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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 Chicken, on October 14th, 2007.

How many possible pizza combinations are there, out there? Way too many for me to guesstimate. When California Pizza Kitchen opened up, probably 20 years ago, I was amazed at the variety. It surely swept in with the “California” style of cooking. Lightening up, fresh ingredients, etc. Lots of chicken.

So, when our daughter, Sara, was still living at home with us (probably she was in college then), she had a hankering for pizza one evening, and looked through a cookbook I had. She settled on this one, using a whole wheat dough that was easily mixed up in the bread machine. By the time DH and I got home from work, she was in the middle of this and we all just raved about how good it was. I’ve made this umpteen times since then, always to good reviews. I don’t make pizza often. In fact I don’t think we’ve even eaten pizza in over a year, but it just sounded good.

Our son-in-law, Todd, is still staying with us (he’s an electrician, and is wiring the new house for our son and his wife), and he’s a pizza fan, so I thought this would be a good choice.

First you make the whole wheat bread dough in your bread machine. You don’t have to use whole wheat dough. We just liked it that way from the get-go. It’s a mixture of 2/3 white and 1/3 wheat flours. It still has the resiliency and easy rising ability of white, though. The joy of the bread machine is that it makes pizza dough so very easy. You use the machine for mixing the dough and rising it once. Then you remove it and continue by hand. Sara used the recipe from my bread machine’s book and we’ve stuck with it ever since. I used Trader Joe’s pre-made pizza dough: I bought one white and one whole wheat and mixed them together.

Meanwhile, you marinate the chicken pieces in some lemon juice, olive oil and oregano. But, having made this plenty of times, if you forget this step, just briefly saute the chicken pieces IN the lemon juice marinade, then you’ll get at least some of the wonderful lemony flavor. Thank you, Sara, for finding this gem of a recipe.
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Pizza with Grilled Chicken, Red Onion, Black Olives & Pesto

Recipe: From “Pizza, California Style” by Norman Kolpas.
Servings: 4
NOTES: This recipe uses a whole wheat crust that I make in the bread machine. It uses the standard bread machine pizza dough recipe that calls for about 3 cups of flour. It yields 1& 1 /2 lbs of dough, which can be divided into 4 individual pizzas, or divided in half to make two mid-sized pizzas. When I’m in a hurry I just pour the chicken and the marinade into a nonstick pan and cook gently until about half done, then proceed with slicing, etc. And I think I prefer the Feta cheese to the Parmesan.

1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon oregano
1/2 pound boned and skinned chicken breast halves — trimmed, cut in half
3/4 cup pesto sauce
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese — or Feta
24 whole black olives — Mediterranean pitted
1/2 pound mozzarella cheese — shredded
1 medium red onion — thinly sliced
24 ounces pizza dough

1. In a small plastic bag combine the olive oil, lemon juice and oregano, add chicken and turn to coat evenly. Seal and refrigerate for several hours, or leave at room temperature if it’s only for 30-60 minutes. Turn the bag several times.
2. Preheat the oven (and pizza brick, baking tiles or baking sheet) to 550°. Sprinkle the chicken breasts with salt and pepper and grill or broil about 1 minute per side, until they are seared but not cooked through. With a sharp knife, slice the chicken into 1/4 inch thick pieces. Place a ball of dough on your work surface that’s been sprinkled with semolina. Press down with heels of your hands and flatten the dough. Lift and gently pull the dough to stretch it into a circle about 8 inches in diameter. Press a slight rim around the outside edge. Repeat with remaining dough. Spread 1/4 cup of the pesto on each pizza, right up to the rim. Using about a third of the mozzarella, sprinkle that on the pizza, then add chicken pieces and red onion slices. Top with additional mozzarella, then sprinkle the Parmesan (or Feta) over each and dot with black olive halves.
3. If possible, slide a pizza paddle under the dough and transfer to the hot oven and slide onto the pizza bricks. Bake for 8-10 minutes in a traditional oven, or 6-8 minutes in a convection oven or until the dough is browned and crisp and the cheese is golden and bubbly. Remove from oven and allow to sit just a minute or so before cutting into wedges with a big knife or pizza cutter.
Per Serving: 1044 Calories; 59g Fat (50.4% calories from fat); 47g Protein; 83g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 102mg Cholesterol; 943mg Sodium.

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  1. Deborah

    said on October 16th, 2007:

    Yum! Pizza with pesto. Sounds like a movement. 🙂

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