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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 Fish, Grilling, Miscellaneous sides, on July 19th, 2007.


Romesco Sauce is not your normal run-of-the-mill sauce. It contains some different ingredients. It keeps for weeks and weeks. I always seem to have leftovers of the sauce, so use it on grilled vegetables, even some plain grilled chicken too.

This is from one of Nicole Aloni‘s cookbooks, and was demonstrated at a cooking class she taught several years ago. I loved the combination of textures in this dish. I’d never had bread croutons threaded onto a grilled skewer of anything until this dish was served to me. But I liked it. You don’t want to use bread that will become hard and inedible, so think about that as you’re choosing the bread. In other words, an already firm chunk of sourdough with a very firm crust isn’t going to get any less chewy if you grill it. So, you need to use a softer crumb – like an Italian loaf or a soft type of baguette. I rarely buy grocery store French bread for just this reason – they’re more like white nothingness than a “real” baguette, but for the grilled crouton, it may just be perfect. And, you wouldn’t want to serve bread or another carb with this, either. By the way, Nicole now has a blog, so if you click here, you can take a look.

The Romesco sauce has a Catalan (Spain) origin. I thought it was Italian, but no. I finally found a bit of info about it:

  • This Catalan tomato sauce is traditionally served with fish and shellfish but it is also ideal to serve as a dipping sauce. Authentic recipes are made with dried romesco chiles, which have a sweet and hot flavor. Unfortunately they are difficult to obtain outside Spain.
  • What’s unique about Romesco is its use of almonds as a thickener, and flavor enhancer. It adds a lot, although you’ll have a hard time picking out the almond flavor once it’s incorporated into the intense red pepper-base. It’s not difficult to make and it keeps for awhile. I love it on hearty vegetables as leftovers too.

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Grilled Shrimp and Bread Skewers with Romesco Sauce

Recipe: Nicole Aloni, author and caterer
Servings: 8
COOK’S NOTES: You want to eat some of the sauce with every bite, so you can drizzle more sauce on top of each skewer. Using a regular bamboo skewer, you’ll want to serve each person two skewers. And, except for grilling the skewers, everything can be done up to 2 days ahead.

Serving Ideas: You can make a main dish of this by grilling some zucchini, asparagus and red onion before you grill the shrimp. Leftover sauce can be used on top of a white grilled fish or green beans. The sauce will keep for several weeks.

2 1/2 pounds shrimp — peeled, deveined, raw
1 whole French bread — baguette (see instructions)
1/2 cup slivered almonds
4 large garlic cloves
4 whole red bell peppers
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
lemon juice to garnish

1. PEPPERS: You can use bottled bell peppers (four 7-oz.jars), or roast your own: Core and seed the peppers, drizzle with olive oil and bake in a 325° oven for about an hour. Remove the skins and save all the juice and oil as part of the peppers.
2. BREAD: Cut 3 thin slices of bread and set aside. Cut remaining bread into 1 1/2 inch cubes and set aside.
3. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add almonds and move briskly around pan to toast. Remove and add 2 T. olive oil, then add the sliced bread and toast until golden brown, then remove and set aside.
4. Add the almonds to a food processor and pulse to grind. Add the 3 bread slices, garlic, bell peppers, vinegar and cayenne pepper; puree until smooth. With the machine running add the larger quantity of oil and process until incorporated and slightly thickened. Add salt to taste. Sauce can be prepared ahead (2-3 days ahead is best) and refrigerated.
5. SHRIMP: Preheat grill or grill pan to medium high. Onto water-soaked bamboo skewers alternate shrimp and bread cubes. Lay these on a large sheet pan and drizzle each layer with olive oil and salt and pepper. Grill for 2-3 minutes per side, until shrimp are bright pink and firm.
6. SERVING: Pool the Romesco sauce on each plate and set 2 or 3 skewers across the sauce. Add a squeeze of lemon juice to each skewer.
Per Serving: 528 Calories; 26g Fat (44.3% calories from fat); 36g Protein; 37g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 216mg Cholesterol; 558mg Sodium.

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