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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 aging 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, wealthy women) 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.

I’ve written up an entire blog post about this book. (It hasn’t been posted yet, but will soon.) It may be one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a memoir by Pat Conroy (an author I’ve long admired). He died a year or so ago – sad, that. In order to get the most out of My Reading Life, I recommend you BUY THE HARDBACK. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s an autobiography of sorts, but not really. He never wrote one, I don’t think, and I doubt he would ever have written one as he likely didn’t believe anyone would want to read about his (sad) life. In this memoir, he chronicles the books (and the people who recommended them) that influenced his life. Starting at his mother’s knees and continuing through influential teachers and mentors and friends. One of my book clubs read it, and I devoured it, cover to cover, with little plastic flags inserted all the way through to re-read some of the prose. Pat Conroy was a fabulous writer – he studied words from a young age and used them widely and wisely throughout his writing, but better than most authors would. He adored his mother, and hated (with venom) his aviator military father who physically abused everyone in the family, including his mother. They all took it like stoic Buddhas. I’m going to have to read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel because of reading this book. I’ve never read it. Conroy says that book’s first page is the best first page of any book he ever read in his life. Wow. And maybe my book group is going to re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Vintage Classics) too because of the chapter on that book. We might have to assign that to a 2-month or longer read. If you have friends or family who are avid readers, this would make a great gift, this book, My Reading Life. If YOU are a reader, it needs to be on your bookshelf, but in hardback, so you can go back to it and re-read his stories. It’s a series of essays, each one about a sub-section of his life. A must-have and a must-read.

Also read The Towers of Tuscany by Carol Cram. It was a bargain book through amazon or bookbub (e-book). Back in the Middle Ages women were forbidden to be artists. Their only place was in the home, caring for children and sewing and cooking. But the heroine in this book was taught to paint by her widowed artist-father (in secret, of course). When her father suddenly dies, all hell breaks loose and she must fend for herself. Much of the book takes place in Siena (and also San Gimignano) as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.


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 Salads, on August 19th, 2008.

watermelon and tomato salad with Feta, mint, red onion, in vinaigrette

It was last summer that one of my cooking magazines arrived with a cover  photo of a watermelon and tomato salad. At the time my face must have squeezed up funny-like, thinking yuk, why would anyone combine the sweet of watermelon and the savory pucker of a tomato. Well, I stand corrected. Big time. It’s a match made in heaven, especially if you have ripe tomatoes. Flavorful full-of-summer tomatoes and ripe, sweet watermelon. And likely  you’ve encountered this salad if you’ve eaten in any leading edge or avante-garde restaurants. Dave ordered it recently at one restaurant. I tasted it and agreed it was sensational.

A couple of months ago my friend Kathleen served us a watermelon and Feta salad, which I liked ever so much. It was simply dressed with Feta and mint. I’ve made it a couple of times this summer and enjoyed it hugely. So I guess you could say that I’ve discovered the culinary big deal about watermelon. I can’t eat a whole lot of watermelon – because of the high water content, it fills me up so, so fast. So I never serve it as a dessert because generally I’m too full for that much additional fluid in my already sated stomach. But as a side dish with a meal, it’s fine.

Therefore, when I purchased the September, 2008 issue of Saveur (a magazine to which I do not subscribe), with a photo of watermelon on the cover, I thought ah-ha, maybe there will be some other variations on the watermelon and tomato theme. Sure enough there were. The issue contained a few other watermelon concoctions: Watermelon, Feta and (Kalamata) Olive Salad, Russian Pickled Watermelon, a Watermelon Curry (believe it or not, an Indian hot dish served with rice) and a Watermelon Pudding (a Sicilian specialty). I’ve earmarked the pudding to try (very low calorie). And it did contain a salad of watermelon and tomato chunks, with red onion and a vinaigrette dressing. That intrigued me. I did alter the recipe some, so it’s more of a Carolyn recipe, but still this recipe was the inspiration.

The salad is incredibly easy. You shave up the red onion slices and marinate them in champagne vinegar and sugar (Splenda) with a little cayenne added. That wants to sit for about 30 minutes to lessen the bite of the onion. Meanwhile, you cut up the watermelon and tomatoes, the mint and Feta (not in the Saveur recipe,  but I added it because I like the watermelon-Feta combination). Once you toss everything together, then you add a splash of basil oil (my substitution) or olive oil, along with some cracked black pepper. The original recipe called for salt, but I didn’t think it was necessary. The Saveur recipe also suggested basil (although I had some in my garden, I decided to use some infused homemade basil oil my friend Lucy gave me last summer). But if you’d prefer the olive oil, add fresh basil to the salad as well. I just used a whole lot more mint, because I like the combination of mint and watermelon.

watermelon_feta_mint_saladThe onions retain their crunch (a great texture in the salad since the watermelon and tomatoes are soft), but they lose their bite with the vinegar soak, and the vinaigrette just adds a great smoothness to the entire dish. I l-o-v-e-d this salad. The joy of it is that you could easily substitute your own twist – you don’t like mint? Add tarragon. Don’t like Feta? Eliminate it. Or add ricotta salata, which might be more appropriate anyway. Just maintain the tomatoes and the watermelon, and create from there. The salad is edible the next day, but it’s lost a lot of its zing, so ideally make just enough to eat at that first meal.
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Watermelon & Tomato Salad

Recipe: Inspired by a recipe in Saveur, Sept. ’08 issue
Servings: 8

6 cups watermelon — sliced, cut in 1-inch cubes
3 cups tomatoes — sliced in bite-sized pieces
1/4 cup Feta cheese — crumbled
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar — or white wine vinegar
1 ½ tablespoons sugar — or Splenda
2 pinches cayenne
1/4 whole red onion — thinly sliced
2 tablespoons basil oil — or extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup fresh mint — minced

1. Combine in a small bowl the white wine vinegar and cayenne, then add the sliced red onions. Toss lightly so all the onions are combined with the vinegar. Allow to sit for 30 minutes (to soften the sharp onion taste).
2. Meanwhile, cut up all the watermelon and tomatoes. Combine in a large bowl.
3. Add the crumbled Feta cheese and the onions (with any vinegar that’s still remaining in the bowl. Sprinkle with the fresh mint, then drizzle on the basil oil (or olive oil) over the top. Toss well to combine. Serve within about 30 minutes, or refrigerate no longer than an hour.
Per Serving (even less if you substitute Splenda for the sugar): 110 Calories; 5g Fat (39.4% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 16g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 4mg Cholesterol; 64mg Sodium.

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