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Recently finished reading The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke. All I can say is “wow.” In a general sense, this book is based on the premise of The Pilot’s Wife. But this one has some totally different twists and turns. A young wife is met at the door by police, informing her that her husband has died in an auto accident. Then she finds out he died in Hawaii – not Kansas, where she thought he was, on business. Then she finds out there was a woman in the car. Then she meets the fiance of the woman passenger and the two of them embark on a fact-finding mission in Hawaii to discover the truth. Well, I’m just sayin’ . . . the plot thickens. And thickens. And thickens clear up to the last few pages. Hang onto your seat. A really, really good, suspenseful read.

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 Novel by 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. 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 angry father is a wealthy and influential man in the area. 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.


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, Veggies/sides, on June 10th, 2009.

couscous salad

If you leave out the chicken, this could easily be a side dish too.

If you’ve been reading my blog for very long, then you know right off the bat that after reading the title, this must be a recipe from Phillis Carey. She doesn’t want you to miss anything about the dish, and perhaps pass it by, so she tempts you with the major ingredients. To make sure.

And indeed, I might have passed on this recipe (I don’t make couscous very often since there isn’t much of anything healthy about couscous – it’s just tiny pasta). I don’t dislike couscous, but know that’s it’s just a high glycemic carb and has next to no nutrition in it. But after tasting it, well, yup, I’ll be making it. In my book the clincher was the lemony flavor (there’s a LOT in the dressing). Oh, and the dried cranberries were also mighty tasty too. You don’t expect dried cranberries in a couscous salad, but they add a lovely sweet zing to it. The garbanzos add some healthy protein and fiber, and you could probably add more veggies to this if you’d like. Phillis told us that when she makes this and she thoroughly enjoys the leftovers for days after, since it keeps well in the refrigerator. The thing about couscous is that no matter how much dressing you put on it, it’ll absorb more and more. So that’s why you don’t want to add the lemon curry dressing until just before serving. That way some of it will still be moistening the salad and not soaked into the pasta. Yet.
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Couscous Chicken Salad with Tomatoes, Garbanzos, Pine Nuts and Curry Lemon Dressing

Recipe: Phillis Carey, instructor and cookbook author
Servings: 6

3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
9 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic — minced
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce — or other hot sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
3 pieces chicken breast, no skin, no bone, R-T-C — (breast halves)
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups couscous
1 large tomato — seeded, diced
3 whole green onions — thinly sliced
15 ounces garbanzo beans — drained, rinsed
1/2 cup yellow bell pepper — diced
1/2 cup dried cranberries
3 tablespoons Italian parsley — chopped
1/2 cup pine nuts — toasted

1. Combine all the dressing ingredients in a small bowl, whisking to mix. Season with salt and pepper.
2. Trim chicken and pound to an even 1/2 inch thickness. Remove 1/3 cup of dressing and pour over chicken, turning chicken to coat well. Let stand 30-45 minutes or refrigerate up to 2 hours.
3. Grill chicken 4 minutes per side or until cooked through. Cool and dice into 1/2-inch pieces.
4. Bring chicken broth to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove from heat, stir in couscous, cover and let stand 10 minutes, or until broth is absorbed. Fluff couscous with a fork and spread out on a baking sheet to cool. Transfer to a large bowl.
5. Just before serving, toss chicken into couscous. Mix in tomato, green onions, beans, yellow pepper, cranberries and parsley. Add dressing and toss well. Refrigerate at least 1 hour. Sprinkle with pine nuts just before serving. Garnish with additional Italian parsley if desired.
Per Serving (yikes, I’d say this probably serves more than 4 people based on these statistics): 864 Calories; 32g Fat (33.4% calories from fat); 51g Protein; 95g Carbohydrate; 17g Dietary Fiber; 48mg Cholesterol; 595mg Sodium.

A year ago: Sarah’s Ginger Scones

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  1. Kathleen Heckathorn

    said on June 10th, 2009:

    I love everything couscous. I look forward to trying this.

    You’ll love this salad, then. It’s really very, very good! . . carolyn

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