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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 Miscellaneous, on July 20th, 2007.

mango salsa

My love affair with salsa goes way back to my childhood. Growing up in San Diego, my parents and I frequented on a weekly basis, without fail, a Mexican restaurant in Old Town dating to the early 1950’s. It was called the Aztec Dining Room. When the matriarch of the family died in about 1985, the family closed the restaurant down. Although I didn’t live there anymore, I was very sad to hear it. Their family recipes were kept very close to the chest, as the saying goes, but were better than most. My Dad used to order their chile verde con queso, #6 on the menu, which is not what is currently served by that name in countless Mexican restaurants (it’s pork and green chiles). This was a tomato and green chile-based sauce with a large layer of cheese melted on the plate. My Dad would place a flour tortilla in the middle of this steaming dish and scoop the tomato cheese sauce up and over the tortilla, adding a layer of their good home made refried beans, another tortilla, more beans, then the rest of the sauce scooped around and over the top. My Dad rarely ordered anything other than that item. It was muy delicioso as he’d often tell the waitresses every time he ordered it, or the owner, Mrs. Sandoval.

The restaurant made their own salsa, though it was not the salsa fresca served most places now. I suppose it was made with canned tomato sauce. Good nevertheless. I remember dipping hundreds of crisp tortilla chips into their sauce over the years.

Then about 20 years ago I visited Santa Fe, New Mexico. Since I’d read up on what to do in Santa Fe, I knew a meal at the Coyote Cafe was high on my list. And it was there, watching Mark Miller (now fairly famous in restaurant circles with multiple restaurants to his name – that night he was making cocktails in the bar), that I came to know about fruit salsa. This Pineapple Salsa recipe comes from his book, The Coyote Cafe Cookbook. Salsas are a regular part of my summer repertoire now. I make both a pineapple one, and a mango one, but use the same recipe. I love it served on grilled fish, grilled chicken and even steak. It’s quite versatile, really. The lime juice makes a difference, so don’t be tempted to use lemon juice. And I always add more cilantro, because I like it.
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Pineapple Salsa or Mango Salsa

Recipe: Adapted from the Coyote Cafe Cookbook by Mark Miller
Servings: 8
COOK’S NOTES: I have yet to find any grilled meat, poultry or fish that doesn’t go well with this. I always make a larger quantity because it’s so good on other things. I buy a whole pineapple and just mix and taste as needed. The lime juice makes a difference – lemon juice just doesn’t taste right. And, I always use more cilantro.

1 cup fresh pineapple or mango — (see notes)
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar — or substitute
1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar — seasoned
2 whole serrano peppers — minced (or less to suit your taste)
1/4 cup red bell pepper — minced
1 Tbsp lime juice
1 Tbsp cilantro — minced

Use a very ripe pineapple. Peel, core and finely dice the pineapple or prepare in food processor. In a bowl combine all of the ingredients. Taste and add more lime juice and chiles as needed. Stir and refrigerate for a couple of hours. Will keep for about a week.
Per Serving: 17 Calories; trace Fat (5.2% calories from fat); trace Protein; 4g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 1mg Sodium.

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