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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 Brunch, on September 1st, 2011.

corn_bacon_cheddar_strata

Oh my goodness. I can’t wait to tell you about this brunch dish. It was SO good. Rockin’ with lots of flavor – from the bacon and the corn (fresh off the cob). Well, and the sharp cheddar too. I have a whole bunch of recipes to share with all of you, but you’re just going to have to wait until I can write up the recipes for each and every one of them, process all the photos, and write the stories.

I’ve had this recipe in my to-try file for awhile – it’s one from Diane Phillips (whose nickname is the “Diva of Do-Ahead”). Her claim to fame is, as her nickname implies, make-ahead dishes for every kind of celebration meal. Our recent multiple-family-birthday brunch was the perfect occasion. Corn is in season still. Bacon makes everything good. And I had a hunk of good Tillamook sharp cheddar. And eggs, and milk and sourdough bread, and butter, and green onions, dry mustard and hot sauce. Because of schedules, we needed to eat a fairly early brunch (10:30) so I really needed to make something ahead. Bingo! strata_cut

Sourdough bread was sliced about 1/2 inch thick, corn and green onions were sautéed lightly, bacon was cooked, crisped and crumbled, eggs and milk were combined with the salt, dry mustard and hot sauce, and the hunk of cheese was grated. I did change one little thing in the recipe – I spooned all the corn in the middle rather than half of it on top. I found all the corn mixed in with the milk/egg mixture a bit hard to handle. So there at left you can see the cut casserole . . . there are two layers of bread, two layers of cheese and the milk/egg mixture poured twice. An the corn in the middle. I covered it in plastic wrap and it chilled overnight. An hour out at room temperature was all it needed, before going into a 350 oven for 45 minutes. We let it sit for about 10 minutes before serving.

I noticed that the top bread pieces were a bit crispy – I thought, “oh, no,” but I needn’t have worried – everybody loved the crispy toasty bread parts, me included. Be sure to use a large 9×13 pan as it will fill it nearly to the top. Not the custardy part – just the bread and cheese part. You can also make these in individual  (large) ramekins if you want, everything is made the same, but just bake for 15-20 minutes instead of the 30-40 minutes for the big pan. Actually I baked it for 45 minutes to get the top just golden brown. The interior of the strata isn’t solid in custard – know that – it just barely holds everything together. I think all the egg and milk mixture was pretty-much soaked up in the lower layer of bread.

What I liked: well, everybody except the 10 year old loved it, but he’s a finicky eater anyway. The 4-year old loved it, the 13-year old loved it and all the adults loved it. The textures were so good – the cheddar was perfect. The fresh, sweet corn was, well, fresh and sweet. I bought applewood bacon, which was delish. Loved it all.

What I didn’t like: maybe I’d cut down a bit on the amount of corn – no one could quite contain the volume of corn on their plates and it wasn’t set up in custard, so it spread out. Tasted fine, but I think I could reduce the amount by about 1/3. Otherwise, I’d make it as the recipe suggests!

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Corn, Bacon and Cheddar Strata

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Diane Phillip’s book, Happy Holidays (she’s the Diva of Do-Ahead).
Serving Size: 10
Serving Ideas: I served this with a big green salad, fresh fruit, and some grilled pineapple.
NOTES: This can also be made in individual ramekins – prepare as noted, but bake for about 15-20 minutes only, or until golden brown on top.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 cups fresh corn kernels — cut from the cob
4 whole green onions — chopped, including some of the green
8 large eggs
2 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dry mustard
About 6 shakes of Tabasco, or 1/2 to 1 tsp sriracha sauce
1 pound white bread — loaf, cut in 1/2 inch slices
4 tablespoons butter — to spread on the bread
12 ounces bacon — cooked and chopped
3 cups cheddar cheese — white, sharp, shredded

1. Coat the inside of a 9×13 ceramic dish with butter or cooking spray.
2. In a large saute pan, heat the 2 T. butter and saute corn and green onions for 2-3 minutes. Set aside.
3. In another large bowl (one that pours would be good!) whisk up the eggs, then add the milk, salt and dry mustard. Add hot sauce and combine. Stir in the corn and set aside.
4. Arrange a layer of sliced bread in the pan, wedging in smaller pieces to completely cover the bottom. Melt the remaining butter and brush on the bread. Sprinkle with half the bacon and half the cheese. Pour half of the egg/milk/corn mixture on top. (You can spoon all the corn into this middle layer if desired, but don’t pour on all the egg mixture.)
5. Arrange the remaining bread on top, brush with the remaining melted butter and pour the remaining egg mixture on top, pouring it all over the top of the bread. Press the bread down so all the surfaces of the bread have soaked into the egg/milk mixture. Sprinkle on the remaining bacon and cheese. Cover and chill for at least 8 hours. At this point you may refrigerate it for up to 4 days.
6. When ready to bake, remove casserole from refrigerator and allow to sit out for 45 minutes. Preheat oven to 350. Bake casserole uncovered for 30-40 minutes, or until it is puffed and golden.
7. To freeze: if you prefer, you can go ahead and bake the casserole, but just for 23 minutes, cool to room temp, cover well, freeze for up to a month. When ready to serve, defrost in the refrigerator, covered, then bake for 15-20 minutes at 350, until warmed through. May be served warm or at room temperature.
Per Serving: 650 Calories; 43g Fat (58.8% calories from fat); 31g Protein; 36g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 260mg Cholesterol; 1341mg Sodium.

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  1. Mary at Deep South Dish

    said on September 1st, 2011:

    Gracious that sounds fantastic Carolyn!!! Thank you so much for coming back by to comment on the Mississippi Comeback Sauce. I can’t wait to see your analysis of the difference between it and ketchup/mayo/pepper sauce – not that there is anything wrong with the other of course. I’ve added your site to my reader but let me know when you post!

    I will let you know when I post it, Mary. We’re leaving on a trip later this month, and it won’t post (probably) until after we return from that trip. So, it’ll be awhile. Thanks for letting me write it up . . carolyn t

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