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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 December 7th, 2017.

sweet_potato_chix_peanut_butter_soup

 Lots of flavors going on in this soup and it’s easy to make. The toppings? Chopped peanuts and chopped cilantro plus a drizzle of cream. I’m SO glad I have leftovers.

Back about 9 years ago I posted this soup and hadn’t made it in the interim. I’d attended a birthday party back then, for my friend Cherrie (I think it was when she turned 50) and her friend Robin (the hostess) served the previous version of this soup. There was no particular reason that I forgot about it – except that when you run a food blog, as I’ve mentioned here before, you always need to be trying NEW soups, not old ones. However, I was entertaining a group of women for an event at my house (10 of us) and didn’t want risk to be a factor – I needed a tried and true recipe. I did make a few changes to the soup, though, so it is slightly different than the old recipe. The friends came to watch a movie (A Man Called Ove) and to have lunch and dessert.

The soup – – it starts out with sweet potatoes. You could use either kind (yellow or orange) but I chose the orange because of color only. The potatoes are coated in peanut oil and roasted. The original recipe called for a boat load of oven-roasted Roma tomatoes – I decided to change that – I used San Marzano canned tomatoes which should be just as good. There’s onion, garlic, curry powder and cayenne in it too, plus chicken broth and coconut milk. And chicken pieces, and peanut butter (a lot, actually, but this recipe makes a lot of soup) plus the toppings. I wanted to have a bit more texture to the soup (because you blend the soup to smooth without the chicken). So, I bought a pound of butternut squash and roasted it in the oven, even broiled them at the last minute to get some lovely caramelization on them, chopped them up and those are kind of hidden underneath the little pile of nuts and cilantro in the picture.

As with most soups, they’re so much better the next day, so I did that and merely had to re-heat the soup and prepare the toppings and I was ready to serve it to my friends. The drizzle of cream wasn’t in the original (you could use a drizzle of coconut milk if you wanted to be more authentic). You don’t taste the peanut butter, which is surprising since there was 3/4 cup of it in the soup. I’ve added my new photo to the old post since the photo I had before wasn’t all that great. Boy, I’ve come a long way taking photos for my blog!

What’s GOOD: uhmmmm, this soup is so delish. Love the smooth texture, but also the toppings – the crunch of the peanuts particularly. You could easily make this vegetarian if you want to, by using vegetable broth and no chicken. The soup itself is thick (hearty). You could try different toppings if you prefer to. Freezes well.

What’s NOT: there are a variety of steps to make this – roasting the sweet potatoes and the butternut squash (ideally do those at the same time, or use only sweet potatoes and no butternut squash). I have a good Vitamix blender which did a really good job of smoothing out the soup, but you could use an immersion blender too.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Senegalese Sweet Potato and Peanut Soup with Chicken

Recipe By: Originally from Emeril Lagasse, but adapted
Serving Size: 10

1 1/4 pounds sweet potatoes — yellow or orange
12 ounces butternut squash — (approximate) seeded, peeled, cut into 1″ pieces
1/4 cup peanut oil — divided uses
3 tablespoons curry powder
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
2 large garlic cloves — minced
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper — (use more if you’d like)
1 1/2 quarts low sodium chicken broth
28 ounces canned tomatoes — San Marzano type
3/4 cup peanut butter — smooth type
20 ounces coconut milk — use full fat
2 teaspoons salt — or more to taste
3/4 teaspoon white pepper — or more to taste
2 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts
GARNISH:
4 tablespoons fresh cilantro — minced
1/2 cup chopped peanuts
10 tablespoons heavy cream — or coconut milk

NOTE: the butternut squash is used as a garnish, not to be pureed into the soup.
1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
2. In a large bowl place the sweet potatoes that have been cut into large chunks. Use a small part of the oil to coat the pieces and pour out onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Do the same with the butternut squash on a separate baking sheet.
3. Roast the sweet potatoes and butternut squash for about 45-50 minutes until they’re just fork tender. Remove and set aside to cool. Remove skins from the sweet potatoes and discard.
4. In a large pot, use the remaining oil and heat it until it begins to shimmer. Add the curry powder and gently saute it for 30-45 seconds while the oil bubbles. Do not burn. Add the chopped onion and stir frequently as the onion softens, 3-4 minutes. Add garlic, cayenne, then the chicken broth. As it heats to a simmer, add the peanut butter and stir well, breaking up the pieces. Add the coconut milk, canned tomatoes and the reserved sweet potatoes and bring soup to a full simmer, reduce heat, cover and cook for about 10 minutes. Add salt and white pepper to taste. Puree soup in a blender until smooth, or use an immersion blender in the soup pot.
5. CHICKEN: Cut the chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces. Coat with peanut oil, salt and pepper and bake them for about 10 minutes at 350°F. You can use the same baking sheet you used for the sweet potatoes. Do not overcook – you want them to be just barely cooked through. Remove and cool. Add to the soup, or keep them separate and add a portioned amount to each bowl.
6. BUTTERNUT SQUASH: Even though you’ve cooked the butternut squash, it’s nice to have the small pieces caramelize. Just before serving, chop the squash into small bite-sized pieces and place on the same parchment-lined baking sheet and broil them until the edges have begun to brown.
7. TOPPINGS: Prepare the minced cilantro and peanuts. When serving, scoop about 1 1/2 cups of soup into a wide bowl, add the caramelized butternut squash pieces, chicken (if you didn’t add it into the soup before), chopped peanuts and cilantro. Use a soup spoon and drizzle a tablespoon of cream or coconut milk around each serving.
Per Serving: 628 Calories; 40g Fat (55.0% calories from fat); 43g Protein; 30g Carbohydrate; 7g Dietary Fiber; 86mg Cholesterol; 1043mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on December 8th, 2017:

    Oh dear, you know why I won’t be trying this one…

    Are the fires lessening over there? We don’t hear about it on our news (all about Brexit right now) any more. Most of the UK has some snow but we have gorgeous blue skies and sunshine!

    I saw ISS twice today, I love watching it go over but don’t know why it appeals to me so much.

    The fires are still raging in many places, none near me, thank goodness. So many homes lost, animals (mostly horses) killed by smoke or fire, and over 10,000 people evacuated in one fire alone north of Los Angeles. Two good friends of mine nearly lost their homes in the last 2 days. Both are okay, thankfully. Everyone has the TV on, watching the local stations who are covering the fires 24/7. So far there has been no loss of human life, mostly because people do evacuate when the officials tell them to – not delaying as some do, waiting until the fires are much closer. I’m okay – nothing near me or even distantly near me. I did have to evacuate about 6 weeks ago (don’t know if I mentioned it here on my blog or not) when fires started very near me. Some homes burned and the fires destroyed tens of thousands of acres of national forest and a beautiful park not too far from me, one that is used every day by hundreds of people who do active walking. Thanks for asking. . . carolyn t

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