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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 Appetizers, on October 15th, 2007.

I went to a cooking class a few weeks ago. The subject was tapas, which is always fun. These, however, were all grilled tapas; perfect for the end of summer. The instructor, Tarla Fallgatter, had just returned from a trip to Japan, so she decided to create one Asian style tapas, which she said she ate in several places there. I guess the tapas idea is spreading ’round the world. Somehow, Asian style small plates just doesn’t quite fit in my definition of tapas. I didn’t care for her version of yakitori chicken skewers. Or the grilled potatoes either. But these Italian skewers were very nice. Different. Kind of fun. Fairly easy.

Serving this as a sit-down appetizer (first course) might be better than trying to eat it out of hand. The skewer required a bit of manipulation to get the food off of it and onto the plate. There was a bed of halved cherry tomatoes, tossed with a little dressing (not included in the recipe) and mixed with a bit of pesto too. The skewers are lightly toasted bread cubes, fresh basil leaves, bocconcini (small mozzarella balls, fresh only), drizzled with a bit of olive oil, grilled briefly and placed atop the tomato salad. A very refreshing grilled starter.
Pictured at right are the skewers prior to grilling.
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Grilled Mozzie Skewers with Pesto

Recipe By: Tarla Fallgatter class
Servings: 6

1 whole Italian bread loaf
Olive oil for bread
8 ounces mozzarella cheese — fresh bocconcini (small balls)
24 whole basil leaves
1 pint mini plum tomatoes — halved
4 tablespoons pesto sauce
12 wooden skewers, soaked in water 30 minutes

1. Preheat outdoor grill. Slice bread into 1 1/2″ cubes. Coat the cubes with olive oil and set aside. Or, if the bread is fresh, put it in a 350 oven for 2-4 minutes until just barely toasted on the outside. Do not dry them out as you want the bread to be soft in the middle after you’ve grilled the skewers.
2. Meanwhile, cut up tomatoes, season with salt and pepper and drizzle them with a little olive oil and some pesto. Toss to coat.
2. Thread 2 bocconcini alternately with bread (3 bread, 2 cheese) and basil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and place on the grill. Cover and cook for 3-6 minutes, turning halfway through to toast both sides of the bread and warm the cheese. Remove skewers from the grill. Put a portion of the tomatoes on each plate and lay the skewer on top. Drizzle additional pesto on top of the bread and cheese. Serve while they’re hot.
Per Serving: 193 Calories; 14g Fat (65.6% calories from fat); 11g Protein; 6g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 37mg Cholesterol; 251mg Sodium.

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