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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, on April 29th, 2009.


Did you know it’s halibut season? At our local Costco, they have fresh Alaskan halibut that is unbelievably fresh and tasty. Most of what they have is in large portions – I should have invited some guests to come over as we have leftovers to serve probably another 4 people. The fish I bought was $20. What a bargain.

Now, if I can just get you to make this recipe. I think it’s going to have to go into my favorites list, it’s that good. Will you trust me about this? And, the recipe came from Cooking Light, too! Imagine that. Healthy and tasty too. According to the write-up from September of ’07, this recipe was created by Lia Huber and first printed in the magazine in March of ’04. The recipe received the test kitchen’s highest rating, and continues to be a staff favorite. I can see why. This may be my new, forever go-to recipe for halibut.

This  is VERY easy to make. Truly it is. Trust me on this too. The aioli is just mayonnaise, minced fresh cilantro, a bit of fresh minced chile (serrano) and a minced garlic clove. The breading is merely flour and cornflake crumbs (with salt and pepper added in). You dunk the halibut into a mixture of milk and egg white, then into the breading mixture. You pan fry the halibut about 4 minutes per side, put on a dollop of the sauce and it’s done. How easy is that?

My DH made mmm noises all through dinner. A good sign. I served the fish on a bed of mashed potatoes (a real treat) and alongside I served some fresh asparagus, made according to Marie’s recipe from over at A Year from Oak Cottage. It’s called crumbled asparagus, and it’s become one of my favorite ways to make asparagus. So now, will you please go out and buy some halibut and make this?

A few changes have been made from the Cooking Light recipe: (1) I used less serrano because it was way too hot; (2) a full cup of milk is more than needed for dipping; (3) less cornflake crumbs were needed; (4) I also made this with regular mayo since I didn’t have any fat-free, and I made more sauce than the recipe called for. So those changes have been incorporated into the below recipe. The nutrition count below assumes you eat all the dipping and dunking mixture, which you probably won’t.
printer-friendly PDF

Cornflake-Crusted Halibut with
Chile-Cilantro Aioli

Recipe: adapted from Cooking Light, September ’07
Servings: 4
Serving Ideas: The recipe indicated serving this with green beans (definitely need a green vegetable with this, for color) and rice tossed with cilantro and red bell pepper. I served the fish fillets on top of a small mound of mashed potatoes, plus roasted asparagus.

4 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
4 tablespoons fat-free mayonnaise — or any kind of mayo
1/3 whole serrano pepper — seeded and very finely minced
1 whole garlic clove — minced
1/2 cup nonfat milk
1 large egg white — lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups corn flakes — finely crushed
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
24 ounces halibut fillets — (6-ounces each)
Lemon wedges for garnish

1. To prepare aioli, combine first 4 ingredients, stirring well. Set aside (or refrigerate if made ahead).
2. To prepare fish, combine milk and egg white in a shallow dish, stirring well with a whisk. Combine cornflakes, flour, salt, and black pepper in a shallow dish.
3. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Dip fish in milk mixture; dredge in cornflake mixture. Add fish to pan; cook 4 minutes on each side or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Serve with mayonnaise mixture and lemon wedges.
Per Serving (not accurate since it includes all the dipping and breading): 342 Calories; 11g Fat (29.3% calories from fat); 39g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 55mg Cholesterol; 690mg Sodium.

If you really like halibut, and have time to make it, I have one other recipe here on my blog for Halibut Osso Buco.

A year ago: Shrimp, Bacon & Vegetable Chowder

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  1. Marie

    said on May 3rd, 2009:

    Oh gosh, look at the crust on that fish. It looks fabulous!! The sauce looks really good too. I think I would serve it with mashed potatoes as well. I love fish with mashed potatoes.

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