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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 October 31st, 2016.

sausage_chile_soup2

Is it soup weather? I have a passion for soup, even if it’s the middle of summer. But it’s winter thank goodness!

I don’t love hot soup when it’s hot and muggy, but I’ve been known to eat it anyway. Once the weather turns cooler, though, I’m all over the variety of mixed vegetables to add to a pot full of soup. This time I’d started off reading a recipe for a chicken crockpot soup, but as I added and deleted items, it stopped being an enchilada soup (a misnomer anyway) and became a vegetable soup with some leeks and chiles. And not in the crockpot. And not chicken, but sausage. By the time I started on this soup it was about 3pm, and no time to make it in the crockpot.

Leeks are a given in lots of my soups. They just add a ton of flavor. So then I added a can of red enchilada sauce (it could be green or red), some onion, carrot and celery, cumin for flavor and chili powder for some oomph. A single can of black beans went in (you could easily add more, and a can of white beans too if you/your family like the carbs), some low sodium chicken broth (Penzey’s soup base and water) and a soup was in the making. I let it stew for awhile, lid on, and then I added in about 4 ounces (half of an 8-inch block was what I had languishing in my refrigerator) of cream cheese. If you chop it up in small cubes it will kind of silky-slide or melt into the soup. Use a whisk if it leaves pieces. If you really want the cream cheese to be smooth, remove a cup or two of soup broth and whiz the cream cheese and the broth in a blender, then add it back into the soup. Lastly I added a scant pound of sweet Italian sausage that I just cut up with scissors. Once that was cooked, I added 1/4 cup of heavy cream. If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you know I like a bit of creaminess to my soups. That little 1/4 cup added a lot of smoothness to the soup along with the cream cheese. The type of chili powder I used for this soup (from Penzey’s) added a whole lot of heat – more than I’d planned on, actually, so use your own judgment on how much to add.

sausage_chile_soup1Don’t let the sausage cook in the soup for a long time or it will give up all its flavor to the soup. Instead, just cook it long enough so it’s done, add the cream and you’re ready to eat.

Heat the soup to a simmer, and it’s ready to serve. Meanwhile, prepare some toppings like grated cheese (Jack or Cheddar or Colby, or pepper-Jack), a dollop of sour cream (or yogurt), a lime wedge and some more cilantro to sprinkle on last.

This soup made a bunch – enough for about 8-10 servings, I think, unless you have a football player around. I took out about 4 cups for some friends (2 meals worth of a cup apiece, I hoped), and the husband had 3 servings that first night, so there went my idea of providing them with 2 dinner meals. He loved it. Obviously! I loved it too – had it for a lunch or dinner for several days. Some went into a freezer bag and will keep for another day when I don’t feel like cooking.

What’s GOOD: good, hearty meal. For my appetite, a bit over a cup provided a filling portion, but some may want more. Loved all the vegetables in it, and the chunks of Italian sausage were really nice. You could use turkey Italian sausage too. The toppings make it very colorful and full of more texture. I particularly like to add more fresh cilantro on top when serving. It was even better the day after I made it, FYI.

What’s NOT: really nothing – might require a trip to the grocery store for leeks (I never keep them on hand).

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Sausage and Chile Soup

Recipe By: Adapted from an online recipe
Serving Size: 7

10 ounces red enchilada sauce
3 medium leeks — chopped, rinsed
2/3 cup yellow onion — diced
2/3 cup carrot — peeled, diced
2/3 cup celery — diced
15 ounces black beans — drained, rinsed
4 ounces diced green chiles
10 1/2 ounces canned diced tomatoes
4 teaspoons chili powder — (or less to taste)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro
4 cups low sodium chicken broth
3/4 pound Italian sausage — cut in small pieces (or use chicken Italian sausage)
4 ounces cream cheese — softened
1/4 cup heavy cream
Optional toppings: pepper-jack cheese, sour cream, fresh lime wedges, more cilantro, maybe some tortilla chips

1. In a large soup or stock pot pour in the red enchilada sauce, chopped leeks, onion, carrot, celery and drained and rinsed black beans. Add the undrained diced fire-roasted green chiles, canned tomatoes, chili powder, cumin, coarsely chopped fresh cilantro, and chicken broth or stock.
2. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for about 30-45 minutes.
3. Chop the cream cheese into small cubes and add to the soup, stirring until it’s completely melted and smooth. Use a whisk if necessary (or whiz it up in the blender with some of the soup broth and add back in).
4. Add the raw Italian sausage and allow soup to simmer for about 15 minutes until it’s cooked through. Taste for seasonings and add salt or pepper if needed. Add the heavy cream and bring to a simmer. Serve with desired toppings.
Per Serving: 558 Calories; 25g Fat (40.6% calories from fat); 30g Protein; 54g Carbohydrate; 12g Dietary Fiber; 80mg Cholesterol; 1115mg Sodium.

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