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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 Salads, Vegetarian, Veggies/sides, on January 31st, 2016.

basmati_wild_rice_golden_raisins_salad

What a lovely side dish this is – or it could be a vegetarian entrée, it’s so filling and complete with nutrition! Technically, I  used golden raisins since I didn’t have any currants. It was just fabulous!

Looking for a variety-packed side dish (a carb) to serve with the big family dinner I did recently, I decided to try this wild  and basmati rice (my favorite kind of white rice) side salad. My cousin, who has to eat GF, was all over it (1 1/2 teaspoons of flour is called for in the recipe, to coat the onion topping, so I used his GF flour instead). My D-I-L thought it was a great find, and one she could make and pack small cups into her son’s lunch. I don’t think anyone didn’t like it, and I certainly heard only positive descriptors, so I’d say this dish was a hit. I’d definitely make it again.

Wild rice features in this, and I used one of those already-cooked packets. If you don’t have that, just make it from scratch as instructed in the recipe.

RICE CONUNDRUM: The rice is a bit of a perplexing method. Well, let’s just say that I doubted the accuracy of the recipe when I began making it . . . for over 2 cups of white rice you used just 1 1/2 cups of water? Eh what? Surely I thought that was a typo. You need more water than rice, making it in a traditional method. I went back to the recipe in Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottalenghi. Nope, it was right. So I went on the ‘net, thinking there would be others who had posted this recipe. Yes, but the few there all showed using the same amount of water. I went to Ottolenghi’s website, thinking there might be an errata page (book errors), but no, there wasn’t. I went to my food chemistry book, Harold McGee’s small encyclopedia, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. He has no less than 6 pages of info about rice (no recipes) and in one section it did elaborate that different cultures/cuisines use different proportions of water (no specifics) and he briefly discussed the Middle East’s penchant for flavorings, and the use of oil and butter. No help there. I did a google search on “how to slow steam rice” and that brought up about 100 slow-cooker methods. I took out the “slow” and then got dozens of youtube links to show me exactly how to steam rice. Not what I needed. I even went to the publisher’s website (Random House) hoping for an errata page. I couldn’t find one. What’s with that? Publishers always used to have an errata page.

So, what did I do? I cooked the rice according to the directions, but were I to make this again, I would increase the water by about half. Usually rice needs twice as much water to rice. I’d make it with 1 1/2 times the amount of water to see if that works. The rice is slow-slow cooked on the cooktop – I used my risottos cooker on its slow cooker setting and in the allotted 15 minutes it ran out of water. I let it sit for a bit, thinking that the grains would cook a bit more. I tasted it. It was okay – just a bit crunchy. Surprise. And yet, to me, the rice was on the firm side, for sure.

Once both rices are ready, you begin adding ingredients – herbs, spices, then the raisins. The chickpeas (garbanzos) are sautéed in some oil and spices too (so the flavorings stick to the beans) and those are added in. The onion is a common thread in Middle Eastern rice and grain salads, and not just onion added to the carb, but prepared separately. I didn’t deep fry the onion as the recipe indicated as I was using my cousin’s GF flour and wasn’t certain how it would react to frying, so I just used a few tablespoons of oil and did it that way. Next time I think I’d make more onions and I’d caramelize them, since that adds so much flavor. And I’d leave out the flour – some people made the onions like onion rings, but I prefer the full-bodied flavor of caramelized onions and would mix them in. I added in a bit more olive oil at the end because I thought the dish was very (too) dry, but you can go without that.

What’s GOOD: this was a wonderful side dish. I still question the quantity of water to rice and will alter the recipe if/when I make it again. The flavors were wonderful. The golden raisins (or currants) add such a surprise taste in the savory rice. It’s colorful and everyone liked it a lot.

What’s NOT: it does take a bit more time than some dishes, but none of it was difficult or all that time consuming. If I made caramelized onions next time, THAT would take some extra time.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Basmati and Wild Rice with Chickpeas, Currants and Herbs

Recipe By: Jerusalem: A Cookbook, by Ottolenghi
Serving Size: 6

1/3 cup wild rice
2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 1/4 cups basmati rice
1 1/2 cups boiling water [my opinion – it needs more water]
2/3 cup currants
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley — chopped
1 tablespoon dill weed — minced
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
Drizzle more oil before serving if salad seems dry
GARBANZO BEANS:
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
1 1/2 cups garbanzo beans, canned — drained, rinsed, towel dried
FRIED ONIONS:
3/4 cup sunflower oil, for frying the onions (or other vegetable oil) [I used about 2 T. instead]
1 medium onion — thinly sliced * see notes
1 1/2 teaspoons all-purpose flour

1. Start by putting the wild rice in a small saucepan, cover with plenty of water, bring to a boil, and leave to simmer for about 40 minutes, until the rice is cooked but still quite firm. Drain and set aside.
2. To cook the basmati rice, pour 1 tablespoon of the olive oil into a medium saucepan with a tightly fitting lid and place over high heat. Add the rice and 1/4 teaspoon salt and stir as you warm up the rice. Carefully add the boiling water, decrease the heat to very low, cover the pan with the lid, and leave to cook for 15 minutes.
3. Remove the pan from the heat, cover with a clean tea towel and then the lid, and leave off the heat for 10 minutes.
4. While the rice is cooking, prepare the chickpeas. Heat the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil in a small saucepan over high heat. Add the cumin seeds and curry powder, wait for a couple seconds, and then add the chickpeas and 1/4 teaspoon salt; make sure you do this quickly or the spices may burn in the oil. Stir over the heat for a minute or two, just to heat the chickpeas, then transfer to a large mixing bowl.
5. ONION: Wipe the saucepan clean, pour in the sunflower oil, and place over high heat. Make sure the oil is hot by throwing in a small piece of onion; it should sizzle vigorously. Use your hands to mix the onion with the flour to coat it slightly. Take some of the onion and carefully (it may spit!) place it in the oil. Fry for 2 to 3 minutes, until golden brown, then transfer to paper towels to drain and sprinkle with salt. Repeat in batches until all the onion is fried. *NOTE: next time I would use twice as much onion and I’d caramelize it in oil rather than batter and fry them, only to chop them up to add to the rice mixture.
6. Finally, add both types of rice to the chickpeas and then add the currants, herbs, and fried onion. Stir, taste, and add salt and pepper as you like. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Per Serving (altogether incorrect because it assumes you consume the oil you fry the onions in): 445 Calories; 8g Fat (16.4% calories from fat); 12g Protein; 83g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 232mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on February 3rd, 2016:

    I love Yotam Ottolenghi! I have ‘Plenty’ and read it for pleasure.

    I like his recipes – those I’ve tried anyway. Most are complex ones with oodles of ingredients but the results have been really good. . . Carolyn t

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