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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 Appetizers, on September 11th, 2007.

What is more American, really, than beef meatballs? Not much, except maybe hamburgers and hot dogs. Seems like in years past, as in the 1970’s, every party you went to, hostesses served meatballs. Then they seemed to go out of vogue. I served so many of the darned things, I was tired of the usual currant jelly and mustard combination for the sauce. Remember those guys? I even had a copper chafing dish (a hand-me-down from my mother) that I used for them.

These days you never see chafing dishes except brought in by caterers. They really were functional, but they took up SO much space to store. People seemed to move to more casual entertaining. I sure did. After years of not using the chafing dish I finally gave it away. I have a cupboard in our garage that I’ve usurped for big serving things (my big coffee pot, for one), but my DH really thinks ALL the shelves in the garage belong to him, so I have to fight for shelf space. Just like the vendors in grocery stores fight for one more can width of space for their products. Visibility. Visibility.

Last year, prior to our kitchen remodel, I ordered a 2-burner hot plate to use in our temporary kitchen. It’s a very attractive thing – found it on one of the shopping channels. It worked wonderfully well during our construction phase, but it’s now stored away in the laundry room. But WITH the hot plate came two equally attractive round cooking pots. They are nothing extraordinary. I had to go look up the brand – Command Performance Gold. Made in China. Hmmm. No wonder the set was such a bargain. But they look very nice. They are stainless steel with a gold band around the middle, gold handles and glass lids. You can cook in them too, although I’m sure they’re not up the standards of All-Clad or Calphalon. But they’ve served me well.

So, when we had a kitchen warming party after our kitchen was completed, I used the 2-burner hot plate for two of the dishes I was serving. The butternut squash soup with jalapeno and ginger, that is one of my favorite recipes now, went in the larger pot, and the meatballs went into the smaller pot, to be refilled from a big pot in the oven keeping things warm. I made lots of the meatballs.

Normally I’d make my own meatballs, but we had about 30 people coming, and just didn’t have time, so I did something I rarely do – I went to Trader Joe’s and used their -cooked mini-meatballs in their frozen cases. What a Godsend they were. And they are delicious. I suppose they have some filler in them, but it’s not pronounced. It made the compiling of this dish a snap. Really, I mean it. It couldn’t have taken more than 10 minutes prep time to get ready. The sauce needs to be cooked a little bit, but not much. Then the whole batch went in the oven (or a crock pot would work just fine too) to be warmed through. How easy is that?

Everybody seemed to like meatballs. I had 4 pounds of them, and they were all gone. What does that tell you? You need to make these the next time you have a party. They are sweet – because of the cranberry sauce and the bottled chili sauce – so I don’t think they’d make a very good sauce for pasta, for instance. But they taste just fine as leftovers with a vegetable and green salad.

This recipe came from a Cape Cod cookbook: Mystic Seaport: A New England Table. The book was published by the Mystic Seaport Museum and much of the book contains fried things, particularly fish items, but this recipe jumped out at me, especially for the holidays, since it uses cranberries. The book is already out of print at online bookstores, but is available online at the Museum (click the link above). I found the book in an independent bookstore somewhere several years ago. I’ll be making this again and again. Try it.
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Cape Cod Meatballs Piquant

Recipe from Mystic Seaport: A New England Table
Servings: 36
NOTES: If you want to simplify this, buy ready-made, pre-cooked, frozen (mini) meatballs at Trader Joe’s. Put together the sauce, add the defrosted meatballs and heat in the oven for about an hour at 250°, then serve as above. This recipe assumes each person will eat two meatballs. These are on the sweet side, obviously.

2 pounds ground beef
2 whole eggs
1/4 cup water
1 cup bread crumbs
1 small onion — finely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
16 ounces cranberry sauce — use sauce, not cranberry jelly
12 ounces chili sauce
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons parsley — minced

1. Meatballs: combine beef, eggs, water, bread crumbs, onion, salt and pepper. Shape into walnut sized balls and set aside.
2. Sauce: In a large Dutch oven or deep saucepan, combine remaining ingredients (except parsley). Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until cranberry sauce has melted. Add meatballs and simmer for 45 minutes, gently stirring to make sure none stick. Serve hot in a chafing dish sprinkled with parsley. Or, if you use the Trader Joe’s pre-cooked meatballs, you can heat these in a crock pot for several hours. They just have to be heated through.
Per Serving: 119 Calories; 7g Fat (54.0% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 9g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 33mg Cholesterol; 142mg Sodium.

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  1. Anonymous

    said on September 11th, 2007:

    Do you just read the comments and delete them? I can’t imagine not having any comments ever.

    These meatballs look delicious. I will try them soon. Thanks. I enjoy your daily read. Jancd

  2. Carolyn T

    said on September 11th, 2007:

    Thank you! No, I don’t delete any comments, except one that was spam. I do have occasional comments, but certainly not very many! Glad you’re enjoying reading my blog.

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