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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 May 31st, 2013.

salmon_rillettes

You probably can’t quite tell what’s in this – there is regular cooked salmon and smoked salmon (that’s the darker orange colored pieces), butter, chives, lemon juice and a bunch of other normal pantry stuff. You mix it up and pack it into a terrine and bring it out an hour or so before serving (so the butter softens a little). If salmon is a favorite of yours, you’ll like this.

Every spring we are invited to friends for Kentucky Derby day. Some of the ladies show up in flowy, flowery dresses and big floppy hats. Others are in Hawaiian attire, and yet others in regular casual clothes. I have worn a big floppy hat a time or two, but I’m not much of a hat person – I have fine, soft hair and I get a big whopping “hat hair” look that I truly don’t like. Nothing rescues my hair from that except another shampoo and blow dry! I either wear the hat the whole time, or I don’t take one at all. Usually, we dress casually, and hats don’t much go with that kind of outfit. Everyone is asked to bring an appetizer to share. They usually provide a big tray of wings and lots of mint juleps, which I l-o-v-e. My limit, though, is 2, especially if I’m driving and several hours have elapsed before I get behind the wheel. This year I had 1 1/2 and the 2nd one I asked the bartender to make it light on the bourbon, because I was driving 4 of us home. I think they use Maker’s Mark bourbon. Good stuff. They make up a mixture of the simple syrup with the mint muddled in already, so all the bartender has to do is pour in bourbon, add mint sprigs and a bit of 7-Up. They’re scrumptiously delicious.

Anyway, for my appetizer contribution I wanted something I could make ahead. Everyone wants finger food, so after attending several years, I’ve learned what things this group does/doesn’t like. We ended up coming home with a lot more of this than I’d planned. I thought it was really tasty, but I should have made half a recipe, I suppose. We still have some left over and will need to throw it out in a day or so.

In the photo at left traw_cubed_salmonhere’s the raw (regular) salmon all cut up into small cubes. It was simmered on the range with vermouth and water (and lemon peel), cooled, then I carefully combined it with all the other ingredients. Here below right you can see the other stuff that was added to itrillettes_mixing_up like lemon zest, green onions, chives. Then I added the butter and the smoked salmon. You need to use a light hand with mixing as you’ll destroy the texture of it – you want to be able to see the two types of salmon. I sprinkled a bit more chives on top, although that wasn’t in the recipe.

It came from Dorie Greenspan’s book, Around My French Table: More Than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours. Dorie is an American, but she and her husband must be Francophiles at heart, as they own an apartment in Paris. She goes back and forth all the time (if you read her blog, you’ll know about her comings and goings). The recipe actually came from David Lebovitz, another American who now lives in Paris all the time. Both are accomplished culinary experts and authors.

You’ve probably heard the term “potted” – this is in relation to food, not liquor or consumption of it! The most common is potted shrimp, and I think I had that the first time I visited England about 40 years ago. As I recall, I was brought a plate with a small, very small ramekin on it and a few water crackers. The ramekin surface looked like congealed butter. Well, it was, but underneath was a shrimp mixture, and you just spread some of it onto the cracker. It was a first course at a restaurant.  The Brits like potted things. So do the French (like duck liver), although in that case it’s called pâté, and it’s almost exclusively meat, usually more in a paste form. Americans have taken to meat pates, and our local grocery stores usually have some kind of offering, often imported from France. There are liver pates, and nut pates too, and my favorite, a rustic pate which usually contains some other cuts of meat, not just liver.

But back to potted food. We here in the U.S. don’t know much about “potted” anything. So anyway, this is potted salmon, through and through. This version contains butter (the most common binder used in potted food), but mayo is found in some.

What’s GOOD: the texture and color for sure. I probably should have put out a little sign telling people what it was. I don’t think this group is very adventurous when it comes to food. I should remember that for next year! I liked the taste of regular salmon and smoked salmon together – it makes a great combo. It also can be made a day ahead.
What’s NOT: really nothing. If you like salmon in its many guises, you’ll like this.

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MasterCook 5+ import file – right click to save (remember where), run MC, File|Import

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Salmon Rillettes

Recipe By: Dorie Greenspan, from her book Around My French Table
Serving Size: 8

1 large lemon — multiple uses (see Directions)
1 red jalapeno chile — or use green if red isn’t available, multiple uses (see Directions)
1/2 cup vermouth — or dry white wine
1/2 cup water
5 white peppercorns
5 coriander seeds
1 Turkish bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 whole green onions — green tops and white parts finely chopped separately
8 ounces salmon fillet — skinless, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 1 cup)
4 ounces smoked salmon — thinly sliced and coarsely chopped (about 3/4 cup)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter — room temperature
1/4 teaspoon pink peppercorns — finely cracked
Freshly ground white pepper
1 teaspoon chives — finely minced for garnish [my addition]
Toasted baguette slices — crackers, or toasts

1. Using vegetable peeler, remove one 3-inch-long lemon peel strip from lemon and place in medium saucepan. Finely zest remaining peel from lemon and set aside. Cut 1-inch-long 1/8-inch-wide strip from jalapeño and remove seeds; place jalapeño strip in saucepan with lemon peel strip. Finely chop enough of remaining jalapeño to measure 1 1/2 teaspoons; place in a small bowl and reserve. Add wine, 1/2 cup water, peppercorns, coriander seeds, bay leaf, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and green onion tops to saucepan with lemon peel strip and jalapeño strip; bring to boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer 5 minutes. Add salmon cubes; cover and cook 1 minute.
2. Transfer salmon mixture to strainer set over medium bowl and drain. Transfer poached salmon pieces to another medium bowl; discard liquid and spices. Using fork, lightly mash poached salmon. Add smoked salmon, reserved zest lemon peel, about 1 1/2 teaspoons reserved chopped jalapeño, and 2 tablespoons white parts of green onions and stir to blend. Add butter and mix in with fork until thick spread forms. Stir in 5 teaspoons reserved lemon juice. Stir in cracked pink peppercorns. Season to taste with salt and white pepper. Add more lemon juice, salt and pepper as needed. It’s best to have a pronounced lemony flavor. Transfer salmon rillettes to glass jar or bowl. Press piece of plastic wrap directly onto surface of rillettes and chill until firm, at least 2 hours. DO AHEAD: Can be made 3 days ahead. Keep chilled.
3. Serve rillettes with baguette slices, crackers, or toast.
Per Serving: 135 Calories; 8g Fat (58.6% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 4g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 34mg Cholesterol; 271mg Sodium.

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