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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 March 28th, 2015.


When you serve an appetizer, I’m always looking for a new way to serve a vegetable rather than cheese (although I must say, serving cheese is a fall-back for any dinner party if I run out of time). Here you’ll get some peppers in a balsamic vinaigrette kind of thing and they’re really delish on top of a little piece of toast. I used ciabatta bread.

Eat our vegetables! Isn’t that the mantra? As a single person now, I buy fresh veggies, and at least half the time I forget about them, or I just end up not cooking for several nights in a row and suddenly they’re over the hill. So I’ve kind of decided not to buy fresh veggies unless I truly know I’m going to prepare them that night or the next one. A week or so ago I had a package of yellow crookneck squash, a bunch of asparagus and mushrooms. I ended up cooking them all together (adding the thin asparagus in the last 4-5 minutes of cooking) with shallots, half of an onion, a bunch of dried thyme and oregano, and adding in a little pat of butter at the end. Well, I ate that for about 4 meals. Once it was cooked, it kept in the frig for over a week, and I had the last of it last night with a tiny bit of left over pork chop from over a week ago also. That was dinner, and it was wonderful. My food buying and my eating habits have changed, that’s for sure!

Anyway, since we all know we should eat more veggies, make an appetizer that contains some, if at all possible. And here, that’s exactly what works. If you don’t count the bread/toast! The peppers are broiled and Diane Phillips used a little different method here – she roasted them under the broiler, turning them to blacken the skins on all sides, then she turned the oven OFF, and let the pan just sit there for about an hour. That accomplishes the same thing as putting them in a plastic bag to soften the charred skins. The blackened skins came right off. Then you slice them thinly and marinate them in a balsamic vinaigrette and garlic. One thing to remember: don’t smash or mince the garlic. It doesn’t get cooked, so you want to slice the garlic so it can be easily removed before serving. The peppers are left out at room temp for 2-8 hours, then drain off the dressing (and keep it – it will work fine for a salad) and serve with toasted baguette slices or in my case I used ciabatta. Do use good balsamic for this – not the ancient aged stuff, but at least buy and use one that aged for 15 years. You’ll notice the difference.

What’s GOOD: the peppers have a wonderful umami taste – at least I think they do. I’m not so sure that red bells are on the “master list” of umami flavors, but with the addition of balsamic (which is an umami) you get a double-whammy of sharp, pungent flavors (good type, though). I could have made that my dinner, except for eating all of the carbs! It will keep for a few days if you don’t eat it all.

What’s NOT: nothing, really. Make only as much as you think you’ll consume. It should keep for a few days, but probably not more than that. They’ll begin to turn to mush in the vinaigrette, I think.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Roasted Red Bell Peppers in Balsamic Vinegar

Recipe By: Diane Phillips, cooking instructor and cookbook author, 2015
Serving Size: 10

4 large red bell peppers
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar — (use good quality, aged) or more if needed
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 medium garlic cloves — very thinly sliced (will be removed later)
Crostini, for serving

1. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and preheat the broiler.
2. Wash the peppers and remove any stickers. Place them on one flatter side on the baking sheet and broil, turning them once or twice to char them evenly on all sides. Watch carefully.
3. When they’re blackened, turn off the broiler, close oven door and allow them to rest in the oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour. The steam formed in the oven will help you to remove the skins more easily.
4. Remove the peppers from the oven and when they are cool enough to handle, remove skins (use disposable gloves if desired).
5. Remove core, seeds, then slice into strips and place in a medium-sized bowl. Stir in oil, vinegar, salt, pepper and sliced garlic. Mix. MAKE AHEAD: can be made up to 8 hours ahead, but they need to sit for at least 2 hours to meld the flavors, covered, at room temperature.
6. Taste for seasonings. Remove garlic slivers and pour into a small serving bowl. Serve with crostini and a fork to put the slices on the bread more easily.
Per Serving: 158 Calories; 16g Fat (89.7% calories from fat); trace Protein; 4g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 214mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on March 29th, 2015:

    This is exactly the sort of thing that I like to eat. In fact most of my eating at home is something or other on a slice of toast. I buy jars of roasted red peppers in a marinade to use as a topping for my toast. I also like chopped tomatoes with balsamic on there.

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