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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 Miscellaneous sides, Salads, on August 1st, 2007.

pepp-pecans
I suppose seasoned and/or sugared nuts have been around for a long time. Nut companies surely try to devise any way they can to entice us to buy more of their product. And I’ve tasted a variety of caramelized nuts, either walnuts or pecans, that go onto different dishes, most often salads. I’ve even tried the packaged ones from the grocery store. Didn’t like them. Too sweet.

So when Cathy Thomas, the Food Editor of our local daily newspaper, The Orange County Register, gave a cooking class at Sur la Table several years ago, I signed up. I’ve taken several of her classes – she’s fun and entertaining. She even leads food tours in our local Vietnamese community a couple of times a year. I’ve done that too.

But this particular class she prepared some kind of salad with THESE nuts. The only thing I remember about the salad is that it had sliced pears and blue cheese crumbles in it. But I’ll tell you, my taste buds were all over these nuts. You know the word addicting. Addiction: at dictionary.com it’s explained as the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming.Oh my. That’s me with these nuts. If you can stay out of the nuts, you’re a better person than I am.

I’ve made them dozens and DOZENS of times. I usually start out with the original recipe size, thinking oh, these will be enough to last for several salads. DH loves them too. We’ll enjoy having these for a week or so. WRONG. After I’ve made them I have to taste them to make sure they’re not too hot (what kind of lame reasoning is that for snacking?) Usually I’m cooking other things, making the salad. You know, the usual kitchen detail for any dinner. One more nut. Set the table. Another nut. Maybe two. Start the vegetable. Another nut. Measure out the 1/4 cup I think is appropriate for the salad and leave the rest to continue to rest on the foil. Another nut. And so it goes. I think you’ve got the picture.These are not overly sweet, although they surely do have some sugar in them. The pepper is what’s a bit different. Addicting. Spicy. Lovely. And I highly recommend you double the recipe!
printer-friendly CutePDF

Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click link to open in MC – 14 contains photo)

Peppered Pecans

Recipe: Cathy Thomas, Food Editor of the Orange County Register
Servings: 8

1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground pepper — coarsely ground
1 cup pecan halves

1. Place a baking sheet or jelly roll pan next to your range before you start.
2. In a small bowl combine sugar, salt and pepper, and stir to combine.
3. Heat a large wok or heavy skillet over high heat. Add pecans and toss until pecans are warm, about 1 minute.
4. Sprinkle pecans with HALF of the sugar mixture and toss until the sugar melts. Add remaining sugar mixture and toss again until sugar melts, then IMMEDIATELY pour out onto the baking sheet. Spread nuts out and allow to cool. These will keep, stored in a plastic bag, for about 3-4 weeks. (They’ll never last that long.)
Per Serving: 115 Calories; 9g Fat (67.4% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 9g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 235mg Sodium.

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