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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 Chicken, Salad Dressings, Salads, on June 3rd, 2009.

grilled caesar

This snapshot is just part of a wedge - for the class we didn't get an entire one.

Every time I go to a Phillis Careycooking class I learn something new. That alone keeps me going back to her classes. But heading the list of good things about Phillis’ classes is the taste of the food. She is just a wizard with a spatula, a pounder, a stovetop grill and chicken! As I’ve mentioned here before, she has several cookbooks to her name (I own them all) and she’s working on another one, about entertaining.

Grilling Romaine lettuce isn’t exactly new. I’ve ordered it twice – out at a restaurant – but had never seen it done before. It’s easy. I may make this salad later this week because our daughter Dana positively loves-loves Caesar anything. So do the grandkids. And I thought this dressing was simply fab – and easy. I mean – it’s nothing more than mayonnaise with Caesar-type ingredients added to it. How easy is that? Phillis used capers (she doesn’t like anchovies), which was delicious in this rendition of salad.

The Romaine heads – use smaller ones if you can find them – or remove the outer leaves of a bigger one and use those leaves for something else – are cut in quarters (including the root end – which holds the salad together while it grills. Some of the dressing gets slathered on the two cut halves of the lettuce and it’s put on an grill for just a minute – all you want to do is get some grill marks if you can – on the cut sides, so you grill for just a minute on each of the two cut sides. If you happen to have really small Romaine heads, you can serve each person a half of one, in which case the lettuce might only need a minute on the grill. Any more than that and you might get lettuce mush.

Once off the grill you add some more dressing, then top it with the already grilled chicken, tomatoes, croutons and big wide Parmesan shards, shaved off of a block of good cheese. Simply delicious.
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Grilled Romaine Caesar Salad with Chicken and Caper-Parmesan Dressing

Recipe: Phillis Carey, instructor and cookbook author
Servings: 4

DRESSING:
3 large garlic cloves
3/4 cup mayonnaise — low-fat is okay
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon capers — rinsed, drained (or substitute 1 tsp anchovies)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
CHICKEN & MARINADE:
2 whole chicken breast, no skin, no bone
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic — minced
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
SALAD:
1 head Romaine lettuce
12 whole cherry tomatoes — halved
1/2 cup croutons — garlic flavored
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese — shaved in shards

1. Dressing: combine all ingredients in the food processor and blend until smooth. Can be made up to 2 days ahead, or at least 2 hours ahead.
2. Chicken: Trim and pound chicken breasts to an even 1/2 inch thickness. Combine marinade and add chicken, turning to coat well. Let stand for at least 30 minutes, or up to 2 hours in the refrigerator.
3. Grill chicken about 4 minutes per side or until cooked through. Cool slightly and cut into 1/2 inch cubes.
4. Romaine: Remove any outer bruised lettuce leaves and quarter the heat lengthwise, keeping the root end intact (so the lettuce will hold together when it’s grilled). Preheat grill (if on an outside grill heat to medium-high; if an indoor stovetop grill, heat to medium only). Brush the two cut sides of romaine quarters with a bit of the salad dressing, then grill, cut side down, until lightly browned. This will grill about 2 minutes total, so 1 minute on each cut side. Do not turn the lettuce over onto the back side.
4. Immediately remove grilled wedges to a serving plate and brush some of the dressing over and under the leaves. Sprinkle salad with chicken, tomatoes and croutons. Drizzle decoratively with more dressing and top with Parmesan shards.
Per Serving: 712 Calories; 61g Fat (74.8% calories from fat); 34g Protein; 12g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 92mg Cholesterol; 798mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on June 4th, 2009:

    Well now, I am salivating and I have just eaten, (kippers and mushrooms, since you ask). In my view, the only way to eat lettuce is after it has been cooked. I can’t stand it when raw. Thank you Carolyn for sharing this recipe.

    Well, I don’t know that you’d think this was “cooked” exactly. You only want to get a few grill marks on it. Most of the lettuce is still raw and crunchy. So it might not qualify as cooked. I’m fixing it for dinner tonight for our family. Everyone but Logan, our grandson, who now raises chickens, is expectant and happy about it. Logan is thinking about giving up eating chicken. Oh my. . . carolyn t

  2. Marie

    said on June 4th, 2009:

    This is one of my favourite salads Carolyn! Yours looks fantastic! Thanks so much for your lovely e-mail the other day. I have been rather pressed for time so haven’t gotten around to answering it yet, but hope to do so later today!

    We made this for dinner last night and I thought everybody was going to lick plates. Our grandson had a second wedge he luved it so much. A definite keeper. . . carolyn t

  3. Toffeeapple

    said on June 5th, 2009:

    Oh dear! You’ll just have to educate him to understand that chickens were put on this earth for us to eat! 😉

    Yes, I think we have him convinced that he doesn’t need to give up eating chicken. He misses his chickens (hmmm). His dad and a neighbor have been taking care of the birdies. . . carolyn t

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