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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 February 14th, 2009.

gorgonzola-crostini

This recipe has been collecting dust for years. And years. And years. My notes say I got it from a MasterCook message board, but after sleuthing on the internet about it, it seems this recipe originated from the California Table Grape Commission. I found this version at a website called Taste of Home, posted by someone named chefly.

I was getting a head start on all the food prep for tonight, so made this a couple of days ahead. And because I wanted to see what it tasted like before the big evening, we had a few as a snack (actually our lunch). The only caveat I’d tell you is that you don’t want to add the pine nuts or grapes until you’re about ready to assemble these. No soggy nuts or grape juice oozing, thank you. I made the cheese mixture sans grapes and nuts, and just added them at the last minute. Do bring the cheese mixture to room temperature, though, as you’ll never get it to spread otherwise. The mixture gets spread on a baguette slice and is baked or broiled. Watch them carefully, though, as they’ll burn easily.

The combination of fresh grapes in this cheese spread is masterful. You’ll like the texture change. The original recipe said to cut the grapes in half. That’s not enough – they need to be cut in quarters. But that really doesn’t take long if you have a very sharp knife. Once spread on the baguette slices and baked, the cheesy mixture is just sublime. Melts in your mouth. The gorgonzola is not overpowering (really). The grapes are what make this, so don’t eliminate them.

The nuts can be baked for 7 minutes or so to toast them, or toss them around in a nonstick skillet for even less time, which is what I did. Let the crostini cool just a minute or two before serving so people don’t burn the roofs of their mouths. I sprinkled a tiny bit of Italian parsley on top just for decoration. I’ve added it to the recipe.
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Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click to open MC – 14 includes photo)

Gorgonzola, Grape and Nut Crostini

Recipe: California Table Grape Commission
Servings: 15 (about 2 each)
Serving Ideas: Can also be served cold on toasted baguette slices.

1 small baguette — thinly sliced (about 30 slices)
Olive oil
4 ounces cream cheese — at room temperature
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 cup Gorgonzola cheese — crumbled, or other blue cheese type
2 tablespoons green onion — finely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper — to taste
1 cup red grapes — seedless, quartered
1/2 cup pine nuts — toasted
2 tablespoons Italian parsley — finely minced (garnish)

1. Preheat broiler and adjust rack so that it is about 4 inches from heat source. Brush one side of each bread piece lightly with olive oil. Place bread on baking sheet with oil-side up and broil until lightly toasted, watching carefully so as not to burn. Remove sheet from oven and set aside.
2. Beat together cream cheese, mayonnaise, Gorgonzola cheese, and green onions; season with salt and pepper. Fold in grapes and pine nuts. Spread generously (about 1 tablespoon) of mixture onto untoasted side of each bread piece, spreading clear out to edges, and replace on baking sheet, cheese-side up. Broil until cheese mixture is heated and lightly browned, about 3 minutes, watching carefully, again, so as not to burn. Wait just a minute or two, then serve with Italian parsley sprinkled on top. To toast pine nuts, bake on cookie sheet in oven preheated to 350ºF until lightly browned, about seven minutes.
Per Serving (2 per person): 225 Calories; 14g Fat (54.1% calories from fat); 8g Protein; 19g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 24mg Cholesterol; 448mg Sodium.

A year ago: Orzo Carbonara

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  1. mikky

    said on February 15th, 2009:

    this looks like a perfect appetizer… 🙂

  2. Lori

    said on February 16th, 2009:

    Yum! I love cranberries and gorgonzola, I bet the grapes taste wonderful, too!

  3. Shelly

    said on February 16th, 2009:

    wow, you have a fabulous blog. This recipe looks delicous!

  4. Hallie

    said on February 16th, 2009:

    What a fabulous flavor combination!

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