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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 Uncategorized, on November 3rd, 2013.

dpt 509 1My husband Dave and I have been married for over 30 years. The happiest years of my life, as I’ve probably mentioned before. It’s a 2nd marriage for us both. We each had a teenager living with us when we met, and it’s a long story, but we managed to weather blending a family and even had all 3 of the children living with us for some years. When we met, I was 38 and Dave was 40.

After we met, a 3+ hour blind date for lunch, I invited him to a brunch I was throwing the following Sunday for a group of my friends. After the brunch we went to the beach near us to walk, and ended up at his house because he offered to fix dinner. (My daughter was home with a girlfriend of mine who was staying with me at the time; Dave’s son had been away for the weekend and returned just in time for dinner.)

After we arrived at his house, I asked Dave if he liked to cook, and he said “sure.” Thrilled that I’d met someone who enjoyed cooking like I do, I sat back with a glass of wine in my hand as he cooked a fairly simple dinner of steak on the grill, baked potatoes and all the trimmings, plus a green salad with bottled dressing (Catalina dressing, if you remember that one). I didn’t offer to help (he remembers this). For such a simple meal I thought two cooks in the kitchen might be a bit much.

In the subsequent weekends when we got together, usually at his house, he prepared 3 more dinners (I remember this) – grilled country ribs with bottled barbecue sauce, salad and garlic bread. The third meal he made a big stovetop dish of chicken (in his new set of orange Le Creuset). It had onions, peppers and zucchini cooked with it. And he also could grill chicken with the same said bottled barbecue sauce. In that time I think I’d fallen in love with him. As he tells it, it’s a good thing because those four meals exhausted his repertoire of cooking. Period.

As I learned within a short time . . .when Dave’s son came to live with him (when he was 11, about 9 months or so before I met Dave) he really didn’t cook. He had a job that required a lot of after-work schmoozing with customers, and happy hour food was Dave’s dinner of choice. He was in electronics sales and had an expense account. Most weekdays he took customers or distributors out for a very hearty lunch. Dinner didn’t need to be big, so the happy hour food was fine for him. But with a hungry 11-year old boy at home, he had to figure out something. He learned to do hot dogs (maybe hamburgers), and those 3-4 dinners I mentioned above. They lived on that, in constant rotation, having left overs on the nights in between, and going out at least once a week. Out of desperation, his son learned to cook some himself. In fact, he really got into it, and one weekend I was visiting HE made eggs Benedict, which were really good. I was impressed.

So, the rest is history. I took over the cooking. Really, as I learned quickly enough, Dave doesn’t even know how to cook. He enjoys good food – the eating of it – but even after all these years, he still doesn’t know the how of cooking. He does help now and then, especially if we’re entertaining – if I show him how to do something, he’ll chop onions, or watch a pot or stir something. He’s a whiz at washing dishes. He puts everything away (not always where it’s supposed to be, but at least he finds a home for every item I use). I’m very grateful that he doesn’t mind – in fact he loves washing dishes.

Last week I was reading Charmian Christie’s blog about her and her husband’s 11th wedding anniversary, and she told a cute story about discussing with him what his favorite foods were when they’d met – steak, turkey, scalloped potatoes and apple pie. Then she asked him what his favorite foods are now, and he rattled off a list – all things she makes and things he’s crazy about.

Therefore, after reading about that, I turned to Dave and said: “Honey, what were your favorite things you liked to make and eat when we met?” He looked at me. And stared. And said “uhm, steak, I guess.” I said “that’s it? Steak?” I waited, and there were no additions. So, I went on. “Okay, so after 30 years of marriage, what are your favorite things I cook?” He looked at me again, blankly. [I was expecting him to rattle off half a dozen things that I make that I know he loves.] At that point, we actually had a short discussion about his perception of our meals – he thinks that because I write a food blog I never cook anything twice.

