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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 easy, Veggies/sides, on September 8th, 2013.


Well, the pan wasn’t quite dry, but almost. Just a little dab of butter was used to pan roast these delicious little beauties. It can’t get much easier than these.

Catching up on all the blogs I read is a steady, ongoing thing for me – I read so many, and if I let it get away from me, I’ll have over a thousand to read. Definitely over the top, and almost depressing to me – makes me feel like I can’t ever catch up! I can power-read occasionally – because it’s something I don’t like, or don’t think I’ll like, or it’s a subject not-dear to my heart. But when I read the Food52 blog pieces, generally I’m clicking over to the actual story and recipe on nearly every post. And they post several a day.

Perhaps you’ve already done these beans before – I never had, and it boggles my mind that you can actually cook green beans in nearly a dry skillet. Yup! The recipe is Spanish in origin, and a simpler method could hardly be found! Penelope Casas posted it on Food 52 recently. Mine, in the photo up top there, got a tad overdone, but they were still so tasty that my DH ate every single one on his plate before I could blink an eye, just about. And I finished off mine in a jiffy as well, before I even took a bite of the pork chops. And talk about easy.

Melt a little bit of butter, heat the pan to medium-high, toss in a bunch of cleaned, stem-trimmed green beans (dry them off well if you’ve washed them) and stir them around. In a few minutes they’ll begin to brown – you want those toasted brown spots on them. Not black, but several little strips of dark brown is just how you want them to be. Then, put a lid on it and turn down the heat. The instructions are specific – resist the temptation to add water, or anything at all. Just turn down the heat and cover, and cook them for about 15 minutes (depending on the size of the beans – if they’re those tiny haricot verts, less time will be needed). The moisture from the beans themselves will steam them done. Really. Yes. It works. Trust me. Then you toss them with the garlic and salt, and they’re ready to serve. Just like that.

What’s GOOD: How incredibly easy they were to make, and yes, I did want to put a little bit of water in that pan, but could hear the directive in my head – resist the temptation, the voice said. Delicious. I almost dare you not to like them! And yes, I’ll definitely be making them again. Sooner rather than later, if that tells you anything.

What’s NOT: Nothing at all – maybe just being careful about the heat levels – not too hot when you’re browning them (no burning) and then much lower when you’re cooking them (no burning then, either).

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Garlic Green Beans (Judias Verdes con Ajo)

Recipe By: Penelope Casas, on Food52, July 2013
Serving Size: 4

3/4 pound green beans
1 tablespoon butter
1 clove garlic — crushed
Coarse salt

1. Snap off the tops of the beans. Melt the butter in a skillet, add the beans, and cook them over a medium to medium-high flame, stirring, until they begin to brown.
2. Lower the flame, cover, and cook 15 to 20 minutes, or until the beans are the desired tenderness, stirring occasionally.
3. Mix in the crushed garlic, sprinkle with salt, and serve immediately.
Per Serving: 50 Calories; 3g Fat (48.6% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 6g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 8mg Cholesterol; 34mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on September 8th, 2013:

    Why had I never thought to do that? After all, I pan roast Asparagus…

    You may never go back to the more traditional methods. This may be my new go-to recipe for green beans. My mouth is watering as I type this, and it’s been a couple of weeks since I fixed these . . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on September 8th, 2013:

    I like this idea! Sounds like the easiest way yet to cook green beans–no boiling big pots of water or getting out the steamer basket. You can be sure I’ll try this as soon as I can get to the produce store!

    I’m sure you’re going to love these. I will be making them again very, very soon. Just bought some new haricot verts type today, so I’ll be trying this method with those . . . carolyn t

  3. Lana @ Never Enough Thyme

    said on September 9th, 2013:

    What a deliciously different way to cook green beans. Definitely going to give this a try soon!

    You’ll love it, I just know it! . . . carolyn t

  4. hddonna

    said on September 9th, 2013:

    Do let us know how it works with the haricots verts.

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