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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, on November 9th, 2016.

watercress_soup1

Are you tired of my stories? Seems like there always IS one to go along with most of my recipes. This soup is no exception.

The date was probably the early 1990s. My DH (Dear Husband), Dave, and I had been to England (we loved to travel the narrow roads of the countryside – we went there about 8 times and did just that). Once home I was making an effort to prepare more soups – because when we’d stayed with our good friends, Pamela and Jimmy, Pam had served a cold soup course for one of our prodigious meals we had there.

Not that I was planning to serve a soup course with our meals – usually that was just too much food – but on that trip we’d enjoyed soups in many places. And I had vowed to make more. Pamela had served us a cold soup (a cold green pea soup that’s already here on my blog) and my aim was to find some more cold soups to try. I made several over the period of a few weeks, but wasn’t enamored with any of them, particularly. I’d sent a thank you letter to her/them, and in it I asked for more recipes. This was back in the days when all we could do was snail mail, over the pond.

If you haven’t been reading my blog for very long, or you could have forgotten, but these friends, Pamela and Jimmy – we met them in a pub in Ilminster, Somerset, on our very first trip to England together (1981). I’ve told the story before, relating how Pamela introduced me to the art and precision of making a British pot of tea. Each time we visited, Pamela outdid herself preparing a sumptuous meal or two. Often we took them out for a very nice dinner somewhere too. Pamela was a professional cook. She didn’t go to culinary school, but after some early years in the RAF women’s corp, she stayed home to raise hers and Jimmy’s children, and then eventually took a job working for a young, but wealthy couple who owned a very large and lovely manor house some miles away. Pamela cooked for them 2-4 days a week, preparing meals they could reheat on other nights when she wasn’t there. She did all the cooking when they entertained, and especially when they had hunting parties. She regaled us with interesting stories about all of that. One year Dave and I got a tour of the manor house when the owners were away (on the Continent, you see). It was pretty gorgeous, including the Laura Ashley-decorated bedrooms. At the time, Laura Ashley was just the “in” thing, and this house had it in spades. The home was filled with incredible artwork spanning many generations of the family. And it had a dining room table that would seat easily about 24 with no problem whatsoever.

Anyway, back to my story, I’d sent the note to Pamela about more recipes for cold soups. Some months went by, and then I got a lovely envelope chock full longhand recipes, not written in a recipe format. I think she sent me about five, and 3 of them were for a cold watercress soup. Whatever was going on in my life right then, I set the pages aside and they were eventually filed in my pocket folder for SOUPS. And I promptly forgot about them. How rude of me!!

It’s now 20+ years later, and as I mentioned lately, I’ve been working on weeding through all of my old recipe clippings, etc. I’m done with the project now – thank goodness – it was a huge job. I threw out about 95% of them. Out went all the cheesecake recipes (it’s not at the top of my list; it was Dave’s favorite – he probably shed a tear as I tossed them in the trash – but hey, he’s in heaven and enjoying cheesecake every day). Out went nearly all the beet recipes – too much trouble. Out went most of the labor intensive recipes I used to think would be fun. And when I got to the SOUPS folder, there were Pam’s recipes. Oh my goodness. Pam and Jimmy are both gone now, so I can’t call to tell her that I really did appreciate her sending me the recipe, oh so long ago.

watercress_bunchSo here I am, making the soup that Pamela designated as her “favorite” watercress soup. She didn’t say why it was her favorite one – maybe because of the texture – silky – or because it was good either hot or cold. I bought good, fat bunches of watercress – I will only buy the real, full-grown stuff – not the ones that are very young leaves with a root ball. The flavors haven’t developed at all in that variety. One of my local markets almost always has watercress.

First I sweated some leeks and onion, then added one potato, chicken broth (or you could use vegetable broth), the watercress tops (not the thick stems) and cooked with a lid on, until the potatoes were tender. I added milk and half and half although the recipe indicated  using milk alone. Salt and pepper were added and I whizzed this up in my Vitamix blender, which gave it the smoothest, silky texture. I couldn’t wait to dig my spoon into it so I had a small bowl of it for lunch. Thank you, Pamela, for this old recipe.

What’s GOOD: the watercress flavor is subtle. By that I don’t mean that it was unidentifiable. It was watercress soup for sure, and it had the most wonderful texture, which is why I’ve renamed this soup as Silky Watercress Soup. It is similar in consistency to vichyssoise, but not as thick, by a long shot. It’s probably the one potato in it; and probably the power of my Vitamix blender. The soup can be diluted a bit more with milk if desired. It could be a main dish soup (probably to serve 3) or a smaller bowl to serve 6, along with a half sandwich or a salad. Just don’t overpower the delicacy of the soup with a strong flavored side dish. A winner of a recipe, and I’m so grateful I ran across this old recipe. More to come.

What’s NOT: gee, not a thing.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Silky Watercress Soup

Recipe By: From my English friend, Pamela James
Serving Size: 5

1 1/2 ounces butter
2 large leeks — cleaned, thinly sliced
1 large onion — chopped
8 ounces potato — peeled, diced
2 bunches watercress — about 4-5 cups, chopped
2 cups low sodium chicken broth
2 cups milk — or use some half and half
salt and pepper to taste
croutons for garnish

1. Melt butter in large saute pan; add leeks and onions; cook for 5 minutes without browning. Add potato and cook for 3 minutes.
2. Remove larger stalks from the watercress and roughly chop leaves. Add to pan with stock and salt and pepper.
3. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
4. Sieve mixture or puree in a blender until smooth.
5. Stir in milk; heat until it’s just below a simmer. Pour into bowls and garnish with a little swirl of cream and croutons.
6. May be served hot or chilled (chill for several hours).
Per Serving: 208 Calories; 10g Fat (43.5% calories from fat); 10g Protein; 21g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 32mg Cholesterol; 341mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on November 13th, 2016:

    I’ll never tire of your stories, Carolyn. They are what makes your blog such a pleasure to read.
    I’d love to try this soup, but decent watercress is a rarity at my market, and when I do see it, the bunches are small–I doubt that two would be enough for this recipe; it would probably take at least 4. Now, the state park where I hike has a stream just full of watercress, all off limits! So frustrating!

    Thank you, Donna. When days go by and nobody leaves a comment I wonder if anyone is still reading my blog. Statistics online say otherwise, but for whatever reason, my readers don’t leave comments. Even when they cook my recipes! Sorry about the lack of watercress. Do you get watercress in the summer? . . .carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on November 14th, 2016:

    I really don’t know when they have watercress at my store, as I don’t look for it often. I believe it used to be more of a staple years ago, but last time I wanted some, they didn’t have it, and I haven’t noticed any lately. I know the produce manager, and he’s always willing to try to get things in for me, so I ought to discuss it with him. He’s been trying to get me some savoy cabbage for two years now with no luck, though. He once called a guy he knows in California who can usually get anything for him, and the guy said he’d send him some right away, but it didn’t come.
    I am sure it is discouraging when you don’t get any comments.
    By the way, I did make your artichoke toasts for my dulcimer picnic, and it went over very well.

    I guess, living in California, we tend to take it for granted that we can get everything, year ’round. Whole Foods probably has the best selection of fruits and vegetables of anyone, but it’s one of my local chain grocery stores that carries watercress. The produce guy told me awhile back that he orders it because there is a loyal following at that store only, for watercress. So I make sure to buy it now and then. And gee whiz, we have savoy cabbage all the time. So sorry you don’t. We also have a lot of produce from Mexico, though I tend not to buy it during the months when it really isn’t in season. . . carolyn t

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