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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 August 4th, 2016.

mustard_salmon_cannellini_ragu

This recipe got lost in my files where I keep recipes I’ve prepared, the ones I’m going to post about. It’s a good one and worth making. It’s healthy and filling.

Do you ever crave beans? I crave lentils now and then, and I do love-me-a-bowl-of-beans or chili about once a year or so, but like bread, mashed potatoes and rice, I try to give them a pass. I was craving beans the day I made this, and in looking at my to-try file, this recipe seemed to be the one to make. I had some escarole; yes, I had a can of cannellini beans; and I always have those lovely salmon fillets in the freezer. As I recall, since I made this a couple of months ago, that plate was all I ate for dinner. I thought it was a rounded-out menu since the escarole (vegetable) was in the ragu.

If you’re good at multi-tasking, by all means do both things at once (the bean ragu and the salmon). Neither part takes all that long. If you’re substituting spinach or arugula for the escarole, then don’t add that into the beans until you’re nearly ready to eat as it’s best when it’s just barely cooked. Depending on the thickness of the salmon, you may need to cook it longer – it’s broiled first, to get it brown (see photo), then if it’s not quite done, turn oven to 400° and bake for 3-4 minutes. That’s what I had to do as the salmon was thicker than some.

As you make the ragu, do taste it periodically, and at the end add more salt, pepper and lemon juice if it needs it. I think the beans need acid to give it some perk, so I did add more lemon juice at the end. Next time I’ll add more lemon zest to sprinkle on top of the beans. If you’re making this for guests, I would make the bean mixture an hour ahead, just so you can get it done. It would be fine at room temp for that long. Prep the salmon, the pan for it, then when you’re ready to eat, just cook the salmon and reheat the beans and add the greens. Done.

What’s GOOD: for me, I liked the textural contrast between the salmon and the just slightly chew to the beans. Loved the flavor in the beans – it has a whole bunch of stuff in it to make it taste good. I like salmon, so it was a cinch that I’d like the whole dish. It’s a one-plate meal, though you do use 2 pans to cook everything.

What’s NOT: really nothing that I can think of. It was a tasty dish.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Mustard Salmon with Cannellini Bean Ragù

Recipe By: Adapted some from a Giada De Laurentiis recipe
Serving Size: 4

RAGU:
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large shallot — minced
2 garlic cloves — minced
2 tomatoes — chopped (or a 15 ounce can, drained)
2 teaspoons thyme — finely chopped (or less if using dried)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
30 ounces canned cannellini beans — rinsed and drained
3/4 cup chicken stock — or more if needed
3/4 pound escarole — dark green leaves discarded and remaining leaves torn (or substitute baby spinach or arugula)
2 ounces prosciutto — chopped
1 teaspoon lemon zest
SALMON:
extra-virgin olive oil
24 ounces salmon fillets salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 1/2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
2 teaspoons dry white wine — (or red if that’s all you have)
2 garlic cloves — minced
1 teaspoon thyme — finely chopped (or Italian parsley)
1 teaspoon lemon juice — or more if needed
1/4 cup Italian parsley — chopped, for garnish

1. RAGU: In a deep skillet, add the oil, shallot and garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, thyme and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until the tomatoes start to break down, 4 minutes. Add the beans and stock and simmer until the beans are hot, 2 minutes. Add the escarole, prosciutto and lemon zest and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until the escarole is just wilted, 4 minutes; if the bean ragù is too thick, add a little water. It’s nice to have a bit of the broth on the plate, so do add water or more broth as needed. Add lemon juice and taste for seasonings. Add more lemon juice to give it ample zip, if needed. IF you substitute spinach or arugula for the escarole, don’t add it until just before serving, as it’s best when it’s barely cooked through. The escarole can handle a bit longer cooking.
2. SALMON: Preheat the broiler. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and brush it with oil. Season the fish with salt and pepper and set on the baking sheet. In a bowl, whisk both mustards with the wine, 2 teaspoons of oil, the garlic, thyme and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Broil the salmon fillets 6 inches from the heat for 2 minutes, until the top just starts to brown. Spoon the mustard on the salmon and broil for 5 minutes, until the fish is nearly cooked through and the top is browned. Test to see if the fish is cooked through – if not, turn oven temp to 400° and continue to bake for 3-4 minutes. Spoon the bean ragù into bowls or a dinner plate with somewhat sloped sides, top with the fish and serve, sprinkled with chopped parsley.
Per Serving: 529 Calories; 19g Fat (32.1% calories from fat); 49g Protein; 40g Carbohydrate; 12g Dietary Fiber; 98mg Cholesterol; 1439mg Sodium.

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