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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, Vegetarian, on August 9th, 2013.


Whew, that’s a long-winded title for a recipe. You could eat this as an appetizer, cut up into wedges, or a whole one as a stand-alone lunch or vegetarian dinner. Or you could do what I did when I made it for a group: pile the hummus on a serving platter, then pile everything (except the arugula) on top of it. I used Feta cheese as the decoration, and I served sangak bread on the side with a knife so people could spread some of the mixture on individual pieces – this was an appetizer (see other picture below). As an appetizer I didn’t think the arugula would be easy to eat, so I left it off.

white_bean_hummus_appetizerWith the left overs a day later I served it with pita chips (Trader Joe’s). What you see in the photo at top is the flatbread on the bottom (from Trader Joe’s), and there’s a schmear of white bean hummus underneath there – sorry you can’t see it – then some sun dried tomatoes, caramelized onions (hmm, can’t see those, either), some Kalamata olives, then the arugula and shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

The most time-consuming thing to do is caramelize the onions. While you’re at it, make more than you need because you’ll use them in something else within a few days. Or you could eat them plain right out of the pan. Love caramelized onions!

My DH just walked past me as I’m sitting here at my computer in the kitchen, looked at the photo and said OH, that was so good. Make that again, will you? The recipe came from a Phillis Carey cooking class, and the 40+ people all oohed and aahed over it. I got the same when I made it as a plated appetizer. Great recipe.
What’s GOOD: everything about it – my favorite flavors in this are the caramelized onions and the sun-dried tomatoes – probably because the mixture of the savory (hummus) and sweet (onions and sun-dried tomatoes) offer such a taste contrast.
What’s NOT: nothing. Loved it a lot.

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Grilled Flatbread with White Bean Hummus, Caramelized Onions, Olives, Sun Dried Tomatoes and Arugula

Recipe By: From a Phillis Carey cooking class, 2013
Serving Size: 12

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 large sweet onions — peeled, halved and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons fresh thyme — finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
3 cloves garlic — peeled
30 ounces canned white beans — drained and rinsed
3 tablespoons tahini
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon hot sauce
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 whole flatbreads — Trader Joe’s or others, about 7 inches diameter
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup Kalamata olive — slivered
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, oil-packed — drained, slivered
1 cup arugula — buy baby arugula if poss. or chop up regular sized
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — shaved into curls

1. ONIONS: Heat olive oil in a large nonstick or regular skillet over medium high heat. Add onions and sugar and cook, stirring often, until they begin to brown. Lower heat and continue to cook until very soft and golden. Do not allow them to brown-burn – if they start to, reduce heat. Add the thyme and season to taste with salt and pepper. Can be made ahead and rewarmed before serving.
2. WHITE BEAN HUMMUS: Drop garlic into a running food processor. Stop machine and add the beans, tahini, lemon juice and hot sauce and pulse JUST until pureed. Don’t over-process – you want the hummus to have a little bit of texture. With food processor turned on slowly add olive oil until it’s emulsified. Again, don’t over-process. Add more oil if necessary to make mixture creamy and snoot, but not too thin. Cover mixture and chill at least one hour (or up to 48 hours) and return it to room temp before continuing.
3. Preheat grill. Brush flatbreads with olive oil and grill 2 minutes per side or until warmed with grill marks, but do NOT make flatbreads crispy. Can also do this on an indoor grill pan, or if in a real hurry, heat in microwave.
4. Spread each flatbread with a thick layer of hummus. Top with caramelized onions, olives and sun-dried tomatoes. Sprinkle with arugula and top with Parmesan curls. cut into wedges and serve immediately.
ALTERNATE SERVING: Layer hummus on a large, round serving plate, top with onions, olives, tomatoes and top with crumbled Feta cheese. Serve with lavash or toasted pita chips, or even crackers.
Per Serving: 336 Calories; 20g Fat (53.0% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 31g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 3mg Cholesterol; 341mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on August 9th, 2013:

    That sounds like something that I should like. Other than the Arugula, that is – I have such trouble keeping bits of greenery on my fork!

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