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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 Soups, on August 19th, 2007.

Do you know what this is? It’s my soup library. We’re not into soup season yet. I look forward to making soups – lots of soups – when the weather turns colder. That certainly hasn’t happened here in Southern California – the weather turning cooler I mean. It’s been hotter in the last couple of days than it’s been all summer. In the 90’s. Sticky. At least it’s sticky for us. Yet I really love soups any time of year. But hearty soups don’t frequent my table when it’s hot. Except yesterday.
Soups are so comforting. Yesterday, my DH was (and still is today) suffering from a reaction to a drug he was taking, so I thought about defrosting some soup that will go down smoothly. His tongue is swollen. He’s itchy all over. Has a sore throat as part of the drug reaction too. So I said, how about I defrost some soup for lunch? He nodded yes since it hurts to talk.

When I make soup I usually make extra. Usually a lot of extra. It’s basically the same amount of work to make a soup for 4 as it is to make it for 10. Maybe a bit more chopping and mincing, but that’s it. But then we’ve got leftovers for a day or two later AND some to freeze.

My standard operating procedure is to pour hot soup out into a large flat pan (one of those quarter sheets) or anything large and flatish. Then I label the Ziploc half gallon size freezer bags (not the kind with a zipper) using a grease pencil, so the writing doesn’t come off in the freezer. I even write the quantity so I know how many each bag will serve. When the soup has cooled enough to handle, usually within 30-60 minutes, I scoop, ladle, or pour it into the bags, trying to portion out the contents – like getting equal amounts of chicken pieces or other chunky ingredients equalized. When I do this task I make sure there’s virtually no air in the bag. This is do-able with some patience by laying the bag flat on the counter and leaving just a corner of the bag open. Holding up that tiny open corner I slide the air bubbles toward the corner, easing air out of the bag before sealing it tight. Then I lay the bags flat on our cool granite countertop for a little longer to cool some more (maybe 20-30 minutes total, usually about 10-15 minutes per side, moving the bags to a different – cool – spot). Then they’re plopped into the refrigerator to cool down completely.

A couple of hours later, using a smallish cookie sheet that’s just the same size as the Ziploc bag, I lay a soup bag on the sheet and place it in a level place in the freezer. The levelness is critical because you don’t want to stand up bags later that are heavier weighted at one end. They cause problems in the “library.” I carefully straighten the bag first, so corners aren’t crinkled (wrinkled corners will sometimes crack in the freezer if you juggle the frozen “flats” around now and then. Once frozen solid, another bag goes onto the sheet and I continue until all bags are frozen. Once frozen the bags stand upright in the “library.” Much easier to handle. Much easier to see. Much easier to remove from the shelf too.
I still have 11 soups lined up in waiting, even after removing one today. We had some tomato soup for lunch. Some of that wonderful cream of tomato soup I made in June from the French bistro cooking class in Sonoma. You can spot the bags of tomato soup in the library – all the same color, all lined up like soldiers. Or sardines in a can. Or books on the shelf.

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  1. Kristen

    said on August 20th, 2007:

    You are brilliant. I love the idea of freezing soup like this. Fantastic idea!

  2. Susan

    said on September 22nd, 2008:

    My friend sent me your link and said “you’ll really enjoy this!” We too have done this very same thing and LOVE the way we can stack it like a “library” just like your picture. It is so FUN to see that someone else does this too. We freeze our spaghetti and chili this way . . making a large enough batch that we only have to make it once a season. Another advantage of freezing in the bags is they defrost quickly in a sink of water. We freeze many of the veggies/fruits from our garden this way and stack the bags of each veggie type in a wire baskets labeled with each veggie name. . . helps keep the ‘jungle in the freeze’ a bit tamed!

    Hi Susan – Am glad you liked my post. At the moment (September) we’re just starting to get into soup season again. In fact we’re having some tonight. I’m looking forward to making more soups this winter. I just have to make room in the freezer. Unfortunately, I’m a freezer pack-rat, and have a hard time throwing out things. We’ll have to EAT some soup before I can freeze any MORE soup! Good for you, though, for freezing so much of your garden’s produce. I also freeze chili and stews in the same manner. . . Carolyn

  3. Connie Langford

    said on February 3rd, 2011:

    Thanks, Carolyn for the great idea. More economical – spacewise. I only have a refrigerator freezer, so this will help a lot!!

    You’ll be so glad once you see how great it works. . . carolyn t

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