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Recently finished reading The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke. All I can say is “wow.” In a general sense, this book is based on the premise of The Pilot’s Wife. But this one has some totally different twists and turns. A young wife is met at the door by police, informing her that her husband has died in an auto accident. Then she finds out he died in Hawaii – not Kansas, where she thought he was, on business. Then she finds out there was a woman in the car. Then she meets the fiance of the woman passenger and the two of them embark on a fact-finding mission in Hawaii to discover the truth. Well, I’m just sayin’ . . . the plot thickens. And thickens. And thickens clear up to the last few pages. Hang onto your seat. A really, really good, suspenseful read.

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 Novel by 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. 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 angry father is a wealthy and influential man in the area. 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.

 

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 Essays, on August 13th, 2017.

Image result for apples

 

For the last year or so I’ve subscribed to Reader’s Digest. They have some really interesting articles in each issue, and this little 2-page article was so fascinating I thought I’d share the salient facts. The article brought much of its facts from a book: The American Plate: A Culinary History in 100 Bites, by Libby O’Connell but the article was written by someone at NPR and was heard there in 2016.

It’s an article about the lineage of the apple pie (which must be one of the 100 bites):

1. CRUST: As we know it now, it started in Britain where they made airtight pastry shells called “coffyns,” filled with savory ingredients. We refined the pastry by using some German techniques (think strudel) and began using up imperfect fruit to fill the pastry, where those imperfections didn’t show. (Ingenuity, I’d say!)

2. APPLES: The only native apple here in the U.S. is a crabapple. We don’t see those very often (at least I don’t where I live). Apples (generic) came from Kahzakhstan. The fruit migrated west, then the Romans crossed a sour apple with a sweet apple, and many hundreds of years elapsed before Johnny Appleseed Chapman brought those to America and planted them all over. (Thank goodness!)

3. WHEAT: Archeologists have found ancient wheat that dates to at least 9000 years ago – from Iran, Iraq and much of the Middle East. Eventually it wended its way into Europe, and here to the New World, but the crops failed. It wasn’t until later that Russian immigrants brought a more hardy wheat variety (Turkey Red, it was called) to America, which worked (our climate must have been similar to the part of Russia where it grew – who knew?)

4. FAT: Lard was likely the original fat (from pig ancestors in Asia), then Christopher Columbus brought pigs (for their meat and fat) and cattle (think dairy products) to America. (Good thing!)

5. CINNAMON & SUGAR: Did you know that sugar originally comes from Indonesia, China and Papua New Guinea? Yup. And cinnamon originates from an evergreen tree native to Sri Lanka.  The other spices we use in apple pie include nutmeg and cloves, which came from Banda Island in Indonesia. Magellan helped spread those ‘round the world when he brought back 50 tons of the precious spices on a trip he made in 1522. (Imagine that – we just take it for granted that we have the spices in our pantries!)

6. THE PIE: According to researchers, the earliest apple pie recipe dates from the 1300s, but it didn’t hit the “big time” here in North America until the 1600s. John T. Edge wrote in his book Apple Pie: An American Story that both Union and Confederate soldiers collected apples on their marches and forays, and commandeered local hearths to make them into (probably, my guess) hand pies (turnovers) they could carry with them.  In 1902 the New York Times said pie had become “the American synonym for prosperity.” During WWII, a catchphrase spread that the soldiers were fighting for “mom and apple pie.”

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Here on my blog, there is one recipe for apple pie, from my friend Debbie. It’s a crumb top one, and it’s super wonderful. Even the pie crust is easy, which is made with vegetable oil.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on August 13th, 2017:

    Your friend’s pie is what we would simply call Apple Crumble but I don’t think we usually have a pastry base to it.

    You post was interesting though I had to look up NPR!

    Oh, yes, well, NPR (National Public Radio) is an acronym we all use here in the U.S. of A. You likely have something similar but different title perhaps. And yes, Debbie’s pie is an apple crumb pie(with a bottom crust). It’s making my mouth water! . . . carolyn t

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