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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 Salad Dressings, on May 13th, 2017.

green_goddess_dressing_spoon

A winner of a recipe from the folks at Cook’s Illustrated.

You’ve read here before that I record all the TV shows from America’s Test Kitchen and from Cook’s Country. I’m not sure which one discussed this recipe, but it’s credited to C.C. (the magazine) in April of 2006. Here on my blog I have another version of Green Goddess that is supposedly from the source, a hotel in San Francisco. But, the folks at ATK wanted to make it even better, and now that I’ve made it myself, I agree, this version is just wonderful. And much better than the other one.

What’s different? Well, first off, you soak dried tarragon (not fresh) in some water and lemon juice for 15 minutes. That obviously brings out the tarragon flavor. I think I like dried tarragon better than fresh anyway. I have a very hard time growing tarragon here – perhaps our summers are too hot. Don’t know . . . so what I have is French tarragon. Then you mix the tarragon concoction with mayo, a little bit of sour cream, fresh parsley, garlic, and one full sized, good-quality anchovy fillet that’s rinsed and blotted with a paper towel. This is whizzed up in the blender. Now, I also added the chives to the blender – in the recipe it said to add them after whizzing in the blender. Then I tasted it for salt and pepper (didn’t think it needed either) and let it chill. Right out of the blender it didn’t wow me at all, but several hours later, after melding the flavors, I thought it was delish.

green_goddess_in_saladAccording to the recipe, the dressing only keeps for 24 hours. I wasn’t sure why that would be – after 2 days (so I was a whole day past it’s use by date) I made one last salad for myself to use it up, and what I noticed was that the garlic had overpowered the dressing – that kind of sharp, not-so-good hot taste. As a family of one, I would not make this size (to serve 8) as I’d never be able to use it up. So keep that in mind when you make it – only make enough to use in 24 hours!

What’s GOOD: the tarragon flavor, which is part of what makes Green Goddess a Green Goddess, is perfect – just the right amount. The anchovy fillet is not noticeable at all – kind of like in Caesar dressing – it’s a good umami flavor. It’s a lovely green color. Rich. Altogether delicious.

What’s NOT: only that you’re supposed to use it up within 24 hours.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Green Goddess Dressing

Recipe By: Cook’s Country
Serving Size: 8

2 teaspoons dried tarragon
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon water
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup fresh parsley — roughly chopped
1 medium clove garlic — chopped
1 anchovy fillet — rinsed and dried
1/4 cup chopped chives
salt and pepper to taste

1. In a small bowl, combine the tarragon, lemon juice, and water. Allow those ingredients to sit for 15 minutes.
2. Using a blender, process the tarragon mixture, mayonnaise, sour cream, parsley, garlic and anchovies until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the blender jar as necessary.
3. Transfer to bowl, stir in the chives, season with salt and pepper. Chill about an hour before serving to allow the flavors to meld.
4. Can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator up to 1 day. (After 24 hours the garlic overpowers the flavors.)
Per Serving: 168 Calories; 19g Fat (96.0% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 1g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 11mg Cholesterol; 141mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on May 31st, 2017:

    I like the idea of this but I don’t understand why the recipe calls for dried Tarragon since I have always found the fresh, French variety to have a great deal of flavour. It is the Russian sort that is less flavourful.

    Perhaps you could add a little ‘Lazy Garlic’ in each serving of the dressing to save getting the overpowering taste of it?

    I think when I read the article about this version, the chefs at ATK felt that the dried tarragon added more flavor. Where I live, I have a hard time growing tarragon. I can buy it at the store, but it’s very expensive for a few, tiny sprigs, and it doesn’t keep long. You could certainly use fresh. And, definitely, if you don’t like fresh garlic, use powdered or some other kind. . . carolyn t

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