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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 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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