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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 January 2nd, 2009.

onion-dip

Back about a month ago I’d read a recipe over at Heidi Swanson’s blog, 101 cookbooks. She’d had an idea in mind for awhile to revamp the ubiquitous Lipton’s onion soup dip to something more healthy, probably with less sodium too. And obviously NOT using the Lipton soup mix at all. She did it! I had printed out the recipe and was just waiting for the opportunity to make it.

The ingredients are quite simple – the only hitch was the hour-long cooking (caramelizing) of the onions. And after going back to look at Heidi’s photos, I think maybe I didn’t quite caramelize my onions enough. But the dip was great. Very onion-y, and a good texture made with Greek yogurt (plain) and low-fat sour cream. The dip has onion powder in it – and Heidi indicated you need to taste it as you make it, to be certain it’s has enough onion flavor (make sure you don’t use onion salt). I added more than the recipe suggested, but maybe not quite double the amount. Maybe onion powder varies by producer? She also suggested using dehydrated onion pieces, finely ground, if you don’t have the powder. That would work too. What you want is more prominent onion flavor, and that’s what the powder provides. Heidi also served it with 2/3 of the onions IN the dip and the other third on top – so everyone will know this is not Lipton’s. I served it with toasted baguette slices, but it could be done with crackers, or even the ever-popular Fritos. I also added some parsley on top, just to make it look pretty. Heidi also suggested that firm tofu could be substituted for some of the dairy in this.
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Caramelized Onion Dip

Recipe: Heidi Swanson, 101 Cookbooks blog
Servings: 10

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 large yellow onions — about 1 1/2 pounds, finely chopped
3/4 cup sour cream low (fat is fine)
3/4 cup Greek yogurt, full-fat (low-fat is fine)
3 teaspoons onion powder
1/2 teaspoon salt — scant
2 tablespoons Italian parsley — garnish, optional

1. In a large thick-bottomed skillet over medium heat saute the chopped onions in the olive oil along with a couple pinches of salt. Stir occasionally with a wood or metal spatula and cook until the onions are deeply golden, brown, and caramelized – roughly 40 or 50 minutes (see photo). Set aside and let cool.
2. In the meantime, whisk together the sour cream, yogurt, onion powder, and salt. The important thing is to add whatever onion powder you are using to taste. Add a bit at a time until it tastes really good. Set aside until the caramelized onions have cooled to room temperature. Stir in 2/3 of the caramelized onions, scoop into a serving bowl, and top with the remaining onions. Garnish with Italian parsley, if using. Best served at room temperature.
Per Serving (assuming it serves 10): 92 Calories; 8g Fat (74.8% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 4g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 15mg Cholesterol; 126mg Sodium.

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  1. jancd

    said on January 2nd, 2009:

    It’s our monthly game night at church tonight and you have come through again with a great recipe. I love onion dip, but this does take it up to a higher level. I caramelized the onions while preparing tuna salad for lunch, so it didn’t seem to be too much of a bother. The dip turned out great looking and delicious. Since I am one of the few who cook from scratch at these parties, I’m sure this will be a hit. Thanks, Carolyn, for your blog. Jancd

    Thank you, Jan. I appreciate your kind words. And so glad you decided to try the dip. . . Carolyn T

  2. jancd

    said on January 3rd, 2009:

    As I predicted, the onion dip was was attacked the minute it hit the table. There was none left to take home and many people told me how wonderful it was….ask where I bought it….what was the brand name, etc. There were over thirty people in attendance, all over 50 years of age, yet only one other person actually prepared a dish. The rest was purchased. What has happened to taking the time and care to prepare a nice snack? Some snacks were not even touched. It seems like the people would wonder why they were taking home the same amount they brought. Okay, I will get off my soap box. These people are not reading this anyway. HA.

    You’re so right-on. I so rarely buy ready-made foods, but so many people do these days. And so many young women today “don’t cook” and never do, even though they marry and have children, etc. interesting how times change. So glad your group enjoyed the dip! . . . Carolyn T

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