Surely, I needed to correct him about THAT. So I went to my Carolyn’s Favs list on my blog and asked him about most of the recipes. Some he doesn’t recognize by the title. But, yes, as soon as I listed some or explained something about this one or that one, he said “oh yes, I love that.” “Yes, that too.” “Sure, that’s a really good one!” He finally agreed that yes, there are lots of favorites, but when put to the test, he absolutely couldn’t name them. He loves to barbecue, and he thinks he’s pretty good at it (I agree). As I read the items, I made some scribbled notes. I thought it might be worthy of a blog post – to tell you which things I prepare are HIS favorites. Only the first one (steak) is in order of importance:

ribeye_steaks_with_amazing_glaze

Ribeye Steaks with Amazing Glaze – indeed, steak is still his #1 favorite dinner. And it’s really the meat he’s after, not necessarily the sauce, but yes, he remembered the sauce.

baked-onions

Baked Onions with Thyme – very easy baked onions with red wine and dried thyme. They’re a family favorite over the holidays, particularly.

BLTsalad3

BLT Salad – Love this salad, especially in the summer when tomatoes are at their peak. Dave loves all the bacon in it. I think.

butternut_squash_soup_apples

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Apples – For several years I made this soup every Fall. It’s on the sweet side, and is not a quick one to make since the squash, onions, apples, etc. all must spend time in the oven to reach some caramelization.

cabbagepatch4

Cabbage Patch Stew – one of my favorite soup-stew type things too – this one goes back to the 1960’s; has a scoop of mashed potatoes on top. Very simple to make. With ground beef and kidney beans.


calabacitas

Calabacitas con Crema – There is something unique about corn, zucchini and poblano chiles all mixed up with a jot of cream in it. Dave’s favorite “veg” is corn.

corn_green_chile_cheese_dip_casserole_thumb

Corn, Green Chile and Cheese Dip – Dave could easily make this his entire meal. He professes to not like Mexican food very much, but he loves this stuff. It’s hot and you dip tortilla chips or Frito scoops in it.

cranberry_relish

Cranberry Relish – Dave didn’t think he’d like this when I first made it for him (our first Thanksgiving together), but oh yes he does! Since he’s diabetic, he can’t have much of it (I use part Splenda) but he enjoys every morsel with turkey or on turkey sandwiches.

cream-of-cucumber-soup

Cream of Cucumber Soup – COLD – He surprised me with this one – I haven’t made it in a couple of years, but as soon as I mentioned it he said yes, he really liked it a lot.

crisp_apple_pudding

Crisp Apple Pudding – I make this 2-3 times a year, for sure. My mother’s recipe. I use part Splenda for Dave’s sake. It’s not so sweet you couldn’t even have it for breakfast. It has a crispy dough top, no oatmeal or crumbly stuff. Lots of cinnamon.

crumbled_asparagus

Crumbled Asparagus – he actually DID remember this one as soon as we discussed veggies. Dipped in mayo and Parmigiano cheese, roasted at high temp. Very easy and absolutely addictive.

fr-hamb-plated-540

French Hamburgers – this is a Julia Child recipe. It’s not put in a bun, but pan fried and served with a red wine and butter sauce. This recipe is THE most re-pinned recipe from my Board on Pinterest.

garlic-green-beans

Garlic Green Beans – this recipe came from a friend of Dave’s (Meredith, a beau from college days). It’s her recipe, and it’s an absolute winner. My friend Cherrie makes this all the time, too.

greek_lamb_ragu_thumb

Greek Lamb with Pasta – this is a recent recipe in my repertoire. What makes it is the Feta cheese sprinkled on top. It’s a sensational dish and feeds a bunch of people (8, with just 1 lb. ground lamb). Dave loves lamb any time, any day.

ham-and-egg-cup

Ham and Egg Cups – A great brunch dish – thin slices of deli ham, an egg, some fresh tomatoes and a dollop of pesto. Baked in the oven. Very easy.

kurobuta ham

Kurobuta Ham – you might think a ham is just a ham, but even Dave knows now that Kurobuta (Berkshire pork) ham is something else again. He loves the mustard sauce that goes with it too.

lemon velvet

Lemon Velvet Ice Cream – I’ve tinkered with the original recipe a bit, but it does remain one of our very favorites – primarily because we have 2 lemon trees on our property and the Meyer lemon juice is just so good in this.

monterey-scalloped-potatoes-450

Monterey Scalloped Potatoes – I only make this once or twice a year because it’s so rich and decadent. Made with Monterey Jack cheese. Not difficult.

pastasaladjoan

Joan’s Pasta Salad – Our friend Joan makes a wicked basil-scented pasta salad. Not difficult. Has Feta cheese in it. Relatively healthy as well.

