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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 Veggies/sides, on October 12th, 2009.

butternut squash risotto with pancetta

I was totally prepared to be ho-hum about this dish. Until I took my first bite, that is. Then I ate every single solitary rice kernel on the plate. It makes a delicious side dish, or if you’re inspired to eat a meal without a meaty main dish, this is the answer. This isn’t vegetarian, because it does contain pancetta and chicken broth. I suppose you could leave those out, but am not sure it would be all that good. But then, vegetarians are used to eating some foods without the intense flavors provided by meat. So maybe it would be fine! Oh yes, it also contains a moderate amount of butter too. And the saffron – when Phillis Carey prepared it at the class, she meant to put in a pinch of saffron. When she dipped into it, though, her fingers grabbed a gob of it – probably more like 2-3 teaspoons. Not only did it color the risotto – that lovely rosy yellow gold that saffron does – but it also gave it HUGE flavor. So in the recipe below I increased the saffron. We had the leftovers a few nights later. Oh my goodness were they ever GOOD. Not quite as creamy, but almost. I could have just eaten THAT for dinner.
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Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto with Pancetta

Recipe: From a cooking class with Phillis Carey
Servings: 6

2 pounds butternut squash — peeled, 3/4 inch cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil Salt and pepper to taste
5 cups chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads — 4-5 pinches
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 ounces pancetta — diced
1/2 cup shallots — diced
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon fresh sage — chopped
3/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1. Preheat oven to 400.
2. Toss squash cubes with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread squash out on a parchment-lined (or Silpat) baking sheet and roast in oven for 25-30 minutes, tossing once, until very tender. Set aside.
3. In a saucepan bring the chicken broth and saffron to a simmer.
4. In a Dutch oven melt butter over medium heat. Add pancetta and shallots and cook for 10 minutes or until shallots are tender and pancetta cooked. Stir in arborio rice and toss with butter mixture.
5. Stir in white wine and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add 1/3 of the chicken broth mixture and cook, stirring often, until broth is almost absorbed. Continue cooking, adding ore broth as the rice absorbs it. Continue cooking until the rice is just about tender, about 30 minutes total time. Season with salt and pepper.
6. Stir in the sage and the roasted squash and heat it through, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the butter and Parmesan cheese. Stir to combine well. Serve immediately.
Per Serving: 441 Calories; 18g Fat (37.8% calories from fat); 12g Protein; 55g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 38mg Cholesterol; 909mg Sodium.

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