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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 Salads, on September 23rd, 2012.


I’m always surprised when I run into someone who’s never had panzanella before. I’ve been making it every summer for years and years. Probably for 20 or so. But maybe some people, when they read it, say huh? Thinking that it doesn’t appeal, or something? I really don’t know. But they’re missing out. Truly!

Over the years I’ve figured out what I love about panzanella: (1) the bread; (2) the tomatoes; (3) the combo of flavors; and (4) the texture of everything. In a way it’s like an unstructured gazpacho, sort of. The most important ingredients are the bread and tomatoes, though. The bread because it soaks up the juices from the tomatoes and whatever dressing you toss with it. The tomatoes, because this dish showcases true summer tomato succulence – the best thing about tomatoes – when they’re big, fat, juicy and flavorful.

A couple of years ago I posted a recipe for a Grilled Panzanella Salad. And it’s a good one – a bit more of a standard or traditional panzanella. This one today, though, veers off to the untraditional because I added a bunch of things that don’t normally go in one – like green beans, corn, arugula, fresh mozzarella, capers and tarragon. And I just LOVED this salad. It’s the best panzanella I’ve ever had. Period. I had my DH grill the bread for it, and he also grilled the corn and the bell peppers. I harvested tarragon, basil and tarragon from the garden to toss in it too.

I had  some beautiful, huge tomatoes which is why I decided to make this salad. What better way to taste the deliciousness of summer tomatoes. I chopped up some hothouse cucumber, scooped in a little bit of capers, a few Kalamata olives (pitted and halved). I added in the grilled corn (cut off the cob after the grilling) and the chunked-up bell peppers. Scoops of fresh arugula was added in along with the mozzarella balls. Then I added the grilled and cubed sourdough bread. I add the tomatoes last because I like the juices from the tomatoes to soak into the bread. Lastly, a wine vinegar based vinaigrette is drizzled over it0. Toss and serve! To raves.

What I liked: every solitary thing about it. Deliciousness with every bite!

What I didn’t like: Absolutely nothing!

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Summer Grilled Panzanella Salad

Recipe By: My own concoction
Serving Size: 6
NOTES: I prefer this salad made with relatively fresh bread – if it’s allowed to completely stale it gets hard. I let a sourdough loaf sit out at room temp overnight, then slice it, grill it and cut it up into cubes. The inside of the cubes still have some softness. Once the salad is completed, I like the bread to still have some dry bits (that happens only if you eat it instantly). If you prefer a wetter salad, just increase the dressing by about half. The fresh tomatoes provide a LOT of fluid which soaks into the bread anyway. The dressing just adds a bit of piquant. Don’t make this – under any circumstances – unless tomatoes are IN season.

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic — mashed & minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
14 ounces sourdough bread
Olive oil spray
1 cup hothouse cucumber — chopped
2 tablespoons capers
2 tablespoons Kalamata olives — halved lenghtwise
3 whole bell peppers — red, orange and yellow
2 whole corn on the cob
1/4 cup fresh basil — chopped (use more if you like it as much as I do)
1/4 cup Italian parsley — chopped
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon — minced (optional)
3 cups arugula — chopped some
1 cup fresh mozzarella — little balls or small chunks
2 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes — peeled, large chop
1 cup green beans — cooked and chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Combine vinaigrette ingredients and set aside for up to 2 hours.
2. Cut sourdough bread into 1-inch thick slices. Trim crusts off the bread. Spray with olive oil spray.
3. Prepare grill and quickly grill bread on both sides so it has grill marks, but it’s still a bit soft inside, 2-3 minutes over a hot fire. Set aside and when cool enough to touch, cut into bite-sized cubes.
4. VEGETABLES: cut bell peppers into big flat pieces, discarding core. Spray veggies with olive oil spray. Grill peppers and corn so both have grill marks, but don’t over cook them. Set aside and leave at room temp. Remove corn from the cob. Chop peppers into 1-inch chunks.
5. SALAD: In a large bowl combine all the ingredients – everything except the bread and dressing. Pile the grilled bread on top. Stir vinaigrette vigorously before starting to toss the salad. Pour the vinaigrette as evenly as possible over the bread and toss to combine. Serve immediately.
Per Serving: 477 Calories; 23g Fat (41.0% calories from fat); 18g Protein; 55g Carbohydrate; 7g Dietary Fiber; 21mg Cholesterol; 569mg Sodium.

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