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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 October 11th, 2013.

pureed_beets_yogurt_zaatar

Surely there will be some of you reading this who will scoff at beets, mashed up at that, standing in as an appetizer. I’m telling you it’s good. Very good, in fact. But then, I like beets! It’s cooked beets with yogurt mixed in, some garlic and spicy heat, a jot of oil and maple syrup, then decorated with toasted chopped hazelnuts, green onions and goat cheese.

Have you ever looked for something new and different to take as an appetizer to someone’s house? This might just be the one, providing the group is adventuresome. Some might be put off by the color, let alone the smooth creamy texture, but according to the cookbook, Jerusalem: A Cookbook this is a frequent visitor in a mezze meal. It could also be served as a vegetable, but I think it worked so very well as an appetizer. We had 2 appetizers the night we did this Israeli meal, and the 8 of us just didn’t dig into either of them much – not that both weren’t delicious – they were – but we got to talking and drinking our glasses of wine, and gosh, suddenly dinner was ready. I ate a couple of pieces of sangak bread with the beet appetizer and thought it tasted wonderful. I liked the crunch of the hazelnuts on top. A few days later I had some more, and I served it as a side vegetable, in a bowl, when we ate the left overs.

The beets are cooked (or buy the already cooked ones in the vacuum sealed pouches at Trader Joe’s and some other markets). They are mashed up with some yogurt, some garlic, a bit of red chile, some maple syrup (original recipe calls for date syrup, but who has that, I wonder?), olive oil zahtar bottle 1and then some za’atar. If you don’t have za’atar, it’s probably no biggie. Za’atar, or Zatar is a spice mixture. Some American versions don’t contain herbs from the plant of the Middle East (in Lebanon, for instance, they grow a plant that they call a za’atar plant, related to the oregano) – the little jar I had (see photo at left) contains sumac, thyme leaves, white sesame seeds and salt. Other mixtures might contain marjoram and some oregano.

My friend Dianne, who made this, said the beet mixture was quite thin when she got done, so the recipe indicated to add some mashed potato (cooked, obviously). She did and that gave it a better consistency. Alternately, perhaps adding a bit less yogurt would do the trick too.

What’s GOOD: the taste – it’s slightly sweet, actually. But beets are sweet to begin with. The consistency is smooth and I particularly liked the toppings (green onions, crumbled goat cheese and toasted hazelnuts). It’s a very unusual appetizer – the color alone is startling!
What’s NOT: Nothing at all.

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Pureéd Beets with Yogurt & Za’atar

Recipe By: From Jerusalem: The Cookbook, by Ottolenghi and Tamimi
Serving Size: 10

BEETS:
2 pounds beets — roasted or boiled until tender and peeled
2 cloves garlic — crushed
1 small red chile — seeded, finely chopped
1 cup yogurt
3 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon Za’atar
1/2 teaspoon salt — or to taste
1/4 cup mashed potatoes — (use only if mixture is too thin)
GARNISHES:
2 whole green onions — minced
2 tablespoons hazelnuts — toasted and chopped
1/4 cup soft goat cheese — crumbled

Note: If you buy fresh beets, cut off tops and tails (without cutting into the main body of the beet), puncture with a knife and wrap the bunch in foil and place on a baking sheet. Bake for 30-40 minutes at 375°F. When tender, allow to cool, peel and chop or slice.
1. Add everything to the bowl of a food processor and run until smooth. (If the mixture is too soft and runny, add some softly mashed potato.)
2. Scoop the mixture onto a flat type bowl or plate, use a spoon to spread it out. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to sit for 1-2 hours, if possible, to blend flavors.
3. Garnish with sliced green onions, toasted hazelnuts and crumbled goat cheese. Serve with crackers or flatbread.
Per Serving: 120 Calories; 7g Fat (53.7% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 11g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 6mg Cholesterol; 201mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on October 11th, 2013:

    I would be in Heaven if I ate that, Beetroot is my favourite root vegetable.

    Well, you can make it. It makes a LOT – try a half recipe. . . carolyn t

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