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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:

Nicolas Barreau’s novel Love Letters from Montmartre: A Novel  is very poignant, very sweet book. Seems like I’ve read several books lately about grieving; this one has a charming ending, but as anyone who has gone through a grave loss of someone dear knows, you can’t predict day to day, week to week. “Snap out of it,” people say, thinking they’re helping. This book is about a young man, a young father also, who loses his beloved wife. He’s barely functioning, trying to get through a day, taking care of his young son. And visiting the cemetery (the one in Montmartre, Paris). There are several peripheral characters (his son, a neighbor and best friend of his departed wife, a good guy friend too, plus a young woman he befriends at the cemetery). As a parting request, his wife asks him to write 33 letters to her after she’s gone, and to put them in a special box hidden in the cemetery monument. And that begins the story.

Another very quirky book, that happens to contain a lot of historical truth is The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World: A Novel by Harry N. Abrams. Set in Japan just after the tsunami 10 years ago when 18,000 people died. At a private park miles away, some very special people installed a phone booth, with a phone (that didn’t work) at the edge of the park, and the survivors of the tsunami began wending their way there to “talk” to their deceased loved ones. It became a monument, of sorts, a lovely garden too, and people became friends, heard their stories of the tsunami and watched as they approached the phone booth, entered, and began to talk solemnly to their loved ones. This book is just amazing. I found myself tearing up several times. Maybe not for everyone, but I can’t imagine anyone not appreciating the poignancy of this special phone booth. And what it did to heal people through grief. I sure could identify.

As you’ve read here many times, I marvel at authors who come up with unusual premises for their books. This one Meet Me in Monaco: A Novel of Grace Kelly’s Royal Wedding. And yes, it IS somewhat about Grace Kelly’s wedding, but most of the novel is about a young woman perfume designer, Sophie, who accidentally rescues Grace Kelly from the relentless photographers who hound her every move. It begins when Grace visits Monaco for the Cannes Film Festival, and a few days later she meets Prince Rainier. Young Sophie becomes Grace’s friend, and actually, so does the relentless photographer. I can remember when Grace Kelly married the Prince – the fairy tale come true. It was quite the big news (I was in my late teens then). Definitely this story is a romance, but not the sappy type you may be used to. Loved the book.

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 Appetizers, on June 13th, 2021.

What? I’ve never posted this recipe on the blog? That needs to be rectified as of now!

A post from Carolyn. Where this recipe came from, I’m not sure. I thought it was from Evan Kleiman, but having gone on the ‘net to look, my recipe isn’t quite like hers. Similar, but not the same. I suppose ALL caponata recipes are similar – containing eggplant, onions, celery, capers, tomatoes and olives. I’ve been making this caponata for well over 40 years.

So, what makes a great caponata? It’s Italian. It’s a combination: chewy of some textures (eggplant, olives and celery), softness of others (onions), a meld of sweet (a tiny bit of sugar and the tomatoes) and sour (some red wine vinegar) and for sure, a burst of fresh flavors. I know caponata can be purchased ready-made, and I’ve done that from time to time. But I’m here to tell you, there is nothing quite like home made caponata.

Know from the get-go that you need a couple of hours to make this. There’s a goodly amount of chopping going on (eggplant, onions, celery) but first you have to peel most of the eggplant. You can peel all of them if you prefer, but the recipe I have suggested leaving the peel on some of them to give the finished caponata an additional layer of color. Japanese eggplant are called for here (they’re supposed to be sweeter), and it’s a bit tedious to peel 2 pounds of them, I’m just sayin’.

The tomatoes need to be peeled and seeded, too, which of and by itself isn’t that much trouble, but it takes time to heat a pot of water, dunk the tomatoes in there, then remove the peel, cut them just so to remove all the seeds, then to chop up finely. The eggplant likes to sit awhile – with salt – to extract a little bit of the liquid. I have to say, maybe I got a tablespoon of discolored liquid underneath the colander after sitting for about an hour. Not much. The onion (both a yellow and a red), celery and garlic were simmered for awhile with some olive oil, until tender. All that was removed to a big bowl and then the drained and blotted-dry eggplant was added to several successive batches to be briefly browned. Finally, everything is added into the pot – along with some parsley, tomato paste, the red wine vinegar plus some water, and the little bit of sugar. That whole mixture was simmered for about 10 minutes. You do NOT want the vegetables to break down to mush – the flavor would be fine, but you want the texture of all those various ingredients to be seen and sensed on your tongue.

Taste it for salt (I ended up adding just a little) and pepper. A tablespoon of sugar was all the batch needed, and it makes about 3-4 cups when you’re all finished.

