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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 Pork, Soups, on October 17th, 2009.

italian sausage soup closeup Lately I’m sounding like a broken record – seems like every recipe is a winner. Five star. This one is no exception. And it’s another one of those recipes that has nothing but ordinary food in it. Italian sausage, onion, garlic, canned tomatoes, broth, canned cannellini beans, orzo, then some fresh basil and Parmesan cheese. With the exception of the beans and orzo, it’s a lot like spaghetti sauce. But don’t forget that anything you make is only as good as the ingredients that go into it. That means, in this case, using good quality Italian sausage. Fresh garlic. Oh yes, there’s a bit of bacon in this too.

It doesn’t take all that long to prepare this soup, either. The recipe is yet another Phillis Carey one. Wow, that gal is one stupendously good cook. I liked this at the cooking class, and liked it almost more so when I made it myself. I used Niman Ranch no-nitrate/nitrite bacon. I used Italian specialty meat market sausage. I used high quality frozen beef broth and some of Penzey’s concentrated pork broth. Trader Joe’s canned beans. Muir Glen fire-roasted canned tomatoes. Real Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Fresh basil leaves. I made a double batch – made enough for entertaining friends, and two portions for freezing, and some for another meal this week. If you make this as a main course, you probably won’t get 8 servings. You’ll have no trouble getting rid of it, I guarantee.
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Italian Sausage & Tomato Soup

Recipe: Phillis Carey cooking class
Servings: 8
NOTES: You can use turkey sausage, but the pork provides a lot more flavor. If you increase the quantity, don’t increase the amount of red pepper flakes.

2 slices bacon — thick sliced, diced
1 pound Italian sausage — sweet (or hot, if you prefer)
1 cup red onion — chopped
3 cloves garlic — minced
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 pinch red pepper flakes
1 whole bay leaf
28 ounces diced tomatoes — with juice
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup orzo
15 ounces cannellini beans — rinsed and drained
Salt & pepper to taste
1/2 cup fresh basil — chopped
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated (or more if desired)

1. Cook chopped bacon in a large pot over medium heat to render out the fat. Add the crumbled sausage and continue cooking and stirring occasionally, until sausage is browned. Add the onions to the pot and cook for 5 minutes. Add the garlic, oregano and red pepper flakes and toss for 30 seconds.
2. Stir in bay leaf, tomatoes and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes. Add the orzo and cook for 5 minutes. Add the beans and simmer until heated through and orzo is tender, about 8 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the fresh basil just before serving. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle top with cheese.
Per Serving: 456 Calories; 21g Fat (38.8% calories from fat); 31g Protein; 45g Carbohydrate; 10g Dietary Fiber; 45mg Cholesterol; 490mg Sodium.

A year ago: Chicken Hamburgese
Two years ago: Heavenly Cream Cheese Brownies (yum, makes my mouth water, guess I need to make these again soon)

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  1. Melynda

    said on October 18th, 2009:

    It does sound really good! Broken record or not, love to visit your blog.

    Thanks very much, Melynda. . . carolyn t

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