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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, Vegetarian, on August 11th, 2015.

fresh_tomato_bruschetta_toasts

Recently I visited with friends who live in Morrison, Colorado. Sue and her husband Lynn are foodies as I am, so Sue and I spent some time preparing lunch and dinner things. One night, after we’d been out for a nice lunch and weren’t overly hungry, we didn’t feel like having a regular, big dinner. So Sue made (with me helping just to chop up the tomatoes) these delicious bruschetta appetizers. These are different only in that fresh mozzarella cheese is toasted on the little baguette slices and THEN the bruschetta stuff is scooped on top.

When my friends used to live here in California, we frequently had one another over for dinner. We always had lively conversations, and talked about the wine we were drinking, or wines we’d had or were going to buy. And trips we had taken, were taking, or were talking about taking. My DH and I visited them a few years ago in Colorado, so there were shared memories of our previous visit.

toasts_to_toastThis appetizer took relatively little time to make, from beginning to end. A lovely baguette had been purchased the day before at a farmer’s market in Boulder, along with gorgeous heirloom tomatoes. Sue had basil growing in pots on her deck, and she had fresh mozzie. Plus some garlic, Parmesan and balsamic vinegar. You can serve this hot with a bowl of the topping, or you can serve it up freshly stacked, with napkins. It was our main course, and we ate a lot of them. Sue had gotten the recipe online at Taste of Home. I’ve renamed them, only because they’re not quite a typical bruschetta – the mozzie on the bottom makes them a bit different – a bit more substantial. So I’m calling them “toasts.” You could make them on bigger pieces of baguette or other bread and they’d be open-faced bruschetta sandwiches even. Any way you make them, they’re delicious.

What’s GOOD: these would be good even if you didn’t use the mozzie underneath, but that one thing makes them a bigger, nicer tidbit of an appetizer. Or a light lunch. These were delish, and although I don’t make bruschetta very often, if I make it in the future, I think I’ll use this recipe.

What’s NOT: well, you’ve got to have all the ingredients – the fresh mozzie, the good, ripe tomatoes, garlic, fresh basil, Italian parsley etc. If so, you’re in business!

printer-friendly PDF  and Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click link to open in MC)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Fresh Tomato Bruschetta Toasts

Recipe By: From Taste of Home, but from my friend Sue
Serving Size: 12 (2 per person)

4 whole plum tomatoes — seeded and chopped (Sue used heirloom)
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup minced fresh basil
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
3 garlic cloves — minced
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 baguette — 12″ long, cut into 1/2-inch slices
1/4 cup butter — softened (optional)
8 ounces fresh mozzarella — sliced

1. In a small bowl, combine the first 10 ingredients.
2. Spread baguette slices with butter (Sue didn’t do this step – she thought the cheese was enough); top each with a cheese slice. Place on ungreased baking sheets. Broil 3-4 ” from the heat for 3-5 minutes or until cheese is melted.
3. With a slotted spoon, top each slice with about 1 tablespoon tomato mixture. Serve immediately with napkins if you’re making this finger food.
Per Serving: 247 Calories; 14g Fat (50.8% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 22g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 30mg Cholesterol; 429mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on August 12th, 2015:

    These look like tasty little tidbits. I could make a meal on something like that. I would happily eat some form of tomatoes as the main dish at every meal right now, with the heirloom tomatoes coming in. I was on my own all day yesterday. I had tomatoes and fried egg on toast for breakfast, panzanella for lunch, and a peanut butter and tomato sandwich for supper! I’ll do these bruschetta as soon as I can pick up a nice baguette, and I am anxious to make some gazpacho as soon as possible!

    Sounds wonderful – I love heirlooms too! . . . carolyn t

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