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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 Salad Dressings, Salads, on January 3rd, 2013.


Anytime I find a new or slightly different salad dressing, I’m intrigued. As I read the recipe for this, in a new cookbook that was given to me, The New Southwest Cookbook by Carolyn Niethammer, I liked the idea of the cilantro suspended in the dressing. And that technique worked beautifully, as you can see in the photo at left.

The salad that was in the accompanying recipecontained a few different ingredients that I chose not to use (field greens, jicama, carrots) but I did have arugula, celery, tomatoes and radishes. So really, you can make the salad portion with your own choice of ingredients.

Serving this as part of a complete dinner with a southwest emphasis, it was a perfect side. My friend Joan liked this salad (and the dressing first and foremost) better than anything else in the dinner I prepared. I did too. It was the lime juice that made it so, in my opinion.


I made it up ahead – about 2-3 hours before dinner – both the salad and the dressing. So when our guests arrived, I just had to toss the salad and it was done.

One of the caveats about this dressing, though, is that it needs to be used within 24 hours. As I write this it’s been 48, but I’ll use up the rest of it with tonight’s dinner. The reason it doesn’t keep is the cilantro. Once fresh cilantro encounters anything wet, it goes to mush. Perhaps in this dressing that won’t happen quite so quickly – it’s still nicely suspended in the dressing – but I’m sure the taste is likely waning. For a salad for 5 people, I used about 3/4 of the dressing, so you might want to reduce the quantity if you’re making just one salad for 4 people.

What’s good: the sweet and tart from the sugar and lime juice. Loved the flavor of this dressing, and the salad was also wonderful (red bell pepper, radishes, arugula, Romaine and Feta). A definite make-again recipe.
What’s not: only that the dressing doesn’t keep well – preferably only 24 hours. Otherwise, the salad is a winner.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Cocina Salad with Lime-Cilantro Dressing

Recipe By: Adapted from The New Southwest Cookbook, by Carolyn Niethammer
Serving Size: 5
NOTES: You won’t use all of the dressing, so do plan to use it up the following day.

1/4 teaspoon jalapeno chile pepper — minced
3 tablespoons white onion — minced
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 cup canola oil
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup cilantro — chopped
6 cups lettuce — spring type, field greens (or arugula and Romaine)
1/2 cup radishes — chopped
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes — matchsticks
1/2 cup red bell pepper — julienned
6 tablespoons Feta cheese — crumbled

1. DRESSING: Combine all ingredients except cilantro in a blender and process until creamy. Taste and correct the salt/sugar/lime relationship to your taste. Add cilantro leaves and pulse just until the cilantro is in small flakes and evenly distributed. Do not over-blend or you will lose the contrast. Serve within 24 hours.
2. SALAD: Toss the greens with radishes and tomatoes. Add dressing to taste. Divde into bowls and top with red pepper strips and the sprinkle of Feta cheese.
Per Serving (this assumes you will eat all the dressing, which you won’t): 273 Calories; 25g Fat (78.2% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 12g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 10mg Cholesterol; 353mg Sodium.

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