterCook 5+ import file

Weeknight Bolognese from Ina Garten

Recipe By: Adapted from Ina Garten, 2011
Serving Size: 5
Serving Ideas: Ina recommended orrechiette because the little cups hold some of the sauce in each bite.
NOTES: If you can’t buy San Marzano type tomatoes (there is a brand called San Marzano, but they’re not really San Marzano tomatoes), use other brands, but add in about 1/2 tsp of sugar to the sauce. I also added about 1/2 tsp. of beef concentrate (from Penzey’s) just for extra flavor. I also let it simmer for about 30 minutes – longer at least than the recipe indicated.

2 tablespoons olive oil — plus extra to cook the pasta
1/2 cup yellow onion, chopped
1 pound lean ground beef — sirloin, if possible
4 teaspoons minced garlic — (about 4 cloves)
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/4 cups dry red wine — divided
28 ounces crushed tomatoes — preferably San Marzano
2 tablespoons tomato paste
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 pound pasta — such as orecchiette or small shells
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves — lightly packed, chopped
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese — freshly grated, plus extra for serving

1. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large (12-inch) skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and saute for about 5 minutes, then add ground sirloin and cook, crumbling the meat with a wooden spoon, for 5 to 7 minutes, until the meat has lost its pink color and has started to brown. Stir in the garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes and cook for 1 more minute. Pour 1 cup of the wine into the skillet and stir to scrape up any browned bits. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper, stirring until combined. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 20 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a teaspoon of salt, a splash of oil, and the pasta, and cook according to the directions on the box.
3. While the pasta cooks, finish the sauce. Add the nutmeg, basil, cream, and the remaining 1/4 cup wine to the sauce and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes (or up to 20 if you think it needs it), stirring occasionally until thickened. When the pasta is cooked, drain and pour into a large serving bowl. Add the sauce and 1/2 cup Parmesan and toss well. Serve hot with Parmesan and more basil on top.
Per Serving: 729 Calories; 33g Fat (42.4% calories from fat); 32g Protein; 68g Carbohydrate; 6g Dietary Fiber; 91mg Cholesterol; 521mg Sodium.

Two years ago: Red Pepper and Walnut Spread, with pita bread
Four years ago: Chicken Bamako (very easy baked chicken breast and bacon dish)

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  1. jody snyder

    said on December 11th, 2014:

    Am trying this tonight. I love all things ina.

    You’ll be glad you did. I love her recipe. Don’t know why hers tastes better than many, but it’s also easy, or at least easier than some. . . carolyn t

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