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Here are the tastingspoons players. I’m in the middle (Carolyn). Daughter Sara on the right, and daughter-in-law Karen on the left. I started the blog in 2007, as a way to share recipes with my family. Now in 2021, I’ll still participate, but the two daughters are going to do more posting from here on out.

We participate in an amazon program that rewards a little tiny $ something (pennies, really) if you purchase any books recommended (below), or buy products occasionally mentioned on the blog with an amazon link. 

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BOOK READING:

No question, the most quirky book I’ve read of late, a recommendation from my friend Karen, West with Giraffes: A Novel by Lynda Rutledge. The book IS a novel, but the event is true. Back in the 1930s a small group of giraffes were brought across the Atlantic from Africa to New York, destined for the then-growing San Diego Zoo. On the voyage the ship encounters a hurricane and several giraffes are lost, but two young ones survive. The story is of their journey across the United States in the care of two oh-so-different people, both with a mission. A young boy (barely an adult) becomes the driver (his only goal is his desire to go to California), with the zoo’s delegate (a middle-aged man with a past), and it’s the story about these two misfits and their caring for the giraffes, feeding them (that’s a laugh – onions play a big part). No freeways existed back then, and the mental picture of the vehicle they used (basically a small truck) with the two giraffes confined within two tall boxes precariously strapped to the truck, and their driving and carrying-on getting under bridges and over rivers is just a hoot. I so wanted this story to be true – parts of it ARE true. Worth reading if you enjoy such animal stories. The giraffes survive, thankfully, and they both lived to a ripe old age at the zoo!

Also a kind of quirky book by Beth Miller, The Missing Letters of Mrs. Bright. Picture a middle-aged woman, slogging through life with a not-very-attentive husband, grown children, and one day she decides to leave. Completely. Maybe she had a bucket list of sorts, and she knew none of those places would ever happen in her life if she stayed put. She sets off to find a long-lost girlfriend. The book is about her journey. Her travels. Friendships, and lost friendships. Everyone can probably empathize with Kay Bright as she examines her life. And yes, there are letters and chapters with her daughter, Stella. Cute book.

Katherine Center’s book, Things You Save in a Fire: A Novel is certainly vivid. There aren’t very many women firefighters out there in the world – this is about one. A novel, however. About her work life and the harrassment she endures (some of it’s with love, some not) and about her relationships. The pros and cons of transferring to a different fire station (just like any job move, not always smooth). Good read.

Riveting story of post-WWII- Japan in Ana Johns novel, The Woman in the White Kimono: A Novel. About a young Japanese girl who falls in love with an American serviceman. Such relationships were fraught with problems from the very strict Japanese families who resented the American presence in their country, to the American military higher-ups who made it impossible for the servicemen to marry Japanese nationals. Could hardly put it down. Yes, it’s a romance of sorts, but not in the typical sense of today’s novel-romance-writing. There aren’t always happy beginnings, middles or endings, but the in between made for very interesting reading.

Also read Rishi Reddi’s novel, Passage West: A Novel with a very different take on the migration of Indians (East India) to the California agricultural lands east of San Diego during the 1920s and 30s. Wow. What an eye-opener. Of their small but loyal family enclaves, the hard-scrabble lives they led, the near poverty level of farming. I’d never heard that any Indian migrants were a part of farming here in California. Obviously they made up a very small percentage of the immigrants who settled there.

Maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, but the Mary Morris book, A Very Private Diary: A Nurse in Wartime tells the true day to day life of a young Irish girl who becomes a nurse, in England, France and Belgium in the midst of WWII and immediately after the war. Fascinating glimpse into the hardships not only for patients (the war-wounded) but for the underappreciated and hardworking staff at various hospitals (even a tent one in Normandy where she worked for many months after D-Day). She meets her to-be husband and even that is fraught with difficulty from many angles.

Could hardly put down Krueger’s book, This Tender Land: A Novel. My friend Ann recommended it. I was gripped with the story within the first paragraph, and it never stopped until I turned the last page. Tells the harrowing story of a young boy, Odie, (and his brother Albert) who became orphans back in the 30s. At first there is a boarding school, part of an Indian (Native American) agreement, though they are not Indian. Some very ugly things happen at that school. Eventually they  escape, and they are “on the run.” With a few others with them. If you loved Huckleberry Finn, you’ll have a great appreciation for this story as they use a canoe to get themselves down river. Never having very much to eat and getting into trouble way too often, and authorities on their tail. Well, you just have to read the book to find out what happens.

