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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 October 28th, 2008.

Thai pumpkin, shrimp and coconut milk soup
Recently I went with a couple of my watercolor class friends to a Thai restaurant for lunch. I enjoyed my lunch so much I decided to try to recreate it at home. My entrée was a special that day, a creamy (coconut milk-based) sauce with fresh pumpkin cubes and shrimp. It had enough of the sauce/gravy to serve over a bed of rice. It was absolutely out of this world fabulous. I tried to close my eyes and analyze the flavors floating around in my mouth. I hoped it wouldn’t be too difficult to figure out how to make it.

Seeing sugar pie pumpkins at the market reminded me I wanted to try to prepare the dish. I did sleuth on the internet for a recipe, and found one that was similar, but different. I decided to make mine a soup without rice rather than the shrimp entrée sauce over rice I’d had at the restaurant. Since there were already carbs in the dish (the pumpkin) I thought it would be healthier for us anyway. The internet recipe called for shrimp paste (I used a fish soup base) and dried shrimp (I didn’t have them, nor did I buy it). It called for “green chiles,” so I used one Poblano (probably not traditionally Thai, but it was what I had) and one jalapeno. It had a perfect degree of heat for my taste. This other recipe called for basil. I used spinach instead. So I really changed the recipe all around, different proportions of most things and added ingredients plus deleted others.

The seafood soup base I bought from Penzey’s. You’ve read about them here before – their soup bases are just the greatest. I’m generous with how much I use. They don’t keep forever anyway. I’ve had my three jars for about 5 months now and they’re still just fine (stored in the refrigerator).

As I was making the soup I kept tasting the broth. Finally, after I added a jar of Thai red curry sauce I was pleased. The sauce came from Trader Joe’s, but I believe there are other brands out there . . . just seek them out. I purchased frozen already-cooked extra-large shrimp which got added to the soup at the very end. They slow-simmered just long enough to defrost and heat through. The coconut milk gets added at the very last also because it does not like to be boiled. I added the spinach and merely stirred it into the soup minutes before serving. The flavor comes from all the other stuff you put into the broth, though. The garlic, shallots, lemongrass (I used a paste from a tube since I can’t always find fresh lemongrass in my markets), the chiles, Thai fish sauce, and the soup base. There’s also just a tad of sugar in this. The soup is quite versatile – you could easily change the ingredients to ones of your choice. Don’t like pumpkin? Use butternut squash. Don’t like shrimp? Use chicken. Don’t like coconut milk? Use regular cow’s milk or soy (although the flavor will be really different). Don’t like chiles? Add green or red bell pepper instead. But, if you enjoy Thai flavors, this is one fantastic soup. My DH thought it was wonderful too.
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Thai Pumpkin, Shrimp and Coconut Milk Soup

Recipe: Inspired by but significantly changed from a recipe on dlife.com
Servings: 5
NOTES: You can use your own choice of chiles. I happened to use one poblano and one jalapeno. Neither was very hot on the Scoville rating. If you don’t mind being un-authentic, add some frozen peas and mushrooms to the soup too.

3 cups pumpkin — fresh, peeled, cubed (don’t use the large carving-type pumpkins for this)
2 whole garlic cloves — crushed
2 large shallots — finely chopped
1 teaspoon seafood soup base — or chicken soup base
2 tablespoons lemongrass — fresh, chopped or lemongrass paste
2 whole green chiles — seeded (see notes for explanation)
4 cups chicken stock
16 ounces shrimp — fresh, shelled
11 ounces Thai red curry sauce
1 tablespoon Thai fish sauce
1 teaspoon granulated sugar — or more if desired
4 ounces spinach — baby type
1/2 cup canned pumpkin — optional
2 cups coconut milk — canned
Salt and ground black pepper

1. With a sharp knife or very sturdy peeler, peel the pumpkin, and cut into quarters. Scoop out the seeds with a teaspoon and discard. Cut the flesh into chunks (about 3/4 inch) thick and set aside.
2. Put the garlic, shallots, fish soup base, lemongrass, and green chiles in the food processor. Process to a paste, stopping periodically to scrape down the sides of the workbowl. Continue to process until it’s a smooth paste.
3. In a large, heavy pot, bring the chicken stock to a boil. Add the ground paste and stir well to dissolve. Add the pumpkin chunks and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 10-15 minutes or until the pumpkin is tender. Don’t overcook.
4. Stir in the shrimp, bottled Thai red curry sauce and spinach, bring to a simmer and cook 1-2 minutes. Add the coconut milk, then bring the soup back to simmer. Be careful not to let it boil. Add a bit of water if you want more quantity (up to about 2 cups). Add the fish sauce, canned pumpkin, sugar and ground black pepper to taste. Add more salt if needed. Cook (below a simmer) for 2-3 minutes. Serve in warmed soup bowls. Since the spinach floats to the top, it provides a lovely garnished LOOK to the soup. No need to garnish with anything else unless you want to sprinkle some shredded spinach on top.
Per Serving: 645 Calories; 39g Fat (52.8% calories from fat); 29g Protein; 50g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 139mg Cholesterol; 3972mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on October 29th, 2008:

    Phew, what a lot of catching up I have to do here! I shall take my time, though and savour everything that you’ve written whilst I have been absent.

    Have a happy Halloween, won’t you? Can you believe that we had snow last evening? At least three inches stayed on the ground all night long and is still visible in some places, in October, in middle England!

    Well, T-A, I’ve missed you! Hope you had a good holiday. Did you go to India? Anyway, glad you’re back. Right now I envy your 3-inches of snow. One January many years ago we flew to England, stayed in London for a few days (this was one of BA’s annual good-deal packages that included airfare and lodging in London for 5 days), then took the train down to Ilminster (a little town kind of near Taunton) to visit dear friends who then lived there. It had snowed overnight. We were snug in the train, but the landscape was pure white. Everwhere we looked the landscape was white. It was a dirty-gray day and the snow had stopped. But, the rooftops were white. The ground, the streets, trees, bushes. Everything white. It was beautiful but eerie. So when I read your note, that’s what I remembered. Keep warm! . . .Carolyn

  2. Erik

    said on November 1st, 2008:

    I love pumpkin with practically any Asian ingredients, so I am going to have to try this soon! Thanks for the ideas!

    Erik – you’ll love this soup. We had the last of the leftovers today, and I think I’ve decided this may be the very best soup I’ve ever made. Bar none. My husband agrees. Hope you do try it. You’ll not be sorry! . . . Carolyn T

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