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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 Soups, on January 11th, 2008.


The other day I was invited to a lovely ladies luncheon. A birthday celebration. It was great fun. The hostess, Robin, was gracious and full of laughter and humorous stories. She had prepared a delicious lunch for the 6 of us. I happened to have my little camera with me, so snapped photos of the soup. It was absolutely sensational. I can’t wait to make my own batch.

I didn’t know anything about Senegal (other than it’s on the African continent) or its cuisine. Fortunately wikipedia had plenty of information:

  • Because Senegal borders the Atlantic Ocean, fish is an important staple. Chicken, lamb, and beef are also used in Senegalese cooking, but not pork, due to the nation’s largely Muslim population. Peanuts, the primary crop, as well as couscous, white rice, bananas, sweet potatoes, lentils, black-eyed beans and various vegetables, are also incorporated into many recipes. Meats and vegetables are typically stewed or marinated in herbs and spices, and then poured over rice or couscous or simply eaten with bread.
  • Popular fresh juices are made from bissap, ginger, Buy (pronounce bouy) which is the fruit of the baobab tree also know as “monkey bread fruit,” mango, or other fruit of wild trees. Desserts are very rich and sweet, combining native ingredients with the extravagance and style characteristic of the French impact on Senegal’s culinary methods. They are often served with fresh fruit and are traditionally followed by coffee or tea.

So, this soup dish utilizes a number of the staples of the Senegalese cuisine: sweet potatoes, peanuts, and chicken. Robin got the recipe from the food network site, and it’s an Emeril recipe from 2006. Usually I’m not inclined to try his recipes – purely a silly reason – I think Emeril appears to be more hype and entertainment than he is a good chef. But I have nothing to back up my claim. Just that I dislike his talking and demonstration style. So, thanks, Robin, for sharing this soup with us!
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Senegalese Peanut Soup with Chicken

Recipe: Emeril Lagasse, 2006
Servings: 6

3/4 pound sweet potatoes
5 tablespoons peanut oil
8 whole Roma tomatoes — halved and seeded
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 cup onions — julienned
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 quart chicken broth
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1 cup coconut milk — unsweetened
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground white pepper
1 1/2 pounds chicken breast half without skin — boneless, diced into 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves — chopped and blanched
2 tablespoons peanuts — chopped

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Coat the sweet potatoes with 1 tablespoon of the peanut oil and place in an oven-proof pie tin. Place the pie tin in the oven and roast the sweet potatoes for 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until the potatoes are fully roasted and fork tender. Once the potatoes are cool enough to handle, remove the skin from the potatoes and discard them. Reserve the sweet potato flesh until ready to use.
3. Place the tomatoes in a small mixing bowl and coat with 1 tablespoon of peanut oil. Lay the tomatoes on a baking sheet, skin side up, and season with salt and pepper. Place the sheet pan in the oven and roast the tomatoes until the skins are caramelized and wilted, about 25 to 30 minutes. Remove the tomatoes from the oven, discard the skins, and set the tomatoes aside until ready to use.
4. Set a 1 gallon stockpot over a medium high heat and add 2 tablespoons of peanut oil. Add the curry powder to the pot and toast for about 30 to 45 seconds, stirring constantly. Add the onions and saute for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the minced garlic to the pot and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add the cayenne pepper and chicken stock to the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer.
5. Add the roasted sweet potatoes and tomatoes to the soup. Add the peanut butter and coconut milk to the pot and stir to blend. Let simmer for 10 minutes, and blend with an immersion blender or in batches in a bar blender until smooth. Season with 3/4 teaspoon of the salt and, if necessary, more pepper.
6. Season the chicken pieces with the remaining teaspoon of salt and the white pepper, and sear in a hot saute pan with the remaining 1 tablespoon of peanut oil for 5 minutes. Add the seared chicken to the pot. Cook until the chicken is tender, about 10 to 15 minutes.
7. To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with extra cilantro and the chopped peanuts.
Per Serving: 554 Calories; 36g Fat (56.7% calories from fat); 34g Protein; 28g Carbohydrate; 6g Dietary Fiber; 53mg Cholesterol; 1318mg Sodium.

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