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Since I’m a fan of Ann Patchett, it’s no surprise that I wanted to buy her most recent book, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage. It’s a book of short stories, but not fictional ones – it’s a compilation of essays and articles she’s written over the course of her writing life. My favorite is the one in which she describes in intimate detail how she goes about writing a book. About the process, her thinking, and the the hard, hard work it entails. I loved every one of the stories. She is quite self-deprecating about the book – it likely wasn’t her idea to put it together as she never thought any of her essays were worth much. She wrote them to make a living. Each of the chapters (essays) has been updated and/or addended to, so she did have to put some spit and polish on all of them before sending this group to the publisher. She’s written essays for a very esoteric group of publications; some I’d never heard of. But I enjoyed the book from beginning to end.

Also just finished reading The Invention of Wings: A Novel by Sue Monk Kidd. What a story. Sometimes it’s a good thing to read the author’s notes before you read a book. I guess I’m glad I didn’t (in this case the notes were at the end of the book) because it was then, afterwards, that I read that one of the characters in this novel is fictional; the other two (sisters) were real. There’s a bit about the Quaker religion in this book too, which was different. This is a slavery story and about the beginnings of the abolitionist movement. Interwoven between the 2 sisters who make waves about anti-slavery is the poignant story of one particular slave and her hard, hard life. It’s heartbreaking in many respects, not just because of the violence and abuse heaped upon her. The book is almost a page-turner. Very glad I read it.

Also read The Four Seasons: A Novel of Vivaldi’s Venice by Laurel Corona. It was recommended to me by a friend, and I enjoyed it a lot. It has a rather unusual story line, all envisioned by the author from reading a tiny line of elaborate script from a journal at what remains of a foundling hospital (run mostly like a convent by Catholic nuns) in Venice. It said something like Antonio Vivaldi purchased “a bow for Maddalena Rossa.” That started the author’s novel journey. Two sisters are raised at the Ospedale della Pieta. One becomes famous for her violin skills; the other for her voice. One is married “out” and the other stays cloistered her entire life. Then you throw Vivaldi himself into the mix, as he really was paid by the Ospedale for his compositions and for teaching some of the residents to play instruments. It’s an enlightening story about Vivaldi himself (a priest, with a lot of questions about his piety). It takes place in the early 1700s. Fascinating story and I want to listen again in total to Vivaldi’s very famous work, The Four Seasons, as a result of reading this. I’ve heard it many times before, but it will have new meaning now.

Also read The Time In Between: A Novel by Maria Duenas (translated). Apparently this book has been a runaway best seller in Europe as it deals with a little known, or I should say a part of WWII that you’ve probably never read about – Spain. The heroine is a Madrid seamstress, but is seduced by a young man to go to Morocco. She knows no one and is left high and dry when the lover disappears. She finds her way, makes friends, begins sewing couturier clothing in Morocco. The Spanish Revolution intervenes and merges into WWII. She becomes a spy of sorts (in Madrid) because she is coveted as a seamstress to the Nazi wives of Madrid. It’s a page-turner and informative. Good read.

IN THE POWDER ROOM: Our guest half-bath has a little tiny table with a pile of books that I change every now and then. They’re books that might pique someone’s interest even if for a very short read. The Art of Travel, a collection of essays about traveling (it’s not a how-to), gathering a variety of stories of some historic authors and where and why they traveled; The Greatest Stories Never Told; and Sara Midda’s South of France; also Forgotten Bookmarks: A Bookseller’s Collection of Odd Things Lost Between the Pages (just the cutest book – with a miscellany of things – letters, grocery lists, notes, reminders, confessions the author discovered hidden inside the books he purchased for his used bookstore); and The Trouble with Poetry (Billy Collins).

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small engraved sterling silver tea spoons that I use to taste as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Salads, Vegetarian, Veggies/sides, on December 9th, 2011.

wild_rice_salad

This salad was one of several at our Thanksgiving buffet dinner. Everyone liked it, as far as I know. I thought it was wonderful. It could be the main dish of a vegetarian meal. The next day several of us dipped into the leftovers and enjoyed it all over again. The watercress, however, isn’t all that nice the next day if it’s left in the salad.

The dressing is easy – apple cider vinegar, honey, oil and salt and pepper. You do need to prepare a few fresh veggies – carrots, tomatoes, green onions, and add some dried cranberries, toasted pine nuts and toasted pumpkin seeds too. The wild rice does have to be cooked (using some vegetable stock, not just water) of course. Some of the dressing is tossed with the rice and allowed to sit for an hour before you finish prepping the entire salad for serving.

The recipe is another one from the Mitsitam Café. I told you about this a few days ago when I posted the recipe for Cedar-Planked, Fire Roasted Salmon. The recipe is also in the Museum’s cookbook, The Mitsitam Cafe Cookbook: Recipes from the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. Worth making.

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Wild Rice Salad with Watercress

Recipe By: From Mitsitam Cafe Cookbook (Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian)
Serving Size: 8

VINAIGRETTE:
6 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup honey
3/4 cup canola oil
Salt and pepper to taste
SALAD:
6 cups vegetable stock
1 1/2 cups wild rice
1 whole carrot — cut in matchsticks
3 tablespoons dried cranberries
1 whole plum tomato — diced
5 whole green onions — diced
1/2 cup pine nuts — toasted
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, roasted
3 bunches watercress

1. Combine vinaigrette, cover and refrigerate for one hour (dressing will keep for 10 days).
2. Combine wild rice and vegetable stock in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer for 45-50 minutes, or until cooked through. Drain and spread the rice out onto a large baking sheet to dry.
3. Scrape rice into a large bowl, add carrots, cranberries, tomato, green onions and nuts. Add about 1/2 cup vinaigrette, toss together and refrigerate for an hour. Place watercress on individual plates and top with wild rice mixture. If you have leftovers, remove all of the watercress as it turns icky if it’s kept past the first serving. Alternately you can place the salad in a large bowl and toss it all together and either serve it buffet style or place the tossed salad on individual plates.
Per Serving (assumes you consume all the dressing, which you don’t): 511 Calories; 28g Fat (48.5% calories from fat); 12g Protein; 56g Carbohydrate; 6g Dietary Fiber; 2mg Cholesterol; 1233mg Sodium.

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