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me_in_paris_198That’s me, on a trip, in a Paris restaurant.
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On a recent road trip, I listened to 2 books on CD that I checked out of the library. With long stretches of highway with nothing to occupy my time, I love doing books on CD. The better of the 2 was definitely Frances Mayes’ new memoir, Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir. She narrates the story herself, and I just loved hearing her southern accent all the way through, her lilting, slow manner of speaking. She tells the story of her youth, from as young as she can remember to about age 25 or so, with most of it her coming-of-age in her teens. Her parents were alcoholics. Her older sisters were away at college. She wasn’t from a wealthy family exactly, but there was some money, a maid that she loved dearly who protected her from her parents sometimes. A grandmother figures large for some of the years. Her thought processes are normal, although she says from the get-go that she always felt she was different than most people, not a traditionalist for sure. Having read her other books, I never picked up on all the angst she experienced as a young woman, a girl, really. I absolutely LOVED the book. Mayes has a gift of prose – of a kind you don’t often read – she uses amazing language and phrases, adverbs and adjectives. Describes scenes so well and with such detail you just know you’re right there beside her.  Didn’t want it to end. As I reached across to the passenger seat to pull out the last CD I was sad, knowing the story was coming to an end. Because she ended it at about age 25, I suspect there may be another book in her future. For several days after I listened to this book I could hear Mayes’ southern accent in my head (like I hear memorable music when I attend a concert or sing a hymn or praise song at church). Her voice resonated in my head. If you enjoy memoirs, and reading about a kind of a crazy family, AND you like Frances Mayes, well, then, you’ll like this book for sure.

The other book, that I am sorry to say I cannot recommend is Sue Miller’s book, The Senator’s Wife (Vintage Contemporaries). Reading the back of the CD box I wasn’t sure, but I took it anyway. And at first I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue listening to it (when the young woman digs into her neighbor’s personal letters when she’s supposedly taking in the mail and watering plants), then got engrossed in the story. It’s about a young couple who move to a new house, part of a duplex in New England. Their next door neighbor is the aging and somewhat estranged wife of a Washington Senator. The young woman is far too curious about her neighbor and her neighbor’s marriage, what there is of it, although she cares about her neighbor a lot. The chapters switch back and forth between the young wife and the aging woman next door with their personal daily trivia, interspersed with some drama on both sides. The Senator is a philanderer, hence the partial estrangement. The young woman has a baby and consequently spends lots of time at home, overwhelmed with motherhood, hoping for something to change her life. When the Senator has a stroke and returns “home” for his “wife” to care for him (her choice) the plot thickens. The young wife is asked to babysit, so to speak, for an hour or so once a week for the old man, and that’s when, something happens that sickened me. I disliked this young woman and felt her behavior was just so disappointing. I couldn’t continue. If you like that sort of thing, then maybe you’d like the book. I was on the last CD when the story took this turn, and I was sorry I’d wasted so many hours on it to get there. Friendship isn’t about betrayal – it isn’t a friendship then. If any of you have read this already and want to comment, send me an email. Go to my contact page above.

Read Maude by Donna Mabry. It’s a true story (but written as a novel) about the author’s grandmother, Maude. It takes place from the early 1900s to her death in the 1960s. She lived a hard, hard life (mostly in Detroit), and there’s information that even takes me back to things I vaguely remember about my own grandmother’s life. I was fascinated. I won’t say that I couldn’t put it down, but I looked forward each night to read what was going to happen next. It’s hard to tell you much about the book without revealing too much of the story – I won’t call it a happy book, because there is much sadness within its pages, but you admire Maude for what she did, the role she played, her inherent grit. But I wanted to smack her 2nd husband! A good read, though.

While I was on my 3-week trip to Europe, I read 5 books. Of them all, Sgt. Reckless: America’s War Horse by Robin Hutton, was by far the best story, a true story about an American Marine. Many books have been written about Sgt Reckless, this rather nondescript, small Mongolian mare that was purchased by American forces in Korea in the height of the war. She was reared as a race horse, but she spent her career as an heroic soldier for our military, saving countless lives as she willingly delivered munitions from one place to another. Everyone who came in contact with her loved her. She became a regular soldier, mostly so they could requisition food for her. Sometimes she survived on next to nothing to eat. She aimed to please, and please she did, as in one 24-hour period she ferried ammunition up steep slopes (too steep for soldiers to climb) and she did it all by herself. When the Marines unloaded her cargo, she immediately worked her way down for more. She knew what she was supposed to do. She was highly intelligent, amazing many people over the course of her life. If you love animal stories, you’ll love this one. Have a Kleenex box nearby.

Another really riveting story, one I could hardly put down, is The Headmaster’s Wager by Vincent Lam. My friend Joan recommended this one to me. Most likely  you’ve never read anything about Chinese immigrants living in South Vietnam during the war there, right? Neither had I. And you have to keep track of who is who, and the politics of the time. The Vietnamese don’t like Chinese people, so there’s that going on. The Chinese man runs an English school somewhere near Saigon. He has a right hand man who may or may not be what he appears to be. The Chinese man has a son who gets himself into trouble. Oh, webs woven every which way. As I said, I could hardly put it down. Will make a very good book club read.

IN THE POWDER ROOM: The guest half-bath in my house has a little tiny table with a pile of books that I change every now and then. They’re books that might pique someone’s interest even if for a very short read. The Art of Travel, a collection of essays about traveling (it’s not a how-to), gathering a variety of stories of some historic authors and where and why they traveled; The Greatest Stories Never Told; and Sara Midda’s South of France; also Forgotten Bookmarks: A Bookseller’s Collection of Odd Things Lost Between the Pages (just the cutest book – with a miscellany of things – letters, grocery lists, notes, reminders, confessions the author discovered hidden inside the books he purchased for his used bookstore).

