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Just finished a quirky book, Goodbye, Vitamin: A Novel by Rachel Khong. She’s a new writer (newly published, I guess I should say) and this story is about Ruth, a 30+ something, trying to readjust to life without her fiance, who’s dumped her. She goes back home to help with the care of her father, who has Alzheimer’s. Written in a diary style, it jumps all over about her life, her mother, the funny, poignant things her father says on good days, and the nutty stuff he does on not-so-good days, her ex-, and her very quirky friends, too. Then a woman flits through who had had an affair with her father –  you get to observe all the angst from the mom about that. Mostly it’s about her father, as he’s relatively “together” early in the book, but then he disintegrates. Reading that part isn’t fun, although the author is able to lean some humor into it. I’m not sure I recommend the book exactly – I read it through – and felt sad. It doesn’t tie up loose ends – if you want that kind of book – you may not want to read this one.

Also finished Julian Fellowes’s Belgravia. You know Julian Fellowes, the producer and writer of Downton Abbey? He lends his mind to a story about a family or two from the similar time period as Downton, who live in London. There’s some amount of intrigue, romance, observations from within the halls of wealthy Londoners and moderately well off tradesmen and their families. There’s affairs, shady business dealings, an illegitimate child, the comings and goings of the “downstairs” staff too, etc. The characters were well done – I had no trouble keeping all of the people identified. The story is somewhat predictable, but it was interesting clear up to the end.

The Letter by Kathyrn Hughes. It’s a very intricate tale. At first it’s about Tina, a battered wife [at which point I paused and wondered if I wanted to read any further, but I’m glad I did]. She tries to get the courage to leave her husband. Then enters the letter she finds in a suit pocket in the thrift shop where she volunteers. It’s old – sealed and stamped, but never mailed. Then you learn about Crissie, decades earlier, a young pregnant girl who is sent off to Ireland to a distant relative by her father, then to a rigid (meaning horrible) convent [the book takes place mostly in Manchester, England and in rural Ireland]. The letter is addressed to her. Jump forward decades and William, the adopted child Crissie gave up, tries to find his birth mother. William meets Tina in Ireland [a serendipitous moment] as she’s trying to find the woman to whom the letter is addressed. This book is the #2 best seller on Amazon at the moment. It’s a riveting tale and I really enjoyed it.

The Muralist: A Novel by Shapiro. It tells the story of a young woman, an artist, who was part of the U.S.’s WPA mural project from the 1930s-40s (she is fiction, the WPA is not). As with so many artists, even today, they live in abject poverty through much of their lives. This woman, though, had family in France, desperately trying to escape before Hitler’s henchmen rousted them into concentration camps. The story, a bit of a mystery but not of the mystery-genre, is about Alizée Benoit, this young painter, who slightly captivates Eleanor Roosevelt’s help. It also skips into current time when the painter’s great-niece uncovers paintings she believes were painted by her aunt. The painter had disappeared into thin air in 1940, and her relative tries desperately to find out what happened to her. It’s a really good story including such Abstract Expressionist painters as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner well-woven into the narrative. It keeps you guessing right up to the end. A good read. The author also wrote The Art Forger: A Novel a few years ago.

Also recently read News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a free-lance job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her family was killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of an old (wild) west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many. Just read this one first!

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

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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