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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 Uncategorized, on October 8th, 2017.

termite_bagging_food

So, the tenting for termites is done. My kitty and I stayed at a pet-friendly hotel for about 48 hours while the poisonous gas did its job killing all the mini-critters. Hopefully it also killed the ants that have been plaguing me all summer! My kitty, Angel (remember, he’s blind) was not happy in the temporary quarters. In fact, for 2 days he barely ate anything. He slunk around the rooms (living room and kitchen combo, bathroom and bedroom) trying to find places to hide. The last 4-5 hours before I left there he’d finally adjusted a little bit – he’d learned his way around all 3 rooms and knew where his litter box and water bowl were, although he still wouldn’t eat anything. The first night he woke me up innumerable times yowling. Fortunately, the 2nd night he had adjusted enough that he didn’t wake me up much.

Once they removed all the tents, I was able to get back into my house, close up all the doors and windows, then release the kitty from his cage. Then I turned on the A/C (it was about 90 yesterday).

termite_bagged_freezerWhen you do have to tent for termites, all foodstuffs have to be specially bagged (picture above and at left). They provided me with the heavy-duty, gas-impermeable bags, and anything that is edible must be double-bagged. I had a couple of cleaning ladies who helped me pack up the refrigerators and freezers. And my pantry, PART of the contents in the photo at top. Canned good and jarred things with a seal can be left out, as the gas can’t penetrate them, but everything else must be bagged. I have a big walk-in pantry. It was a must when I designed my kitchen 11 years ago, and I still love the little room, but it was absolutely jam-packed with stuff. Those 11 bags you see in the picture are only SOME of them – there are another 5 bags in my foyer.

Because the exterminating company was going to charge me $100 if I used another box of the bags, I decided at the last to move a lot of things into my car. A friend took my big box of chocolate I use for baking (about 20 pounds worth, I’d guess) and I unloaded about 30 plastic boxes and bins in my neighbor’s garage (boxes full of pasta, grains, herbs from Penzey’s, and bins for pastry flour, self-rising flour, oatmeal, cream of wheat, risotto rice, etc.). The remaining is in the back seat of my car. As I write this (Sunday), my car is still packed.

In the 2nd photo, that’s my kitchen freezer. Some shelves removed and all the contents piled into bags and stuffed back into the void. I haven’t even started on that yet. Last night I did get 3/4 of my kitchen refrigerator unpacked and replaced. Still 2 bags in there that are so darned heavy I don’t know if I can lift them out to unpack them.

My vow, when I start putting things away in my pantry, is to get rid of a lot of the stuff. Some things have been in there too long and need to be jettisoned. Probably the same thing for the freezer. I still have a freezer in the garage to do also and a refrigerator/freezer in the garage, all of them full. You’d think I was preparing for a plague.

One bag I discovered the ladies had put into my kitchen refrigerator was actually freezer contents, but fortunately, lots of it was nuts and they’re still sitting out on my counter, waiting for me to unpack the freezer so they can be put away. There were only a few pounds of ground beef, ground Italian sausage and 2 servings of Mexican Lasagna that I can’t re-freeze. I’ll need to use (cook and eat) those things in the next few days.

It’ll still be days until I can get back to normal, but I thought all of you cooks out there would laugh at me if you could see my stash of food. Pray you don’t ever have to do this! Usually houses are empty when they tent, but the termites were doing a lot of bad stuff to my inaccessible attics. My house has a mansard roof and although I do have 3 attics, they’re not big and the termites had found many other places to feed. When my general contractor walked my interior roof area, when I had my house re-roofed last year, he was the one who found all the termite damage that would be invisible to even a termite inspector.

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  1. KJill

    said on October 8th, 2017:

    Oh My, I can only say that my piles of bags would look much the same and more as well. Good that you had help, I am surprised that even refrigerator and freezer stuff has to be packed up but now I know those door seals are not really so tight as one might think. I did smile at your comment about Angel yowling the first night. Many years ago DH and I had two Siamese cats that were normally quiet but in one of our moves (military) we stayed in a hotel waiting for housing and the first night they did that. They couldn’t get under the platform bed so they got up on top of the cabinets of the kitchenette area and howled. DH had to get a chair to get them down and as soon as we went back to bed they went back up again, it was a very long night.

    I’m chuckling. Yes, I can totally understand your dilemma. Especially with TWO cats. Cats, I believe, don’t like change, so I was expecting Angel to have some anxiety about the hotel stay, but didn’t expect him to be inconsolable, as he was. Now that I’m back home, he’s back to complete normal, and eating again. . . carolyn t

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on October 9th, 2017:

    I would not have the problem of so much cooking stuff but don’t know how you managed to remove it in time. We don’t have Termites here – for which I am very glad. Did your house smell of chemicals when you went back in?

    No, no smell at all. It’s a gas, and they use their equipment to suck it all out, so once they un-tent, everything is very normal. BUT, yesterday wildfires threatened, and I had to evacuate to friends about 15 miles away. Came back home late last night, but I’m still in a “mandatory evacuation” area, so I may have to evacuate again today. Many homes burned to the ground, stables, out-buildings and hillsides. Numerous freeways were closed all day yesterday. No fires are active near me, but we are having high winds, which just whips up the fire where they are burning about 2 miles from me, and sends embers long distances. That’s the biggest concern. . . carolyn t

  3. Madonna

    said on October 10th, 2017:

    We just had our condo tented in February. What an ordeal. I don’t think I had as much things to bag as you, but it is still an inconvenience.

    http://www.makeminelemon.com/cloud-bread/

    Ordeal is a good word for it. I’m still a couple of weeks from getting things back to normal. I’m 76 years old, and I just don’t have as much energy as I used to!! Can’t just work steadily – have to take lots of little breaks. . . carolyn t

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