Just finished Kristin Hannah’s latest book, The Four Winds: A Novel. What a story. One I’ve never read about, although I certainly have heard about the “dust bowl” years when there was a steady migration of down-and-out farmers from the Midwest, to California, for what they hoped to be the American Dream. It tells the story of one particular family, the Martinellis, the grandparents, their son, his wife, and their two children. The book is heartbreaking, but one of those that everyone should read. The hardship, the hunger, the dirt and dust, the failed crops, the lack of rain, then the story picks up again in central California, back in the day when the wealthy growers just used up the migrants. I don’t want to spoil the story. So worth reading. Hannah really knows how to weave a story.

Brit Bennett has written quite a book, The Vanishing Half: A Novel. It’s a novel, yet I’m sure there are such real-life situations. Twin girls are born to a young woman in the South. Into a town (that probably doesn’t exist) that prides itself on being light-skinned blacks. The father was very dark, but he plays no part, really, in this story. Growing up, the girls leave home at 18 to find their way in New Orleans. Suddenly, one twin disappears (her clothes and suitcase all gone in the wink of an eye). Her twin left behind has no idea what’s happened to her. As the story reveals, with divided paths, one twin continues her life as a black woman, and the other twin, the one who left, is able to pass as a white woman. She marries well, has a daughter. Well, let’s just say that there are lots of wicked webs woven throughout the story, starting from the girls’ mother who never wants to speak again of her lost daughter. But you know where this is going, don’t you? Things are found out. The author does a great job of weaving the story apart and then back together.

What a book. The Only Woman in the Room: A Novel by Marie Benedict. A novelized biography of Hedy Lamarr, the famous actress. She was a brilliant mind, and a beautiful woman. It tells the story of her coming of age, how she navigated the world of acting back in that time period (she was Austrian, and Hitler was in power). The writing was very well done – to tell Hedy’s story with detail and poignancy. Eventually Hedy made it to the U.S. and her life story changed, but still had its difficulties. I loved the book, beginning to end. She should have become an engineer as she invented several war related bomb tools. Very much worth reading.

Also read The Secret of the Chateau: Gripping and heartbreaking historical fiction with a mystery at its heart by Kathleen McGurl. There are two stories here. The historical part is just prior to and up to the French Revolution, when aristocrats were chased and killed, guillotined in many cases. There is a young couple (part of the royal court) who escape to a remote small castle owned by his family, located on the edge of France and Italy, hoping to wait out the revolution and hoping the villagers love and care about them. Then jump to current day as a small English group of close friends decide to retire somewhere on the continent, and settle on a small abandoned castle in the remote hills of France along the Italian border. Got the picture? The historian in the group is quite interested in the history of the home, and clues are revealed (in the tower) that lead her and the group on a quest to discover what happened to the couple who used to live there. There was a fire once upon a time. There’s an pesky ghost. There’s also a very old child’s doll/playhouse on the grounds. Plus there’s a small graveyard. It is VERY intriguing. Very interesting. I love historical novels like this, and this one in particular does have quite a mystery involved, too.

Also finished reading Sue Monk Kidd’s recent book, The Book of Longings: A Novel. It is a book that might challenge some Christian readers, as it tells the tale of Jesus marrying a woman named Mary. The story is all about Mary, her growing up, her scholarly pursuits, and then from the moment she meets Jesus as a young man. The story follows along to and beyond his death on the cross. In the time of Christ it was extremely uncommon for a man not to marry. It was almost unseemly. Fraught with suspicions, I’d suppose. Although scripture, as scripture, does not play a very strong part here, if you’ve read the Bible you’ll see many of the stories of Jesus’ life through Mary’s eyes. I loved the book from the first word to the last one. The book is believable to me, even though the Bible never says one way or the other that Jesus ever married. It’s been presumed he never did. But maybe he did?

