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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 Grilling, Veggies/sides, on August 28th, 2014.

mexican_style_street_corn_cotija

Previously, I’ve posted a recipe for Mexican Street Corn, but oh gosh, this version is so much better. I really didn’t know how to make it prior to my other attempt at it – just got suggestions from the waitress at a restaurant and glanced at a few recipes online. But this, oh, I’ll be making it several times this summer. Just be sure to have Cotija cheese on hand, cilantro and limes.

Making this dish is actually very simple. You can make up the spice/herb mixture ahead of time (except for adding the cilantro). You can crumble up the Cotija ahead of time and have it chilling in the refrigerator in the pan you’ll use to roll the corn on it. Husk the corn and have that all ready to go too. Fire up the grill and slow-grill the corn. You DO want grill marks (see the photo) but you don’t want to burn it. Don’t put anything on the corn – just grill it, rotating it several times over the course of 15-20 minutes or so. Do watch it carefully.

If you search recipes on the internet for Mexican Street Corn, you’ll find several, but none that do all of the things Phillis Carey did with it in the corn-themed cooking class I went to recently. And Phillis absolutely NAILED it with flavor. Not only the spice mixture (cumin, oregano, garlic) but doing it in the order she did – grill first, lightly film the corn with mayo (so everything after that will stick to it), sprinkle on the spices and cilantro, then roll the corn in Cotija cheese. Serve and pause as you listen for all the “mmmm’s.” Fabulous. Of all the recipes in this particular cooking class, I think this one was the best, by far.

What’s GOOD: all the flavors in combo with the corn. The cheese, the spices, and of course, the delicious sweet corn. This recipe is a winner. Make it, okay?

What’s NOT: not a single thing except that if you’re making this with a dinner and having to do it all, you’ll want to have everything else about your dinner all ready, because you do need to stand over the corn and watch it and turn it, but then, you’ll need to assemble it while it’s still pretty hot.

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Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click on link to open recipe in MC)

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Mexican-Style Street Corn with Cotija Cheese

Recipe By: From a Phillis Carey cooking class, 8/2014
Serving Size: 4

4 large ears of corn — husked
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon garlic powder — don’t use “granulated” powdered garlic (too strong)
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 cup Cotija cheese — crumbled
2 tablespoons cilantro — minced
1 whole lime — cut in wedges

1. You may grill the corn on an outdoor barbecue or on a stovetop grill pan. Heat grill to medium-high. Grill corn until it’s lightly charred all over and heated through, about 20 minutes, turning the corn often so it doesn’t burn.
2. While the corn is grilling, in a small bowl combine the chili powder, cumin, oregano, garlic powder.
3. When the corn is ready (and still hot), brush each one with the mayonnaise, with a light covering over all sides. Sprinkle the spices all over the corn, then roll each in the crumbled cheese then sprinkle with chopped cilantro. Serve with lime wedges to drizzle over each one.
Per Serving: 192 Calories; 13g Fat (54.8% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 21g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 5mg Cholesterol; 106mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on August 29th, 2014:

    If only! As I have said before, the corn sold here is not very good and as for the cheese – well – not in a million years would we find that here. It does sound delicious though.

    You’re really missing out on something wonderful. Hard to believe that you aren’t able to get good corn – surely it’s raised in France? I really don’t know . . .sad for you! But then, you have an abundance of cool weather berries and things that are very dear (price-wise). . . carolyn t

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on September 1st, 2014:

    We grow corn for the table here, the French use it as animal feed. I don’t know why we don’t get good stuff, perhaps we grow just one variety, I don’t know. I remember eating it in North and South Carolina, very prettily coloured as well as flavourful. I know that it tastes best eaten just after harvesting so I guess that it is stored for quite some time before getting to the shops.

    I think the Autumn berries that are expensive have usually been imported, the British grown are usually priced lower. I saw some Asparagus for sale last week, it came from Peru! Complete madness, I would prefer to eat seasonally, that way you have something to look forward to.

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