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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 Salad Dressings, on April 27th, 2007.

garlic_vip_dressing

In most things in my life I’ve learned moderation. Like when a recipe calls for 2 teaspoons of crushed thyme, I know to use 1-3 teaspoons. Not 3 tablespoons. Or if it calls for 2 teaspoons of Madras curry powder, I won’t use 2 tablespoons. Now cookbooks are another matter. Well, I’ve never learned moderation there, as my sagging family room bookshelves can attest. And when it comes to garlic, there’s hardly ever enough. If a recipe calls for 1 clove, I’ll generally use 2, maybe even 3 cloves. And I like to buy good-sized heads – I can’t stand those little, puny cloves that need microsurgery to remove the skins and chop. I seek out a couple of markets that always have good, fresh garlic where each clove is the size of a thimble. We’re not talking “elephant garlic” here, but just your everyday garlic. And it’s a rare day when my kitchen is without at least one or two heads in my kitchen-counter bowl. Hence, I have numerous recipes for garlic-enhanced salad dressings. And the more the merrier.

So the next question is, how do you like your garlic – minced, mashed, chopped, squeezed through a press, food processed or blended? I suppose each method would have its proponents. For me, it depends on what it’s in. Bigger pieces go into stews and braises. Minced and chopped might go in a salsa. Food processed I don’t do much anymore because my trusty Cuisinart doesn’t always get the pieces uniformly cut. So what’s that leave? Ta-da:

THE BLENDER METHOD: So, some years ago I heard or read about a method for enhancing garlic flavor. Salt, as we know, can suck the juice out of most things, and that’s exactly what it does here. Using a chef’s knife I mash the clove of garlic with the side of the blade just to remove the skins. Drop the clove(s) into the blender and then add table salt. Whiz briefly (lid solidly affixed) and let it sit for about 5 minutes. That’s while you go collect all the other things that go into this dressing. Measure things out, and you’ll be ready to finish it. I’ve made this with olive oil, but find the olive flavor overwhelms the dressing, so I prefer using Canola oil or other unflavored vegetable oil.

This recipe was given to me in the 1960’s by a family friend. And it’s become one of my standard dressings ever since. Although I’ve tried making the salad itself with lots of different vegetables, I keep going back to the way it was originally served to me – the salad must contain mostly head lettuce, small florets of cauliflower, some shaved almonds and crumbles of Feta cheese. I like the way head lettuce holds a lot of that garlic-whammy dressing. And I will add, although this dressing keeps, it’s the very best an hour after making it.

What’s GOOD: the garlicky flavor is just wonderful – it’s the mingling with the salt that makes this, I’m convinced. A good all-around dressing. You’ve gotta like garlic, however! This is one of my favorite dressings that I make over and over and over.
What’s NOT: if you don’t like garlic, pass this one by. The only downer to this dressing is that the pungency of the garlic dissipates after a day and after refrigerating it. It keeps for a week or 10 days, but still, it’s not as garlicky as it is within an hour or so of making it.

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Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click link to open in MC)

Garlic VIP Salad Dressing

1-2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon celery seeds
½ teaspoon paprika
3/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/3 cup vegetable oil

1. Place garlic in blender with salt. Blend briefly and allow to sit while you assemble other ingredients.
2. Add all remaining ingredients and blend until well combined. Pour into a covered container and allow to sit about an hour (ideally) before serving.
3. About ½ cup will dress a side salad for 4 people. Refrigerate remainder and use within a week. Make salad with head lettuce, Romaine, tiny cauliflower florets, Feta cheese and sliced almonds.
Per Serving: 208 Calories; 21g Fat (86.1% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 5g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 4mg Cholesterol; 593mg Sodium.

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  1. Susan Downey

    said on December 29th, 2012:

    I put VIP Salad Dressing in Google search, because I was trying to remember where it came from – it’s in some cook book. It’s been a favorite in my family forever. I mash the garlic and salt together with a fork – A LOT – then mash in the other spices, then put in the blender and add lemon juice and finally, oil in a stream with blender on, like you would hollandaise. I use about half romaine and half head lettuce (recipe also says you can use watercress in place of romaine). However, we use toasted slivered almonds (family tradition – my recipe says sliced also), cauliflower (like yours), no feta, halved grape tomatoes and avocado pieces. You sound like someone who would enjoy hearing about the variations, so I thought I’d share. I’m happy to have found your bog – looks like lots of good recipes to try! Thank you.

    Hi Susan – what fun with the different variations. I rarely make my salad with the cauliflower (unless I happen to have a head on hand, but I usually don’t) and rarely add the almonds either. But it is one of my favorite dressings. I’ll have to try it your way next time and see how I like it! Thanks for sharing . . . carolyn t

  2. Susan Downey

    said on December 29th, 2012:

    And I wanted to add – I agree with you completely about the oil. Tried olive and went back to Crisco oil, which is canola.

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