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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 Pasta, Vegetarian, on September 2nd, 2007.

pastatomatocreamsauceIt was a few years ago and we flew from California to Philadelphia to attend the wedding of a young couple, friends. They’d met in San Diego, actually sailed with us on our boat one afternoon soon after they’d met. He was, is, a Navy pilot and close with dear friends of ours from Philadelphia. We thought they made a fine couple and wished them much happiness. The groom’s mother prepared a lovely feast for the rehearsal dinner. There were many hands helping in the kitchen, mine among them, and I fell in love with this incredibly easy side dish (or, it could be a main dish as is, or add some protein of some kind too).

I watched as MaryAnn made this sauce – she opened cans of chopped tomatoes, cubed up some cream cheese, chopped some basil, added a tad of wine vinegar, fresh garlic, and olive oil. All this was stirred up in a very large bowl, covered with plastic wrap and left to sit out for about 6 hours. The flavors developed, obviously and the cream cheese kind of dissolved, sort of. At serving time she made a heap of hot penne, combined the sauce and poured it onto a very large platter with additional basil and sprinkled the real-thing Parmesan cheese and it was done. The total amount of actual work in this is about 5 minutes. (I’m not counting the time to cook the pasta, of course.) Maybe 10 max. If you need to hold the sauce for longer, put it in the refrigerator. Just bring it back to room temp before serving. The dish can be served at room temp, actually, but I think it’s best hot.

And I’ll tell you, this is absolutely fabulous. I’ve made it many, many times since. It’s a cinch for guests. Tastes beyond wonderful.  Thank you, MaryAnn.

What’s good: well, that it’s so incredibly easy to make. You and your guests will rave about it. And yes, you DO leave it out at room temp. I think the acid in the tomatoes must be what keeps the dairy (cream cheese) from developing bacteria. It’s also delicious as left overs. A must make.
What’s not: nothing whatsoever.

printer-friendly (CutePDF Writer) PDF
MasterCook 5+ import file – right click to save file, run MC, then File|Import

Pasta with Tomato Cream Sauce

Recipe: MaryAnn Quinn, a friend of a friend in Philadelphia
Serving Size : 10 (as a side dish, 4 as main dish)
COOK’S NOTES: This takes about 5 minutes to prepare the sauce and it’s DONE! You can use any kind of pasta, but choose one that will hold some of the sauce (i.e., not linguine or spaghetti) in its crevices. These days it seems odd to let food sit at room temp for several hours, but when I was first served this, it was left out and later served to 30 people without a problem. A double batch was JUST enough (small servings) for 30 with an entree, green salad and ample appetizers. My favorite tomatoes are Muir Glen fire roasted, but any brand will really be fine. Muir Glen is carried at Whole Foods.

28 ounces tomatoes, canned — diced with juice
8 ounces cream cheese — cubed
2 cloves garlic — minced
1 bunch basil — minced
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 pound penne pasta

1. Combine all ingredients (except pasta and cheese) in a large bowl, cover and allow to sit for several hours at room temperature.
2. Boil pasta just until barely tender, drain, add sauce to pasta, stir and pour into a large serving bowl. Sprinkle cheese on top and additional basil, if desired.
Per Serving: 383 Calories; 22g Fat (50.8% calories from fat); 11g Protein; 36g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 31mg Cholesterol; 239mg Sodium.

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  1. Kalyn

    said on September 2nd, 2007:

    It does sound beyond fabulous! Going right into my del.icio.us cookbook for sure.

    I agree, the Muir Glen tomatoes are great!

  2. Sue

    said on March 24th, 2012:

    How large are the cans of tomatoes? Did you use 28oz cans of 13-14 oz cans? Just wondering – would likely be good either way … Great blog by the way, just discovered your site!

    You use the smaller cans – about 2 cups of tomatoes per can. Thanks for the compliment – stop back and visit again. . . carolyn t

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