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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 November 3rd, 2015.


The chef at Sandibe (pronounced san-dee-bey), the safari camp where this was served, just called it hummus, but because peanuts are such a major player in the cuisine of Africa, I started calling it safari hummus. Instead of tahini, they used peanut butter. It’s a surprising change of flavor.

I don’t think I expected to be served hummus in Africa. Maybe in a cosmopolitan city yes, but out in the bush? Yet it was very refreshing. They served it with fresh vegetables – icy cold carrots and celery, which tasted particularly good after being out on a morning game drive. I made this the other day to take to a luncheon (my friend Cherrie had a Halloween lunch for a bunch of her girlfriends). Several people commented on it – that they liked this and hoped I would be posting it here. Here you go, friends.

The safari camps must be used to people asking for recipes for their dishes – they delivered them usually the next day after I asked. I came home with several, as I mentioned last week.

This takes no time whatsoever to make. But if you did it exactly as they made it with roasted garlic (instead of fresh, which is what I used) it would take a bit longer. It was hot the morning I made this and I just didn’t feel like roasting the garlic, easy as it is to do – I didn’t want to heat up the kitchen. I’ve left the recipe as-is, below, so you can decide whether you want to roast it or not. Do use soft peanut butter (like JIF creamy), not the natural stuff, and not any peanut butter with nut chunks in it. The hummus is made completely in the food processor – it contains a fair amount of lemon juice which gives it some tang. And there is cayenne in it too, which gives it a kick. Make it the day before if you have the time so the flavors can meld.

What’s GOOD: the peanut butter is subtle – some people could pick it out of the flavor mélange – but some couldn’t determine what was different about it. I liked the option of pureeing the first can of garbanzo beans so it’s smooth, then adding in the 2nd can and leaving some of the chunkiness there. It gives the hummus some texture.

What’s NOT: nothing at all.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 14/15 file (click on link to open)

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Safari Hummus

Recipe By: From “And Beyond” safari camps, Africa, 2015
Serving Size: 12

3 cups garbanzo beans, canned — drained, saving 1/3 cup juice
3 tablespoons roasted garlic — chopped [I used 2 large cloves of fresh garlic]
1/3 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon cumin seeds — toasted and ground
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup peanut butter — creamy, like JIF
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 cup Italian parsley — chopped [reserve some for garnish]
1 teaspoon salt

1. Blend half of the garbanzo beans with everything else on the list – except the parsley – in a food processor. Puree until very smooth, scraping down the sides if necessary.
2. Add the other half of the beans and process a short time – you want to have a bit of texture to the mixture.
3. Add the parsley and add some of the garbanzo bean liquid if the mixture is too thick. Scrape into a bowl and refrigerate for a few hours to blend the flavors. Serve with bread or crackers or with freshly cut vegetables (carrot sticks, celery sticks, cucumber rounds). Yield: 3 1/2 cups
Per Serving: 190 Calories; 13g Fat (57.6% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 16g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 384mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on November 4th, 2015:

    I’ll try this next time the grandkids come over. They love hummus, and I’m sure we’ll all like the peanut butter variation. The addition of toasted cumin sounds good, too–I don’t remember if my usual recipe calls for cumin, but if it does, I know it doesn’t call for toasting it. Sounds yummy!

    I think you could probably add just a tetch more peanut butter if your family likes it. Not a lot, or it would overwhelm the garbanzos. It’s a nice change of pace. . . carolyn t

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