pork-apricot-glaze

Pork Loin Roast with Apricot Glaze – what makes this is the apricot sauce on the side. It’s intensely apricot-y. Dave loves pork roast, but this one especially because of the apricots.

salmon-watercress-450

Grilled Salmon on Watercress Salad – Dave just loves this dish and often asks me – if he spies salmon on the counter – if I’m going to make it with the watercress. He particularly likes roasted red, yellow and orange bell peppers alongside. Makes a great presentation.

sheppie3

Shepherd’s Pie with Chipotle Sweet Potatoes – truthfully, I haven’t made this in a couple of years – and every time I do fix it, Dave raves. Make 2, and stick one in the freezer. It’s standard shepherd’s pie, but uses sweet potatoes flavored with chipotle to give it a kick.

tomatopiewhole_thumb

Savory Tomato Pie – or, another version I did more recently – Tomato Corn Pie – make one or the other when tomatoes are in the peak of flavor. Contains mayo (I think that’s what Dave likes about it, although you can’t tell the mayo is there, exactly).

watermelon_feta

Watermelon Salad with Feta & Mint – I just made this last night and we both dug into the bowl for more, even after we’d finished dinner. There’s something about the salty Feta and the sweet watermelon in combo. Last night I used basil, but it’s best with mint.

zucchini-gratin

Zucchini Gratin – An Ina Garten recipe. Not difficult to make, but does require a whole lot of slicing. It’s the topping that makes it, and that’s what Dave loves about it, I think.

What I haven’t pictured or listed here are the standard salad dressings I make all the time. The ones with asterisks are my regulars that I make in erratic rotation. He loves all of them, including the ones that contain blue cheese, although if you ask him he’ll tell you he’s not a fan of blue cheese dressing, or blue cheese in general.

I enjoyed writing this list, and read the entire story to Dave (to make sure I hadn’t veered from the truth anywhere – I didn’t). I asked Dave about that chicken dish he used to make in his new Le Creuset pan. I decided to go hunting – would you believe I found the original plastic spice mix bottle that Dave used to use in that dish? It means it’s at least 30 years old. I was shocked when I opened it to find that it still has a nice scent. We’re going to make it tomorrow, so you’ll hear all about it. Maybe I’ll get Dave to make it – that would be especially fun for me! I’ll take pictures. I have a brand new pan that will be perfect for it. If it’s all that good, I’ll order more of the seasoning mix, which is still available.

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  1. Kathleen Heckathorn

    said on November 3rd, 2013:

    Carolyn, what a lovely post! And the list of manly favorites is just in time for the holidays, where the majority of my guests will be male! (Remember, I have three brothers!)

    Oh, good, Kathleen! Hope you (and they) enjoy the choices . . . carolyn t

  2. Charmian @TheMessyBaker

    said on November 3rd, 2013:

    Oh, I love that your husband couldn’t name the dishes but knew and loved them once prompted. If it makes you feel better, the only dish my husband can name other than ranch dressing is No Butter Chicken. Beyond that it’s “those green beans I like” or “that pie you made for my birthday.”

    Congratulations on 30 years together! Hoping you enjoy many more.

    Well, that DOES make me feel better, Charmian! Actually, since I wrote up the post, he’s “remembered” a couple more I should have added to the list. I’ll save them for next time. . . carolyn t

  3. Melynda

    said on November 3rd, 2013:

    Very sweet story, may you enjoy 30+ more wonderful years together!

    Gosh, I hope so, although we’re getting up there in years. My DH has diabetes, of course, but he also has some heart issues as well. You’d never know it if you spent time around him, so we just never know, do we? . . . carolyn t

  4. Kalyn

    said on November 10th, 2013:

    Congratulations on 30 year! You two are a great couple.

    Thank you, Kalyn! . . . carolyn t

  5. yvette

    said on November 10th, 2013:

    Hi Carolyn,
    I really enjoyed this post. So heartwarming. I can just picture in my mind you and Dave having this conversation about his “favorites”.

    It was pretty funny – glad you got a chuckle out of it! . . .carolyn t

  6. Sue

    said on November 10th, 2013:

    Hi Carolyn,

    What a charming post! Loved the stories and recipes, some of which are also my favorites. Congrats to you and Dave, two of Lynn and my “favs.”

    Hugs, Sue

    Hi Sue – I knew our friends who might read this story would get a kick out of it – glad you did too! . . . carolyn

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