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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, Veggies/sides, on September 5th, 2016.

orzo_pancetta_feta_greens_salad

What a lovely and tasty salad this is. It’s different – a little – because it’s served either warm or at room temp, and the Feta cheese adds such a lovely texture and the toasted walnuts too. Those are greens (baby spinach) mixed into the HOT salad, so they wilt.

My good friend Yvette made this salad at my house – so she gets all the credit for it. I provided some pots and pans, the bowl, pans for toasting the nuts, a cutting board, etc. At the very end we all tasted it to see whether it needed more feta or salt, or greens (yes, it did).

The recipe came from a cooking class Yvette took near her home, and it’s from Nancy Madok (a graduate of one of the C.I.A. culinary schools). I wasn’t able to find a website for her, but she gives cooking classes in her home in north San Diego County. Yvette has taken a number of classes from her over the last couple of years. So, the recipe credit goes to Nancy for a stellar recipe.

orzo_pancetta_feta_greens_salad1Pancetta is sautéed, then some red onions. A Dijon vinaigrette is made that contains quite a bit of fresh basil and lemon juice. Orzo pasta is cooked and drained, walnuts toasted, then you toss the orzo with all the other ingredients, while the orzo is hot, so the baby spinach greens wilt. You can serve it then – with the Feta and walnuts sprinkled on top, or mix it all in – doesn’t matter! Or, you can let it cool to room temperature (after a couple of hours I think I’d refrigerate it) and serve it that way. That’s how we had it, with a bit more dressing mixed in (pasta absorbs a lot of dressing if you leave it to sit) and some more Feta sprinkled over the top. There was just a little bit left over and I’m the happy recipient of that! Yippee.

This would make a lovely buffet salad either hot or room temp. I think you could make almost everything ahead of time – I’d toss the pasta with the spinach and some of the dressing and let it sit, refrigerated. Have everything else in a separate container and just toss it together when you’re ready to serve and add most of the dressing and leave a few pieces of walnuts and Feta to put on top. Taste for salt and pepper.

What’s GOOD: this was a GREAT salad. At the gathering where Yvette served this, there were about 15 other salads, so I’m happy it wasn’t all eaten! With the leftovers I’m going to mix in some additional baby spinach (that won’t wilt) and some more Feta too. As I’m writing this I have family coming for a week, so that will make a great accompaniment to some grilled pork chops.

What’s NOT: nothing that I can think of. It’s a great summer salad. Wonderful flavors throughout. You do have to make the dressing, cook the pasta, toast nuts, etc. but it’s not overly labor intensive, all things considered.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Orzo, Pancetta, Feta & Greens with a Basil Lemon Vinaigrette

Recipe By: Nancy Madok, C.I.A. instructor, Cucina Casa, near San Diego
Serving Size: 8

BASIL LEMON VINAIGRETTE:
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh basil — cut in chiffonade
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
SALAD:
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup pancetta — diced
1 medium red onion — finely diced
2 cloves garlic — crushed
1 pound orzo
4 cups baby spinach — roughly chopped
1 cup walnuts — toasted
8 ounces Feta cheese — crumbled

1. VINAIGRETTE: In a medium bowl, whisk the mustard and and lemon zest and juice. Slowly add the olive oil in a steady stream, whisking constantly until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in basil; set aside.
2. SALAD: In a medium saute pan over medium heat, heat 2 T olive oil; add pancetta and cook until brown and crispy. Using a slotted spoon, remove the cooked pancetta and drain on a paper towel lined plate. Allow to drain and then place in a large bowl. Set aside.
3. Place pan back on heat and add 1-2 T more olive oil (if necessary – you need about 2 T in the pan to cook the onions) and saute the onions until soft, 4-6 minutes. Add garlic and cook an additional 1-2 minutes. Add to bowl with pancetta; set aside.
4. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add one teaspoon salt, add orzo and cook as per package instructions. Drain the orzo and place in the bowl with pancetta and onion mixture. Add spinach. Toss with the hot pasta. Add most of the vinaigrette (add it all if desired) and continue tossing until the spinach has wilted. Add feta cheese and walnuts; toss until combined. Season with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature. If you make it ahead a few hours, the salad may need additional dressing and/or salt and pepper. May garnish with more Feta on top, if desired.
Per Serving (you may not use all the dressing and the Feta may contain a lot of sodium): 630 Calories; 39g Fat (54.4% calories from fat); 24g Protein; 49g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 45mg Cholesterol; 1121mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on September 6th, 2016:

    That sounds like a meal that I would enjoy. I do like Orzo, it has a nicer mouth-feel than rice, for me. Did you know that the word Orzo in Italian, means barley? An odd fact that I learned recently.

    I am off to France – the Dordogne – on Thursday, I shall raise a glass to you when we have a good dinner.

    How fun. I love the Dordogne. Once, years and years ago, I went to that region with 2 girlfriends and we stayed at a private home in Saint-Cirq Lapopie (not sure I’m spelling it right), near Cahors with a lovely English woman that I kept in touch with for a long, long time. She was a very sweet woman; I expect she’s passed away as she’s not responded to any of my letters in about 5 years. She had a lovely (but miniscule) home and a small but more sizable structure that was for guests. It overlooked the Lot. Have a grand time, Toni. . . carolyn t

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