 

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small engraved sterling silver tea spoons that I use to taste as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Lamb, on November 7th, 2008.

mint pesto crusted rack of lamb pomegranate reduction
Oh, sorry for the fuzzy picture here. I only took one photo . . .

If you’re even the least faint of heart with a long recipe, you might want to glance right on by this one. But it’s delicious. Your guests will say wonderful things, but there is a bit of prep to this one. The kind of recipe you definitely would not do for a quick weeknight dinner! This is certainly a special occasion kind of dinner entrée. Nothing about it is hard; trust me. But, time, yes, it does take a bit. You’ll be rewarded, though, with a recipe that is eye appealing and delicious.

Carissa Giacalone, the Food Network Star finalist, prepared this at the class last week. She made a full meal, from appetizer through dessert. This was the entree. She explained that she just hates mint jelly and mint sauce, so she came up with a method of giving lamb the mint it needs but without making it part of a sweet relish or side dish. I liked her idea, although I do like mint sauce (not jelly) when it’s made with fresh mint. So, there’s this mint and basil dry pesto that gets pressed onto the lamb after it’s been browned, then it’s topped with some Panko crumbs that provide some crunch. And once the lamb is baked and sliced, you pour some red wine and port reduction sauce around the plate. The reduction takes awhile – maybe about 30 minutes altogether, but is well worth the effort.
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Mint Pesto Crusted Rack of Lamb with Pomegranate Reduction

Recipe: Carissa Giacalone, from a cooking class
Servings: 4

LAMB MARINADE:
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 whole garlic cloves — minced
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary — minced
1 tablespoon fresh mint — minced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme — removed from the stem, minced
2 pounds rack of lamb — 8-9 ribs, frenched & trimmed
LAMB PREP:
2 tablespoons olive oil — for browning the meat
1/2 cup red wine — to deglaze the pan
1/2 cup Panko
MINT PESTO CRUST:
1 1/2 cups fresh mint — lightly packed
3/4 cup fresh basil — lightly packed
1/2 cup walnuts — toasted
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 whole garlic cloves
3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt — plus more for seasoning
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese — freshly grated
POMEGRANATE REDUCTION:
2 cups red wine
1/2 cup red wine
1 cup Port wine — Ruby style
3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cold butter — cut into pieces
Kosher salt and pepper to taste

1. MARINADE: Mix the oil, garlic, mint, thyme and half the rosemary to a bowl. Add the lamb and coat well. Wrap in plastic wrap and marinate overnight.
2. POMEGRANATE REDUCTION: Place the 2 cups of wine and cup of port in a medium saucepan and boil until it’s reduced to one cup. Whisk in the pomegranate molasses and sugar. Taste for sweetness, adjusting if necessary. Whisk in cold butter just before serving and season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Bring lamb to room temperature (about 45 minutes) before cooking. Remove lamb from marinade and scrape off as many of the herbs as possible.
4. MINT PESTO: In a food processor combine the mint, basil, nuts, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper until the herbs are finely chopped, but NOT soft and mushy (they won’t stick to the lamb if they’re like soft mush). If pesto is very dry, add another tablespoon of oil to the mixture (to help it hold together).
5. Preheat oven to 450 F.
6. Heat a large skillet (don’t use nonstick) over medium-high heat until the pan is almost smoking. Add 2 T. of olive oil. Season the lamb with a little salt and pepper and sear, fat side down, until it’s golden brown, about 5 minutes. Remove from pan (but reserve the pan).
7. Spread the mint pesto over the fat side of the lamb. Press to help it adhere, then sprinkle top with the Panko crumbs, pressing lightly to adhere.
8. Roast the lamb in the middle of the oven for approximately 10-15 minutes, or until a meat thermometer registers 120-125 degrees F (rare/medium rare). You want to serve it at 125 for rare, and 130 for medium-rare after it’s rested. Remove from oven and rest for 10 minutes tented lightly with foil.
9. In the lamb skillet blot out the excess oil and deglaze the pan with the 1/2 cup red wine. Boil and reduce to about 2 tablespoons. Add that reduction to the pomegranate sauce by gently whisking it into the sauce.
10. Carefully cut the lamb between the ribs into individual or double chops, taking care not to loosen the mint pesto crust from the meat. Drizzle pomegranate reduction in a zigzag pattern on the plates, fanning out decoratively. Serve immediately garnished with mint sprigs.

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  1. happylurker

    said on November 12th, 2008:

    i just wanted to comment on something that has been niggling in my brain for some time, on the chance you’d want to know.

    while i thoroughly enjoy your stories, images, recipes, and travel journal, i have always had a difficult time reading your content. while your style is lovely, specifically the bolded font makes the type blurry to me, as well as the smaller text size amplifying this effect. due to both factors, simply increasing the browser size doesn’t help.

    please note that i am a younger reader with reasonably good eyes, and i don’t seem to have this issue when visiting any other blogs or sites.

    it is obvious you work very hard on your posts, but this factor has at times limited the duration of my visits on what is a lovely site.

    thanks for your energy, and for allowing me the chance to share. keep living the beautiful life. : )

    I hope you’re enjoying the blog better these days. My blog guru has at least repaired my font issues and is working on a new design. . . Carolyn T

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