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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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Without just stating my age, let’s just say that I’ve entertained family and friends for holidays, for a whole lot of years. So I’ve had lots of experience making big meals and small meals that seem to go well with holiday entertaining.

After trying to write up this list by holiday type, I gave up and have just listed special foods from my blog that lend themselves well to entertaining. Usually I don’t serve pumpkin for Christmas, and I don’t serve beef at Thanksgiving, but I’ll bet you can figure it out . . . most of these are kind of “special” meal preparations. Some may be more labor intensive, but they’re not all tedious or hard. More likely they’re festive, and maybe use more pricey meat options.

Appetizers:

Sausage Pinwheels
Baked Brie and Apples
Ginger Picks
Bombay Cheese Ball
Goat Cheese Pesto Appetizer
Walnut Fennel Dip
Muhumara – Red Bell Pepper Walnut Spread
Beef:

Beef Tenderloin in Puff Pastry
Herb Crusted Beef Tenderloin
Steak Diane Flambé
Filet Mignon with Mushrooms and Blue Cheese
Sizzling Ribeyes with Red Pepper Sauce
Filet Mignon with Wine Hollandaise
Filet Mignon with Mushroom Port Sauce
Beef Tenderloin Steaks with Cambazola Toasts
Herb Garlic Beef Tenderloin with Roasted Mushrooms
Filet Mignon with Bacon and Port Sauce
Grilled Filet Mignon with Gorgonzola, Sage
Chicken and Turkey:

Bombay Chicken (a big, lovely casserole)
Kosher Turkey and Turkey Gravy
Spatchcocked Turkey
Country Captain Chicken (another big, lovely casserole)
Fish:

Grilled Salmon on Watercress Salad
Halibut Osso Buco
Salmon with Maple Syrup and Thyme
Scallops with Blood Orange Gastrique
Lamb:

Leg of Lamb with Sausage, Pecorino and Pine Nuts
Pork:

Kurobuta Ham with Mustard Sauce
Pork Tenderloin with Maple and Mustard
Grilled Rack of Pork with Rosemary, Garlic and Sage
Breads and Breakfast Breads:

Buttermilk Scones (my favorite)
Bishop’s Bread (a loaf type Christmas favorite with chocolate and Maraschino cherries)
Chocolate Scones
Irish Soda Bread with Orange Zest
Welsh Cakes (kind of like scones, but cooked differently)
Pumpkin Raisin Bread (a yeast-raised bread for toast or turkey sandwiches)
Sour Cream Coffeecake with Chocolate
Custard-Filled Cornbread
Refrigerator Raisin Bran Muffins
Make-Ahead Coffeecake
Brunch or Big Holiday Breakfast:

Corn, Bacon and Cheddar Strata – an OMGosh fantastic breakfast dish
Pineapple Upside Down French Toast
Spiced Fruit
Breakfast Eggy Muffin
Breakfast Egg Muffins (yes, these are different)
Ham and Egg Cups with Pesto, Tomatoes and Mozzarella
Make-Ahead Coffeecake
Bananas Foster Croissant French Toast
Twisted Bacon Spirals (baked)
Southwest Eggs Benedict
Brunch Gratinée Eggs
Cookies: (except for the chocolate chip ones, these are all Christmas kinds of cookies)

Cranberry Noels
Blue Chip Chocolate Cookies
Heavenly Cream Cheese Brownies
Harlequin Pinwheels
New York Special Slices (like Nanaimo Bars)
Rock Road
Chocolate Kiss Treasures
Brandied Apricot Bars
One Bowl Thin Chocolate Chip Cookies
Wellesley Chocolate Chip Cookies
Chocolate Almond Saltine Toffee
White Batter Chocolate Chip Cookies
Snickery Squares
Almond Spice Wafers (like Moravian Sugar Cookies)
Ad Hoc’s Chocolate Chip Cookies
Midnight Crackles
Silver Moon Bakery Chocolate Chip Cookies
Baked Cinnamon Toasts (OMGosh, so good)
Thin Ginger Cookies
Chocolate Chunk Brownies (thick, rich, decadent)
Desserts:

Classic Brownies
Banana Caramel Chocolate Chip Cake
Grandgirl’s Fresh Apple Cake
Pumpkin Bread Pudding
Chocolate Steamed Pudding
Gourmet Cheesecake
Gingerbread Pudding Cake
Pear and Chocolate Tart
Chocolate Grand Marnier Decadence Cake
Triple Chocolate Torte with Raspberry Sauce
Pumpkin Praline Custard (low calorie, believe it or not, and easy)
Pumpkin Spice Gingerbread Trifle
Applesauce Spice Cake with Caramel Frosting
Mocha Pecan Roll
Cranberry and Porter Trifle
Chocolate Sponge Roll (used to be my standard Christmas dessert)
Apple Crumb Pie
Cranberry Pudding Cake
86 Proof Chocolate Cake
Ginger Apple Cake Torte
Cajun Apple Cake with Brandy Drizzle
Purple Plum Torte
Teddie’s Apple Cake
Salads:

Apple Cherry Walnut Green Salad
Spinach and Berries Salad
Minted Watermelon and Feta
Celery, Date, Walnut and Pecorino Salad
Cranberry, Pecan and Apple Salad with Lime Dressing
Meyer Lemon Harvest Grain Salad with Asparagus
Winter Greens Salad with Bacon, Orange, Walnuts and Blue Cheese
Vegetarian:

Cheese Fondue (our family favorite)
Vegetable Coconut Curry (lots of work, but worth making)
Armenian Rice Noodle Pilaf
Southwest Corn Cakes
Mushroom Bread Pudding
Rice with Pecans, Garlic and Spinach
Mushroom Risotto (pressure-cooker, easy)
Garbanzo Bean, Feta and Cilantro Salad
Butternut Squash Risotto (leave out the pancetta for vegetarian)
Saffron Risotto Cakes
Cabbage with Corn, White Beans, Raisins and Thyme
Vegetables and Sides:

Baked Onions with Thyme
Brussels Sprouts with Brandy, Orange and Dried Cranberries
Zucchini Gratin
Hashed Brown Casserole
Marinated Brussels Sprouts (a cold salad)
Green Beans with Shallots and Balsamic Vinegar
Asparagus with Chile Butter
Green Beans with Garlic and Olive Oil (I must make this 20x a year)
Gulliver’s Creamed Corn
Mashed Potatoes with Mascarpone Cheese
Peas with Pancetta
Monterey Scalloped Potatoes
BLT Smashed Potatoes
Armenian Rice Noodle Pilaf
Crumbled Asparagus
Swiss Chard with Cranberries
Mushroom Bread Pudding
Garbanzo Bean Salad with Feta and Cilantro
Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Pine Nuts
Corn, Sugar Snap Peas and Bacon Sauté
Haricot Verts with Balsamic Vinaigrette
Pasta with Tomato Cream Sauce (oh-so easy)
Meyer Lemon Harvest Grain Salad with Asparagus