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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 Appetizers, on June 17th, 2009.

mahogany onions

This is the first of two onion recipes I’m going to share. Tomorrow you’ll learn more about how/why I have these wonderful sweet onions in the first place, but will post this one first. You’d likely think the above bruschetta was topped with an olive tapenade. Nope. Or maybe a fig jam? Nope. Could even be dark mushrooms? No on all counts. It’s onions.

We went out to dinner last night with good friends, and our custom with Bob & Liz is to gather at one or the other of our homes for some pre-prandial appetizers and wine, then off we go to a restaurant. We’ve been trying to go to NEW restaurants every time we go out, so it keeps us on our toes to find new ones to try. We’ve been very successful so far, even in this economy!

I’d made this appetizer a few days ago with the first of my big onion bonanza and we polished it off last night with our wine and food before dinner. Liz wants the recipe. I’ll be making these again soon.

So here’s the story about them. The recipe is based on one from a new cookbook called The New American Olive Oil, by Fran Gage. I followed her recipe mostly, but then I took a right turn and made it different. After trying it once according to the recipe, I made it my own with the garnish. First you slice about 2 pounds of onions (I used sweet onions) and sauté them with about 4 T. of extra-virgin olive oil and a tiny smattering of salt. It cooks. And cooks. And cooks. At a very low heat for about an hour. You stir occasionally, and more often near the end so the onions don’t stick. During the hour of cooking they lose all their water and they cook down and down and down. The recipe suggests cooking them until they are the color of a polished mahogany table. Am sure you can get the picture. When mine were looking like the skin of an Idaho potato I knew I still had room to go. But stirring is required from then on. Still on fairly low heat. And finally, it DID get to be the color of mahogany.

The huge – HUGE – pan of onions had dwindled to about a half a CUP of dark brown goop. After cooling, you add in some GOOD balsamic vinegar (I happened to use pomegranate balsamic vinegar because it sits out on my countertop). Then you taste it for seasoning. Toasted bread is in order (baguette slices, spread lightly with olive oil and baked at 400 for about 4-5 minutes), then you gently spread some of this heaven-on-a-bun on top of the toast pieces. Here’s where I took the right turn. I thought it needed a taste-foil, so I added some boursin cheese crumbles (my recipe below indicates some crumbled goat cheese, either one) and a smattering of finely minced parsley. Then a jot of freshly ground black pepper and it’s ready to serve.

I like this served slightly warm, but it’s up to you. Certainly no colder than room temp, so if you make this ahead, let it sit out a bit, or heat briefly in the microwave before spreading. Just be prepared for a very small SMALL quantity. Two pounds of onions made about 1/2 cup of finished onions. Just so you know . . .
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Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click link to open MC – 14 includes photo)

Mahogany Sweet Onion Bruschetta

Recipe: Adapted from a recipe by Fran Gage, The New American
Olive Oil (a cookbook), 2009
Servings: 4
NOTES: Preferably use a baguette for this, and there will be enough onion for about 12-18 slices, probably. You’ll be shocked, really, at how little onions are left for the end product. So don’t plan on 2 pounds of onions serving a crowd. It won’t. The cheese was my addition.

ONIONS:
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 pounds sweet onions — peeled, halved, thinly sliced
About 1-2 teaspoons good quality balsamic vinegar, added after they’re cooled [I used pomegranate balsamic, either one is fine]
TOASTED BREAD:
4 slices bread — grilled or toasted in 400 oven until golden
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Fleur de sel and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 ounce goat cheese — or Boursin, crumbled [my addition]
4 tablespoons Italian parsley — finely minced

1. Heat the oil in a large skillet (large enough to hold all the onions) over high heat until the oil begins to tremble and fully coats the bottom of the pan. Add the onions, stir to coat the onions, then turn the heat to very low. Sprinkle the onions with a little tiny bit of sea salt. Don’t use much salt because the onions are going to cook down to less than a cup. Cook the onions – uncovered – stirring occasionally (making sure they don’t start to burn), until they are the color of a polished mahogany table. As it gets to the end, you’ll need to stir it much more frequently to prevent the onions from scorching. This will take about an hour. The onions will shrink to next to nothing!
2. Transfer the onions to a bowl and let them cool. Add the vinegar, drop by drop, and taste until the flavor is complex. Sprinkle with more fleur de sel if desired.
3. Brush the bread with 2 T. of oil and put a small mound of onions on each slice. Top with a few crumbles of goat cheese and parsley. Add a few grindings of fresh pepper and serve immediately. I prefer eating this when the onions are warm, so just reheat briefly in the microwave before putting them onto the bread.
Per Serving (I really don’t think this can be correct): 357 Calories; 24g Fat (59.3% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 30g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 8mg Cholesterol; 167mg Sodium.

A year ago: Sauce for Meat Leftovers

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  1. Marie

    said on June 20th, 2009:

    Oh gosh, I can almost taste them now! I bet those were the most delicious appetizer! They look wonderful!

    These onions were really fabulous. I’m looking forward to making them again, but will make more. 1/2 cup of them as the end result were simply NOT enough! . . . carolyn t

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