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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 Miscellaneous, on October 30th, 2008.

Until I decided to write up this recipe, I can’t say that I knew much about Auguste Escoffier, other than he was a famous French chef. And that he wrote a cookbook or two which are considered sacrosanct by lots of chefs and foodies in France and abroad. He lived from 1846 to 1935 and spent his life in the French food arena, beginning when he was apprenticed to his uncle’s restaurant in Nice at the ripe age of 12. He revolutionized (streamlined) the running of top-drawer kitchens, and implemented new techniques of canning when he was the Chef de Cuisine for the French Army during one of France’s wars. So there’s your little food history lesson of the day.

I’ll just comment briefly that as I was growing up (I think I’ve mentioned it here before) both grandmothers always served lots of pickles and relishes with meals. They likely did lots of canning since they grew their own vegetables, so they had lots of cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers to use up every season. But then, pickles and relishes were just de rigueur. My mother served her fair share of them too, and I can’t say that I was all that enamored with them as a child. Actually, salsa is a similar kind of condiment, and I certainly eat plenty of THAT. Once I ventured into making fruit salsas (my mango or pineapple salsa being a particular family favorite), I must have reacquainted my palate to the kind of sweet and sour mingling that goes on with pickles and relishes. I also have that Mexican onion relish that is so good too. And remember my write-up about the piquante peppers from South Africa? They have a very similar taste, although this pepper condiment has many more layers of flavor with the addition of onions, garlic and spices. The South African peppers are just pickled somehow.

My fellow blogger, Luisa, the Wednesday Chef, wrote up this recipe, having read it in the Los Angeles Times (no longer available online). In her post she used many, many superlatives. I usually stand up and notice when bloggers use words like fabulous, fantastic, can’t keep my spoon out of them. That kind of language. Since I had some leftover meatloaf (obviously cold), this recipe seemed like a cinchy combination. I had everything on hand except the red bell peppers, and that was easily rectified.

This recipe is SIMPLE. Really. It took about 20 minutes to chop and cook, then it bubbled away on the stove for an hour or so. I had golden raisins instead of dark, but that was the only substitution I made in this recipe. I didn’t weigh the peppers – I used 4 peppers. The picture above is the combination of ingredients to make the peppers. Nothing all that unusual. And the second photo shows the spices used. They made a very attractive pile on my cutting board, so I decided to photograph them for you. The only thing a bit different here is the freshly grated nutmeg. I almost never use jarred pre-ground nutmeg. The flavor of the fresh is just so much better. Years and years ago I bought a nutmeg grinder (less than $10 then) that has served me well all these years.

The verdict? Fabulous. This relish would be wonderful with just any kind of meat (roasts, chops) and even chicken. Even some kinds of fish. So often leftover meat from a pork roast, for instance, loses that juiciness once it’s cooled down and chilled, so you need something to moisten every bite. I can see this as a great condiment in sandwiches too. I can’t wait to try this on a turkey or meatloaf sandwich. I don’t know that I’ll be eating it straight out of a bowl because it does have a vinegary sharpness. Muffled by the sugar, though. Overall: delicious. And did I tell you it was EASY?

This little note is being added nearly a month later . . . I still have these peppers in the refrigerator. They’re fine. Just fine. I served it recently as a side with grilled sausages for dinner. All that vinegar in them  must keep them preserved well.
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Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click link to open recipe in MC)

Peppers for Cold Meats a la Escoffier

Recipe: Auguste Escoffier via the Wednesday Chef blog
Servings: 16 (makes about 4 cups)

4 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion — minced
1 pound red bell peppers — washed, cored, seeds removed, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon mixed spices (allspice and nutmeg)
1 pound ripe tomatoes — drained (most of a 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes works)
1 clove garlic — minced
1/2 cup raisins [I used golden]
1/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup red wine vinegar

1. Put the oil in a saucepan. Chop the onion very fine, add to the pan and fry over low heat until softened. Add the peppers, salt, ginger and mixed spices, and cook for 10 minutes.
2. Stir in the tomatoes, garlic, raisins and sugar. Add the vinegar; cook over very lot heat, covered, for 1 hour and 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover the pot and cook with the lid off for 5 to 10 more minutes.
Per Serving (approximately 1/4 cup): 72 Calories; 4g Fat (41.2% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 11g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 70mg Sodium.

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  1. Melynda

    said on October 30th, 2008:

    Good evening, I made this also. Delicious is all I can say!

    Hi Melynda – yes, I agree. Those peppers are delicious. I’m looking forward to having them for a few weeks on various and sundry things. . . . Carolyn T

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