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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 Salads, Vegetarian, Veggies/sides, on July 16th, 2007.


The summer of 1989, I was reading the Los Angeles Times food section, and this recipe jumped out and said “fix me, fix me.” It’s a Paul Prudhomme recipe – he had written the short article about it, and said this was a family favorite, especially for outdoor, barbecue dinners. That’s exactly what I use it for, and have done so multiple times over those ensuing years. I’ve made a few changes to it. The original called for bok choy. I use Napa Cabbage instead. And I use my own combination of beans – usually whatever I happen to have on the pantry shelf. Additionally, bacon was added on top, when served. I eliminated that because it was just fine without it. If stored for a day, the bacon gets limp and wet – not very appetizing.

It’s really quite easy to make, although it does take some assembly time, and some prepping of the vegies. But the bulk of it is canned beans – a variety of them, and you whisk up the dressing and pour over. The dressing is mostly vinegar – cider vinegar – and you’d think that with vinegar as the main ingredient, you’d have a hard time eating it. Not so. Once it sits for a while, something chemical happens when you pour acid and oil over carbs. It mellows the beans and completely eliminates the acidity of the vinegar. It just leaves a little tang and permeates the entire salad. It must be left to marinate for at least several hours, though, so don’t be tempted to eat it right away. Otherwise that chemical action doesn’t have time to occur. Although this probably is used mostly as a side kind of salad, it also can make the meal itself. It’s satisfying enough. It has some protein with all the beans, and it’s filling. It’s the dressing that makes it special. It keeps for a few days, but then the Napa cabbage begins to wilt significantly, so eat it up within 2-3 days after preparation.

And I want you to pay attention to the fat content this time – it’s almost nil. Note that there are only 2 T. of oil in the entire salad to serve 12. I highly recommend this.
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The BEST Bean Salad

Recipe: Adapted from a Paul Prudhomme recipe
Servings: 12
NOTES: This recipe is SO low in fat it hardly even registers fat grams. At first you might think there’s a misprint with the amount of vinegar, but it is correct. The beans absorb the vinegar, which lightens the bean’s heaviness. According to Paul Prudhomme, combining oils and acids make the heaviest starches disappear on your palate. If you prefer, you can add raw chopped zucchini, green bell pepper instead of the red, or a combination, and if desired, cooked, crumbled bacon bits could be added as well if you don’t mind the extra fat. Any combination of beans will work. The original recipe called for bok choy, but the first time I made the recipe the market didn’t have it so I bought Napa cabbage instead and have decided I like it better.
Serving Ideas: Could be a meal on its own. Wonderful with grilled meat.

SALAD:
16 ounces black beans — canned, drained
16 ounces white beans — canned, drained
16 ounces blackeyed peas — canned, drained
2 cups tomato — chopped
1 cup cucumber — seedless, chopped
3/4 cup Napa cabbage — sliced
3/4 cup red bell pepper — chopped
3/4 cup red onion — diced
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
DRESSING:
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
15 whole basil leaves — minced
2 tablespoons brown sugar — or brown sugar substitute
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano — crushed

1. In a large non-metal bowl, toss together the drained beans (I use low-salt beans when possible), tomatoes, cucumbers, Napa cabbage, bell peppers, onions and garlic powder.
2. In a blender combine the vinegar, oil, basil, brown sugar, black pepper and oregano and blend until combined. Pour the dressing over the bean mixture, stir, cover and chill for several hours. Will keep for several days. Makes about 2 quarts.
Per Serving: 426 Calories; 4g Fat (7.6% calories from fat); 27g Protein; 75g Carbohydrate; 16g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 18mg Sodium.

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  1. Carolyn

    said on April 29th, 2008:

    Someone emailed me awhile back to tell me that the nutrition info on this recipe was incorrect. I thought the calories were low before, but now they’re even lower, at about half. Here is the corrected version:
    Per Serving: 210 Calories; 3g Fat (11.9% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 40g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 205mg Sodium. Exchanges: 1 1/2 Grain(Starch); 1/2 Lean Meat; 1/2 Vegetable; 1 Fruit; 1/2 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates.

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