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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, on February 16th, 2017.

arugula_salad_peppers_stuffed_mushrooms

This could have been a light meal – it’s just so very tasty – but then I love arugula. This salad has some strips of roasted bell peppers and toasted pine nuts, in addition to the stuffed mushrooms.

Sometimes I have difficulty using up a bag of arugula (and it doesn’t seem to have a long life in the refrigerator, once you open the bag), since I don’t make salad with JUST arugula in it – I put in lots of other stuff. But if I made this salad two days in a row (and I’d have no difficulty eating that up) I’d have used the entire bag. This salad JUST has arugula (as the greens) in it. If you don’t like arugula, use another green, even Romaine or leaf lettuce would be fine too. What makes this salad are two things: the goat-cheese stuffed mushrooms and the delicious mustardy vinaigrette. Well, and the light crunch of the toasted pine nuts. If you don’t want to pay the premium, these days, for pine nuts, use walnuts or hazelnuts. I wouldn’t use pecans, but if you’re a fan of them, go ahead!

The dressing is easy enough to make – just shake it up in a small jar. The nuts do need to be toasted, and the bell peppers (use whatever color you have, but Tarla Fallgatter used both red and  yellow, in the class when she prepared this) need to be cut open, flattened out in one long, wide strip and the seeds and ribs removed and roasted.

The mushrooms are roasted in the oven with a filling of goat cheese, a few red chili flakes, salt, pepper and some fresh basil leaves. Once the mushrooms are stuffed, you sprinkle the tops with Parmesan (it doesn’t need much). They’re baked about 15 minutes and they’re perfect – just barely cooked through and the filling just heated and nicely warm. Then you basically toss the salad together and add the hot mushrooms on the plate and serve. Altogether nice.

What’s GOOD: the flavor is certainly first and foremost – loved the blend of arugula with the mustard and sherry wine vinegar dressing. And the mushrooms – oh gosh – I could have eaten an entire plate of them. Hence, this salad could easily be a light meal if you are willing to eat a meatless salad. Maybe serve a few more mushrooms per person if you did make it a meal. SO SO good.

What’s NOT: there are several steps to making this, but none is difficult or all that time consuming. Even making the goat cheese filling takes about 3 minutes total. Or less. Nothing to complain about at all.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Arugula Salad with Goat Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms

Recipe By: Tarla Fallgatter, cooking instructor
Serving Size: 6

SALAD:
4 cups baby arugula
2 whole red bell peppers
1 whole yellow bell pepper
1/3 cup pine nuts — toasted
VINAIGRETTE:
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons mustard — sweet, spicy type salt and pepper to taste
6 tablespoons olive oil
MUSHROOMS:
5 ounces soft goat cheese
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons fresh basil — minced
18 medium mushroom caps — (stems removed)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated

1. VINAIGRETTE: Combine ingredients in a small jar and shake vigorously. Set aside.
2. PEPPERS: Core and remove seeds from bell peppers. Toss with olive oil, place skin side up on foil lined baking sheet and broil until peppers are blistered. Remove from oven and set aside to cool. When cool enough to handle, remove skins and slice peppers and set aside.
3. MUSHROOMS: Mix goat cheese, red chili flakes, salt, pepper and basil together. Toss mushroom caps with olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Preheat oven to 425°F. Carefully spoon filling into mushrooms and sprinkle lightly with grated Parmesan on top. Bake until golden, about 15 minutes.
4. SALAD: Toss the bell peppers with vinaigrette to coat. Add arugula and pine nuts and toss again, then divide among plates. Top with stuffed mushrooms and serve immediately.
Per Serving: 334 Calories; 30g Fat (76.5% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 11g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 11mg Cholesterol; 118mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on February 17th, 2017:

    I like all of those ingredients – except for the arugula.

    I made a yellow bell pepper soup recently, it was delicious.

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