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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 Soups, Vegetarian, on April 6th, 2016.

red_lentil_mex_stew

Ever get a craving for lentils? I sure do! And this recipe, very close to the one at Kalyn’s Kitchen, is such an easy soup (or stew) to make. It comes together in about 50 minutes, with only a few of those minutes where you’re actively working on it.

When I first started reading blogs way back in about 2005, Kalyn’s Kitchen was one of the first I found. I don’t follow the South Beach diet plan she advocates, but since my hubby, my DH, was a type 1 diabetic, lots of her recipes were good ones for him since most of them are low carb. My DH and I visited with Kalyn some years ago when we were on a trip in Utah and we got to see her photo studio in her house, and her prolific garden. We had a lovely visit. Anyway, I still follow Kalyn’s blog, and when this recipe popped up, I knew I’d be making it. I started this blog in 2007, much as a result of reading Kalyn’s, as well as others.

Kalyn’s recipe is a vegetarian one, with the only protein coming from the lentils themselves. I made this per her recipe, but I added in some carnitas (car-NEE-tas, a Mexican style pork shoulder slow simmered until it’s tender). I had about half a pound of carnitas on hand that needed to be used. And carnitas are Mexican, so I figured it would be a natural pairing. I’ve merely included the meat in the recipe below as an option. As I was chopping celery and onions I didn’t measure – I used a big onion and likely double the amount of celery – it made it a bit more chunky. And, I probably used a bit more spices (turmeric, cumin and chile powder). It certainly could be made with regular brown lentils, but the red ones make for a very pretty bowl. The spices are right down my alley. I added in some harissa (instead of the green Tabasco she suggested) which gave this stew a punch of heat. I squirted on some sour cream and sprinkled heavily with cilantro and it was ready to eat. This recipe doesn’t make a really huge quantity (good thing since I’m a family of one) so it’s now in a heavy-duty plastic Ziploc bag in my refrigerator.

What’s GOOD: this is so “comfort food” for me. Love the texture and the Mexican (spice) flavors. You can make it purely vegetarian if you prefer, or add in carnitas if that floats your boat. Even chicken would be fine too. Do use the toppings (sour cream and cilantro) as that adds a big boost of flavor.

What’s NOT: nary a thing – this is a very easy soup/stew to make.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Mexican Red Lentil Stew with Lime and Cilantro

Recipe By: Adapted from Kalyn’s Kitchen, 2016
Serving Size: 5

1 cup red lentils — or regular brown
2 cups water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion — finely chopped
1 1/2 cups celery — chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon chile powder
14 1/2 ounces diced tomatoes — canned, including juice
2 cups carnitas — (optional) shredded
2 cups vegetable broth — or chicken broth
1 teaspoon green Tabasco sauce — (or other hot sauce of your choice. Green Tabasco is fairly mild, so you may want less if you use a stronger hot sauce.)
salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup lime juice — (2-3 limes or less if you’re not that into lime) and do use fresh limes
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro — (1/2 to 1)
Optional: cut limes and sour cream or vegan sour cream substitute for serving the soup

1. Place red lentils in a small pot, rinse and drain if needed, then add water. Bring to a boil, turn off heat and cover. Let lentils sit in the hot water 30 minutes.
2. While lentils are steeping in the water, finely chop onions and celery and mince garlic. Heat olive oil in heavy soup pot, add onion and celery and saute for 3-4 minutes, just long enough that vegetables are starting to soften. Add garlic and cook a few minutes more. Add ground turmeric, ground cumin, and chile powder, stir, and cook 1-2 minutes more.
3. Add diced roasted tomatoes, vegetable broth, and hot sauce. Add lentils after they have soaked for 30 minutes (including any water in the pot with them), then let soup simmer for 15-25 minutes (keep checking so the lentils don’t dissolve – don’t overcook).
4. While soup cooks, wash, dry and finely chop 1/2 – 1 cup fresh cilantro and squeeze limes to get enough fresh lime juice. When the lentils are softened as much as you’d like, stir in chopped cilantro and lime juice and cook 5 minutes more. Add in cooked carnitas, if you’re using that ingredient. Add more water if the mixture simmers enough that it evaporates all the water.
5. Serve hot, with additional cut limes to squeeze into the soup. Can top with sour cream or vegan substitute if desired.
Per Serving: 262 Calories; 5g Fat (17.3% calories from fat); 15g Protein; 42g Carbohydrate; 15g Dietary Fiber; 1mg Cholesterol; 710mg Sodium.

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  1. KalynsKitchen

    said on April 6th, 2016:

    Hi Carolyn, so glad to hear you enjoyed this soup. I remember the great visit I had with you and Dave and although I am THE WORST about leaving comments, I still follow your blog as well. We really should get together some time for another visit! Wishing you all the best.

    Thanks, Kalyn! Yes, I loved the soup. May have to make more sometime soon. And yes, maybe another visit can happen sometime . . . carolyn

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