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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 Fish, on March 7th, 2016.

shrimp_lemony_watercress

Scrumptious, tart, lemony, textures, ah. Worth making – and it’s easy to boot.

In late January, my friend Ann, who lives in frigid Idaho, flew down to SoCal and I picked her up at the Palm Springs airport. We then stayed at a VRBO condo for a week in La Quinta. Sometimes January is iffy weather in the California desert (rainy) and we did get rain one day. It was fairly cold out there, but in the sunshine it was comfortable. The condo had a lovely kitchen with plenty of kitchen equipment, so we didn’t lack for anything (except sharp knives, alas – there were plenty of them, but they were as dull as ann_pga_westcardboard – next time I’ll take some of my own good knives). I’d suggested to Ann that if I made one or two meals, maybe she’d come up with a meal she would prepare. We worked on all the cooking together, so it was a joint effort. She sent me several recipes and this is the one I preferred. Actually, this one is for scallops, but I don’t eat them – shrimp is preferable for me. So we made the same recipe, just with the shrimp instead. Pictured at left, Ann, at our VRBO condo, overlooking the rather brown golf course at PGA West.

This is really a salad only – there isn’t anything else hiding under all that watercress, but it was perfect for us. Real watercress is a bit hard to find these days – except the type you see above – it’s like baby cress – with the root ball attached. I don’t much like that type because it lacks that unique peppery flavor of full grown watercress. But if that’s all you can find, well, then, make do! The shrimp are cooked in nothing more than a speck of olive oil and seasoned with paprika and lemon zest. We had access to lemons out there in the desert – they were regular lemons, not Meyers (my preference), so depending on the type, you may want to adjust the sugar in the dressing.

The lemon vinaigrette is SO tasty – puckery, but sweet because you do add sugar, and it’s loaded with garlic too. The watercress was tossed with the lemon dressing, then we piled the shrimp on top and added parsley for garnish. The original recipe (with scallops) came from Cooking Light, in 2002.

What’s GOOD: it was so easy to make, and I just loved the lemon flavor. It was a zesty dressing (not hot, just vibrant) with the lemon. The shrimp were perfectly cooked through and we both slicked our plates clean. A definite keeper. Low cal and very low fat!

What’s NOT: nothing at all, except it might not be enough food for some people as a main entrée. Serve with bread and maybe a dessert? Just a thought.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Shrimp on Lemony Watercress

Recipe By: Adapted from a Cooking Light recipe, Oct. 2002
Serving Size: 4

2 teaspoons olive oil — divided
1 1/2 pounds large shrimp
1/2 teaspoon salt — divided
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
1 tablespoon Italian parsley — chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 cups watercress — about 2 1/2 bunches, washed, trimmed, dried
Italian parsley, chopped, for garnish

1. Heat a teaspoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle shrimp with 1/4 teaspoon salt and paprika. Add them to pan; cook 3 minutes on each side or until done. Combine rind and parsley; sprinkle over shrimp. Keep warm.
2. Combine a teaspoon of olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, lemon juice, sugar, garlic, and pepper. Place watercress in a large bowl; drizzle with lemon juice mixture, tossing gently to coat. Serve shrimp over watercress mixture and garnish with additional Italian parsley.
Per Serving: 222 Calories; 5g Fat (21.9% calories from fat); 36g Protein; 6g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 259mg Cholesterol; 547mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on March 7th, 2016:

    I like the sound of this especially with the Scallops, they are my favourite. I will wait until Watercress is in season here, probably April so not long to wait. I will use lime juice since it is easier on my digestion than lemon.

    The scallops will be perfect, and lime juice should be just great with this too. It’s an easy salad to make, beginning to end. Hope you enjoy it. . . carolyn t

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