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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, on July 3rd, 2016.

mitsitam_wild_rice_salad1

This post is going “up” on July 3rd. Just before you might need a nice, different salad for the celebration of America’s 4th of July, Independence Day. Since we should be remembering our forefathers, and their sometimes friendliness to the native American people, this one is appropriate.

This recipe has been posted before, about 5 years ago. My D-I-L gave me a cookbook from the Mitsitam Café (at the Smithsonian Native American Museum), and when she and the family had visited the museum, they had lunch at the café, and ordered this wonderful salad. It’s so good and worth repeating. As I write this, I’m taking the salad to their house to celebrate Karen’s birthday, and this is the salad she requested. I think Powell remembered I’d made it before so he asked for a repeat. He’s doing duck as the main course.

I’ve updated my photos on the 2011 post (with the ones I took today) which highlight the freshness of the ingredients – the just slightly chewy wild rice, the crunchy carrots, toasted pine nuts and pumpkin seeds, and with no question, the watercress is the #2 star of the dish (wild rice, obviously, must be the #1 star). You do want to make the wild rice ahead – it needs to chill, and it is so easy to put this together about an hour before serving. Adding the dressing (apple cider vinegar, honey, canola oil + S&P) gives time to be absorbed into the rice (and maybe add a jot more dressing when you DO serve it).

mitsitam_wild_rice_saladIdeally, you’ll eat it all – in which case you can toss the watercress in with the salad. If you think you might have leftovers, either add the watercress on top (and maybe add a bit more half way through as people take salad) OR optionally, keep some watercress reserved, remove the watercress that got left in the salad (it gets withered and is not appetizing after a day or so if it’s been soaking in the dressing) and just add more watercress when you serve it the next time.

I’m a fanatic about watercress – I don’t like the “baby cress” they offer at some grocery stores these days – the one that’s in a root ball. It bears little or no resemblance to full-grown watercress that has that peppery bite to it. If that’s all you can find, well, use it I guess, or buy arugula instead. It’s not the same, but it does have that peppery bite that I’d be looking for in this recipe.

It’s a very pretty salad to look at. It’s healthy (although there IS an oil/vinegar dressing on it), hearty, and could serve as a vegetarian entrée as well. Throw some quinoa in there and you’d for sure have ample protein – or maybe a can of rinsed and drained garbanzo beans. Not authentic to the recipe, but I think it would be tasty in it.

What’s GOOD: I love wild rice (it’s not really a rice, but a wild grain) and it contains good-for-you stuff. The crunchiness of the salad is part of what appeals to me – the dressing is fairly innocuous, but it is a good foil for the carb aspect of the salad. There are some chopped green onions plus a few dried cranberries (think Pilgrims) in there too, and I just love-love the watercress. If watercress wasn’t so expensive (I had to buy 5 bunches at $1.29 each) I’d reverse the order of things and make the wild rice the #2 item here. Either way, though, this salad is delicious. It’s a beautiful looking salad too. Don’t overcook the wild rice – it’s not very nice when it’s “popped” as it does when it’s overly cooked – I started watching it at 40 minutes and it was done to my liking at 45 minutes.

What’s NOT: the only thing I’d say is the washing and prepping of the watercress. It took me about 30 minutes to wash, then pinch the young leaf bunches off the watercress stems (bigger watercress stems are almost woody and certainly not very tasty). But then, I was making this to serve 18 people. If you only bought 1-2 bunches it wouldn’t be so formidable a task. Do plan ahead – make the rice the day before if at all possible. Otherwise, everything about it is pretty easy. I rinsed and picked the watercress the day before and rolled all those tender leaves in tea towels to get all the moisture out.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Wild Rice Salad with Watercress

Recipe By: From Mitsitam Cafe Cookbook (Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian)
Serving Size: 8

VINAIGRETTE:
6 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup honey
3/4 cup canola oil Salt and pepper to taste
SALAD:
6 cups vegetable stock
1 1/2 cups wild rice
1 whole carrot — chopped or in matchsticks
3 tablespoons dried cranberries — chopped (or use golden raisins)
1 whole plum tomatoes — chopped
5 whole green onions — diced
1/2 cup pine nuts — toasted
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds — roasted
3 bunches watercress

NOTES: The nutrition info assumes you’ll use all the dressing; you don’t – you’ll use about 3/4 of it.
1. Combine vinaigrette, cover and refrigerate for one hour (dressing will keep for 10 days).
2. Combine wild rice and vegetable stock in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer for 40-50 minutes, or until cooked through. Start checking at 40 minutes, and do NOT overcook the wild rice. Drain and spread the rice out onto a large baking sheet to dry.
3. Scrape rice into a large bowl, add carrots, cranberries, tomato, green onions and nuts. Add about half the vinaigrette, toss together and refrigerate for an hour. Taste for seasonings (it likely will need more salt) and add more dressing if it appears to be dry.
4. Place watercress on individual plates and top with wild rice mixture. If you have leftovers, remove all of the watercress as it turns icky if it’s kept past the first serving. Alternately you can place the salad in a large bowl and toss it all together and either serve it buffet style or place the tossed salad on individual plates.
Per Serving (not accurate): 535 Calories; 29g Fat (48.0% calories from fat); 13g Protein; 59g Carbohydrate; 7g Dietary Fiber; 2mg Cholesterol; 1234mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on July 4th, 2016:

    I had forgotten about wild rice, it is a tasty thing to eat. I, too, love watercress but I only buy it when in season, any other time it has very little flavour.

    Well, THAT’s interesting – you have seasons for watercress? When is that? I can buy it year ’round usually, and haven’t had any difficulty with the flavor. I’m guessing it’s not wild, but “farmed.” . . . carolyn t

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on July 5th, 2016:

    Spring is the time to buy and eat watercress. It flowers in summer so is not usually sold then. It grows in ‘beds’ which are watered by natural springs so everything is clean and fresh.

  3. Susan Dillard

    said on July 6th, 2016:

    I made this last night and it is so good! Thank you for sharing. I didn’t have watercress, but used a mixture of different lettuce and radicchio and another salad green that I don’t know the name of. 🙂 It was very easy to put together and I loved it. Thanks again.

    I’m so glad you like it, Susan! It has subtle flavors, yet the citrus shines through for sure. Thanks for telling me! . . .carolyn t

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