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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, on July 21st, 2007.

It was just within the last 6 months or so that I discovered C&W even offered this package of butternut squash. I don’t know about you, but sometimes just CUTTING a fresh butternut squash is daunting. I have one gigantic curved chef’s style knife that is good for cutting squash, but even with that long and sturdy knife, sometimes I must work at it for 20-30 minutes peeling, cutting, de-seeding, etc. Trader Joe’s sometimes has fresh squash in little packages (maybe 2-3 servings), but the frozen squash sure makes it easy. I haven’t compared prices, but I’d guess the C&W frozen is probably the better buy.

This recipe comes from one of the cooking schools Cherrie and I enjoy attending. I’ve mentioned it before – Our House, South County – located in San Juan Capistrano (where the famous swallows return to the Old California mission every year during one week in March). Cherrie and I both just loved-loved-loved this soup. Sarah, the co-chef of the cooking school, told us about the C&W squash. I think I stopped at the market on the way home that day to buy a bunch of them. I liked this soup so much that when my DH and I had a “kitchen warming” for our newly remodeled kitchen a few weeks later, I served this to all of our guests. The recipe looks like it came from Sunset Magazine (October, 2006). For any of you who don’t live in the Western States of the U.S., you may not know about Sunset. It’s a fabulous monthly magazine which focuses not only the cuisine of the west, but also house projects, landscaping and ideas for living/entertaining unique to our area. It’s a magazine I’ve subscribed to for at least 40 years. I must have missed this recipe, but am so glad Our House, South County decided to serve it to us. Any number of guests asked for the recipe that night I served it. I was happy to share, as I am now.
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Butternut Squash Soup with Jalapeno & Ginger

Recipe from Sunset Magazine
Source: Our House, South County, San Juan Capistrano, California (now closed)
Servings: 8
NOTES: You can buy a fresh squash for this, or buy one-pound bags of frozen cubed butternut squash at the grocery store, C&W brand. If you’re sensitive to hot chiles, you might decrease the amount of it.

2 tablespoons olive oil
6 cloves garlic — minced
2 tablespoons ginger — grated
1 small jalapeno chile pepper — seeded and chopped
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
4 pounds butternut squash — peeled and cubed (see notes)
3 cups chicken broth
3 cups water
1 tablespoon brown sugar
3 tablespoons heavy cream
3 tablespoons creme fraiche — for garnish

1. Heat olive oil in large stock pot. Add garlic, ginger, jalapeno and salt. Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant but not yet browned, about 1-2 minutes. Add cayenne and cook for another 30 seconds. Add squash, broth, brown sugar and water. Bring to a boil, lower heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until squash is tender, about 30 minutes.
2. In a blender puree the soup in batches until smooth. Be careful not to overfill the blender container as the heat will explode the top off the blender. Pour back into the soup pot and stir in cream and adjust seasonings to taste. Serve hot with a little swirl of creme fraiche, if desired.
Per Serving: 178 Calories; 8g Fat (36.9% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 26g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 13mg Cholesterol; 1102mg Sodium.

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  1. Kris Thomas

    said on January 11th, 2012:

    Always have loved this soup. Today made a version with combo of delicata squash and butternut and I added a couple of chopped pears……still yummy!

    That’s great. Be innovative! I haven’t made this soup in a long while – I need to make it again. . . carolyn t

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