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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 Beverages, on April 24th, 2009.


When I pulled out these really stunning mint julep cups, my DH said to me, “Uh, where did THOSE come from?” Blithely I said “Oh, I’ve had these for a couple of years, but we’ve never had an occasion to use them.” That was a true statement. He did think they were sterling silver (they’re not), and he thought they were probably ridiculously expensive (they weren’t). But I HAD kept them snugly tucked away in a cupboard. Obviously he wasn’t home when I brought them into the house, so I just put them away (cheeky grin). My DH doesn’t think I ever, in my entire life, need to buy one more THING for the kitchen. But he’s learned, that’s probably not going to happen. They’re silverplate. And cute as bugs. Or cute as baby mint leaves. And I own four of them. My friend Cherrie also owns four, so we combined assets and had ample for our Creole Jambalaya dinner party.

The recipe mostly came from the Food Network – but I did a slight variation. Since simple syrup (a necessity for juleps) was required, I wanted to make it with agave nectar instead. Why? No reason. Just because. So I patched together two recipes, the one from Sara Moulton, and another I found on the ‘net for an agave simple syrup.

What’s unique about this is that the mint leaves are infused in bourbon, then the whole mixture chills for hours or overnight. So the bourbon has a really good hit of mint before you even start. And everything gets good-and-chilled before you serve them. I liked this a LOT. I even made one more the next night with the little bit of leftover mint infusion. It was just as good; maybe better.

Now, I’m not much of a drinker of hard liquor. Despite the fact that you’ve read a few recipes here for some cocktails, I rarely drink them. That’s God’s honest truth. If I make them, I drink them, but I rarely make them. Does that make sense? But, last week I thought juleps would be perfect to serve before our feast of jambalaya, and they were. These go down easy. And I mean it – with the mint infusion, the agave/simple syrup, they slide. If you want them more powerful, add some more bourbon punch to it. I thought they were fine. Note that you sprinkle just a tad of powdered sugar on the top of the shaved ice and mint before serving. And now, my mint julep cups will go back into their clear plastic ziploc bag to retard tarnishing, and they’ll be returned to the dark corner in the dining room cupboard.
printer-friendly PDF

Mint Juleps with
Agave Nectar Simple Syrup

Recipe: Adapted from several recipes, the main one from
Sara Moulton, Food Network
Servings: 10 (a guess)
NOTES: The mint essence can vary (because of the season, the mint variety and the age of the mint) – once you make this, you may decide the minted bourbon requires more or less mint.

40 whole mint leaves
3 ounces bourbon
1/4 cup light agave nectar
2 tablespoons sugar
3/8 cup water
4 cups bourbon
shaved ice (about a cup per glass)
more mint leaves for garnish
powdered sugar garnish (optional)

1. MINTED BOURBON: Rinse and lightly dry the mint leaves with paper towels. Add leaves to a small bowl with the bourbon. Allow it to sit for about 15 minutes (submerge the mint leaves completely). Squeeze the mint leaves gently, then lay them in a single paper towel, roll up and squeeze out fluid into the bourbon bowl. Dip the towel into the bourbon and squeeze again, extracting as much mint essence as possible. Do this several times. Discard mint and towel. Taste the mixture; if it’s not minty enough, repeat process with new mint leaves.
2. AGAVE SYRUP: Combine in a saucepan (or glass measuring cup for use in the microwave) the agave nectar, sugar and water. Bring the mixture barely BELOW a boil. You’re only aiming to dissolve the sugar. Stir, and set aside to cool.
3. JULEPS: In a non-metallic container combine the bourbon and simple syrup. Add about a tablespoon of the minted bourbon, stir, and taste. If there isn’t enough mint flavor, add another tablespoon of the minted bourbon. You’ll probably need somewhere between 2 and 3 tablespoons of the mint mixture for each batch. Stir Julep mixture and chill for 24 hours (covered). Stir again. In each glass (preferably a silver julep cup) fill half way with shaved ice. Add a few mint leaves, then fill further with more shaved ice until the glass/cup is mounded over the top with ice. Place a sprig of mint on the top. Pour in the bourbon mixture (about 2/3 full), add a straw (trimmed down so you almost have to put your nose in the mint in order to drink), and serve. Sprinkle top of ice with a dash of powdered sugar if desired.
Per Serving: 272 Calories; 0g Fat (0.0% calories from fat); trace Protein; 7g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 2mg Sodium.

A year ago: Caramelized Onion & Sage Puffs (an appetizer)

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  1. Roz Nygren

    said on July 6th, 2011:

    This sounds like a good recipe using agave. Can’t wait.

    The agave nectar just makes it easier than making a simple syrup. Hope you enjoy it. . . carolyn t

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