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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 Brunch, Pork, on October 20th, 2008.

baked eggs with chorizo and cannellini beans with green salad

So, I was browsing through some of the blogs I read, and I happened on Chez Loulou’s post (I so enjoy Loulou’s blog – she lives in France, and has THE most interesting photos in and around the area she lives in – always very entertaining – I even tried to make a watercolor of one of her photos) about a breakfast or brunch dish that she’d made recently. It actually came from another blog Loulou reads (ah yes, I’m going to need to add yet another blog to my growing numbers that I read every few days), called Stonesoup. That blog originates from Australia, although the author is multi-national, I think. She’s lived all over the world, but currently resides in Sydney.

Perhaps it was the chorizo in this dish that intrigued me. Or maybe it was just because I’m always on the lookout for some easy entrée dishes that can stand in for dinner. Don’t you have evenings when you just aren’t inspired, or just don’t have the time? That’s me once in awhile (yes, really, there are times when I just don’t feel up to cooking anything much). So, that got me to thinking about meals – like this egg and bean dish – that is called a brunch dish – but could certainly be served for another meal like dinner.

I well remember that my mother sometimes on Sunday nights after we’d had a large midday dinner, would serve us creamed tuna on toast. She managed to make one small can of tuna spread between three people. She made a simple cream sauce, always added some lemon juice to it, then at the last minute she added the drained contents of one 6-ounce can of tuna, and we’d eat that spooned over one slice of white toast. It was a light meal, and perfect for the day in question. But then, there were Sundays when my mother would serve waffles for dinner. Why or how it ever became a tradition in our family I don’t know, but probably once a month we’d have regular waffles with sausage patties for dinner, with the finale being one last waffle piled with strawberries and whipped cream. As a kid, I thought that meal was heaven on a bun. My parents used to entertain other families for Sunday waffle suppers. My mother and dad are both gone, so I can’t ask them how that tradition ever got started. As a young adult I did have some waffle suppers, but my recollection (this would have been back in the 1960’s and 70’s, they weren’t met with much glee as I thought. I always told guests what we were having, so it wasn’t a surprise, but still I could tell people didn’t love it as much as I did. My DH doesn’t think waffles should be eaten at any meal except breakfast. In years past I tried the waffle supper thing on him, but he ate it reluctantly.

So, maybe it was that background of waffles on Sunday nights that made me look at this recipe with more interest. We don’t eat hearty breakfasts – if we do it seems to mess up our eating for the whole day. We’re not hungry for lunch, but then we’re starving by about 3-4 in the afternoon. Therefore, when I read this recipe I didn’t even think about breakfast at all. I thought – great idea for a light dinner. It took me 2 days to decide I wanted to make it.


Loulou’s and Stonesoup’s recipe is straight forward – you cook up some chorizo (I made a special trip to Whole Foods to buy their very meaty and lean version), some onion and garlic, a bit of Mexican oregano, red wine vinegar, tomato paste, canned tomatoes and canned cannellini beans. Little indentations are made in this mixture and eggs are gently cracked into them, then you bake it in the oven until done to your liking. This dinner took about 40 minutes to make from start to finish. My DH didn’t know what to think when I presented this dish at his place mat – for dinner. I had asked him first if this dish sounded good to him. I won’t say that he was over the top about it from reading the ingredient list, but generally he’s very willing to eat anything I put in front of him. So I made it the next night.

Truly, I enjoyed it a lot and Dave did too. I liked the flavor combination. It was hearty (beans). Very tasty. Easy and quick. I learned a couple of things, however. I revised the recipe to serve 2, since I didn’t know whether we’d eat leftover fried eggs on this chorizo bean bed. So I halved the recipe and tried to adapt it. I used a very large frying pan that can go in a hot oven, but the bean mixture then was quite thin. You must make this in a dish or pan that has enough depth to make the indentations for the eggs. And 15 minutes in MY oven was way too long at 400, so I revised the temp to 375. The eggs were almost rubbery, but not so overdone that we couldn’t eat it. My DH actually liked them that way since he doesn’t like runny eggs. So I’ve revised the cooking time to 10-15 minutes also. You need to determine your own preference. Definitely don’t use convection, either, as you don’t want hot air fanning the eggs! I also want this dish to have a bit more fluid – so use your own judgment about how much of the liquid to cook off. Ours was almost too dry, probably from being in the flatter pan. But it still tasted great.


Then you need to know about the leftovers – there was definitely enough to serve 3 adults using my recipe below. Dave and I both had a small portion of seconds, and there was still some leftover. So, what to do with those, you ask? Easy – I made soup. To the about 1 ½ cups of leftover beans I added some more tomatoes (I still had half a can of tomatoes), a small can of corn, some broth, chile powder, some ancho chile powder, heated it up and sprinkled shredded Cheddar on top. It was scrumptious!
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Baked Eggs with Chorizo & White Cannellini Beans

Recipe: Chez Loulou’s blog and she got it from the Stonesoup blog
Servings: adapted to serve 2

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 pound chorizo
1 small red onion — chopped (or yellow onion)
2 cloves garlic — peeled & sliced
1 tablespoon dried oregano — crushed in your hands
8 ounces canned tomatoes — peeled, crushed
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
16 ounces canned cannellini beans
4 whole eggs

1. Preheat oven to 375F. Heat oil in a large flame proof casserole dish or frying pan. Cook chorizo over a medium heat until well browned. Remove chorizo from the pan and drain on paper towels. Add onion to the grease in the pan and cook for 10 minutes or until softened and not browned. Add garlic and cook for a few more minutes before adding oregano, tomatoes, tomato paste and vinegar. Season and bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes or until sauce has thickened but still has a bit of liquid to it.
2. Stir in the beans and chorizo and using a spatula, smooth the top. (Make sure the pan or casserole you’re using allows some depth to the mixture so you can make the indentations needed – below – so the eggs won’t spread all over.) Bring back to a simmer and remove from the heat. Using a spoon, make 4 egg sized indentations (fairly deep) in the bean mixture and crack an egg into each hole. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until egg whites are just cooked but the yolks are still lovely and runny. Remember that this dish holds its heat so the egg will continue to cook after you remove the pan from the oven.
3. Divide between 2 warmed plates or bowls and serve immediately with some green salad on the side.
(I’m purposely not including the nutrition count because my software program thinks chorizo is about 100% fat – it adds over 600 calories per serving – the chorizo I buy at Whole Foods is extremely lean and meaty. The 1/2 pound produced about one teaspoon of fat.)

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