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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 25th, 2007.


(photo from hormel.com)

Sometimes when I entertain I don’t have a whole day to devote to preparing dinner. But then, when I entertain I always serve an appetizer, a salad, a vegetable, usually a carb of some kind, and a protein, maybe even with a sauce or salsa or something alongside. And dessert. That’s a whole lot of food prep.

I’d like to say that as I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten wiser about the work and stress of entertaining, but my DH would heartily disagree. I still do a too-ambitious menu. I choose things that require too much work. Once in awhile I either buy an appetizer, or sometimes buy a ready-made dessert. Or, I cut out the carb. But most often I think I can do it all and still be full of energy at 6 pm. But more often than not I’m still working furiously 5 minutes before the guests arrive. My DH loves to entertain (and he does deal with the wine, the wine glasses, and he even sets the table AND does all the dishes). I can’t complain at ALL that he doesn’t help. He just doesn’t help with any of the FOOD unless it’s a grilled meal we’re having. So when I start working up a menu I forget to think about the hours of work. I often underestimate how much time it will take. And I must not work at the frenetic level I used to. So I’m normally at work in the kitchen all day. One of these days I’ll learn. Maybe.On occasion I start working on my entertaining menu several days ahead and do some of the work a day or so before.

This is one of those recipes to do ahead – it’s not all that difficult, but you do have to make the chutney. It’s easy enough – just takes about 45 minutes total time, with a bit of chopping and mincing before you start. Then when the guests arrive, you can just whip this out and heat it up.
Poblano chiles are a favorite of mine. They have some kind of deep, complex flavor. They have character. That’s it. I don’t think I’ve ever had them and not liked them. This recipe came from a cooking class with Tarla Fallgatter. And the chutney is just wonderful. On my notes from the class I wrote “fabulous.” That means it’s a “must fix this” dish. And I have. You’ll have some leftover chutney, but it’s also delicious served with a pork chop or chicken breast popped on the grill.

The picture at the top – of the cheese – isn’t actually the right kind of cheese – you want the plain chevre or montrachet. A fresh and plain goat cheese log. Then you make the chutney, have it warm. Heat the log of cheese for 5 minutes, then plate it and mound the chutney over and around it. Some crackers, and you’re done. I think you’ll get raves.
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Goat Cheese with Warm Apricot, Cherry & Green Chile Chutney

Recipe: Tarla Fallgatter
Servings: 8

8 ounces goat cheese — log
2 1/2 cups dried apricots — coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups sugar — or sugar substitute
1 cup poblano peppers — roasted, peeled, chopped
1/2 cup dried cherries — chopped
1/2 cup red onion — chopped
1 whole cinnamon stick — 3 inches
1 1/2 teaspoons mustard seed
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons Italian parsley — chopped
8 ounces crackers
Italian parsley sprigs for garnish

1. In a 3-4 quart pan over high heat, combine apricots, vinegar, sugar, chiles, cherries, onion, cinnamon stick, mustard seed and salt.
2. Bring to a boil, turn heat to low, partially cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the apricots are soft when pierced, about 20-25 minutes. Uncover and simmer until most of the liquid evaporates, about 5 more minutes.
3. Let cool, discard cinnamon stick and stir in the chopped parsley. Preheat oven to 350. Place goat cheese in an ovenproof dish and heat about 5 minutes or until JUST warm. Transfer to a serving plate and spoon some of the chutney over the top. Garnish with the Italian parsley sprigs, surround with crackers and serve.
Per Serving: 549 Calories; 14g Fat (22.0% calories from fat); 14g Protein; 98g Carbohydrate; 6g Dietary Fiber; 30mg Cholesterol; 609mg Sodium.

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  1. pat

    said on June 26th, 2011:

    I love your recipes….

    Thanks, Pat. Hope you come back to visit again! . .. Carolyn t

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