Jeanine Cummins has written an eye-opener, American Dirt. A must read. Oh my goodness. I will never, ever, ever look at Mexican (and further southern) migrants, particularly those who are victims of the vicious cartels, without sympathy. It tells the story of a woman and her young son, who were lucky enough to hide when the cartel murdered every member of her family – her husband, her mother, and many others. Her husband was a journalist, and his life was always in danger because he wrote the truth, and that was taking a risk. The story is about her escape, with harrowing chapters as she makes her way north from Acapulco, with various major detours, one step, or sometimes nothing more than a hair’s width ahead of the cartel minions trying to find her. I could NOT put this book down. The author is not Hispanic, and some have criticized her for that, but she did her research, and many authors write about places and people they are not. I have nothing but respect for her having told this story. You need to read this.

Also read JoJo Moyes’ book, The Giver of Stars. Oh gosh, what a GREAT book. Alice, living in an English home which lacks much, leaps to agree to marry a visiting American. It was an escape for her. He is a man of some family wealth, and she travels from England to Kentucky, during the 1920s. Once settled into the family home, she discovers married life is not what she had expected. Affection is lacking, and she must share the home with her tyrannical father-in-law, the owner of mines in the deep mountains. And with the ghost of the deceased mother-in-law. The family cook won’t tolerate Alice’s help in the kitchen. Alice is terribly lonely and unhappy. The town doesn’t much like this English woman with her funny way of speaking. But then, she meets a woman who encourages her to join the Horseback Librarians. With trepidation, she begins traversing the remote hills, through unbelievable weather, to deliver old, battered and tattered books to the remote inhabitants of the area. She makes friends, wonderful, loving people from all walks of life. There is tremendous tension from the danger of the mines, the unions trying to get a foothold, plus the unraveling of her marriage, including the dreaded father-in-law who feels she should answer to him, behave as he wants. Uh, no. Alice goes her own route. Her new friends become her family, and, oh, what love. There has been much criticism of Moyes’ possible plagiarism of another book regarding the Horseback Librarians. I read the other book – but I didn’t feel remotely as intrigued by that story as I was by Moyes’ version. A feel good story, but it takes some while getting to that “feel good” part, nearly to the end.

Frances Liardet has written a blockbuster tale, We Must Be Brave. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Although the scene is WWII England, this book is not really about the war. It’s about the people at home, waiting it out, struggling with enough food, clothing and enough heat. It’s about Ellen. Her early years, under much hardship. About her teens, some of it as an orphan. Then a young adult, which includes marriage, a marriage blanc, which I didn’t understand until you learn the meaning. Then a child enters the picture, a child that will become a focus for the remainder of the book. Through the war, and beyond. I cried several times, as will you, I suspect. What’s a constant is the descriptions of the place, a town called Upton, near Southampton. About the hills and dales, the flora and fauna, the rain, the mud sometimes, the flooding sometimes. But throughout, it’s about neighbors caring for neighbors, and about love. A must read. Would make a really good book club read.

William Kent Krueger wrote Ordinary Grace. From amazon: a brilliantly moving account of a boy standing at the door of his young manhood, trying to understand a world that seems to be falling apart around him. It is an unforgettable novel about discovering the terrible price of wisdom and the enduring grace of God. It’s a coming of age story.

Best book I’ve read recently. Not new. Called Follow the River: A Novel by James Alexander Thom. This one is also based on the history of a woman (married, pregnant) who was captured by the Shawnee, during the early settlement days east of the Ohio River, about 1755. And her eventual escape. I stayed up all hours to keep reading. The book was written from the many journals and writing compiled by her children. Her name: Mary Ingles. And it chronicles her 1000-mile trek in treacherous weather and over uncharted ground. What an amazing woman, and what a story.

A Column of Fire: A Novel by Ken Follett. It takes place in the 1500s, in England, and has everything to do with the war between the Catholics and the Protestants, that raged throughout Europe during that time, culminating in the Spanish Inquisition.

My Name Is Resolute by Nancy Turner. She’s the author of another book of some renown, These is my Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901 (P.S.). Resolute is what I’m discussing here. It’s fiction, but based some on a true story. Resolute, as a young girl from a privileged life on a plantation in Jamaica, was taken captive by slavers, eventually ended up in Colonial America. This book is the story of her life. The people she met, the men in her life, her children, and always about her indefatigable energy for life. Always hoping to return to Jamaica.

