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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 Soups, on August 7th, 2008.

chilled zucchini soup with a dollop of sour cream

Last week was my week to entertain two of my friends for Scrabble, and we had agreed from the beginning that we’d each eat lunch at home first. No pressure on the hostess except for some cookies and tea. After all, we’re getting together to play Scrabble, not to eat. But I was still sipping on a small glass of my new favorite cucumber soup (my third batch in a month) when the ladies arrived. I had plenty, so I gave both Gloria and Irene a small glass too. Gloria mentioned that it was similar to her favorite chilled zucchini soup. I promptly asked for the recipe, and the next day I had it in my hands. It is similar to the cucumber soup I make, but yet it’s different too. It’s a combo of zucchini and green onions, but this one is thickened with cornstarch, and has some curry powder to give it a little zip. And, you add a shot or two of some sweet white wine (Sauterne, if you have it) to it. So, it is different from the other one. I couldn’t wait to make it.

The recipe is very straight forward – you sauté the onions in butter, add garlic, the sliced zucchini, some chicken broth, seasonings, then whiz it up in the blender. Then you add cold milk mixed with the cornstarch, bring it up to a boil, cool, add the Sauterne, and chill. I had some good Wolfgang Puck’s chicken broth, so added that instead of using canned granules, but then I also added a little spoon of chicken bouillon concentrate. I buy it from Penzey’s, and think it’s better than any others I’ve ever used. Really good chicken flavor.

I added a goodly jolt of curry powder to it – I’d purchased a new one, and it was much hotter than I’d anticipated. So I stirred in some sour cream to the finished soup, to bring down the heat a little bit. Otherwise, I made no alterations to the soup. My DH adored it – he had two bowls of it, and he really enjoyed the heat (curry) in it. Just be gentle unless you know how hot your curry powder really is. Next time I might serve it with a little sprinkling of fresh chopped mint on top. Zucchini and mint go together well. Thyme and zucchini go together well, too, if that sounds more interesting.
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Chilled Zucchini Soup

Recipe: From my friend, Gloria D.
Servings: 8

1/3 cup butter
1 cup green onions — diced, using all the tops too
1 clove garlic — minced
3 cups zucchini — sliced, about three
1 cup chicken broth — or water
2 teaspoons chicken bouillon granules
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon curry powder — or more to taste
4 cups milk
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 cup sauterne wine — or other white wine

1. In a large saucepan melt butter. Add onion and cook about 5 minutes. Add garlic during the last minute. Add zucchini slices and continue cooking for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until zucchini is fairly soft. Add broth, bouillon cubes and all seasonings. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Place batches of the soup in a blender and blend until smooth, about 30 seconds.
2. Return soup to saucepan. Stir cornstarch into the milk and dissolve thoroughly, then add to soup. Cook until it comes to a boil, remove from heat, add wine, cool to room temperature, then chill.
Per Serving: 173 Calories; 12g Fat (63.2% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 10g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 37mg Cholesterol; 463mg Sodium.

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  1. margaret miland

    said on August 11th, 2013:

    Tried this recipe with my summer squash and zucchini(one of each plant in my garden). I love yellow curry and used 2 teaspoons. It is smooth, spicy, delicious and a great way to use the crop.

    I’m so glad you liked it! That reminds me I haven’t made it yet this summer. . . .carolyn t

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