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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 January 28th, 2008.

If I were to tell you what the main ingredient was for this dip, you’d probably just scroll right on by, delete this post, turn up your nose perhaps, or laugh. So you’ll have to read down a bit before I divulge.This dip came about because some years ago my DH and I went on a mostly vegetarian diet. DH had a heart attack in 1997. He survived, with minimal heart damage, but the doctor told him afterwards that he needed to lose some weight. So we both went on an extremely low fat, vegetarian diet. We consulted a nutritionist to make sure we were going in the right direction. This, coming from two carnivores here, was a huge – I mean HUGE – divergence for our lifestyle.To say that I struggled with this diet – preparing the food – is a gross understatement. I admit it – I like meat. Even a thick steak now and then, as readers of this blog know. I had cookbooks coming out the ying-yang, as they say, and consulted them all. I read Dean Ornish from cover to cover. I didn’t adhere quite to his recipes, but close. We ate fruit smoothies for breakfast every morning. And some eggs, so I guess that made us omnivores actually. And the weight came off. Off Dave. Not so much off me. I couldn’t believe it. I was so discouraged. I really thought he’d lose 40 pounds, and maybe I’d lose 30.I could go on and on with this story – another time perhaps – but after 6 months DH HAD lost 40 pounds (I’d lost 15). The doctor was very pleased. But DH was anemic. The nutritionist insisted Dave needed to eat chicken and fish. Okay. Added that back into our diet. Tasted GREAT, I might add. Weeks went by and DH was still anemic. The nutritionist told us to eat lean beef at least once a week. That was our undoing, I’m afraid.

During that period of vegetarianism, I tried all kinds of things I’d never have done before. No matter what I did, I couldn’t seem to make most food taste all that good. It was okay, but not more than that. Without cooking with fat, in some form or another, our food just tasted bland. I craved meat. Butter. Cookies. Chocolate (I sneaked a few). I made a big bean salad regularly that DH was supposed to dig into every day (beans are high in iron). He ate apples (also high in iron) every day. But he kept losing weight, and he was still anemic. So when the nutritionist said you’d better have some beef at least once a week, I began introducing beef into our regular fix-at-home diet. I cooked some with a cast iron skillet too, which helped (food cooked in cast iron leeches out some of that iron into our bodies), but it wasn’t enough to get his anemia under control. So, we kind of reverted to our former diet of eating most things. He’s still on the anemic side, but he takes a supplement, and since we eat meat (whether it be chicken, fish, pork, lamb or beef) several, if not 7, nights a week, he doesn’t any longer have a problem.

So back to this post. Trying to find things that had high flavor, but low fat and no meat, was a challenge. I spent more time in the kitchen, cooking (mostly chopping and prepping) than I ever have in my life. And I was always looking for something new and different. This dip fit the bill on all fronts. It came from a cookbook I own called Cal-a-Vie’s Gourmet Spa Cookery. The book is out of print, and this is the only recipe I’ve liked from the book. So now, the secret: tofu. I’m not a fan of tofu. I don’t much like its texture – even in Chinese or Asian stir frys, hot and sour soup, etc. So normally I avoided it whenever possible. I still do if offered it straight away. I mean . . . it’s so blah. And spongy. Not a texture I like except in custard. But, as I learned with this dip, tofu is a “vanilla” substance. It absorbs flavors from the food around it. So, enter: garlic, cilantro, cumin, hot chiles, etc. and you’ve got a wonderful – LOW FAT combo.

Rarely do I tell people what’s in this dip – most people guess it has beans or hummus in it. Nope. Nope. No, no sour cream. No cottage cheese. No, no yogurt either. I don’t believe anyone has ever guessed it.

Cook’s Notes: buy soft or “regular” tofu. I have used nonfat tofu, but the flavor is a bit better with full fat tofu. There’s not a smidgen of other kinds of fat in this dip, and tofu’s fat is all unsaturated, so I go for the gold here. If you don’t like spicy food, reduce – or eliminate – the chile pepper. Be sure to mince up the chile pepper well – scrape down the workbowl to make sure. You can use the finished sauce as a sauce on vegetables, or even on pasta, or over potatoes. But the dip is just the best form, served either with vegetables or crackers. I toasted pita wedges this time.
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Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click link to open MC – 14 includes photo)

Hot & Spicy Tofu Dip

Recipe: Cal-a-Vie’s Gourmet Spa Cookery
Servings: 20
NOTES: The recipe says to serve as a dip for artichokes or an array of vegetables. Also works well with crackers, baked pita bread. Could also be used as a topping for plain food (vegetables, grilled chicken) or baked potatoes.

1 pound tofu — soft
5 cloves garlic
1 small jalapeno chile pepper — seeded [I used a serrano]
1 bunch fresh cilantro — rinsed and drained
1 bunch green onions
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon honey — or Splenda, or brown Sugar Twin (and don’t add any more, as this is sweet enough)

1. Have all ingredients ready beside your food processor. Allow tofu to drain a few minutes before beginning. Start the motor and add the jalapeno pepper and allow to mince finely. Add garlic cloves in same manner. Then add cilantro, green onions, juices, cumin, soy sauce and sweetener.
2. Cut tofu into smaller chunks and add to bowl, then process until smooth.
3. Chill for several hours. Will keep for many days.
Per Serving: 25 Calories; 1g Fat (38.5% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 2g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 32mg Sodium.

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  1. Anonymous

    said on February 3rd, 2008:

    oh carolyn…i knew right away! I used the same line when I made that amazing tofu pudding. Whoda thunk??

    This looks great! I may have to make this for our next party.

    Kate (in the Kitchen)
    not a fan of Google

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