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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 September 21st, 2009.

cabbage sweet sour Even though it’s still the peak of summer here in Southern California, my mind is already jumping ahead to Fall. Onto some cooler evenings. Onto what few trees we have here that do change color. But we have weeks and weeks to go before that even beGINS to happen. September is usually the hottest summer month we have here in the Southland. Actually August was cooler than normal and with the exception of a few days of blisteringly-hot and humid weather, September has been mostly in the 80’s. More humid than usual, though.

But in Carolyn’s kitchen, my head was leaning towards some Fall things like gingerbread, sausages and onions, stews. I’ve put out the Fall decorations – a pumpkin wreath on the front door, some ceramic pumpkins that grace our kitchen island. A couple of Halloween candles. There must be more of them in the closet, so I’ll have to look further.

cabbage cooking With cabbage in the refrigerator, I decided to try some of the new pork chops we bought from the meat truck, Personal Gourmet. And a recipe from Gourmet magazine in September of 2006 attracted my eye. I had all the ingredients on hand. Love it when that happens!

This was an EASY dinner. The pork chops were seasoned and browned, then finished their cooking in the oven (briefly). I made the cabbage easily enough – and tomorrow I’ll actually print the complete recipe – the combination of the pork chops and the cabbage. But this cabbage recipe can really stand on its own, so that’s why I’m writing a post about this alone. I’ve extracted it from the combo recipe provided in the magazine. As you can see in the photo above (when it was cooking) I used both red and white cabbage. Pretty, I think! I’d definitely make this again – it’s simple, straightforward, and has a delicious piquant taste with the sweet and sour both going for it. I used Splenda for the sugar, but otherwise I made this almost exactly as written. Just be sure to cook the cabbage JUST until it’s barely done – further and the color fades and it becomes mushy.
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Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage

Recipe: Adapted from Gourmet, Sept. 2006
Servings: 4

2 slices thick-sliced bacon — chopped
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium onion — chopped
1 small red cabbage — halved lengthwise, cored, and sliced 1/4 inch thick (or white cabbage, or mixture)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
3/4 cup water
2 tablespoons sugar — or Splenda
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Cook bacon in a 4-5 quart wide heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp, and transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Measure fat and, if less than 2 tablespoons, add enough vegetable oil to bring total to 2 tablespoons.
2. Heat fat over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then cook onion, stirring occasionally, until it begins to turn golden, about 2 minutes.
3. Add cabbage and turn with tongs until coated with fat. Stir in red-wine vinegar, water, sugar, caraway seeds, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and braise cabbage over moderately low heat, covered, stirring occasionally, until tender, 25 to 35 minutes.
4. Stir the bacon into cabbage (or sprinkle on top) and serve.
Per Serving: 111 Calories; 7g Fat (51.9% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 11g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 5mg Cholesterol; 772mg Sodium.

A year ago: Chicken Posole
Two years ago: Green Beans in Garlic & Olive Oil (one of my most favorite recipes – so easy and SO delish – I can eat a mountain of them)

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