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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 August 16th, 2007.

crostini with blue cheese, mascarpone, watercress, apple and honey drizzle

Crostini is an Italian word – I think it means little toasts, or something similar. That’s exactly what these are. The recipe calls for a nut or fruited bread. Here in Southern California we can buy bread from La Brea Bakery (Nancy Silverton’s famous bakery, although it’s been sold to a big baking conglomerate). They have a raisin and pecan baguette that is perfect for this crostini. Otherwise find some kind of nut bread or fruit bread if at all possible. You slice and lightly toast the pieces, spread on a little bit of the cheese mixture containing mascarpone and blue cheese, some thinly sliced apples, then you top each one with some watercress leaves, THEN you lightly drizzle the top with honey. Oh. My. Goodness. Delicious. This recipe is going into my TOP FAV’s over on the right column.

Last Fall Cherrie and I attended a cooking class at Our House South County, in San Juan Capistrano. It was all about apples. The cooking school had about 10 varieties of apples from New England shipped to them and they developed recipes all around them. We did a tasting of 6 different apples with 6 different artisanal honey varieties. Gosh were those good. Many of the apples are varieties we can’t buy here in California. They’re never available in our local markets. So they have to be shipped.

Remember my adage about cooking classes – if I come home from a cooking class with even one special recipe that I’ll make, then I count that class as successful and worth the class fee. THIS is the recipe from that class, and I’ve made them several times.

With apples, you sort of have to cut them up just before you eat them or they will turn brown. If you want to get everything ready before you serve them, you could toss the apples with lemon juice, but I’m not crazy about the lemon juice taste on the crostini. So maybe just acidulated water (a bit of lemon juice in a cup of water) would be better. You can leave the skin on the apples – in fact the crostini look prettier with it on, especially if you’re using a red skinned apple. Everything else can be prepared ahead and then it’s just a matter of assembling them. I’ve been known to ask a guest to make them for me. But, you may want to make one and taste it so you know the proportion of cheese to watercress, apple and honey. The honey helps everything stick, so usually you layer the cheese, then the apples, then a bit of watercress, then honey on top.

This is one of those recipes that had I read it in a magazine or a cookbook, I probably would NEVER have made it. Why? Well, I’m not sure I can say. There isn’t anything I don’t like in this combination, but I don’t know that I would have bothered to layer everything up, toast the toasts, etc. Lots of detail work. And yes, that’s true, there is a bit of fussy work to be done to serve these. But the end result is extraordinary. And worth it. Absolutely everyone I’ve served this to has raved about it. So will you, if you try it. I guarantee it.
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Crostini with Blue Cheese, Apples & Watercress

Recipe from: Our House South County Cooking School (now closed)
Servings: 30
NOTES: This sounds kind of ho-hum. But the combination of the mild blue cheese spread with the fresh, crispy apple slices, the watercress for crunch, and the drizzle of honey makes it sublime. I buy La Brea Bakery’s pecan and raisin bread, slice it thin, toast it for about 8-10 minutes at 350. This is best with some kind of fruited bread.

BLUE CHEESE SPREAD:
1 cup mascarpone cheese — softened
2 tablespoons heavy cream
4 teaspoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons fresh thyme — minced and crushed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper — freshly ground
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
2 cups blue cheese — crumbled
CROSTINI:
30 slices baguette bread — nut or raisin, toasted lightly
2 large apple — thinly sliced (use a crisp, sweet apple type like Gala, Honeycrisp)
4 teaspoons honey
3 cups watercress — leaves only
1. CHEESE: Mix mascarpone, cream, lemon juice, thyme, salt, pepper, cayenne together in a medium bowl. Gently stir in blue cheese. Cover and chill until ready to serve.
2. CROSTINI: Allow cheese spread to warm to room temperature, then spread it onto the toasted bread slices. On half of the blue cheese spread, place thin apple slices, and on the other half lay a few pieces of watercress, pushing it on slightly so it will adhere. Drizzle the honey over the top and serve.
Serving Ideas : You can’t assemble this ahead, but it doesn’t take much time to assemble if you have everything ready in small dishes. A tray of these will keep at room temperature for about an hour. AND, leftovers the next morning are just fine.
Per Serving: 123 Calories; 5g Fat (38.1% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 15g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 12mg Cholesterol; 280mg Sodium.

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  1. Raven

    said on May 12th, 2008:

    That spread recipe comes from Country Living, So you might have seen it in a magazine.

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