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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 Desserts, Miscellaneous, on June 12th, 2017.

bing_cherry_compote

There is something beautiful about a big pile of ripe cherries. Maybe it’s just because I love the color red!

This isn’t a new recipe post, but when I bought 3 pounds of cherries the other day, I knew I’d be making this compote that’s a real favorite of mine. But, of course, only when cherries are in season. Which is NOW! I posted this recipe in 2009, and again in 2012, and I haven’t changed it; it’s still cherry_pitsthe same recipe from Russ Parsons. That I’ve been making for 8 years. Every single year in cherry season, I buy them and make this. I hoard the results, because I adore putting some of the compote over vanilla ice cream. And I nearly lick the bowl. I’m posting it again just because you may not have read my posts going back that far. I want you to make this, while cherries are in the markets! The only downside to the recipe is having to pit the darned things. But I use a olive pitter and I sat at my kitchen island while I did it.

The above bowl contains the pitted cherries, a sprinkling of sugar, whole cloves, whole allspice and cinnamon sticks. When you cook them, it’s nice to use a big, wide pan so you can put the cherries in one layer and cook them JUST until they’re cooked through about halfway or so. You want them to retain their color and shape. You add red wine to the mixture which helps them steam-cook. This year I didn’t have a bottle of red wine opened, so I pulled out an old bottle of so-so Madeira that had about a cup or so in it, and I used that instead of regular drinking red. After they’re cooked you add a big dash of balsamic vinegar, which is just the icing on the cake, IMHO. These taste better if they’re allowed to chill in the syrup for a few days – that way the spices permeate all the cherries, and the balsamic too.

bowl_of_pitted_cherries

Yes, I definitely do like the color red! Having heaped all the cherries into a bowl, I just had to take a picture of them before I cooked it all. And here, below, is the finished product:

cherry compote 3

What’s GOOD: there’s nothing quite like the taste of ripe cherries in a delicious spice syrup. Absolutely loverly on top of vanilla ice cream. No nuts. No whipped cream. JUST the cherries. They keep for several weeks. I don’t think they’d freeze well – they’ll likely get very soft and possibly lose their color too.

What’s NOT: maybe the pitting process, but that’s about it. It’s simple to make.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Fresh Bing Cherry Compote

Recipe By: Adapted from How to Pick a Peach, by Russ Parsons
Serving Size: 8

1 1/3 pounds cherries — fresh, Bing
1/4 cup sugar
1 whole clove
1 whole allspice berry
1 stick cinnamon — about 1 1/2 inches long
1/2 cup red wine — (I used more)
1 1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

1. Pit the cherries. You want to have 1 pound of pitted cherries.
2. In a bowl combine the cherries and sugar. Stir and set aside for about 30-45 minutes.
3. Add 1/4 cup of red wine, stir and set aside for 15 minutes.
4. Pour the mixture into a flat, wide skillet (just large enough to hold the cherries in a single layer). Combine in a cheesecloth bag the cinnamon stick, clove and allspice. Tie together and place it into the pan with the cherries.
5. Bring the cherries to a boil and simmer at a fairly high heat for about 10 minutes, while the juices begin the thicken. The cherries will still be in one piece.
6. Remove from heat and add the balsamic vinegar to the mixture. Cool, chill, and serve over vanilla ice cream.
Per Serving: 81 Calories; 1g Fat (7.8% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 18g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 12mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on June 12th, 2017:

    Glad you reposted, as I don’t think I caught it the last time around, though I do think I’ve been reading you regularly at least as far back as the second time you posted it. Looks delicious! And if you’ve been making it regularly for 8 years, it must be good!

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