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me_in_paris_198That’s me, on a trip,  sitting in a Paris restaurant.
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If you’ve been reading this sidebar much over the years, you’ve rarely seen mysteries here. Great for an airplane read, maybe, but I don’t find them (usually) gripping enough. But one of my book clubs is reading a book by C.J. Box, called Open Season (A Joe Pickett Novel). Joe Pickett is a game warden in the wild country of Wyoming. He’s a good man. A family man. A good husband. AND a dogged investigator whenever anything goes awry in the hills. Usually it’s a murder of some kind. He writes a really good book that incorporates the mystery, lots of character study, some family stuff, but also a lot about the animals, the flora and fauna of the parks and land, and this one is also about an endangered species. I could hardly put it down. I’m SO glad I read this, and yesterday I visited my local library and checked out two more of his books. They’re easy reads; not overly long. But very absorbing. You’ll fall in love with Joe Pickett’s daughter Sheridan, too.

A page-turner of a book, Before the Fall by Noah Hawley grabbed me nearly from the first sentence. A small group of people take a private jet out of Martha’s Vineyard. Sixteen minutes later the plane crashes into the ocean. Two survive, a 4-year old boy and a single guy, an artist/painter, who ended up on the plane almost by happen-chance. What might have looked more like a fluke accident turns a bit sinister when you begin to know all about the people on the plane, including the two pilots and the flight attendant; the parents of the young boy, and a few others. Each person is scrutinized through the author’s lens and his/her culpability is analyzed. The painter and the boy form a bond because the man rescues the child and they swim miles and miles to shore. It’s just riveting. It’s not a James Bond type of thriller, but a real-life kind of drilling down into the core of each person on the plane. What I will mention, though, is that once you’ve read this, there isn’t a whole lot to discuss as a book club read, which is often the case for mysteries. Once the case is solved, there isn’t much to talk about except the characters, perhaps.

Also read another book by Haruf, called Eventide. It’s a bit of a carryover from Haruf’s book Plainsong (see review a paragraph or so down). Haruf is a “spare” writer. There is sufficient description. You definitely get a sense of place and the people, but there isn’t much emotion elicited. You have to scratch it out in between the lines. He’s a wonderful writer IMHO. I’ve now read 3 of his novels. This book takes place in high and deep Colorado country, and it’s a small town, with small town kinds of goings-on. There are some unsavory characters, and the heartwarming ones too which make the book worth reading. Good over evil, for sure. Worth reading. Too bad Haruf died in 2014. His books will be missed.

Eight Hundred Grapes: A Novel by Laura Dave. I bought it because it’s about Sebastapol, a cute little town in California wine country, in Sonoma County, although it’s on the fringes of the more mainstream wineries. A daughter of a friend of mine recently moved there, and when I visited her a few months ago, I was charmed by the cute downtown and the small village feel to it. Anyway, although the backdrop of the entire book is about the winery, the wines, the fields, the processes of wine making, it’s more about the family relationships. It seems that everyone (mom, dad, 2 sons, wife of one, a daughter [who is the protagonist] and her fiance and his ex-girlfriend) is in the midst of extreme turmoil. I swear, when I think about authors as they toil away in their aeries writing, they compile a big long list on a huge whiteboard of all the different awful things (divorce, affairs, fistfights, love lost, love gained, screaming and yelling, public drunkenness) they can make happen in one book and they pick and choose, yet make every effort to pack in as many of them as they can. No one in this family is immune from high levels of emotion and action or acting out about something or many things. I enjoyed the book despite those character flaws which occur on nearly every page. You have compassion for each one of them. Yet they’re a close family nonetheless. I haven’t read any of Laura Dave’s other books, but I suspect this one will be a winner. It’s not on any best-seller lists, but amongst book club readers, I believe it’s a strong contender.

When one of my book groups gathered last week, we discussed a bunch of books that we might read for our next Sept-August “year.” We select them all, for the whole year, in advance. On the list of 18 possible ones (we’ll read nine only) was an old classic – I guess you could call it a classic – Plainsong – by Kent Haruf. Since it was published some years ago I dropped by the library, and sure enough, they had a copy. I came home and devoured it in one fell swoop. What a story. Tender, yet harsh in some respects. It tells the story of a group of small-town people (a teacher – a man separated from his wife, but he has the 2 boys who both play prominent roles in the book; a single woman caring for her aging and Alzheimer’s driven father; a young teenage girl who should have known better, but got pregnant; a couple of very old brothers, both single, struggling along with their ranch). All this takes place in a small town in eastern Colorado. I laughed. I cried. I wanted to reach through the pages to some of these characters to give them a hug. It’s a winner of a book. I may have to read more of Haruf’s books. The prose is spare, yet you can feel the anguish, the pain, the love, the caring. What a book!

 

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 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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