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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 Vegetarian, Veggies/sides, on September 26th, 2017.

baked_portobello_mashed_potatoes

Maybe it’s just that I love mashed potatoes, and I feel guilty every time I eat them! And yet these are somewhat redeemed because they’re blended with a lot of spinach (healthy) and mounded on a big portobello mushroom (healthy!).

In either case, this is a dish you will want to make. I can’t wait for the weather to turn a little cooler and I’ll be making this as my dinner entrée. It was served at a cooking class alongside a steak, but I was just taken with the mushroom. If you served a whole mushroom, it could easily be your dinner as I expect to do it that way.

You probably already know that when preparing portobellos (they’re also called baby bellas) you need to remove all those black gills on the under side. They contain a dark ink I’ll call it – and it turns anything that touches them black and ugly. So, use a spoon and scrape out all those gills until you get down to regular mushroom flesh. Do that first!

Then, next in order is to make a batch of mashed potatoes, and at the last you throw in a bag of baby spinach (cooked briefly) along with some grated Parm, sour cream, butter and milk. The potatoes and their accompaniments probably aren’t all that healthy, but everything else about this dish IS. The mushrooms are brushed with an oil/balsamic vinegar mixture and broiled briefly, then seasoned with salt and pepper. You do need to mop out the juices in the mushroom when you broil it on its underside (up). It creates too much fluid and would make the potatoes soupy. Just use a paper towel to remove the liquid that oozes out. Then you pile in the potatoes, top with green onions and bake for 10-15 minutes to heat them through, but still leaves the mushrooms solid enough that you can move it with a spatula. You could also sprinkle with some more green onions. Delicious. For a mushroom meal, use a big honkin’ mushroom, but if serving as part of a dinner, I’d buy smaller portobellos if you can find them. Otherwise, cut each big portobello in half to serve.

What’s GOOD: all the flavors in this dish are ever-so-tasty. But then, I am a sucker for good, flavorful mashed potatoes. The spinach gives it some pretty green speckled color, and some healthy elements. The mushroom is also a great “plate” for the potatoes and if you buy a big mushroom, it will easily be a meal.

What’s NOT: nothing really – a bit of fuss to make the mashed potatoes – but that’s about it!

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Baked Portobello Mushrooms with Parmesan Mashed Potatoes

Recipe By: From a cooking class with Susan Vollmer, 2017
Serving Size: 8

4 pounds Russet potatoes
4 ounces unsalted butter
3/4 cup milk
1 pound baby spinach
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup olive oil — use an herb flavored one if available
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
8 large Portobello mushroom caps
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 large green onions — minced

1. Peel potatoes and cook them in boiling, salted water until tender. Drain, then return potatoes to the saucepan. Add butter and milk and mash the potatoes.
2. In a large skillet, briefly cook the baby spinach in a little bit of olive oil so the leaves are wilted. Add it to the potatoes, then add the Parm and sour cream. Season mixture with salt and pepper to taste.
3. In a measuring cup, combine the oil and vinegar. Set aside.
4. Preheat broiler. Clean the mushroom caps of gills and stem. Brush the mushrooms lightly with the oil/vinegar mixture and season with salt and pepper.
5. Broil the mushrooms for about 2 minutes per side. Remove from the oven and use paper towels to mop up any brown juices in the center of the mushroom cap. Fill each mushroom cap with potato mixture and place in a baking dish. Reduce oven temp to 400F.
6. Top all of the mushrooms with some of the green onions and bake for 10-15 minutes just to heat through. Serve within about 5 minutes.
Per Serving: 462 Calories; 26g Fat (48.5% calories from fat); 11g Protein; 51g Carbohydrate; 7g Dietary Fiber; 47mg Cholesterol; 93mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on September 26th, 2017:

    Can’t wait to try this one!

    It’s really good. Nutritious with the spinach and mushroom. I hope one day nutritionists will tell us that eating mashed potatoes isn’t such a bad thing, cuz they’re so delicious!! . . .carolyn t

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on September 27th, 2017:

    I wonder if our Portobella mushrooms are different from yours? I have never been told that the gills should be removed and have not noticed any discolouration.

    I’ll take the mashed potatoes any day – always a favourite with me.

    In this case, the potatoes that would have been up against the black gills would have turned black. Just a bit unappetizing. There isn’t any nutritional need for it, just aesthetics. I don’t know whether you have different kinds . . .? . . . carolyn t

  3. hddonna

    said on September 29th, 2017:

    “cuz they’re so delicious!!” So true. If only the deliciousness didn’t depend so much on copious amounts of butter and sour cream! I’d have to cut the serving size in half for myself anyway, because of the carbs, so that would help some.

    I used to stay overnight with my grandma, and she would let me help her make potato salad. She always boiled an extra potato for me. She’d mash it on a little oval plate and add butter and salt. So simple–but I remember it still with such great pleasure!

    Aw, cute story about your grandmother. Yes, you could definitely cut down on the quantity of mashed potatoes – and yes, all the butter and sour cream made it extra good. . . carolyn t

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