The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape by James Rebanks. This is a memoir, so a true story, of a young man growing up in the Lake District of Northern England, the son of a farming family, who sabotages everything in his being regarding going to school and leaves as soon as he is able (probably about 8th grade, I’d guess). And becomes a shepherd. And at night, he read literature that he accumulated from his grandfather. And then what happens to him as he grows up. Riveting.

 

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 Soups, on April 20th, 2020.

caulif_soup_golden_raisins_capers_pinenuts

Oh my goodness, is this soup fabulous. You’d almost not know its base is cauliflower.

There’s a story to go along with this post. Last month before the virus had ramped up, I took a one-week trip to our California central coast. I had a fabulous time – by myself – visiting wineries, window shopping, used book stores, stopping at coffee shops here and there. I thoroughly enjoy driving and I meandered – I was in no hurry to get anywhere so I could enjoy the views. Visiting with old friends in San Luis Obispo, we went to a local hotel (the San Luis Obispo Hotel) for lunch. Cauliflower soup was featured that day – I quizzed the waitress if it was good. She waxed glorious about it – whenever the chef made it, she said she had some – and that I wouldn’t be disappointed.

So here’s what the restaurant’s soup looked like, at right. cauliflower_soup_san_luis_obispo_hotelI think the menu said it was garnished with a sage leaf, but that wasn’t a sage leaf – looked like basil to me. But on top was plenty of the balsamic glaze, toasted almonds, capers, some plumped up raisins (can’t really see those) and a few little pieces of caramelized roasted cauliflower.

Upon my first sip, I swooned. It was SO good. I insisted my friends needed to try it – they agreed it was sensational. My thoughts as I ate it – the golden raisins added so much – they were plumped for sure. The nuts added great texture, and so did the few little pieces of cauliflower. There was no discernible cauliflower flavor to the soup itself. So I decided it probably wasn’t made with caramelized cauliflower. Plus, the soup was super smooth. When the waitress returned I quizzed her some more about the soup – she knew it contained cream (check), and yes, it was balsamic glaze (check), and toasted almonds (I used pine nuts, check) and she knew the raisins had been cooked in something (check). And yes, they used a Vitamix to puree it until very smooth (check).

Soon after returning home I went online to google such a soup. No soup came up, but a bunch of results showed a vegetable dish (from the New York Times, I think it was, plus epicurious) of roasted cauliflower with toasted pine nuts, capers, golden raisins and balsamic glaze drizzled on top. My first thought was that the chef had perhaps made a monstrous batch of that for the dinner service, didn’t serve it all so he created the soup with the leftovers. I don’t know, of course. And it doesn’t matter – I created the soup with what little I could discern.

As I’m writing this post, I’m going to have it for the 2nd day, for my lunch. I have all the garnishes except the roasted cauliflower pieces. And I used pine nuts, as I mentioned. No basil or sage leaf, either. I added more parsley. I tried to make the soup with white onion, but my neighbor who is doing my shopping couldn’t find white onions. So yellow it was. I added celery for flavor, chicken broth, cream, and thickened it a little bit with flour. All of it was whizzed up at length in my Vitamix. I let it whiz for a long, long time  – and truly it resulted in a silky-smooth texture. I added a drizzle of sour cream (not on the restaurant soup), but you could easily use a little drizzle of EVOO for appearance or a tiny drizzle of heavy cream.

caulif_soup_with_cozyLunch at my house is often soup of some kind. There’s a photo of my bowl sitting in the microwave soup cozy (several artisans make them on Etsy). The soup bowl is sitting off center only because I wanted to show you the cute fabric on the back side of it. I have flat bags and bags of various soups in my freezer. I think this one will get eaten in total with none for the freezer. It’s that good. Do try to make this a day ahead of serving – as with all soups, they taste better once they’ve chilled overnight.

What’s GOOD: all the flavors produce an outstanding soup. The garnishes absolutely “make” this soup. Don’t skimp on them – in my opinion they’re all needed.

