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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, Fish, on February 12th, 2015.



Kind of a messy and drippy platter, huh? Yes, it was! However, the sauce it’s sitting in it scrumptious, and you can make the sauce ahead a few hours, then all you have to do is broil the shrimp and you have an appetizer all ready! You could also serve this – I think – on pasta. There was ample of the salsa verde (see the plate is almost swimming in it) so it could easy baste a nice mound of linguine. For sure, once you serve this, save all that goop on the plate and use it with the leftovers.

It used to be that “pesto” had only one meaning. Basil. But really the word doesn’t have to mean basil. It can be nuts, or almost any kind of a paste/sauce. Although we think of pesto as purely Italian in origin, it actually originated in India. The Italians adopted it as their own, and once they mixed it with garlic, pine nuts and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, well, a match made in heaven. BUT, this is not about that kind of pesto. Salsa Verde and pesto have many similarities.

Salsa Verde (green sauce) could be a combo of so many things – herbs or even greens like kale. The phrase, salsa verde, can be French, Italian or Spanish. Here in Southern California, even English-speaking people know salsa and verde. In this recipe the green part comes from parsley, basil and cilantro in a combination, with parsley predominating. Then this one has toasted blanched almonds in it (not pine nuts, as in pesto), some garlic and red chili flakes, a jot of white wine vinegar to give it some zip, and then oil to hold it all together. Easy to make, and it surely will keep in the refrigerator for a day – but don’t add the vinegar until just before serving – it will dull all the lovely green in the sauce. After a day the cilantro will start to disintegrate, so I’d use it up fairly quick-like.

The shrimp – use any size you want, really – are tossed with a spice mix. You can use your own combination or you can buy such mixtures at most grocery stores. Paul Prudhomme has one in the spice aisle. See my notes down below in the directions about a spice combo you can make up yourself. The raw shrimp is then coated with some oil and broiled. You could serve these warm – I think I’d like them warm – but do let them cool a bit right out of the broiler because shrimp can burn your mouth if you really served it immediately. This came from a cooking class with Tarla Fallgatter a couple of months ago.

What’s GOOD: it’s all about the sauce. The salsa verde. It’s really, really delicious. Easy to make – just make sure you have blanched almonds. I don’t stock those in my pantry, but Trader Joe’s usually has them. The blanched part means they have no skins on them at all. And they’ve been cooked (and normally salted). Each shrimp made one really tasty bite, I’ll tell you! And remember to save the left over sauce and use it on pasta or rice.

What’s NOT: not a thing – loved this one.

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

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Shrimp with Pesto-Style Salsa Verde

Recipe By: Salsa Verde recipe from Fine Cooking; combo from Tarla Fallgatter, cooking instructor
Serving Size: 6

24 medium shrimp — (raw) about 2 inches long, tails removed
2 teaspoons spice mix for fish (your choice – or make up your own)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup blanched almonds
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup Italian parsley — packed
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves — packed
1/2 cup fresh cilantro — packed
2 medium cloves garlic — coarsely chopped
1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, or more as needed
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

NOTES: If you don’t have a fish-type spice mix, make your own using ground ginger (more of this than the other ingredients), ground coriander, paprika, salt, ground cumin and freshly ground black pepper.
1. SALSA: Heat the oven to 400ºF. Spread the almonds in a pie pan and toast the almonds in the oven until lightly golden, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate and let cool.
2. Place toasted almonds, parsley, basil, the cilantro, garlic, chile flakes, 1/2 tsp. salt, and a few grinds of pepper in a blender or food processor. With the machine on, gradually pour the olive oil into the feed tube and process until the mixture becomes a thick purée. Add more oil as needed to make it just barely fluid. The salsa verde may be made to this point a day ahead and refrigerated. (DO NOT ADD VINEGAR YET.)
4. Return the salsa verde to room temperature, if chilled, and stir in the vinegar just before serving to prevent discoloration.
5. SHRIMP: Toss the shrimp with spice mixture and olive oil. Place on foil lined baking sheet and broil until tender (don’t over cook them!). Cool to just room temperature. If there are juices on the pan, pour that into the salsa verde for added flavor.
6. Toss the shrimp with the salsa verde and pour out onto a serving platter and serve with toothpicks. You could also make a dinner meal with this – serve over pasta, or with rice on the plate – in which case plate the shrimp on top of the rice.
Per Serving (nutrition is inaccurate as you will not use all the salsa): 266 Calories; 26g Fat (86.7% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 3g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 36mg Cholesterol; 43mg Sodium.

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