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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 Fish, Soups, on December 27th, 2017.

shrimp_potato_chowder

Oh – My – Goodness! This soup is just off the charts. When I tell you you need to make this, do you trust me on that?

My friend Cherrie made this soup and brought it to our Christmas cookie baking day a few weeks ago. She said she’d really wanted to try this recipe, and so she brought a big tub of it. She wouldn’t tell Jackie or me what was in it. Of course, we could see shrimp – big, honkin’ ones, most of them bigger than the soup spoon. We cold see onion, potato, and celery and some bell pepper too. Plus some little bacon pieces. And a really rich, creamy soup to go along with it. She said “there’s no cream in it.” We tried guessing – Half and Half? No. Coconut milk? No. Almond milk? No. Non-Dairy Creamer? No. Evaporated milk? No. Is there dairy in it, I asked? Yes, but not what you’d think. Cheese, I said? Nope.

I almost don’t want to tell you – – – but if I do, I think you’ll stop reading right this minute and never go on. And you’ll never make it because you’ll just say no-no, can’t do that. Too rich. Too fattening.

The soup is SO very easy to make – Cherrie found the recipe at allrecipes.com, and made it mostly according to the recipe, although she added some dried thyme, and she DID thin down the soup part with regular milk because it was too thick, she thought.

So, are you ready to hear the “reveal?” It’s cream cheese. Who’d have ever thought to make soup with cream cheese? And yes, it’s rich. And yes, it’s decadent. And YES, it’s fabulous! Well, why wouldn’t it be with cream cheese in it??

I haven’t made this myself – so I’m giving you the recipe exactly as Cherrie made it – using 2 bricks of cream cheese. But that quantity feeds a lot of people. Probably 8 people as a dinner-sized portion. I had the leftovers twice. It’s very filling. I may make this myself . . . and if I do I’m going to use half the amount of cream cheese and use half and half to fill up the quantity of soup part.

This would make a great New Year’s Eve Dinner. My parents, for over 30 years, got together with another couple to play pinochle on that night of the year (other nights too, but almost always on Dec. 31st), and my Mom would make oyster stew. It was their tradition. The score card for their years and years of playing the game was taped to the bottom of the card table and they’d reminisce about previous games and scores. I’m not a fan of oysters, so I wouldn’t be making that, but this would be a great stand-in.

What’s GOOD: the flavor of this soup is a 10 and or a 100, whatever scale you want to use. Is it rich? Yes. But I’d definitely make this myself, though as I mentioned I’d try using half the cream cheese and adding half and half. Do not boil the soup or it will separate. Am sure this would freeze just fine. Don’t over-cook it, either, because you don’t want to dry out the shrimp.

What’s NOT: well, the fat content is about the only thing! Other than that, it’s so worth making.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Shrimp Chowder

Recipe By: Adapted from allrecipes.com
Serving Size: 8

6 slices lean bacon — chopped
1 cup celery — sliced
1/2 cup yellow onion — finely chopped
1/2 bell pepper — chopped
4 tablespoons butter — any color
1 teaspoon dried thyme
16 ounces cream cheese — diced
3 1/2 cups milk — or more as needed
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 large Russet potato — unpeeled, cubed
1 pound shrimp — thawed and drained
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Chopped Italian parsley for garnish

1. In a large stock pot saute bacon until lightly browned and crispy. Remove to a paper towel and pour off most of the bacon grease. Add to the pot the celery, onions and butter. Saute for 3-5 minutes until the vegetables are translucent. Crush the dried thyme between your palms and add to the mixture.
2. Meanwhile, in another pot simmer the cubed potatoes in water until they are nearly tender. Drain and set aside.
3. To the vegetables add cream cheese and milk; stir over low heat until cream cheese is completely melted.
4. Add cooked potatoes, shrimp, reserved bacon, dry white wine and salt. Heat thoroughly (until shrimp have turned white), stirring occasionally. Add fresh pepper and taste for seasoning. Add more milk as needed to thin it to your desired consistency. Serve. May add chopped Italian parsley on top if desired.
Per Serving: 423 Calories; 32g Fat (69.5% calories from fat); 21g Protein; 11g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 167mg Cholesterol; 594mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on December 28th, 2017:

    I’ll definitely have to try this! Will follow your lead and cut back on the cream cheese, though. Looks like something lovely for New Year’s Eve.

    Sorry I haven’t been commenting–I’ve had a house full of family and am dealing with a persistent cough as well. I’m glad to hear–via your previous that you had a lovely Christmas. Ours was lovely as well, with all the kids and grandkids.

    As it’s a bit late for even a belated Merry Christmas wish, I’ll wish you an early Happy New Year instead! Thanks for all the marvelous recipes–your blog is just full of real winners; there’s always something I’m eager to try–and I enjoy all the background information and the writings about your friends, family, and activities.

    Thanks so much, Donna! I do wonder sometimes if my readers get tired of hearing about my activities and just want the recipe, and leave it at that. I can’t seem to do it!! . . . c

  2. hddonna

    said on December 29th, 2017:

    By the way, cream cheese is cheese, so I say you gussed right!
    One of the reasons I enjoy your blog so much is that it’s like a letter from a friend–more so than any other blog I follow, as I do feel more of a connection with you.

    That’s so sweet, Donna. I feel the same . . . and yes, I agree with you about cheese and cheese – yes, cream cheese is a cheese, but I think Cherrie was thinking traditional cheeses… carolyn t

  3. Jan

    said on January 4th, 2018:

    I made half the recipe for my husband and I for lunch the other day, and we loved it. Rich, rich, but easy to make. Perfect four servings. Will definitely make this again.

    I’m glad you liked it as much as we did that day. I’m looking forward to making it too. . . carolyn t

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