What’s NOT: a bit more prep with all the garnishes, but really it’s not a difficult soup to make.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Creamy Cauliflower Soup with Golden Raisins, Pine Nuts, Capers and Balsamic Drizzle

Recipe By: Loosely based on a soup I enjoyed at a hotel restaurant in San Luis Obispo, CA, March 2020
Serving Size: 6

SOUP:
2 tablespoons EVOO
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large white onion — chopped
2 stalks celery — chopped
1 clove garlic — minced
1 head cauliflower — chopped (no leaves)
5 cups low sodium chicken broth
Salt and WHITE pepper to taste
3 tablespoons all purpose flour — or cornstarch
2/3 cup heavy cream — or half and half
GARNISHES:
4 tablespoons golden raisins
1/3 cup water
1 1/2 tablespoons white vinegar
4 tablespoons pine nuts — toasted, or slivered almonds
2 tablespoons capers — drained
2 tablespoons sour cream — drizzled on top, or EVOO Drizzle of balsamic glaze
4 tablespoons parsley — minced

1. SOUP: In a large soup pot warm the butter and EVOO over medium heat. Add onion and saute for 3-5 minutes until onion is soft. Do not burn or brown. Add celery and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add garlic, then chicken broth, then the cauliflower. Simmer for 20 minutes until vegetables are cooked through. Allow mixture to cool for 20-30 minutes, then pour (in batches if necessary) into blender and puree for a long time – until the soup is super-smooth. Add the all-purpose flour during one of the whizzing sessions. Pour all the pureed mixture back into the soup pot, add cream and bring to a simmer again and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring often, as it thickens, watching that it doesn’t burn. Cool and refrigerate overnight if possible.
2. RAISINS: Bring golden raisins, water and vinegar to a simmer and cook over very low heat for about 5 minutes, then set aside to cool, while the raisins plump up. Drain.
3. SERVING: Pour reheated soup into individual bowls and garnish with any and all variety of the garnishes. The raisins are a must, as are some kind of toasted nuts. If you don’t have pine nuts, use slivered toasted almonds. If you don’t have balsamic glaze, you can make it by cooking down about 1/2 cup of regular vinegar until it’s thick and syrupy. Or, in a pinch drizzle soup with a TINY amount of regular balsamic. If you don’t have sour cream, drizzle with EVOO. If you feel particularly creative, sizzle the capers in a little olive oil until they burst and crisp up.
Per Serving: 291 Calories; 21g Fat (63.1% calories from fat); 13g Protein; 15g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 46mg Cholesterol; 491mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on April 29th, 2020:

    This looks like a must-try. Those garnishes sound so interesting! It looks like the kind of soup I would like to have around for a few days so I can have it when I serve carb-heavier meals to the guys. When I can finally have my daughter visit again, I know she would love this!

    This soup is just amazing. I may have to make another batch of it sometime soon. . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on May 1st, 2020:

    My mouth is watering! I’ve got what I need–I can make it next week!

    This soup is SO good. I can’t wait to make it again. I have a cauliflower in my frig right now, but seems like it was just a week or so ago I was eating this batch, so I don’t think I’m quite ready for a full batch of the soup. I’ll be anxious to hear what you think of it . . .carolyn t

  3. hddonna

    said on May 6th, 2020:

    Made this on Monday, and I couldn’t wait a day to try it. It was delicious then, and even better yesterday, as expected. I just love the interplay of textures and flavors–sweet, tart, salty, crunchy, crisp. As you say, it’s the garnishes that make this soup. It’s hard for me not to nibble away on the extras. The first day, I did everything but the capers. I used slivered almonds, and they were good, but the second day I used dry-roasted macadamia nuts, and they were much better. (I keep all kinds of nuts in the freezer, but no pine nuts since I had a bout with pine nut syndrome a few years ago. Yesterday, I checked to see if there was some more recent research on that and was able to print out a chart of the different varieties and how to tell the differences among them. It was only one variety out of several that caused the problem, and I am wondering if that kind has been eliminated from the market here by now, as I haven’t heard anything about the phenomenon in years. Am going to check them out next time I get to Trader Joe’s; they are so tasty!) As I had a lemon half handy, I added a squirt of lemon juice to the soup along with the garnishes, and, on the second day, a dash of Aleppo pepper flakes for a little gentle heat. I added the fried capers the second day. Lovely little crispy, salty bits, but they did soften after sitting in the soup a very short time. Might just add a couple to each spoonful in order to get the full effect.

    I’m so happy you enjoyed that soup as much as I did, Donna. And yes, obviously the various garnishes are what make this soup stand out from others .. . carolyn t

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