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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 Brunch, Chicken, Pork, on August 27th, 2013.

pork_turkey_breakfast_sausage

For a couple of years we’ve been enjoying a single breakfast sausage most mornings. Trying to make it more healthy, but not giving up the pork aspect altogether, we’ve settled on a mixture of half ground pork and half ground turkey. Delish.

For the longest time we ate Costco’s all pork breakfast sausage, which comes from a distributor in San Diego. If you go outside of SoCal, you’ll find different branded sausage at Costco. I’ve been trying to find more healthy alternatives, though, and at first I tried making sausage patties with all ground turkey. We just didn’t get the flavor and texture we were looking for, so after going back to breakfast sausageCostco’s sausage for some months I decided to give it another try. This time with the half and half mixture and more spices. I’ve been making this for about 3-4 months now, and we’re very happy with the results. One of these times I’m going to use slightly more turkey than pork.

The spice mixture started out as one from my friend Sue, who now lives in Colorado. Sue’s mild turkey breakfast sausage  had great flavor, so I went with her combination, but just used a bit more.

Here’s a little triptych at left of how I do it:

(1) all the meat goes into a big bowl

(2) the seasonings are sprinkled all over – do NOT just throw it into one little pile – it will never get mixed in well enough – trust me on this

(3) mix it up and separate those spices as much as possible

(4) use a cookie scoop (or a spoon) to make really large 2-tablespoon-sized balls, approximately, and roll them, then flatten carefully

(5) On a metal sheet lined with waxed paper (or foil) place the patties a hair’s breadth apart, stacking 2 layers with waxed paper in between layers

(6) place tray on a flat surface in the freezer and allow to freeze solidly for about 3-4 hours

(7) remove from freezer and gently pry the patties off the waxed paper and place in Ziploc freezer bags (the quart size will hold about 16 or so of them). Seal up and replace bags in the freezer.

Below is a photo of them during the freezing process. I balance the cookie sheet on several items in the freezer so they’re almost level – and not touching the top rack, obviously. Can you tell my freezer if pretty darned full? I make a double batch of these each time (2 pounds each of turkey and pork) and they keep just fine for a couple of months in the freezer.

sausage_freezing

When you’re ready to have some, remove the number you want from the freezer bag and slowly (on a low setting) microwave/defrost them for about a minute until they’re defrosted. Do not “cook” them in the microwave – once you actually start to cook them in a frying pan, they’ll cook unevenly if they were partially cooked in the microwave and will tend to dry out.

The only advice I have – don’t over cook them – if you make these you’ll learn how quickly these cook and to remove them just when they’re done. They go from tender and juicy to dry and firm (and not very tasty) in a jiffy.

What’s GOOD: we like everything about this combination. We feel a little bit healthier because we’ve cut out half the pork, but with some in it, it still has all the pork flavor I’m looking for. I really like the subtle mixture of spices – be sure to sprinkle the red chili flakes all over the bowl – they’re potently hot – I speak from the voice of experience here.
What’s NOT: nothing, really. It’s a bit of a nuisance to make, but you’ll have enough to last awhile. Or make a double batch like I do.

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Pork & Turkey Breakfast Sausage

Recipe By: Adapted from my friend Sue, from a friend of hers
Serving Size: 30

1 pound lean ground turkey — (a mixture of light and dark meat)
1 pound ground pork — (not seasoned, just plain ground pork)
2 teaspoons dried sage
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/8 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves — rounded

1. Place ground pork and turkey in a mixing bowl. As you add the seasonings, sprinkle them all over the meat, which makes it easier to distribute it when you mix it in.
2. As gently as possible mix in the herbs and form into individual patties (about 2 T each and use a cookie scoop if you have one) and place on a waxed-paper lined sheet pan. You can cook them at this point, but I freeze the whole batch. So, freeze them, then remove from waxed paper and store in a Ziploc freezer bag. To defrost, remove and use a low setting to defrost in microwave or place them in the refrigerator the night before you want to prepare them.
3. Fry the patties over low heat (they cook quickly and will dry out if cooked over high heat). When frying them, add just a little jot of canola oil to the pan if desired.
Per Serving: 62 Calories; 4g Fat (62.7% calories from fat); 6g Protein; trace Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 21mg Cholesterol; 161mg Sodium.

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