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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 Salads, Veggies/sides, on October 30th, 2009.


roasted_sw_pot_black_bean_saladReading as many recipes as I do in the course of a few months, unless I make notes, or recognize the print style, I can’t recall where I read or heard about a recipe. Such with this one. I think it was on somebody’s blog that I read about it. And the writer sent us off to the New York Times’ website to retrieve it, which I did, as it was in that week’s food section. I think. It wasn’t all that long ago – like a month. It’s  a Mark Bittman recipe – he of restaurant and TV fame. And cookbook fame too – he’s done one or more books about sw_pot_black_bean_widethe “Best” of specific recipes (kind of like Cook’s Illustrated in a way). I don’t own any of his tomes. But, I will tell you this recipe is awfully darned good. When I did a search for this recipe I noticed a lot of other food bloggers are on this recipe’s bandwagon too. I’m  delighted to join the parade.

jalapeno dressing It’s a salad, or a side vegetable combo. The list of ingredients is simple: sweet potatoes (I used the dark orange type we call yams), onions, both roasted with olive oil, S&P, then tossed with some canned black beans (rinsed & drained), some minced bell peppers, a passel of cilantro chopped, and then the very simple dressing (pictured at left) of olive oil, some minced green chile (hot type like jalapeno), garlic and lime juice. Very simple. And very extra delicious, I assure you. The recipe said to toss the salad with the dressing just before serving, but I think soaking it in the dressing for awhile just brightened all the flavors. There was still a bit of dressing in the bottom of the bowl which I just left there for the leftovers. My first foray into Mark Bittman’s world produced a great recipe. I’d make this again anytime.
printer-friendly PDF

Roasted Sweet Potato Salad with Black Beans and Chili Dressing

Recipe By: Mark Bittman, in New York Times article 9/30/2009
Serving Size: 6

1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes — peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 large red onion — peeled, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups cooked black beans — drained (canned are fine)
1 red bell pepper — or yellow, seeded and finely diced (or mix with both)
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon jalapeno chile pepper (1 to 2)
1 clove garlic — peeled
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice — (from 2 limes)

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Place sweet potatoes and onions on a large baking sheet, drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil, toss to coat and spread out in a single layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast, turning occasionally, until potatoes begin to brown on corners and are just tender inside, 30 to 40 minutes. Do NOT overcook the mixture as the potatoes will dry out. Remove from oven; keep on pan until ready to mix with dressing.
2. Put chiles in a blender or mini food processor along with garlic, lime juice, remaining olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Process until blended.
3. Put warm vegetables in a large bowl with beans and bell pepper; toss with dressing and cilantro. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve warm or at room temperature, or refrigerate for up to a day.
Per Serving: 339 Calories; 19g Fat (48.3% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 38g Carbohydrate; 8g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 14mg Sodium.

A year ago: Peppers for Cold Meats (a kind of relish – I liked it so much I’ve posted about it twice and have made it 3 times in the last 6 months)

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  1. Ninette

    said on October 31st, 2009:

    This looks delish! I love your extreme close-up photos. Almost makes me want to pick up a fork and dig right in!

    Well, I’m glad, Ninette. That’s what I have in mind every time I take one of those close-up photos! . . . carolyn t

  2. Diana

    said on November 1st, 2013:

    I served this for a large group and everyone loved it. I keep getting request to make it again. My friend is not crazy about beans and asked me to make it for her birthday using quinoa instead of the beans. That was great too! I did have to double the dressing.

    I’m so glad you and your group enjoyed it. There is something about the taste combination of the sweet potatoes and the black beans that is unexpected (but particularly delicious). Quinoa sounds like a great substitution. . . carolyn t

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