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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 Appetizers, Miscellaneous, on August 17th, 2012.


The good news is this stuff above has zero fat in it. Unless there is a trace of fat in the tomatoes. Just remember that tomatoes are actually a fruit. We tend to forget that. And actually, this saucy stuff took a bit of sugar, even though tomatoes are in their sweet prime here these days.

When I read the write-up and recipe over at Kate in the Kitchen, I was intrigued. I went off and did something else for several hours, and then got to thinking about Tomato Jam. It just sounded so interesting. I remembered it was from Kate’s blog (fortunately) so I quickly re-found it and saved it to my recipe software. Kate got the recipe from the cookbook: Herbivoracious: A Flavor Revolution with 150 Vibrant and Original Vegetarian Recipes. You can find the recipe at the Herbivoracious website.

In the ensuing couple of weeks I’ve thought about it several times. I take that as a sign that I’m supposed to fix something if I can’t get it out of my mind! Then when my DH happened to mention that our corner farm stand was offering 10+ pounds of tomatoes for $10, I said sure, do it. So obviously, I had a few tomatoes to use up. After two rounds of caprese salad, I gave a couple of tomatoes away, then STILL had about 8 tomatoes. Tomato jam, coming up!

The jam is cinchy easy to make. Truly. I tweaked the recipe just a little – both from the original and Kate’s too, but not by much. I used less salt, less sugar, and maybe a tetch more rosemary. I love rosemary (Kate doesn’t, so she used lemon thyme, oregano and parsley, I think she said, instead of the rosemary). As you can see, the recipe can be altered to suit you or your family. You and your taste buds.

tomato jam1

The tomatoes are peeled raw (top photo)  – providing you have the Messermeister Pro Touch Swivel Peeler (otherwise you need to dunk them in boiling water for a minute and peel them hot) and chopped, then combined in a good, sturdy pot with all the other ingredients (lower photo) to simmer gently for an hour or more. It oozes out a lot of juice, but by simmering it long and slow, eventually all the watery juice boils off, leaving you with a jam consistency.

The recipe below makes about 1 cup. But you may want to make more. It surely could be canned too (in a water bath), then you could put it on your pantry shelf for up to a year. You could freeze it in small containers and it would keep for at least a year also. Or, make it in a small batch and use it up within a week. I’d really be surprised that it wouldn’t keep longer than that – it’s got a lot of sugar in it – it’s like fruit jam, so why wouldn’t it keep? If anybody knows more about that I’d welcome comments. I have a condiment in the refrigerator that I made 6 months ago (the sauce from the Ribeye Steaks with Amazing Glaze). It’s still just fine – no mold or off flavors.


What I didn’t know was what I was going to DO with the stuff. So okay, I have about a cup of tomato jam. Now what? I went on the trusty internet – amazing what you can find if you look – I discovered it’s great over cream cheese. (It was fantastic that way – loved it!) It makes a great condiment on meat sandwiches. It can be used instead of ketchup. And it can be served on toast in the morning too. I’m thinking it would be great on a piece of grilled fish. Or grilled chicken. There are plenty of recipes for tomato jam out there – all different. Every one of them has a little different use for it.

What I liked: the flavors, of course. I just love complex flavors and there are ample (from the tomatoes themselves, the rosemary, the lemon zest although you really can’t pick that out, and the lemon juice). This jam is very versatile.

What I didn’t like: well, if I’d made a big batch, apparently it would take awhile to cook it down (maybe more than 2 hours) but doing just this batch was fine. Love the stuff. Nothing I didn’t like!

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MasterCook 5+ import file – right click to save file, run MC, then File|Import

Tomato Jam

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Kate in the Kitchen blog 7/2012 (she got it from Herbivoracious, a cookbook).
Serving Size: 10
Serving Ideas: Use as a topping on cream cheese. Or with some kind of stinky cheese (Camembert, for instance), even Brie. With crackers. Can be used in lieu of ketchup in a sandwich (roast beef, tomato slices, lettuce or a ham sandwich, oh yes!). And truly, you COULD put it on toast in the morning. You’d be hard pressed to know it’s not a berry jam if you weren’t able to see the tomato-y color. I think it would be great with fish or chicken. Even as a condiment on a big, honkin’ ribeye steak. Beef and tomatoes are a match made in heaven anyway!
NOTES: The sugar has been reduced – depending upon how sweet the tomatoes are, you may want to adjust the sugar further. The original called for 3/4 cup – that’s definitely too much!

1 1/2 pounds fresh tomatoes — peeled, chopped
1/2 small red onion — diced finely
1/2 cup sugar — or less
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 pinch saffron threads
1 pinch crushed red pepper
Fresh ground black pepper

1. Peel tomatoes and chop coarsely.
2. In a medium saucepan, combine all the ingredients except the black pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and allow to simmer until the jam has thickened, about an hour or more. Stir every few minutes while it simmers. Add pepper.
3. Allow to cool (it thickens up as it cools) then store in refrigerator. Use within a week or freeze it. Or can it. Yield: 1 cup
Per Serving: 56 Calories; trace Fat (3.5% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 14g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 194mg Sodium.

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  1. Lana @ Never Enough Thyme

    said on August 17th, 2012:

    I enjoy making tomato jam, too. Here’s one more way to use it if you’re interested:

    What a great idea, Lana! I like the idea of the savory addition to French toast. I rarely make it, but this might inspire me. I’m also a fan of Laura Calder’s program. In fact I have one show on my Tivo that I’ve marked as permanent save because I keep going back to it (it was one she did about preserving and canning). Thanks much for the idea. . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on August 18th, 2012:

    My grandmother always made tomato preserves–similar to this recipe except that they contained slices of lemon, but not the onion and spices. This looks really interesting–I’m going to have to try it! It sounds marvelous as a sandwich condiment. Grandma canned her preserves, and I did that once or twice, years ago. These days, I freeze it in small quantities, and I find it keeps just fine for a couple of years. It’s not going to spoil in the freezer, so it will certainly be safe; the flavor hasn’t suffered with the preserves, but since this version contains the onions and spices, the flavors might not be as stable. Still, I think it would probably be fine for longer than the suggested six months–definitely worth a try.

    I’m sure you’ve noted that canning, preserving, jam-making, etc. are all making a big comeback. I used to make jams years and years ago when I had good (and inexpensive) sources of fruit. Haven’t done it for years, though. I just made a 3-pound batch of the tomato jam yesterday and will probably put the multiple little jars in the freezer!. . . carolyn t

  3. Toffeeapple

    said on August 20th, 2012:

    This sounds lovely Carolyn. Over here we don’t tend to water-bath things unless they contain meat, on the premise that sugar is a very good preservative.

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