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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 Fish, Grilling, Salads, on April 13th, 2009.

mint-shrimp-tabbouleh

You know how it is about the weather influencing what you decide to cook for dinner? If it’s a rainy day I like to stay in and bake something. Cloudy, cold days often mean soup. A warm balmy night often triggers salads of some kind. Well, my bell weather was working the day before when the temps were in the 70’s and 80’s, but the next day it was cold. But I’d already decided what I wanted to make, so what can a girl do except follow through? So even though it was cool weather, I made salad for dinner.

The recipe came from a Bobby Flay episode I watched on the Food Network several years ago. It reminded me of a favorite recipe – one that won a reader’s recipe contest in Cooking Light for a Crunchy Shrimp on Couscous Salad with a yummy dressing. That’s what I was thinking about as I flipped through my to-try recipes. Mint is in season, I think, and this salad was perfect – hot, grilled marinated shrimp served on a bed of tabbouleh salad.

Since lemon and lemon juice are frequently seen in my recipes, it’s probably no surprise that I’d like tabbouleh, right? I remember exactly when I first had it – it was about 1970, served to me by a friend of my mother’s, Ruth Spilmer. Ruth was a very good cook, and one day she invited a few friends over for a lovely lunch. Remember, back in those days when most women didn’t work, that’s what we did to entertain . . . we invited lady friends over for a nice luncheon – crystal, china, the whole deal. No alcohol though. The other thing I remember about Ruth was her shoes. She always wore spiky high heels. She wore them morning, noon and night. At home, she wore the kinds with feathers around the toes. She said that for so many years she’d worn high heels that her tendons couldn’t stretch to wear flatter shoes, so she just had to wear heels from the moment she stepped out of bed. I can’t imagine! Isn’t it funny sometimes, the things you remember?

So back to this luncheon – what else Ruth served, I don’t remember, but the tabbouleh was a stand-out. I’d never had Bulgar wheat – didn’t really even understand what it was (a parboiled wheat berry that’s been sliced, chunked). But all it takes to make it chewy and edible is a soak in boiling water for an hour or two. And the addition of some key ingredients, namely lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and green onions makes it salad. Ruth always added diced cucumber and diced fresh tomatoes too. I’ve made her recipe off and on for years. So, this Bobby Flay recipe has been changed – only to make the tabbouleh salad like my friend Ruth did. We had it for leftovers a few nights later, and I just added bit more cucumber, tomato and that time I added radishes. And more arugula. So then I had to add a tad bit more lemon juice and olive oil too, but not much.
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Mint Marinated Grilled Shrimp
Tabbouleh Salad

Recipe: Adapted from Bobby Flay, Food Network
Servings: 4
NOTES: I think you could reduce the shrimp marinade to about half – if you just tossed it a couple of times during the 10-minute soak. You throw out the marinade anyway. I prepared the shrimp on my stovetop grill – heated up to a pretty hot temp – and they were done in a flash. Have the tabbouleh salad all ready before you start grilling as you want to whisk it to the table while they’re still hot.

BULGUR WHEAT SALAD:
1/2 cup Bulgar wheat — medium or coarsely cracked
1 1/2 cups boiling water
3/4 cup baby arugula leaves
2 large green onions — thinly sliced
3 tablespoons fresh mint — finely chopped, plus fresh mint leaves for garnish
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice — or lime juice
1 clove garlic — chopped to a paste
1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup cucumber — diced
1/4 cup fresh parsley — chopped
1/3 cup fresh tomatoes — diced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
GRILLED SHRIMP:
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons fresh mint — chopped
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound large shrimp — (20-24 count)
Salt, to taste

1. Place Bulgar in a bowl and pour the boiling water over. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand until bulgur is tender and most of the water is absorbed, about 1 to 2 hours.
2. Drain off any excess liquid from the Bulgar and allow it to sit in a colander for 15-20 minutes to drain off further water. Place Bulgar in a bowl and stir in the arugula, green onions, cucumber, parsley, tomatoes and mint.
3. Whisk together the lemon juice, garlic and oil and season with salt and pepper. Pour the mixture over the bulgur and taste again for seasoning.
4. Transfer tabbouleh to a platter and top with the grilled shrimp. Garnish with fresh mint leaves.
5. SHRIMP: Combine juice, mint, oil and pepper in a blender and blend until smooth. Place shrimp in a bowl, pour marinade over and stir to coat evenly in the marinade. Marinate for 10 minutes. Heat grill to high. Season shrimp with salt and grill for 1 to 2 minutes per side or until slightly charred and just cooked through.
Per Serving (assumes you consume the marinade, so this is all wrong): 442 Calories; 29g Fat (59.1% calories from fat); 26g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 173mg Cholesterol; 183mg Sodium.

A year ago: Salmon Filets with Orange & Leek Cream Sauce

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