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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 Soups, on October 6th, 2017.

chilled_yellow_sq_soup_thai_flavors

Do you like Thai food? I sure do, yet I don’t have it often. There’s a tiny hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurant near me that serves very authentic (I think) Thai food with whatever degree of heat you can handle.

In this little Thai restaurant the husband works the front, and the wife does a lot of the cooking. I need to go there more often. I love their Pad Thai, probably the most common American Thai restaurant specialty. Lots of carbs, however.

So, I digress . . . I had decided to make some more yellow squash (cold) soup, and when I began I wanted to use up some fresh ginger I had, semi-withering in a kitchen counter bowl. With that, my mind turned to the Thai green curry paste I have in my refrigerator. Love the flavor it adds to things. So rather than repeat what I’d made before, I decided to make this version a little Asian. A little Thai.

The soup was so easy to make – onion in oil, added the squash, some garlic, Thai green curry paste, the fresh ginger, then some chicken broth (or you could use coconut milk) and I let it simmer for about 20 minutes until the squash was super-tender. Cooled it on my countertop for a little bit, then whizzed it up in my Vitamix blender until smooth. I added in some salt, pepper, lemon juice and sour cream. That was chilled down overnight and as I’m writing this I had it for my lunch today, that little bowl up top. Actually I had 2 bowls of it. It was so refreshing for a hot summer day. It’s still summer where I live in SoCalifornia.

You could use any kind of garnishes – cilantro is a must, however, then you could add toasted sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds. Or no seeds at all. Whatever floats your boat. The sour cream adds a lovely silkiness to the soup. You could add milk, or soy milk instead. Or some Greek yogurt too. Any of the above. This soup is versatile. I like just a little bit of texture to the soup, but not much. Use your own judgment about that too. If you’d like to, cut off the stems of the cilantro and add those into the soup at the beginning. It will add flavor without the green from the leaves. I didn’t think of it, or I would have! Altogether lovely soup. The curry paste doesn’t add enough flavor that you can distinguish curry (honest) and the ginger adds just a tiny bit of flavor AND a tiny bit of heat. Or maybe the heat was from the green curry paste. I’m not sure. Altogether good, though.

What’s GOOD: this soup is so easy to make, though it’s best if it’s refrigerated overnight. It will meld the flavors and get it plenty cold. Use your own choice of garnishes. This is not a thick, heavy soup at all – probably wouldn’t satisfy for a dinner, but it was fine for my lunch with a cookie afterwards. Low calorie, even with the sour cream. This soup isn’t going to knock your socks off with flavor – by that I mean the soup is subtle, mild, as you’d expect using yellow squash.

What’s NOT: nothing at all. You could serve this warm, but if you do, make sure you do NOT bring the soup to a boil – the sour cream will separate and make the soup curdle. Not attractive!

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Chilled Yellow Squash Soup with Thai Flavors

Recipe By: My own concoction
Serving Size: 6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 yellow onion — chopped
3 pounds yellow squash — chopped coarsely
2 garlic cloves — minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger — diced
5 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon green curry paste
1/2 cup sour cream — or full-fat yogurt
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup cilantro — minced
1/2 cup sunflower seeds — or pumpkin seeds (optional)

1. Saute onion in olive oil for 3-5 minutes until onion has softened. Add squash, garlic, green curry paste, fresh ginger and chicken broth. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 15-20 minutes until the squash is tender.
2. Set aside to cool for 15-20 minutes. Add sour cream and lemon juice, then pour the soup into a blender and puree until smooth. Taste for seasonings, adding salt and pepper as needed. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
3. Taste again for more salt or pepper, then pour 1 1/2 cups (each serving) into a bowl and garnish with cilantro and seeds, if desired. If serving warm, do not boil the soup or the sour cream or yogurt will separate and curdle.
Per Serving: 238 Calories; 16g Fat (58.4% calories from fat); 10g Protein; 16g Carbohydrate; 6g Dietary Fiber; 9mg Cholesterol; 657mg Sodium.

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