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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 Miscellaneous, Salads, on June 28th, 2013.

oven_roasted_figs

Oh, yum. I hate to use that word, but there’s really no other one to describe how scrumptious these are. Just slightly caramelized and enhanced with some Grand Marnier, honey, fresh lemon strips and fresh thyme sprigs. If you happen to have fresh figs, please do try these.

The other day I saw fresh figs at the market. I’ve probably mentioned it here before, but I’m no fan of Fig Newtons, which was mostly my introduction to figs from my childhood. If you’re of a certain age, then Fig Newtons were just about the only kind of fig anything there was. Growing up, we had a fig tree in our back yard, and my mother never did anything with figs except put them in a fruit bowl for my mom or dad to eat them out of hand. Fig Newtons? My dad loved them. He could eat them day in and day out. Not me. I didn’t mind the occasional fresh fig, though.

So, on the rare occasion when I see figs – now’s the season – I don’t usually know what to do with them. But then I got the idea to roast them – seems like nearly every living plant life is enhanced by oven roasting. I did a search online for “roasted figs” and up popped a recipe from my favorite Paris blogger, David Libovitz. He did something wonderful – fabulous – with fresh figs. My plan was to use them in a green salad. We’d been invited to dinner at our extended family and my task was to bring a green salad. I wanted something different. Something kind of special. So I made a salad (I’ll tell you about that in a day or two) with these figs beautifying the top.

roasted_figs_before_bakingThe figs . . . cut off the stems, halve them, then pour in the glaze stuff (Grand Marnier, warmed honey, fresh thyme, brown sugar). Toss them around gently, place them cut side down and roast for 15 minutes (if they’re really ripe and sweet) or longer, like 30 minutes (if they’re younger unripe figs) until they’re caramelized. I baked mineroasted_figs_after_baking cut side up (I misread the directions) and ended up turning on the broiler at the end just to give them that golden crispiness. I let them cool to room temp (I did them a couple of hours ahead of time) and covered them with plastic wrap. I just placed them on the salad – on the top – so they’d look beautiful. But oh gosh, were they delish. I think they’d be wonderful with vanilla ice cream, especially with some of the saucy stuff drizzled over the top. Or served on the side as a garnish or condiment along side a pork roast or chicken, or lamb.

What’s GOOD: everything about them. Who knew roasted figs could taste so darned good, I ask? Succulent, seedy (of course, that’s what figs are all about but in a good way) and these are perfectly caramelized. I thought they were terrific on a green salad.

What’s NOT: nothing whatsoever.

printer-friendly PDF – created using Cute PDF Writer, not Adobe

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Roasted Figs

Recipe By: David Libovitz’s blog, 2010
Serving Size: 8

1 pound fresh figs — (450g)
4 sprigs fresh thyme — (4 to 6)
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier — or Chartreuse, Pernod, or Cointreau
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
2 tablespoons honey
three 1-inch strips of fresh lemon zest

1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC).
2. Slice the tough stem end off the figs and slice each in half lengthwise.
3. Toss the figs in a large baking dish with the thyme, red wine or liquor, brown sugar, honey, and lemon zest. Turn the figs so that they are all cut side down in the baking dish, in a single layer.
4. For figs that are softer and juicier, cover the baking dish snugly with foil and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the figs are softened and cooked through. For figs that are firmer, with less liquid, roast them in the oven, uncovered, for 30 minutes, or until cooked through. If desired, and the figs are not quite golden brown, turn on broiler and just cook long enough for them to get a golden sheen.
5. When done, remove the baking dish from oven, lift off the foil, and let the figs cool completely. Variation: For more savory figs, replace the liquor with one or two tablespoons balsamic or sherry vinegar. Storage: Roasted figs can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week.
Per Serving: 76 Calories; trace Fat (2.1% calories from fat); trace Protein; 18g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 1mg Sodium.

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