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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 Soups, Vegetarian, on December 11th, 2011.

farm_house_veggie_soup

There are a couple of secret ingredients in this soup that help to make this soup an over-the-top version. First – a tiny little glug of soy sauce. Second – a little amount of dried porcini mushrooms  that are ground up to a powder. Who’d think those two things could make such a difference?

When I made this about a week ago, I was recovering from a cold, and some good, hot vegetable soup sounded so restorative to me. And I had about a quart of turkey stock in the refrigerator, leftover from Thanksgiving. It needed to be used, or else frozen. Then I read my most recent issue of Cook’s Illustrated (the Nov/Dec 2011 issue) and there was a long article about vegetable soups. I read it from beginning to end. In it, the author labored long and hard over how to enhance a vegetable soup. He added this and that. He discarded a number of sample batches. But he finally determined that adding in a hint of soy sauce just gave the soup that umami taste we’re all looking for. And the same with the porcini mushroom powder. I’ll have to remember that idea because you could easily add some of that to almost any soup.

So, for this big batch of soup that serves at least 6-8 for a dinner meal, you add just two teaspoons of soy sauce and also 2 teaspoons of porcini mushroom powder (you make this yourself in your spice grinder). That’s not much – but I assure you, it makes a difference. The recipe also has you make a little compound butter (butter, lemon zest, fresh thyme and a tiny bit of lemon juice) which you can spoon onto the top of the soup when it’s served. The butter is hard to see it in my photo at top – it’s just to left and slightly below the center of the soup bowl. And to tell you the honest truth, I couldn’t taste the butter, but there’s only 2 T. of butter used to sweat the veggies at the beginning – that’s it. A very low fat soup! I also added some shiitake mushrooms to this soup. Those weren’t in the original recipe, but I had them on hand and they needed to be used up. Other than that one thing, the recipe below is made exactly to the Cook’s Illustrated one. The soup has a lot of carbs in it – potatoes, turnips, carrots, barley (I used farro because that’s what I had on hand) and peas.

What I liked: doesn’t it always end up being about the taste? It does for me. As I write this, we enjoyed this soup just last night but this won’t post until next week sometime. But I can’t wait to have it again. Fortunately there’s a lot of it. I may freeze one bag and eat the other one sooner rather than later. I may add some green veggies to it next time (like some sugar snaps, maybe green beans just at the end). I like a veggie-laden soup and this one is more carb-laden. Serve this with some bread, or maybe a toasted cheese sandwich. Delish.

What I didn’t like:  well . . .when I make it again I’ll reduce the amount of soy sauce by just a little bit. I could taste it. It wasn’t bad, but I didn’t think I should be able to taste it! A great soup, though and worth making. It does take some time doing all the sous-chef thing with chopping, peeling, etc. Be prepared to spend at least an hour overseeing the cooking of it. If you have a kitchen helper, enlist the help to peel and chop!

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Farmhouse Vegetable Soup

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Cook’s Illustrated, Nov./Dec. 2011
Serving Size: 6-8

1/8 ounce dried mushroom — porcini type
8 sprigs Italian parsley — 3 T. of it chopped, remainder whole
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 whole bay leaf
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 pounds leeks — green parts removed, sliced lengthwise, coarsely chopped
2 whole carrots — peeled, cut in 1/2 inch coins
2 whole celery ribs — cut into 1/4 inch cubes
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 teaspoons soy sauce
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
6 cups water
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth — [I used turkey broth] or vegetable broth
1/2 cup pearl barley — [I used farro]
1 clove garlic — peeled and smashed
1 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potato — peeled, cut into 1/2 inch pieces (or smaller)
1 whole turnip — peeled, cut into 3/4 inch pieces
1 1/2 cups cabbage — chopped
1 cup frozen peas
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 cup shiitake mushrooms — sliced [my addition – not in the original recipe]
LEMON-THYME BUTTER:
6 tablespoons unsalted butter — softened
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
3/4 teaspoon lemon zest — freshly grated
1/4 teaspoon lemon juice
1 pinch salt

1. Grind porcini mushroom pieces in a spice grinder until they resemble fine meal, 10-30 seconds. Measure out 2 teaspoons of the powder and reserve remainder for another use. Using kitchen twine, tie together the parsley sprigs, thyme and bay leaf.
2. Melt butter in large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add leeks, carrots, celery, wine, soy sauce and 2 teaspoons salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid has evaporated and celery is softened, about 10 minutes.
3. Add water, broth, barley, porcini powder, herb bundle and garlic. Increase heat to high and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, for 25 minutes.
4. Add potatoes, turnip and cabbage; return to simmer and cook until barley, potatoes, turnip and cabbage are tender, about 18-20 minutes.
5. Remove pot from heat and remove herb bundle. Stir in pease, fresh lemon juice and chopped parsley; season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve, passing Lemon-Thyme Butter separately.
6. LEMON-THYME BUTTER: Combine all ingredients in a bowl.
Per Serving: 408 Calories; 14g Fat (28.0% calories from fat); 16g Protein; 65g Carbohydrate; 11g Dietary Fiber; 31mg Cholesterol; 230mg Sodium.

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