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Recently finished reading The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke. All I can say is “wow.” In a general sense, this book is based on the premise of The Pilot’s Wife. But this one has some totally different twists and turns. A young wife is met at the door by police, informing her that her husband has died in an auto accident. Then she finds out he died in Hawaii – not Kansas, where she thought he was, on business. Then she finds out there was a woman in the car. Then she meets the fiance of the woman passenger and the two of them embark on a fact-finding mission in Hawaii to discover the truth. Well, I’m just sayin’ . . . the plot thickens. And thickens. And thickens clear up to the last few pages. Hang onto your seat. A really, really good, suspenseful read.

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 Novel by 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. 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 angry father is a wealthy and influential man in the area. 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.

 

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, Salads, on August 16th, 2016.

clementines_tuna_pasta_salad

Tuna, pasta, some pickle action, radishes, celery and ample pepper. Oh yes, mayo. A nice salad for a warm summer’s day.

Lately it seems like I’ve allowed my palate, my wants, to rule what I fix in my kitchen. This day, I was craving tuna and I nearly made my favorite tuna salad, posted here on my blog ages ago, Sicilian Tuna Salad. BUT, I thought I might try something different. I used Eat Your Books to help me find something from my own cookbook collection, and sure enough, it located a tuna and pasta salad from Amanda Hesser’s cookbook, The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century. I did have to substitute a few things – I thought I had cornichons, but couldn’t locate them in my refrigerator, so I added some dill pickles instead. I also didn’t have chow chow and Tennessee chow chow to boot – that’s not something I ever stock since I really don’t eat it. It sounds like something my grandmother used to can every summer. Can you still buy chow chow? Anyway, peppadew pepperswhat I did have were peppadew peppers (sweet – see photo at left), so I added those instead (see them, some of the little red pieces in the photo). I also added radishes – just because I love them. Those weren’t in the recipe at all. Amanda used little elbow macaroni – I didn’t have any of that, either, so I used penne rigate.

You could say that this is a totally different salad – I used less mayo too. It took no time at all to mix this up – waiting for the pasta to cook, drain and cool took the longest. And since it made a bunch, I’ll have it for lunch several more times. I’ll likely be very tired of it before I eat it all. I should have cut it in half . . . the recipe indicated it served 1-2, but gosh no, it made a lot; enough for 3-4 lunch sized portions. Maybe more.

What’s GOOD: what can you say about a tuna pasta salad? It was good. Not exactly sensational – truthfully, my other tuna salad, the Sicilian one I linked above – is better, but this one was very good nevertheless. I’ll enjoy eating it, but when/if I get a craving again, I’ll go back to my favorite one (it doesn’t use mayo). This one is liberally slathered with it – if you don’t like mayo, you definitely wouldn’t like this salad.

What’s NOT: really nothing. Perhaps if I’d had chow chow (Tennessee chow chow, excuse me) and cornichons, that might have made the salad a bit different. I’m not sure.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Clementine’s Tuna Pasta Salad

Recipe By: Adapted significantly from Amanda Hesser’s New York Times Cookbook
Serving Size: 5

Salt
1/2 pound macaroni (I used penne rigate)
1/2 cup celery — minced
1/2 cup cheddar cheese — diced
4 whole green onions — minced
4 whole cornichons — finely sliced, or dill pickle finely diced
3 tablespoons chow chow — or peppadew peppers, chopped
2/3 cup radishes — sliced
2/3 cup mayonnaise
12 ounces canned tuna — drained, flaked
Black pepper to taste

1. Simmer pasta in salted, boiling water for 10-12 minutes, according to package instructions. Do not over cook. Drain and set aside to cool.
2. In a medium-sized bowl combine the celery, cheddar, green onions, radishes, chow chow, cornichons, mayonnaise, tuna and pepper. Do add more pepper than you might think it needs.
3. Add cooled pasta and stir to combine. If using penne pasta, it takes a bit of stirring to get the salad to mix thoroughly without clumps of the tuna/mayo mixture. Chill and serve. You might garnish it with a sprinkling of minced Italian parsley.
Per Serving: 530 Calories; 30g Fat (50.4% calories from fat); 27g Protein; 40g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 43mg Cholesterol; 637mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on August 17th, 2016:

    I’m familiar with the existence of chow chow, but don’t think I’ve ever had it, unless it was a church dinner during my growing-up years. Your Tuscan one sounds very doable, though. I missed that because I don’t think I was a blog reader when you posted it. Just got back from a trip to Kansas to see my son, his wife, and their two children, the food situation needs assessing, and I can’t go to the grocery store because I’m expecting a load of shingles. I was wondering what to fix for supper, and that sounds like just the ticket! I love capers; the guys aren’t crazy about them, so I’ll probably cut back on them and put extra on my own serving.

    Hope everybody will enjoy it. I do love that Sicilian (not Tuscan) salad. . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on August 20th, 2016:

    Thanks for pointing out that it is Sicilian, not Tuscan–I might have had trouble finding the recipe if it weren’t that you linked it here! Very tasty–comment over in the post for the Sicilian one.

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