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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 Miscellaneous, Miscellaneous sides, on April 19th, 2008.

yucatecan pickled onion relish

In our local area, we happen to frequent a Mexican restaurant called Jalapeno’s. Now, my DH isn’t all that crazy about Mexican food (he was raised in Ocean City, New Jersey, so what does that tell you – New Jerseyites don’t know from Mexican food – at least not the ones born prior to about 1980), but since I am a native Californian, Mexican cuisine feels like part of my DNA. I know it’s not, because I’m blond and blue-eyed, but tacos and enchiladas were part of my growing up, so at least in cuisine, I’ll claim it as part of my DNA. My parents and I craved Mexican food at least once a week, without fail. When we’d go camping every summer for two weeks, we were deprived of our favorite out-to-dinner menu, and usually the very next night back home, we were over at our favorite restaurant in San Diego, called Aztec Dining Room (it’s been closed for about 6-7 years now), enjoying our regular stuff. I still crave Mexican food on a regular basis.

We do have lots and LOTS of Mexican restaurants in our area, but not many that I consider fabulous. This little place, Jalapeno’s, is family-run, and you have to stand in line to order at a counter, then they deliver the piping hot food to your table.

Once in awhile I can get my DH to go there, but really not very often. So, when he spends a night on our boat in San Diego, unless I have other plans, I zip down to Jalapeno’s for dinner. I order a chile relleno, or maybe their delicious shredded beef tacos, or a cheese enchilada. They make their own chips and fresh tomato salsa. And, they also make a fabulous marinated carrot relish. It’s made in huge vats, it’s that popular, and all I’ve ever known was that it contained what you can see in it: carrot coins, garlic, onions, bay leaf and hot chiles. Oh yes, vinegar. We know the recipe is the family matriarch’s prized recipe. They won’t share it. Even our local paper requested it, and they refused. They sell the carrots, but they’re gosh-darned expensive, so I’ve been trying to figure out how to make them. Since I don’t cook Mexican food much, I’ve had a hard time finding any recipes for them, but then I’ve always been looking for a CARROT relish.

So, when I read an article by Steven Raichlen in Bon Appetit Magazine (May 2008 issue), it mentioned this pickled ONION relish, from the Yucatan. So, I definitely had to try it. It’s not difficult – you simmer the onions, garlic and salt in water for just ONE minute. Drain off the water, then add some white vinegar, bay leaf, allspice, pepper, oregano, cumin and water, then bring that to a boil, turn off the heat, cool and serve.

Nearly a year ago I posted a recipe for stacked enchiladas (a vegetarian casserole type dish with black beans) with an onion relish on the side. I’ve made it a couple of times because I love the onions as a garnish on sandwiches, but since this new recipe contains some of the ingredients I know are in Jalapeno’s carrots, I needed to try this.

They’re good – not by themselves, of course – but they didn’t taste like what I expected. They’re great on a sandwich and as a relish, but they’re quite piquant, tart, by themselves. I did sprinkle in some Splenda to the vinegar solution (after they were cooked), and I like them better. Perhaps when Jalapeno’s makes it with carrots – because they’re so sweet – they lend a general sweetness to the mixture on their own. I didn’t have any carrots, otherwise I would have added some to the onions, just to see how they would work. Because these are so easy to make, I’d definitely make them again, probably adding more garlic and perhaps sugar. Or, I may go to my previous recipe and add some spices to it, and see what that tastes like.
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Yucatecan Pickled Onions

Recipe: Steven Raichlen, Bon Appetit, May 2008
Servings: 10

6 cups water
1 large red onion — cut in 1/8-inch-thick slices, rings separated
2 whole garlic cloves — quartered
1 tablespoon kosher salt — coarse salt
1/2 cup white vinegar
3 whole allspice
1 whole bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano — preferably Mexican
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
2 packets Splenda (or sugar) [my addition]

1. Combine 6 cups water, onion, garlic, and 1 tablespoon coarse salt in heavy medium saucepan. Bring to boil, then boil 1 minute. Drain off liquid.
2. Return onions and garlic to same saucepan. Add vinegar and all remaining ingredients. Add enough water to saucepan just to cover onions. Bring to boil over medium heat. Remove from heat, cover, and cool. [Add Splenda at this point, if using.]
3. Transfer onion mixture to bowl, cover, and chill overnight. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 week ahead. Keep chilled. Drain onions and serve.
Per Serving: 14 Calories; trace Fat (10.1% calories from fat); trace Protein; 4g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 570mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on April 20th, 2008:

    When I first saw that picture, I thought it was flowers, probably because of the colour. I like the idea of those pickles, one of my weaknesses!

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