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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 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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