As I mentioned in my last post, I had a wine tasting event at my home (a fund-raiser), with two other friends co-hosting with me, and we served several appetizers to go along with the variety of wines. I made a special trip to go buy Cloudy Bay’s sauvignon blanc, which is a favorite of mine – if I’m going to drink white wine. Mostly I drink red. When my DH Dave and I visited New Zealand, we fell in love with Cloudy Bay wines, but particularly the sauvignon blanc. I asked the guests to taste the wine with the various appetizers, though the caponata goes better with red wine. I still have about 200 bottles of wine in the wine cellar – nearly all of them ones Dave bought – and he’s been gone for 7 years now. I gift them to friends when they invite me over, and I’ve done several wine tastings. The reds, mostly, keep for  years, although I have had to pour out a few bottles of reds that didn’t cellar well. Pinot Noir and Cabs keep well. Italian reds not so much.

My friend Lois made shrimp cocktail which went well with the whites. Linda made my Crostini with Pea Puree and Yogurt & Mint. I served some cheeses, some lighter, some heavier, and the caponata will be served with pita crackers (Trader Joe’s are great). With a can of smoked albacore on hand, I also made a favorite EASY appetizer, Smoked Albacore with Red Onion. And I’ve already posted the recipe for the Outrageous Brownies which were served with the last of the darker reds. I offered to open a bottle of after-dinner wine if our guests wanted some, but everyone was topped up. The cellar has about 10 after-dinner bottles and I just don’t open those. Except for a party, I guess!

So, once you’ve made the caponata, do chill it for a day if you can spare the time. Caponata improves with a day or two of chilling – letting those flavors meld. Caponata keeps well – I’d guess it’ll keep in the refrigerator for at least 2 weeks. You could freeze it, but my guess is once thawed, the veggies would turn to mush.

What’s GOOD: the flavors are just so special. Nothing unusual in this – but the combo? Oh gosh, yes it’s good. Keeps for a couple of weeks, though eating it within 3-5 days would be best. Good to make it ahead. In fact, it’s better made a day or two ahead.

What’s NOT: only the time spent – there’s a lot of chopping and prepping of vegetables. You’ll be at or near the range for about 1 1/2 hours for sure.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Italian Caponata

Recipe By: unknown
Serving Size: 10

2 pounds eggplant — Japanese type
1 pound Roma tomatoes
1/2 cup olive oil
1 medium onion — chopped
1 medium red onion — chopped
1 1/2 cups celery — chopped
1 large garlic clove — minced
1/4 cup parsley — minced
12 whole olives — Mediterranean, pitted
2 tablespoons capers
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
salt and pepper — to taste
2 tablespoons pine nuts — toasted

1. With a sharp paring knife, peel 2 eggplants; leave other eggplant unpeeled to add color and texture to the dish.
2. Cut all eggplant into 1-2-inch cubes; place cubes in colanders over paper towels, salt well and mix eggplant with your hands. Allow to drain about 30 minutes, preferably 1-2 hours, while preparing other ingredients. Peel the tomatoes by dipping a few at a time in boiling water for 5-15 seconds and then into cold water. Carefully remove skins and cut tomatoes in half. Remove and discard seeds, then dice tomatoes.
3. In a large, heavy skillet heat about 3 T olive oil and add onions. Cook about 8 minutes, until onions are soft, but not browned, stirring occasionally. Add celery, garlic and mix thoroughly. Continue cooking until all vegetables are soft and tender, about 5 minutes. With slotted spoon, remove vegetables to a large Dutch oven or roasting pot. Pat eggplant dry with paper towels to remove salt and liquid. In the same skillet, cook a single layer of eggplant, adding olive oil as needed and stir constantly for about 8 minutes, until soft, tender and slightly browned. Remove eggplant to Dutch oven and brown succeeding batches, adding oil as needed. Add diced tomatoes, parsley, olives and capers to cooked vegetable mixture in skillet; mix well and cook over low heat for a few minutes.
4. In a bowl combine the vinegar, water, sugar and tomato paste and stir until sugar is fully dissolved. Pour mixture into Dutch oven and stir thoroughly. Cover and cook over low heat for 15 minutes, stirring often. Be careful not to break up mixture to a mush; the vegetables need to retain their shape and texture and not become soupy. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
5. Remove from heat and refrigerate, covered, for at least one day to let all the flavors mellow. To serve, spoon mixture into a salad bowl or plate (wood is recommended) and garnish top with toasted pine nuts. Serve with toasted pita triangles or baguette slices or crusty Italian bread.
6. TO TOAST PINE NUTS: Place nuts in a single layer in a dry Teflon coated skillet over low heat and toast until lightly brown, stirring and WATCHING CONSTANTLY.
Per Serving: 176 Calories; 13g Fat (65.0% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 14g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 137mg Sodium; 8g Total Sugars; 0mcg Vitamin D; 42mg Calcium; 1mg Iron; 459mg Potassium; 63mg Phosphorus.

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