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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 March 3rd, 2009.

jicama-sticks-w-chile-powder

Have you ever had jicama? (Pronounced HEE-kah-ma.) It’s such an odd thing (actually it’s a root, the only edible thing on the jicama plant, as the leaves and seeds are toxic, so I read). To some people it’s simply so unusual, they won’t try it. Or eat it. It has an odd texture – crispy sort of – like a water chestnut. It crunches like them, anyway. It contains a lot of water, so it stays moist for a long time. Some foodies liken the taste to a cross between a water chestnut and a pear. I don’t find the pear in it, since to me the taste of a jicama is non-descript. But it adds a lot to a veggie platter. And the best part about jicama is that it doesn’t turn color or get limp – even after hours. Like avocado, or carrots and celery, or some other veggies. And it’s extremely low in calorie too.

jicama-collageYou can cut it into different shapes. It can be used in sushi rolls, a cole slaw, or as in crunchy little wisps in a sandwich wrap (these ideas I got from a Cooking Light article). I have one recipe for a jicama slaw that is wonderfully flavorful with citrus and citrus juice. I haven’t posted that recipe, but maybe I’ll need to do that. Perhaps I’ll make it with the leftover jicama I have on hand.

Here in California we see (and use) jicama in salads sometimes. I buy it now and then. Usually I can’t manage to finish a whole jicama before it goes bad, so I try to buy small ones – if they’re available. Jicama comes from Mexico (where they call it a yam bean or a Mexican turnip).

My favorite way to eat jicama, though, is this one – what you see in the photo above. You simply roll the jicama sticks in some lime juice (or lemon if that’s all you  have) and then in some chili powder. Don’t use hot chili powder, just regular flavorful type – grocery store type is fine. That’s it. Stand them up in a bowl and serve. You don’t want to serve this with a dip – it doesn’t need anything at all to serve with it.
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Jicama Sticks with Latin Flavor

Recipe: Don’t know where this came from

1 whole jicama
1-2 limes, squeezed
1 T. chili powder

1. Peel jicama. You can try to use a vegetable peeler, but usually I revert to a knife. Cut off any stringy stuff on the outside edges once it’s peeled. Cut into fairly uniform sticks, about 1/3 inch per side, and about 2-3 inches long.
2. Squeeze the lime juice into a flat plate or pan. Sprinkle chili powder into a similar vessel. Roll the individual jicama sticks in lime juice, then roll in the chili powder. You don’t want the sticks to be completely coated in chili powder (that would be too much). Stand up in a small ramekin and serve.

A year ago: Orange Jalapeno Vinaigrette

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  1. cassie owens

    said on August 21st, 2010:

    this is so cool… i work at a truck stop and a lady trucker stopped in and we had got talking about food… she said i need to try this dish… this fruit is really good… and to be able to find it on the net it so awesome…. thank you world wide web … lol

    You’re so welcome. . . carolyn T

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