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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, Breads, easy, on May 28th, 2015.

blooming_bread_pesto_mozzie

I thought I’d taken a photo of this when it was baked, but I guess I didn’t. This is one of those big monster loaves of bread, cut into little towers you pull off, with a mixture of pesto inside, then with oodles of mozzarella cheese all over it.

I was visiting with daughter Sara awhile back – I’d forgotten about posting this one – it was before I went on my April/May trip to Europe. Anyway, Sara invited all of her husband’s extended family over for a Sunday night dinner. I helped Sara some with preparations, and she handed me the ingredients for this, and said “go for it, Mom.”  I’d made one of these before, about 7-8 years ago, but it was a slightly different variation of the same – that older one with cream cheese and goat cheese, from an old friend, Karen. This one with mozzarella only. By far, this one was easier to make, but both were fabulous.

If you consider making this, please don’t look at the calories or fat, okay? Just know it’s probably not good for us, but it’s a treat. There were 4 children at Sara’s that day (ages 11-17) and they gobbled this up in no time flat. Most of the adults got a taste or two. Where I was sitting at Sara’s kitchen counter, it was put right in front of me, so I did get to sample more than some people did. I could have made a meal of it – in fact, after a few pieces I was almost full.

Sara bought the loaf of bread at Costco – a big, round loaf. You must buy an unsliced round loaf, then you slice it both directions in about 3/4 inch slices, but not down through the bottom crust, so it stays in place. I cut the bread too deep – it should have stood up a little bit better than it did, but hey, it made no-never-mind to the taste. You slather ready made pesto (Trader Joe’s and Costco both carry it now), then sprinkle shredded mozzarella all over it. Into an oven it goes, and once the mozzarella is fully melted, pull it out. Let it sit for a couple of minutes before serving as you could easily burn your mouth if it’s too hot. You’ll hear raves, I promise.

What’s GOOD: well, the taste! It’s delicious. The better the cheese you buy (like whole milk mozzarella, and/or mix in some provolone) the better it will taste. If you make your own pesto it’s probably better than store bought. But make it easy – buy ready made pesto, but don’t, please, buy already shredded mozzarella. You know the cheese producers put something on that so the cheese doesn’t clump. Whatever it is, it dilutes flavor, or else they don’t use very good cheese to begin with. So make it with good cheese.

What’s NOT: the only thing I can say is that the slicing and slathering is a little bit fussy, but it doesn’t take all that much time. It’s fairly straight forward and you’ll have it ready in about 10-15 minutes max. You can probably do it ahead and refrigerate it (covered) for an hour or two. It might not even need refrigeration if you made it 2 hours ahead. Don’t quote me – don’t sue me! There’s no mayo in this, so it shouldn’t be a problem.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Bloomin’ Pesto Mozzarella Bread

Recipe By: My daughter Sara’s recipe
Serving Size: 6-8

1 loaf white bread — round, unsliced
1 cup pesto sauce — fresh (jarred, or make your own)
12 ounces mozzarella cheese — shredded
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper.
2. Prepare the bread: Score the bread lengthwise as you would to slice the loaf into 1/2 to 3/4″ thick slices, but do not cut through the bottom. Turn the loaf a quarter turn, and slice the bread the other direction, but only slice it to about 1″ from the bottom. You’ll end up with a whole, round loaf of little towers or fingers of bread.
3. Use a spatula or butter knife to spread pesto in all the edges and crevices, down deep in the bread.
4. Sprinkle shredded mozzarella inside the all the nooks and crannies, pushing it in so that the cheese doesn’t melt off the edges/sides.
5. Transfer the loaf to the prepared baking sheet, and bake until the pesto is bubbly and the mozzarella is melted, 15 to 17 minutes. Serve warm.
Per Serving: 394 Calories; 33g Fat (74.4% calories from fat); 19g Protein; 6g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 62mg Cholesterol; 533mg Sodium.

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