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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, on September 5th, 2007.


So, what is it about bacon that is so darned good? It’s that crispy porky piggy flavor, naturally! As with most people, especially those of us trying to watch calories and fat, bacon became a treat, a once-in-awhile kind of treat at least 20 years ago. But I miss it. However, I’ve found that a little bit goes a long way. Of course, we know that, right? But when a recipe calls for 3 strips, I use 1. I’ve used turkey bacon and it’s okay. I probably should use it always, but I’d rather have less of the real thing and get more of the real flavor. But, what do you do with a big package of bacon when you only need 1 slice? Here’s one of Carolyn’s tips coming your way. Once I open a package of bacon, I remove the slices I’m using for that meal, then the remaining ones are separated and rolled up, placed on a metal tray – raw – frozen, then the rolls are popped into a Ziploc bag and stored in the freezer. Then, when I need one slice, it’s easy to pull out just one. Here’s a photo of the bacon rolls currently residing in my freezer.

The photo looks blurry, but it’s the vapor in the Ziploc bag you’re viewing. Because bacon is mostly fat, it defrosts in a jiffy. And with these little bacon rolls if I really only want a half a slice, a sharp chef’s knife will easily cut that one roll in half. If you cut it lengthwise, it’s already cut into pieces. But you can chop it a bit more, easily enough.

I do want to talk a bit about bacon itself. I used to buy grocery store bacon. And for some, it may be all that you can afford. I understand – I’ve been there too. But I’ve never liked all the tinkering our food manufacturers do with our foods, so I try to avoid chemicals whenever it’s feasible. Now that trichinosis is a thing of the past, we needn’t worry about acquiring the disease from uncooked pork. So we don’t need the nitrates and nitrites so commonly part of the curing process in bacon and other pork products. I avoid them whenever possible. And it’s easy to do so if you have a source for Niman Ranch bacon. It’s smoked, but uncured. Our Trader Joe’s carries it nearly all the time. It’s without preservatives, and has a gorgeous taste. It’s thick-sliced too, which I prefer. There’s a photo of the bacon above – it is a smaller package – 12 ounces I think, rather than a pound. That’s to make it a bit more affordable, I’m certain. But I use so little of it, a package will last me months and months once it’s in my cute little frozen rolls.

So now, the salad. The recipe for this was published in our local newspaper, The Orange County Register, in 1994. I clipped that little gem out and made it with some home grown tomatoes we had from our garden. It was absolutely fantastic, and I’ve been making it regularly ever since. I added the basil and the croutons to the original recipe. You can eliminate the croutons if you’re watching carbs, but I enjoy the crunchiness of just a few of them. Add as much or as little of the bacon as you see fit. The recipe calls for more than I use, and we’re content with it. Certainly you need good, flavorful tomatoes. But even in the dead of winter Trader Joe’s and Costco both carry a variety of on-the-vine type that are quite good. So you can really have this year around.

I searched around on the internet today to just see what kind of recipes are out there for BLT Salad. What’s unique about this one is the use of rice wine vinegar. It adds a lovely sparkle to the dressing. You can use low-fat or fat free mayo if you want, and it doesn’t really make any difference in the taste. Normally I would say nothing but Best Foods (Hellman’s) will do, but since the mayo is diluted, there’s no appreciable change in the taste. What a great summertime treat. It was delicious for lunch.

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BLT Salad (Bacon, Lettuce & Tomato Salad)

Recipe: adapted from the Orange County Register, 1994
Servings: 4
COOK’S NOTES: This salad is deceptively easy and delicious. I use half the bacon, but then I always use thick-sliced and it’s very meaty bacon. Tomatoes need to be very ripe, so this is a salad I prepare mostly in the summertime. The basil and bread cubes are an addition I’ve made over the years.

1/2 cup mayonnaise — fat-free or low fat are fine
1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar
1/2 head iceberg lettuce — or mix Romaine and iceberg
4 whole tomatoes — fresh only
1/2 pound bacon — meaty slices only
1 1/2 cups bread cubes
2 tbsp fresh basil — minced

1. Allow bread cubes to stale slightly at room temperature, or you may toast them in the oven briefly. You don’t want to have real soft bread, as it will absorb too much dressing and get soggy.
2. In small pan sauté bacon until thoroughly brown and crisp; drain on paper towels and set aside. Break bacon into small pieces when cool. It is best to do this just before serving as bacon won’t stay crisp more than about 30 minutes.
3. In a small bowl combine mayonnaise and rice vinegar and stir (or shake in a small bottle) until thoroughly combined.
4. In a large salad bowl chop lettuce, add chopped tomatoes, basil and bread cubes. Add dressing, toss, arrange on serving plates and sprinkle bacon pieces on top.
Per Serving: 605 Calories; 52g Fat (76.0% calories from fat); 21g Protein; 16g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 58mg Cholesterol; 1176mg Sodium.

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