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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 Cookbooks, Veggies/sides, on November 25th, 2007.

mashed-potatoes-crockpot

Do you run out of oven space on holidays? Especially Thanksgiving? Fortunately, I have 2 regular ovens AND a microwave/convection oven too. When we remodeled our kitchen a year ago we put in 2 ovens. They are just 27″ wide, so the two turkeys took up both regular ovens with no room to spare for side dishes. We baked yeast bread in the small convection oven an hour or so before dinner, and heated up one of the vegetable dishes in the microwave.

Making mashed potatoes at the last minute is not my idea of fun cooking on Thanksgiving. Recently a friend mentioned that she keeps mashed potatoes in her crockpot for holiday dinners. What a great idea, I thought. She said, as long as your potato recipe has a goodly amount of fat (butter, sour cream or something), the potatoes will hold for hours. I’m here to tell you the technique works like a charm. I’ll be doing this year after year after year.

Again, I turned to Rick Rodgers’ book, Thanksgiving 101, and he has a “Make Ahead Mashed Potato Casserole” in the 1998 edition. His are baked, but I used the recipe with just one substitution, then piled the 10 pounds of mashed potato mixture into the large crockpot. [I made a double batch.] The recipe below is for 5 pounds of potatoes. I have a very old crockpot – with a ceramic insert. It has the high, low and auto settings, but it’s big. Good thing since we filled the pot to the brim with potatoes. These can’t be called healthy in any way, but this was Thanksgiving, after all. I didn’t skimp – I used full fat cream cheese, and full fat sour cream. Were they good? Abso-posi-tutely, as my dad used to say. I’m looking forward to all the leftovers for tonight’s dinner. The pumpkin pie is gone and the broccoli with Hollandaise is gone, but we have lots of the other stuff: the super-moist kosher turkey, dressing, green beans, broccoli/leek puree, gravy AND mashed potatoes!
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Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click link to open MC – 14 contains photo)

Make-Ahead Mashed Potato Casserole/Crockpot Method

Source: mostly based on a recipe from Thanksgiving 101 by Rick Rodgers
Servings: 8

5 pounds russet potatoes, peeled
8 ounces cream cheese, cut in chunks
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup buttermilk (original recipe used milk)
Salt and pepper to taste
About 1 T. butter
1. Fill a large pot with water and cut up the potatoes in quarters (or more, depending on the size of the potatoes). Simmer until potatoes are tender, but not falling apart. Drain.
2. Using a hand masher or a hand mixer, puree the potatoes until smooth, then add the cream cheese, sour cream and buttermilk. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
3. Pour potatoes into crock pot and dot the top with about a tablespoon of butter. Put lid on and set crock pot at lowest setting. Will hold for several hours.
Per Serving: 391 Calories; 16g Fat (36.8% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 54g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 44mg Cholesterol; 132mg Sodium.

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  1. kari b

    said on November 27th, 2007:

    What an amazing idea & it works perfectly! No more slaving over the stove right before the meal to get hot mashed potatoes! Thanks for the great idea….

  2. Kate

    said on November 28th, 2007:

    I always do my Thanksgiving turkey on the grill- mostly because I love to smoke it, but it also saves on oven space, which then eases my stress. This year’s bird turned out beautifully.

    This is a great suggestion, and I just love cream cheese in my mashed potatoes.

  3. Nancy

    said on December 2nd, 2008:

    I use an almost identical recipe and these mashed potatoes always get rave reviews. My recipe states that you can make them up to 5 days in advance and I’ve read other versions stating that they can be frozen. I just found your blog and am enjoying it. I love food blogs!

    Wow, 5 days, huh? That will make Thanksgiving even easier if they could be made a day or so ahead of the big day. Thanks for the suggestion. Thanks for stopping by my blog! . . . Carolyn T

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