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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 August 7th, 2013.

sweet_sour_broccoli_stems

This doesn’t look like much – can you even see that they’re sliced broccoli stems? I always quiz guests about what it is – I think one person, in all the years I’ve been making these, has figured out it was broccoli, and only because she carefully examined the outside edges.

This appetizer – really easy and very healthy and low calorie too – has been in my repertoire for decades. It’s not the right kind of appetizer for every dinner party, but it’s refreshing and so very, VERY different. First you have to peel the stems – not hard to do, took me about 2 minutes max. Then I sliced them up – not super-thin, between a 2 and 3/16 of an inch. Eyeball it. The stems soak broccoli_stems_slicedin a vinegar, sugar and salt based marinade overnight (very easy to do) and they become more pliant and flexible, but still crunchy. Just not fibrous at all. After they’re marinated, you drain them and drizzle on a little tiny bit of toasted sesame oil and I decorated the bowl with chopped parsley. I think it would be good with chopped mint. That’s it. See? I told you this one was easy. If you want to make these more uniformly round, just use the peeler more vigorously and remove a bit more of the “bark” of the broccoli stem.

When you serve these, be sure to make it a game – who can guess what this is? When I made these this time people thought rutabaga, turnip, jicama, celery root. Nope, nope, nope, nope! I had to tell them! The recipe came from San Francisco A La Carte. It’s an old cookbook from the Junior League (originally printed in 1979, reprinted in 1991). You can buy $5 copies of the hardbound book. The reprinted paperback is available for a penny plus shipping through the link above, in case you’re interested.

What’s GOOD: how easy it is to make, how low calorie they are, and how tasty the little coins are on a summer evening.
What’s NOT: these may not appeal to everyone – even some people will stop eating it when they find out what it is. But those who like it will rave about it.

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Sweet and Sour Broccoli Stems

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from San Francisco a la Carte, 1979 (Junior League of San Francisco)
Serving Size: 6

1 pound broccoli stems
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons parsley — finely minced – or MINT

1. Peel the broccoli stems and cut into diagonal slices 1/8 to 1/16 inches thick.
2. In a plastic bag combine the vinegar, sugar and salt. Add broccoli stems and toss to coat. Refrigerate overnight, turning the container or bag over a time or two. (Note: I usually just add the sesame oil to the marinade.)
3. Drain marinade and place on plate or in a bowl, drizzle sesame oil over the top, sprinkle with herbs and serve with toothpicks.
Per Serving: 79 Calories; 5g Fat (49.3% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 9g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 377mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on August 7th, 2013:

    The only part of Broccoli worth eating in my opinion. I shall be trying your recipe very soon.

    Sorry not to have been keeping up with your blog – as my school reports used to say ‘must try harder’!

    Gosh – well, I just have to keep the blog interesting enough to keep you and others coming back to it! I wonder if I’ll ever run out of ideas? . . . carolyn t

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on August 9th, 2013:

    I doubt that you’ll ever dry up, you are far too inventive for that to happen.

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