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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, Vegetarian, on December 1st, 2016.

tomato_soup_w_lentils_garbanzos

Have you learned to trust me when I tell you that you need to make this? It’s a tomato soup first and foremost, but it’s quite complex with other flavors. And vegetarian too. Even vegan if you didn’t serve the yogurt on top.

Surely, in my recipe software, in my to-try file, I must have 10 lentil soups waiting for me to try. You’d think there couldn’t be another way to invent a lentil soup, for goodness’ sake. This soup, however, is more a tomato one with lentils as the sideline, the accent, the texture perhaps. There’s only 1/3 cup of lentils in the soup, and if you were to puree this completely, you’d not even know they were there.

And I might have passed this one by had I read it. But that would have been a mistake. As it was, I attended a cooking class with Tarla Fallgatter, and she made this soup for us. First she made the roasted/toasted chickpeas (garbanzo beans). And as she explained, they’re a bit tedious to make. Enough tedious – I’ve made them before – that when I heard that you

Update:

I bought already toasted garbanzo beans at a local Middle Eastern Market. Taste was awful, so I’ll go back to making my own when they’re needed.

can buy toasted chickpeas at Middle Eastern markets. So I did – you’ll find them in the nuts and seeds department. I won’t have to go through the nuisance of taking the skins off the canned beans, drying them, then seasoning and oiling them, then baking them for awhile.

Actually, the soup could be served without the chickpea garnish altogether. The soup itself is plenty good all by itself. AND, you wouldn’t have to serve the yogurt on it, either, if that didn’t appeal. Maybe some croutons? Or sour cream if that’s more your choice than yogurt. But whatever garnish, you really should make the soup. The poblano (pasilla) chile adds a lovely fragrance and flavor to the soup. I love poblano chiles. I even drove to a Mexican grocery store a week or so ago hoping that they would have canned poblano chiles. No. In this soup, though, you don’t have to roast the chile to remove the skins – it’s the chile flavor you’re looking for and the skins will disappear. The soup is also flavored with fresh ginger, garlic, ground coriander and ground cumin. Middle Eastern flavors, or maybe Egyptian, or Indian. Any and all of the above.

What’s GOOD: the flavor of the soup is what hooked me. The cumin and ground coriander are subtle, but there. The ginger too. The poblano chile is an undercurrent in the flavor profile too. Altogether delicious. It should freeze well, too. Try to find red lentils if you can so the soup doesn’t have a brown color. The toasted garbanzo beans – well, try to find them at a Middle Eastern market. They are so delicious (but a lot of work to make them yourself). The soup comes together in short order, too – about 45 minutes, I’d guess, not including the time to make the toasted chickpeas. Double it and freeze some.

What’s NOT: well, as I mentioned, toasting chickpeas isn’t a favorite pastime of mine – if you can find them in a Middle Eastern grocery store, go for it. You can serve the soup without them anyway.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Tomato and Lentil Soup with Roasted Chickpeas

Recipe By: Tarla Fallgatter, cooking class, Sept 2016
Serving Size: 4

2 tablespoons coconut oil — or canola oil, or olive oil
1 medium yellow onion — chopped
2 tablespoons fresh ginger — finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 small poblano chile — coarsely chopped (or a serrano)
28 ounces canned tomatoes — chopped, with juices
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth — or vegetable broth
1/3 cup red lentils — rinsed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup Greek yogurt, full-fat — or fat-free, for garnish
ROASTED CHICKPEAS:
15 ounces chickpeas, canned — drained, rinsed and PEELED, (optional)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon spices — ground cumin, sumac, ground coriander
2 tablespoons olive oil — (might need more)

1. Heat the oil in a 4-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic, coriander, cumin, and chile, and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, about 45 seconds.
2. Add the tomatoes and their juice, the broth, and lentils. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are tender, 30 to 35 minutes.
3. Purée about half of the soup mixture in a blender smooth. Pour back into soup pot. You may also puree all the soup (that’s what was in the original recipe.) Thin with a little water if you like. Serve with a dollop of yogurt, and garnish with the roasted chickpeas, if using.
4. ROASTED CHICKPEAS: Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 425°F. Place chickpeas on a flat pan and gently rub them and pick off the skins, being careful not to bruise and damage the bean itself as you’re doing it. Repeat for all the beans. If you don’t remove the skins, the beans won’t get crispy.
5. Place chickpeas on a paper-towel lined baking sheet and let them air dry for at least 30 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and toss with oil and seasonings. Spread on the same baking sheet (without paper towel) and roast, stirring every 10 minutes or so, until slightly darkened and crisp on the outside, about 20-30 minutes. If the look dry, remove and drizzle more olive oil over them and return to oven. If necessary, reduce heat by 25° and continue roasting until they are crisp. Season with additional kosher salt, if desired.
Per Serving: 409 Calories; 19g Fat (38.8% calories from fat); 19g Protein; 49g Carbohydrate; 12g Dietary Fiber; 12mg Cholesterol; 886mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on December 3rd, 2016:

    Ready roasted chickpeas – whatever will they think of next?!

    I do like lentils in my soups but find the texture of chickpeas quite disappointing.

    People from India and other Middle Eastern countries use a LOT of chickpeas/garbanzo beans, and they obviously need to think of lots of ways to use them. I really like them roasted and crisped, but they’re a nuisance to make. The ones I purchased tasted like ground up cardboard or wallpaper paste. Ugly taste! Chickpeas are so good for us, but I’m not always enamored with the flavor of chickpeas – I buy them canned and will pay for an up-brand label because they generally taste better, for some reason . . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on December 4th, 2016:

    I do enjoy the flavor of chickpeas, and I’m crazy about poblanos; I’m sure I’d like this soup!

    I have corrected the recipe itself – it said serrano, not poblano, just in case you printed it out already. . . carolyn t

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