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Recently finished reading The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke. All I can say is “wow.” In a general sense, this book is based on the premise of The Pilot’s Wife. But this one has some totally different twists and turns. A young wife is met at the door by police, informing her that her husband has died in an auto accident. Then she finds out he died in Hawaii – not Kansas, where she thought he was, on business. Then she finds out there was a woman in the car. Then she meets the fiance of the woman passenger and the two of them embark on a fact-finding mission in Hawaii to discover the truth. Well, I’m just sayin’ . . . the plot thickens. And thickens. And thickens clear up to the last few pages. Hang onto your seat. A really, really good, suspenseful read.

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 Novel by 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. 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 angry father is a wealthy and influential man in the area. 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.

 

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 19th, 2017.

ricotta_roasted_grape_crostini

This might seem like an unlikely combination. Roasted grapes, you say? Yes, and garnished with toasted pine nuts and fresh thyme, then drizzled with some honey. Sublime.

Roasting every kind of food is certainly “in” these days, isn’t it? I’m most definitely on the bandwagon too – I particularly love roasted vegetables – they gain such incredible caramelization when roasted. So, why wouldn’t grapes be amped up with the same treatment. In fact, fruit of any kind is enhanced with roasting because the sugar in fruit makes for easy caramelization.

There is a bit of assembly required here, so it’s best to get everything ready before hand. Roast the grapes (tossed with vinegar, fresh thyme and olive oil). Cut and toast the baguette slices, toast the pine nuts too. Slightly warm the ricotta cheese to room temp too. Have the honey out (warm it just slightly in the microwave if it’s too thick) and some of the thyme leaves already chopped up.

Gather all the ingredients around you, grab a baguette slice and spread it with the ricotta cheese (do use full fat here – it has so much more flavor), then gently add 4-5 of the oh-so-cute wrinkled grapes on top, sprinkle with pine nuts and more fresh thyme, then drizzle the whole thing with just a tiny bit of honey. The grapes are the star of the show here, as they just burst in your mouth. The pine nuts add wonderful chewy texture, and then you get the honey on your tongue and the rounded-out flavor from the fresh thyme. If you have lemons, add a tiny sprinkle of zest on top too. This recipe came from a cooking class I took a couple of weeks ago with Tarla Fallgatter.

What’s GOOD: the flavor combo is just delicious. I wouldn’t be serving this to a cocktail party as they do require assembly at the last minute, but to a small group of friends or family, it’s do-able. Expect each person to eat at least two of them. You’ll love the squish in your mouth when you chomp down on the grapes. Yum. Then you get the flavors of the honey, the chewiness of the pine nuts then the hint of fresh thyme too. Altogether delicious.

What’s NOT: just that it requires last minute assembly. Don’t make it for a large crowd unless you have help in the kitchen. Assembly would be great for a teenager to do if you have one on hand!

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Ricotta and Roasted Grape Crostini

Recipe By: cooking class with Tarla Fallgatter, 2017
Serving Size: 6

GRAPES:
1 pound seedless grapes — mixed varieties, de-stemmed
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
CROSTINI:
3/4 cup ricotta cheese — (use full fat)
3 tablespoons pine nuts — toasted
2 tablespoons thyme sprigs
12 baguette slices — lightly toasted
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons lemon zest — finely grated

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. On a parchment paper lined baking sheet toss the grapes with vinegar, thyme and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Roast for 15 minutes, stirring frequently, until grapes are softened and skins have started to pop.
2. Spoon a tablespoon of ricotta onto each crostini slice, spoon 3-5 grapes on top and sprinkle with pine nuts. Arrange on a serving platter, then drizzle with honey and sprinkle each with more thyme leaves and fresh lemon zest. Add salt and pepper, if desired.
Per Serving: 319 Calories; 12g Fat (33.9% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 44g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 16mg Cholesterol; 336mg Sodium.

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