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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 Veggies/sides, on May 15th, 2007.

Credit must go to my daughter, Sara, for this recipe. She read it in one of my issues of Gourmet Magazine, when we were trying to figure out what to make for dinner one evening. Our families were together, and she recalled reading this recipe. We tried it, and it’s been a fixture on my summertime menu ever since. It really could be made any time of year, but seems like it goes so well with grilled meats, even though it’s done completely in the oven.

baked onionsAlthough the preparation is simple, you do have to be hanging around in the kitchen off and on for the better part of 2 hours. It’s amazing that onion halves in a 400° oven take nearly 2 hours to settle into soft silkiness, but they do. Don’t skimp on the olive oil as it definitely enhances the flavor, and don’t allow the pan to dry out because the wine and oil will definitely burn. Generally I add a bit more red wine and always have to add additional water towards the end of the baking time. If you don’t have fresh thyme, you may use dried. Be generous with the herbs.
Printer friendly CutePDF

Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click link to open in MC – 14 contains photo)

Baked Onions with Thyme

Recipe By: Gourmet, January, 2001
Servings: 12
NOTES: If you use REALLY big onions, they will take longer to cook, but a small onion is too small. So medium-large is ideal. These onions are just mouth-watering, they’re so good. It’s a simple dish to make, and just requires you to be nearby. Be careful that the wine doesn’t boil away completely, as then they will burn. Add water periodically if it does evaporate, and reduce the oven temperature a little bit. If you want to reduce the cooking time, cut the onions into wedges instead of halves, and they’ll cook in about 90 minutes.

6 large red onions — about 3.5 pounds
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
10 sprigs fresh thyme
1 pinch sea salt
2/3 cup Chianti — or other dry red wine
1/4 cup water — and you may need more

1. Preheat oven to 400°. (Do not use convection for this.) Remove both ends from the onions. Discard outer layers from the onions and cut each onion in half, crosswise.
2. Spray a 9 x 13 pan with olive oil spray and place onion halves, trimmed ends down into the pan. Drizzle with a little olive oil. Pour the wine over the onions, moistening each onion top some with the wine. Remove the leaves from the fresh thyme and sprinkle all over the onions. Season with the sea salt to taste and fresh cracked pepper.
3. Bake, uncovered, in the middle of the oven, basting with pan juices twice during the baking, for 40 minutes. Add water to the pan and bake until the onions are browned and tender, about another 50 minutes, watching that the pan doesn’t dry out. Serve hot, or cool to room temperature to serve.
Serving Idea: You may want to double the batch so you’ll have leftovers, as they are wonderful to throw into pasta, a salad, or just by themselves.
Per Serving: 101 Calories; 4g Fat (47.4% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 8g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 14mg Sodium.

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  1. Kalyn

    said on May 16th, 2007:

    Great recipe. I’m saving it to my cookbook.

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