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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 Grilling, Veggies/sides, on December 14th, 2012.


Oh, my. Can I just tell you to make this? Do you trust me? Have you learned that when I say that, it’s something that’s sensational? Worth making? Fabulous. All those things? Yes, YES!

We have a local restaurant in Tustin, where I live, called the Tustin Roadhouse. It’s a kind of a dive, but not in a bad way. Cement floors, melamine topped tables and a few benches. They serve Que – mostly. The restaurant used to have a different name (Beach Pit BBQ) but awhile ago they branched out just a little bit, provided some optional menu items and sides. We went a month ago and ordered appetizers and a side dish – corn. We had delicious – absolutely wonderful fried calamari with a fab remoulade sauce. Then they brought the corn. Oh my gosh! It was SO good. When we went back there a couple of weeks ago, all I really cared about was ordering more of that corn. I quizzed the waitress about what was on the corn, and promptly came home and made it myself.

grilled_cornYou’ll find some other recipes online if you search for Mexican Street Corn. Some recipes suggest Parmesan. Most called for the cotija cheese. Some don’t have the cheese at all. Some used cayenne in the mayo. I like the depth of flavor from chipotle, so I used that. cotija_cheese_pkgI made up my own recipe for it. I know it’s not corn season right now, but I did find corn at our local Trader Joe’s. It wasn’t the best tasting, but hey, it’s December as I write this, so I took what I could cotija_cheese_cutget! Those of you readers who live in the Southern Hemisphere – buy some corn right now and make this.


First you grill the corn, then while it’s sizzling hot you brush on a mixture of mayo, chipotle chile in adobo added in, and a tad of lime juice squeezed into the mix also. Then you roll the corn into crumbled cotija cheese. You don’t need much – maybe 2 T. per ear is sufficient. If you love the cotija, then add more. Cotija is a salty, aged cow’s milk Mexican cheese. It has the texture of feta, but it’s not like feta in taste, just the crumbly aspect of it. If you use Parmesan, be sure to grate it – don’t shred it. You don’t want big threads of cheese – you want crumbles. That’s IT. See? I said easy.

What’s good: the cheese, the flavor, the texture. You don’t use much mayo (the amount above – about 3 tablespoons was enough for 4 small ears) mixed with the chipotle and lime juice. Yum is all I can say.
What’s not: absolutely nothing. Do use corn holders in the end to hold the corn while you’re brushing on the mayo mixture – they’re really hot right off the grill.

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Mexican Street Corn

Recipe By: My own concoction, but based on what I tasted at the Tustin Roadhouse
Serving Size: 4
NOTES: Add more chipotle chile if you like it hotter. Just be careful – it packs a punch if you use too much.

4 ears fresh corn — on the cob
1/4 cup mayonnaise — regular or light
1/2 teaspoon chipotle chile canned in adobo — mashed, chopped, minced to a paste
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1/2 cup Cotija cheese — crumbled in small pieces

1. Set out two flat plates or dipping pans. In one add the mayo, chipotle (to taste – add more if desired), and lime juice. Mix it well and taste. Add pepper if desired. Don’t add salt as the cheese is quite salty. In the other dish or pan crumble the cotija cheese.
2. Grill the corn just long enough to get grill marks on the ears.
3. Use a silicone brush and brush each ear with some of the mayo mixture. Use corn holders in the end, or hold the ear with paper towels. Cover each ear end to end with the mayo mixture, but not thick at all – just enough so the cheese will stick. Then gently roll each ear in the cotija cheese, rolling back to cover most of it with a erratic covering of cheese. It does not need to be solidly covered – that would be too much, and too salty. Serve immediately before the corn gets cold!
Per Serving: 178 Calories; 13g Fat (58.6% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 17g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 5mg Cholesterol; 98mg Sodium.

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