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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 Veggies/sides, on November 22nd, 2011.


A great side dish – with warm, comforting flavors from ground cumin and cayenne. Do serve it with a nice piece of grilled meat – even Tandoori chicken, which is what I used.

This dish I made a couple of months ago – before we went on our trip in late September. I served it alongside some Tandoori chicken. This stuff was really good – if you look closely at the photo above, you can see just one little piece of the caramelized onion – just about in the center, dark brown. Those onions are  what “make” this dish. You don’t want to prepare the dish without the onions – you’ll be clamoring for more onions – in fact when I make this again, I’ll probably make more onion, just because it’s that delicious.


There you can see the onions all by themselves. Really brown and scrumptious. Use a good, sturdy pan when you make them as they’ll burn easily otherwise.

The recipe came from Aarti Sequiera, of the Food Network. I followed her recipe exactly. Do give yourself ample time – this takes longer to prepare than you might think (she estimated 1 1/2 hours). Make a big batch, freeze the leftovers with the caramelized onions separated in a different plastic baggie inside the main one with the rice and lentils. Add the pine nuts as a garnish. And remember that lentils are really good for you. Use brown basmati rice if you have it. She served this as a meatless entrée, along with an eggplant salad, which I’ll also post soon.

What I liked: the overall flavor – a great backdrop for some delicious spicy grilled meat – chicken? fish? Even beef or pork. I was so glad I had leftovers as they made a side dish for another meal several days later. Next time I’d double it and freeze the leftovers in a couple of different packages.

What I didn’t like: nothing at all. Delish.

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Lebanese Lentils, Rice and Caramelized Onions (Mujadara)

Recipe By: Aarti Sequiera, Food Network, 2011
Serving Size: 6
NOTES: Be sure to look over the lentils to make sure there aren’t any stones or debris in them. My advice: make more onions than the recipe calls for – you’ll love them. And maybe even double the recipe and freeze the leftovers in smaller packages, with the caramelized onions in a separate small baggie inside. Don’t freeze the pine nuts inside the leftovers, unless you freeze them in yet another baggie.

1 cup lentils — not lentils du Puy, sorted for debris and rinsed
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns — cracked in mortar and pestle
3 medium red onions — thinly sliced
Kosher salt
3/4 cup basmati rice
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cinnamon stick — (1-inch)
2 tablespoons pine nuts — optional
1 squeeze fresh lemon juice
Greek yogurt — for serving, optional

1. Throw the lentils into a medium saucepan. Fill with enough cold water to cover the lentils by about an inch. Bring it to a boil over medium-high heat, then turn down to a simmer and cook until the lentils are tender but not mushy, about 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.
2. Meanwhile, as the lentils cook, grab a large skillet. Pop it over medium-high heat and add the oil. Allow the oil to warm for a minute, then drop in the cumin seeds and cracked peppercorns and cook, shaking the pan once in a while until the cumin seeds darken a touch, about 1 minute.
3. Add the onions, sprinkle with a dash of salt and cook until they turn dark caramel brown, stirring often. This will take about 15 minutes. Splash the onions with a little water if they stick to the bottom of the pan. You’ll know they’re done both by their deep chestnut color and by the slight crispiness developing on some of the onions.
4. Using a slotted spoon or spatula, remove about half of the onions to a paper towel-lined plate; these are for garnish later. Sprinkle in the ground cumin, cayenne and then add the cinnamon stick; saute about 1 minute.
5. Add the rice and cook, stirring often (but gently so you don’t break the rice!) until some rice grains start to brown. Quickly, add the cooked lentils, 3 cups of water and 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt; bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to low so that the pan is at a simmer, cover and cook 30 minutes. The water should be completely evaporated and rice should be tender. (If there’s still too much water in the bottom, put the lid back on and cook for another 5 minutes.)
6. Turn off the heat, keep the lid on, and allow the rice to steam undisturbed for about 5 minutes.
7. Meanwhile, toast the pine nuts, if using, in a small skillet over medium-low heat, shaking often, about 5 minutes.
8. Taste the rice for seasoning. Serve with the reserved caramelized onions, toasted pine nuts, if using, and a little squeeze of lemon juice. I also like to serve this with some dollops of Greek yogurt.
Per Serving: 411 Calories; 21g Fat (43.4% calories from fat); 13g Protein; 47g Carbohydrate; 13g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 23mg Sodium.

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  1. Joanne

    said on November 22nd, 2011:

    Carolyn, we have this as a main course and serve it with fattoush…a favorite meal of my kids! Larry grew up with this as his Friday night meal…the Syrian Orthodox did not eat meat on Fridays and this was a staple. His family’s version is a bit different, we cook the lentils for 20 minutes before adding the rice and then mix it with the caramelized onions (lots) at the end. No other spices but salt. My recipe comes from the church’s cookbook. we will have to try Aarti’s recipe and compare.

    Hi Joanne – I was thinking about you this morning, wondering how you and the family are doing. Thanks for the info about the mujadara – I just loved it, and thought the caramelized onions just put it over the top. Are you celebrating Thanksgiving this week? Do I remember you baking a turkey a few years back for some French friends who knew nothing about what an American Thanksgiving is all about? Hope things are going well for you. . . carolyn t

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