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Just finished reading The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. What a WONDERFUL book. It opens up a shameful part of America’s past, but one you might not have heard about before this. In the late 1800s thousands of Chinese workers were brought to the West Coast to help with a variety of construction projects and a myriad of other things where laborers were needed. Many settled, married and made a new life for themselves. But suddenly the white population didn’t want them here anymore and they summarily ordered them ALL out of our country. This book chronicles a young Chinese girl, who was on a ship that was supposed to take her family to China, but the ship’s captain decided en route to dump them all overboard, to drown. The girl’s father knew it was going to happen and in order to save her, he threw his daughter off the ship as they were passing Orcas Island (in the San Juan Islands west of Seattle). She was saved. The book switches from that time to current time as a woman is rebuilding her family’s home on Orcas and finds a beautifully embroidered silk Chinese robe sleeve hidden under a stair step. The book is about that sordid past and the young girl’s descendents, and about the woman who is rebuilding. Stunner of a novel. Good for a book club read, I think. It has a reader’s guide at the back with good questions for book groups.

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 Appetizers, on April 19th, 2013.


A quick and easy dip or spread made with canned salmon, some cream cheese (light would be okay), a little butter to help smooth it, lemon juice, Kalamata olives and a bit of anchovies to give it some flavor depth. Serve with baguette slices or crackers.

The basis for this recipe came from The Wednesday Chef blog, way back in 2008. Luisa made this, but hers was with tuna. Now, I have canned tuna, but it’s really expensive stuff that I have shipped a couple of times a year from Washington, young tuna that don’t contain so much mercury, and I just didn’t feel like using my pricey can of tuna on this in case I didn’t like it. I needn’t have worried – I loved it, and I’d guess the tuna version would be just as tasty as the salmon one. I have 6-ounce cans of salmon too – from the same purveyor – but I don’t seem to use the canned salmon very often, so for this I decided to try the salmon.

This pate – or tapenade – that’s what Luisa recipe called it – named so probably because it has olives in it, and tapenades DO contain mostly olives. This concoction isn’t olive-centric – it’s salmon and cream cheese centric, but with all these other added flavors that do everything to enhance the salmon. Things like lemon juice, the anchovies, lemon juice, pepper and the butter. There is a short discussion on Luisa’s blog about leaving out the butter – the original recipe (click on the blog link above if you’d like to make Luisa’s version) called for more butter, more anchovies, more olives too (and the recipe didn’t specify Kalamata, just “black olives,” but I just couldn’t quite see a ripe black olive doing a thing for this mixture). I keep pitted Kalamata olives in my refrigerator at all times. And I buy a little bitty jar of anchovies once or twice a year – I buy the most expensive one I can find at my local Italian deli – and use a few, then refrigerate it. It keeps nigh on forever as long as it’s covered in olive oil. I thought the butter was needed, but I didn’t use as much as the original called for.

Everything except the chives is whizzed up in the food processor until it’s super-smooth, then spooned into ramekins, or some kind of serving bowls. The recipe makes about 3 ramekins worth. The recipe indicates you can use it right away, but I think the flavor is better once it chills overnight. Besides, it’s something you can make the day before a dinner party if that’s what you’re making it for. This recipe makes quite a bit, and it’s rather difficult to make half a recipe, what with salmon or tuna cans at about 6 ounces. IF you have some leftover tuna or salmon, by all means make a half a recipe!

When I made it we were having dinner guests, so I toasted a baguette slices for it, but this would be just dandy with crackers, or toast for that matter. It’s probably fine with celery sticks too. Sprinkle chopped chives on top if you have them – don’t go buy chives just to put on it – some minced parsley would be fine. Even some fresh dill would work too.

What’s GOOD: I loved the stuff – but it does have a definite fishy taste – a good kind of fishy taste if you get my drift. The anchovies add depth of flavor and you really can’t taste them. I used ample lemon juice which was really good in it. It’s also EASY!
What’s NOT: nothing whatsoever. I’d definitely make this again.

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Salmon Tapenade

Recipe By: Adapted from a recipe at Wednesday Chef, 2008
Serving Size: 8

2 tablespoons anchovies — [buy the best quality you can afford]
6 ounces canned salmon — drained
7 ounces cream cheese
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice — (use more to taste)
2 teaspoons lemon zest
9 Kalamata olives — pitted, halved
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons fresh chives — saving some for garnish

1. Combine all but the chive garnish in the bowl of a food processor. Process until mixture is smooth. Taste for seasonings.
2. Spoon the mixture into 1-2 small serving bowls, cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour or overnight. Garnish with more finely minced chives before serving with toasted baguette slices or crackers.
Per Serving: 162 Calories; 14g Fat (78.9% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 1g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 50mg Cholesterol; 394mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on April 19th, 2013:

    Oh, YUM! That is tomorrow’s lunch sorted, thank you. I have a lot of cans of Alaskan Wild Red Salmon, which I usually eat with diced cucumber and lemon juice on toasted brown bread. I am not fond of canned Tuna, there is something about the aroma that I don’t like.

    Have you never used Anchovy in a meat stew? It gives a superb depth of flavour

    I too, have been reading Luisa’s blog for some time.

    Oh good, glad you’ll give it a try. I really liked it a lot. If I were to make it for a topping for bread, I’d probably use a bit less cream cheese since it’s more like a dip, or something for small bites. You’ll have to let me know how it was. And no, I don’t think I ever have added anchovy to stew. I’ll try to remember to try it. . . carolyn t

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