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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 Lamb, on July 2nd, 2012.

lamb_kebabs_harissa_plate

Something totally different – Moroccan marinated lamb with a fantastic yogurt sauce that contains harissa (a spicy pepper condiment), cumin and coriander. And garlic. I swear I could eat it with a spoon, but it’s ever so much better with a little bit of lamb, or chicken or fish with it. Or pita bread.

harissa_sauce_320Many cultures have some kind of hot sauce associated with it – like salsa, or sambal oelek, that really hot chile pepper mixture from Indonesia. The Vietnamese have their hot sauce too – we fondly call it rooster sauce because it has a picture of a rooster on the bottle. A big jar lives in the door of my refrigerator. In this case it’s harissa, a briskly hot condiment from Morocco. There you can see it right out of the jar – thick and spicy. You don’t want to use much – the amount I spooned up for the picture would be way too much for a standard sauce. Harissa originally came from Tunisia, but has been adopted by many cuisines of the region, Morocco among them. They’re much the same – red chiles, cumin, coriander, garlic and a little bit of oil to smooth it out. You can make your own easily enough too. That jar will likely last me the rest of my life because you don’t use much of it in any one dish, and I don’t make Moroccan, Tunisian or Libyan food with any frequency!

lamb_kebabs_skewersNow then, back to the meal – the lamb. It was marinated overnight in a variety of things like olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, mint, coriander, cumin. Most of the lamb soaked up the marinade – how can that be? But it did. We actually served the lamb two ways – butterflied and grilled, and also cut into cubes and threaded onto flat-bladed skewers as kebabs.

harissa_yogurt_sauceThe Harissa Yogurt sauce was ever so simple to make – jarred roasted red bell peppers were whizzed up in the food processor along with garlic, oil, cumin, coriander, Greek (thick) yogurt and seasoned with some salt and the harissa. That’s it. Chill until ready to serve. The sauce will keep for a week or so and could be used on other proteins too.

onion_kebabs_grilledTo round out the meal I highly recommend you also make the side skewers too – red onion wedges and whole dried apricots. I wouldn’t have believed that grilled dried apricots would make such an impression on me – they were wonderful. During grilling the edges get charred, and that caramelized them, of course. Delicious. And the onions – crunchy just a bit and a great accompaniment. They need to be grilled first since they take about 10 minutes longer than the lamb – once done just move them over to a cooler part of the grill while you grill the lamb. Serve with rice or couscous.

Because I had a lot of sauce left over (I made a double batch – far more than needed) I used it about a week later this way, pictured below. This was the broiled lemon salmon recipe that kind of goes with the asparagus pesto – I served it with some freshly made wild sockeye salmon and our dinner guests had a choice of either or both sauces..

What I liked: well, first and foremost I loved the sauce. Did I mention I think I could eat it with a spoon? Yes, well, it’s good! Loved the skewers of onion and apricots too. All worth doing.

What I didn’t like: nothing, really. Delicious meal beginning to end.

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Moroccan Lamb Kebabs with Harissa Yogurt Sauce

Recipe By: Phillis Carey, 2012 (also from Food Network)
Serving Size: 8

LAMB:
3/4 cup olive oil
2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
6 cloves garlic, minced — minced
2 tablespoons mint — chopped
4 teaspoons salt
4 teaspoons grated lemon zest
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper — thawed
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
4 pounds boneless leg of lamb — cut in 2″ cubes
SKEWERS:
16 metal skewers (12″ long)
32 dried apricots — whole, not halves
4 large red onions — each cut in 8 wedges, with some of root end attached
HARISSA YOGURT SAUCE:
1/4 cup roasted red peppers — jarred, drained
1 clove garlic — minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon hot chile paste
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup Greek yogurt, full-fat — plain

1. Combine in a large heavy-duty plastic bag: olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, mint, salt, emon zest, pepper, coriander and cumin. Squish it a little then REMOVE 1/2 CUP to use as a basting sauce.
2. Add lamb to plastic bag and toss. Marinate at least 2 hours, preferably overnight, refrigerated.
3. Yogurt Sauce: place red bell peppers, garlic, hot chili paste, olive oil, cumin, coriander and salt in food processor and puree. Stir this mixture into the yogurt. Cover and chill for at least an hour before serving. Will keep for 2-3 days.
4. Preheat grill. Remove lamb from marinade and drain on paper towels. Thread lamb cubes onto 8 skewers, dividing them equally. On the other skewers thread the apricots and onion chunks alternately. Brush all the skewers with some of the reserved marinade. Sprinkle the onion-apricot skewers with salt and pepper.
5. Grill onion-apricot skewers until onions begin to soften and begin to brown, turning and basting with marinade. Move skewers to cooler part of barbecue if necessary to keep apricots from burning, about 10 minutes. Grill lamb skewers to desired doneness, turning occasionally, about 8 minutes total for medium-rare. Serve meat with Yogurt Sauce.

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