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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, Vegetarian, on September 4th, 2013.

dianes_dads_summer_sandwich

This came about because I was listening to NPR’s “All Things Considered,” the “Found Recipes” segment. You may THINK this sandwich doesn’t sound or look all that worthy of a blog post, but I’m telling you it absolutely IS good, if not fantastic.

So, the NPR program was all about mid-summer favorite dishes. Listeners were invited to send (or call) in their suggestions and the story that went along with the recipe, and the list was narrowed down to 3. Those 3 contenders’ stories (in their voices) were featured on the program, then listeners were asked to vote for their favorite. This recipe was the winner, and when I listened to the 3 stories, this is the one that stood out in my mind too. It was so unusual, I just had to try it myself.  (The other two stories were about a strawberry trifle and a spicy cole slaw).

We don’t keep sharp cheddar on hand, so we needed that, and a hothouse cucumber. And by the way, the author says it’s really important to have sharp cheddar, not medium or mild. The slice does not need to be all that thick to do its job. We have good grainy bread, but at the last minute I decided to make it with the super-soft white bread I had in the freezer. Usually the bread I use is a thin sandwich bread, but my DH bought the wrong kind. Oh well, no matter.

According to the story from Marti Oleson (an elementary school librarian), she used to work with Diane Dickey of the recipe’s name, but the recipe, if you can call it that – yes, it IS a recipe – was from Diane’s Dad. Hence the full title. According to the story – this sandwich, composed of bread, peanut butter, onion, tomato, cucumber and cheddar cheese – must be made in a specific stacking order. Here’s the exact order, from the bottom up . . .

P – peanut butter, CRUNCHY

O – onion

Cu – cucumber

T – tomato

Ch – cheddar, SHARP

My brain is getting old and remembering that order was going to be a problem, so I needed an acronym – POCU-TouCH. Not quite remember-able. but maybe it will stick in my brain. I’ve added the ou in the middle just because it helps to make a word –  and added the u for cucumber and the h for cheddar. Got it? Okay, good.

The full sandwich (2 regular slices, preferably grainy bread) uses 2 T. of crunchy peanut butter. I made a half a sandwich, so of course, used just 1 T. crunchy peanut butter. I also soaked the regular  onions in some acidulated water (1/2 c water, 1 T white vinegar) because I’m not so crazy about raw onions. Nor did I want to buy a sweet onion (they’re expensive) for just one slice of it. Soaking doesn’t take out the crunch from a regular onion, but it removes the rawness from the onion. I had a beautiful yellow heirloom tomato with just a few tinges of red on it. I sprinkled the tomato with salt and pepper, then added the thinly sliced hothouse cucumber, and finally the 2 thin-thin slices of sharp cheddar.

I took my first bite. Oh my goodness! Was it ever good. I mean it. I really, really mean it. How to describe it – you taste and feel the crunchy cucumbers and onions, but the tomato slightly squishes (in my sandwich, the tomato is thicker than any of the other interior components), and gives some nice moisture to the bite. The cheddar gives it loads of flavor. And the peanut butter – funny thing – I couldn’t even taste it until the last when all the cucumbers and onions were gone, when all that remained were tomato and cheddar.

When I entered the recipe into my MasterCook recipe program, it had a big hissy fit over the “1 slice cheddar cheese” – either the program’s got a bug, or defining calories of a “slice” of cheddar cheese is just not specific enough. It wanted to add about 800 calories for 2 slices of cheese. At any rate, the calories are a little off on the recipe below, but not by much. I ate HALF a sandwich and it satisfied me all afternoon. I’m not including the nutrition because I had to remove a few ingredients and make them text (meaning no calorie count added). Without doing that the calorie count was over 1800 calories. Adding in each ingredient, I finally narrowed it down the problem to the slice of cheese (obviously a variable) that was throwing off the numbers. Anyway, this sandwich is about 550 calories for a whole one. Maybe 600. Next time I’ll make it with the very thin sandwich bread. Or maybe I’ll use the good grainy bread I have. But eat it again, I will!

What’s GOOD: everything about it. The crunch from the cucumbers and onions, first and foremost. The fresh veggies. The squishy tomato. The soft, but tasty bread. Oh, the cheddar too. It’s just fantastic. Will I make it again? You betcha! Sooner rather than later, I’ll tell you for sure!
What’s NOT: nothing at all. It’s fabulous. Note that I made it with a soft white bread – you can decide. I also specify Laura Scudder’s peanut butter, but you can use whatever brand you want.

printer-friendly CutePDF
MasterCook 5 file or MasterCook 14 file

* Exported from MasterCook *

Summer Sandwich

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from NPR’s All Things Considered, Found Recipes, July, 2013
Serving Size: 1 (or 2 if you’re sharing one sandwich)

2 slices whole grain bread
2 tablespoons Laura Scudder’s Crunchy Peanut Butter
1/2 slice sweet onion — (thinly sliced) or sweet red onion
12 thin slices hothouse cucumber
2-4 slices ripe tomato
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
sharp cheddar cheese slices

1. On the bottom slice of bread spread the crunchy peanut butter.
2. Separate the onion and place on top of peanut butter (you can use regular onion, but soak in acidulated water for 15 minutes to reduce the rawness of it – 1/2 cup water, 1 T white vinegar).
3. Overlap the cucumber slices on top of the onion, adding more layers if the slices are really thin.
4. Place sliced tomatoes on top of cucumber.
5. Add cheddar cheese and place top bread on. Pick up sandwich with both hands, with peanut butter on the BOTTOM and dig in!

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