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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 easy, Salads, Veggies/sides, on June 24th, 2012.

corn_tomato_scallion_salad

Not like any other corn and tomato salad you’ve ever had. What makes it different is the use of white balsamic vinegar as the dressing. All of 1 1/2 tablespoons for an 8-serving bowl of it. You wouldn’t think it would add all that much. But yes, it does.

As it happens, I had some lemon flavored white balsamic vinegar that I picked up at Oliver’s in San Clemente some months ago. I’d not used it yet. I thought white balsamic was milder in flavor (it’s not) – making that assumption just because it’s as clear as water in color. Some other people who made this salad commented they didn’t like using dark balsamic (which, I think, is what the original recipe called for) because it stained the corn. When I read that I just decided to use white balsamic.

Although I’ve used white balsamic for some years (and not often, I have to admit, and only when a recipe called for it) I wasn’t sure of the production process. Here’s what I found at www.thekitchen.com:

White balsamic vinegar . . . blends white grape must with white wine vinegar and is cooked at a low temperature to avoid any darkening. Some manufacturers age the vinegar in oak barrels, while other use stainless steel.

The flavors of the two are very similar, although the dark balsamic is slightly sweeter and tends to be a little more syrupy. The white has more of a clean aftertaste. The main reason one would use white balsamic, rather than regular, is mostly aesthetic. It can be used with lighter colored foods, dressings, or sauces without any discoloring.

It’s that last sentence that confirmed my reasoning. No dark colored, stained corn for me!

The recipe I’ve had hanging around in my to-try file for some years – it first appeared in Gourmet Magazine in 2000. By the way, did you know that the internet still has a Gourmet magazine presence – not just old recipes (1941 to when Gourmet stopped publishing a monthly magazine in 2009) which live over at www.epicurious.com – it actually has new content. Just not in a monthly magazine. But it’s an evolving online website. They also publish some special editions, which I’ve not seen, although I don’t frequent any magazine aisles at all – I have all the magazine reading I can handle, thank you! But perhaps I should look at the special editions now and then.

Okay, back to this recipe. It’s SO very simple, although you do sauté the corn a little. I questioned why I should need to do that since corn cut right off the cob is so very tasty and tender. But perhaps when it’s cooked slightly it just becomes sweeter. Hard to imagine, as sweet as corn is these days. It’s cooked in a little jot of olive oil, then you add the garlic, and the halved cherry tomatoes. Lastly you drizzle in the white balsamic vinegar and lastly the scallion. Done. I didn’t add quite as many tomatoes as called for, and I decided to use the white part of the scallion too – meaning I used both the white and green parts. Perfection.

What I liked: everything about it – the combination of flavors is particularly good. We had it cold as left overs a couple of nights later and I swear it was as good if not better. No balsamic taste at all, yet it added a little elusive flavor somehow. I’ll be making this again this summer, before corn season is gone.

What I didn’t like: gosh, nothing. Worth making for sure.

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Corn, Tomato and Scallion Salad

Recipe By: Gourmet, 7/2000
Serving Size: 6-8
NOTES: Salad can be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered. You can also use regular dark balsamic in this – the corn will have a brownish tinge to it.

4 ears fresh corn — shucked
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 whole garlic cloves — minced
1 1/2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar — [mine happened to be “lemon” white balsamic]
1 pound cherry tomatoes — halved
1/2 cup scallions — coarsely chopped (use just scallion tops according to the original recipe – I used whole scallions)

1. Cut corn kernels from ears, discarding cobs. Heat oil in a large heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then sauté corn with salt and pepper to taste, stirring, until tender, about 2 minutes.
2. Add garlic and sauté, stirring, 1 minute. Add vinegar and cook, stirring, until most is evaporated, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes and cook, gently stirring, 1 minute.
3. Remove skillet from heat and stir in scallions.
4. Transfer vegetables to a large plate to cool and season with salt and pepper.
Per Serving: 83 Calories; 4g Fat (40.1% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 12g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 12mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on June 24th, 2012:

    This looks like another winner. I will definitely try it. I like white balsamic, too–use it a lot in salads that have fruit in them. This corn salad recipe reminds me that I tried your lemon oregano vinaigrette last week as a dressing for a corn and lima bean salad–a sort-of salad version of succotash. The salad was delicious and your dressing was just perfect for what I had in mind.

    It is really delicious. I’ve now made it twice in the last week. It’s a keeper. . . carolyn t

  2. Jeannie Wolff

    said on September 20th, 2012:

    Made this today and not only is it very pretty, it’s also really good!
    I served it in a shallow Waterford bowl…gorgeous!

    Oh, that sounds beautiful! Glad you liked it. . . Carolyn t

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