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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 February 4th, 2016.

shrimp_cocktail_avocados_tomatoes_lime

An elegant appetizer, a time to use those really good, BIG shrimp that you’ve saved for a special occasion. Diced tomatoes are added in and the piquant lime juice adds a zing.

It’s been a couple of months ago now, that my friend Cherrie and I went to the Phillis Carey Diva class. She prepared this that day, and I’d forgotten all about it, to share with you. It’s very easy to make – just have good shrimp to use (none of those little bitty things, or canned),  but you don’t want or need to use the gigantic shrimp, either. In fact, you can cut the shrimp into more bite-sized pieces, so there’s no need to buy the most expensive ones. Phillis always prefers to start with raw shrimp (all the shells removed, including the tail shell) and she sautés them in olive oil. Out they go to a waiting bowl. To the skillet you add lime juice and zest, add it to the shrimp, then you add some chopped white onion, serrano chile, garlic and more olive oil. That’s really it.

Phillis prefers to serve this with some fresh chopped tomato, the avocados, of course, and garnishes it with some sliced black olives (optional) and cilantro. Serve with a lime wedge. It can be made UP to 24 hours ahead (without the avocado and tomato and garnishes, though).

What’s GOOD: well, if you’re a lover of shrimp, then you’ll be in hog-heaven. If you like ceviche (a raw fish appetizer), this kind of is similar in that the lime juice somewhat “cooks” the fish. In this recipe you do cook the shrimp completely before adding in everything else. It’s a very satisfying appetizer – good textures. Lots of flavor.

What’s NOT: probably just the cost of shrimp these days! And finding good avocados without bruises! That seems to be a challenge for me of late.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Shrimp Cocktail with Avocados, Tomatoes, Olives and Fresh Lime

Recipe By: Phillis Carey cooking class, 12/2015
Serving Size: 8

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds medium shrimp — cleaned, tails removed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 teaspoons lime zest
1 cup fresh lime juice
1 cup white onion — chopped
1 whole serrano chile — finely chopped (with or without seeds)
2 cloves garlic — minced
2 whole avocados — diced and rinsed with water
1 1/4 cups plum tomatoes — seeded, diced
1/2 cup black olives — sliced (optional)
1/2 cup cilantro — chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
8 pieces lime wedges — garnish

1. Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add shrimp and season with salt and pepper. Saute until shrimp are just barely opaque in center, about 3 minutes. Transfer shrimp and any juices to a bowl and set aside.
2. Add lime juice and zest to the skillet and bring to a simmer, scraping up any browned bits. Pour over the shrimp in the bowl. Add the onion, chile, garlic and additional amount of olive oil to the shrimp. Cool to room temp before serving, or cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours (no longer than that).
3. When ready to serve, gently fold in the sliced avocados, tomatoes, olives (if using) and cilantro. Spoon mixture evenly in martinii glasses or small bowls and serve with a lime wedge on the side.
Per Serving: 319 Calories; 19g Fat (52.4% calories from fat); 25g Protein; 14g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 173mg Cholesterol; 255mg Sodium.

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  1. Jan

    said on February 4th, 2016:

    Do you have an Aldi’s in California? They have very nice avocados for 29 cents. This recipe looks good and since we live on the Texas coast, shrimp is pretty reasonable.

    No, we don’t have Aldi’s in California. Nobody has avocados for 29 cents! Even though California produces most of the avocados for our nation, we seem to get penalized on the price! My daughter swears that the box of them at Costco is just the best but I can’t possibly eat that many of them. Oh well! . . . carolyn t

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on February 5th, 2016:

    This would suit me perfectly, I adore fish and seafood. I bought two avocadoes this week and they were both perfectly ripe on the day I got them – that has never happened here before, ever!

    Wonderful! For me, finding ripe avocados is always a chancy situation – you never know until you cut into them whether they are really ripe enough or if they have awful bruises on them. Good luck with that! . . . carolyn t

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