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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 Appetizers, on December 3rd, 2017.

lentil_hummus

Not exactly the prettiest of colors, but the flavors are great. And healthy.

Wanting a simple appetizer that wasn’t rich, cheesy, or full of fat, I found this recipe in my to-try file, that came from Food & Wine. Made with lentils. It called for green lentils – I didn’t have any – nor did I remember ever seeing them at any of my local markets. I guess you can mail-order them. I used brown lentils, which, of course, made the finished product . . . well, BROWN. Do doctor up the top with a drizzle of olive oil and paprika to make it look a little bit better. The recipe indicated serving with red pepper strips (didn’t have any) or fennel strips (had them, but didn’t take the time) so I served it with crackers (pita chip type).

It’s made in the food processor. I actually took liberties with this – I bought a small package of already-cooked lentils (TJ’s carries them). I know . . . lentils are cinchy easy to make. But that was the way it was that day. So since I didn’t make them from scratch, I added a little sprinkle of powdered bay leaf in the mix. This part’s not in the recipe below, since I assume you’ll just make up a batch of fresh lentils for this. I was into saving time since I was having dinner guests and didn’t begin cooking dinner until 3 pm, and they were arriving at 6. I was into speedy. I made a sheet pan dinner (chicken, sweet potatoes, bacon, red onions, big chunks of sourdough croutons) which, when served, I plopped, in the pan, right in the middle of my dining room table. Easy for serving firsts and seconds. Everybody wanted more croutons and red onions.

The hummus is whizzed up in the food processor (so easy) with fresh lemon juice, EVOO, garlic, ground cumin, fresh cilantro, salt, tahini, cayenne – and I added a bit of water because I used the already-cooked type lentils (they’re on the dry side) –  you could add some of the cooking liquid if your mixture is too stiff. Taste it for seasonings – adding more salt or lemon juice or cumin. Into a container it went and chilled for a couple of hours (allowed the garlic to mellow a little bit) and it was ready to serve. That recipe is coming up next, I think.

What’s GOOD: how easy this was to make. As I’m writing this it’s the next day and I’ve just dipped a couple of crackers into it – it’s very tasty – healthy too. It will keep for a few days, so you could definitely make this ahead.

What’s NOT: don’t love the brown color, but the taste will shine through that little down side. If possible, try to find green lentils!

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Lentil Tahini Hummus

Recipe By: Adapted from a Food & Wine recipe
Serving Size: 7

1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup lentils — about 6 ounces * (see note)
1/2 bay leaf
1 1/2 garlic cloves — coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons tahini
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1/4 teaspoon
Salt — or more if needed
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Sweet paprika for sprinkling on top
Pita chips, sliced fennel and red bell pepper strips, for serving

NOTE: If you can find green lentils, good – use them. The finished hummus will have a more greenish tint rather than brown, which isn’t quite as appetizing.
1. In a medium saucepan, combine the chicken stock, lentils and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are tender, about 30+ minutes. If using green lentils, they take a bit longer to cook, up to 45 minutes. Uncover and boil the lentils over high heat until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 2 minutes. Discard the bay leaf and let the lentils cool slightly.
2. Transfer the cooked lentils to a food processor. Add the chopped garlic, tahini, olive oil, ground cumin, cayenne, salt, cilantro and lemon juice and puree until smooth. Scrape the hummus into a bowl. Garnish the hummus with paprika and some extra cilantro. Serve the lentil hummus warm or at room temperature with pita chips and vegetable crudités.
Per Serving: 132 Calories; 9g Fat (54.2% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 10g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 92mg Sodium.

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  1. Jan

    said on December 4th, 2017:

    Green lentils are readily available here in Houston, so I am definitely going to try this. I like tasty and easy.

    Since I made this a couple of weeks ago I saw some green lentils at one of my markets, so I think I just didn’t look hard enough! . . . carolyn t

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on December 5th, 2017:

    I had never thought of making it with lentils! Thank you, this is going to become a favourite dish for me.

    My guests didn’t eat very much of it (not because it wasn’t good . . . don’t know why), so I ended up eating it as my lunch for several days with thin crackers. . . carolyn t

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