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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 Appetizers, on November 5th, 2009.

cauliflower pate

Good friends of ours, Lynn & Sue, often exchange dinners with us. We’ve been doing it for years, and always enjoy their company whether it’s at our house or theirs. Sue’s a very good cook, so we have great conversations about food and about choir/church. Lynn and Dave have guy talk – about wine, travel, and choir/church. They’re both 2nd tenors. Sue and I are both 2nd altos. The day I’m writing this [over a week ago] we just sang our little hearts out for Reformation Sunday. Our choir, which has now swelled to about 140, and may be up to 150 starting next week, was a significant part of our church service, with the help of a brass ensemble multiple drums and flute, guitar, organ, piano and a synthesizer. It was gorgeous music – both to sing and hear. We sang some of the old hymns that I know nearly by heart – Great is Thy Faithfulness, for one.

Normally I don’t use my blog as a venue for discussing my faith, but I just had to share a bit about my Christian music life. Anyway, Sue & Lynn invited us for dinner that night, even though we didn’t get home from singing completely through two services, until about 12:30 pm. I’d offered to bring a couple of things, though, to make it easier on Sue. We do that generally, the guest brings something and a bottle of wine.

I’d given Sue a list of options of things I’d thought about making, and she chose two of them. But then Lynn started joking about a dinner I fixed one night a year or so ago when I made tabbouli salad, but instead of bulgur wheat, it was made with cauliflower. I didn’t tell any of the guests what was in it. Lynn, who professes to dislike cauliflower in most forms, liked it a lot. Then I told him what was in it. He’s never forgotten that I like to slip some in under his radar.

So, of course, I had to find some kind of cauliflower appetizer. Where he wouldn’t have a clue. It’s a kind of game we play. I couldn’t find much except some Indian-type ones making roasted cauliflower, flavored with Indian spices, which sounded more like a side vegetable anyway. But baking cauliflower florets would be much too obvious. Had to find something with camouflage. So this is the one. Found it on the internet, although it was a very oddball website and I’m not going to link to it. Besides, I changed the recipe, so it’s not really anybody else’s anymore. It was called a pate so I figured I could get away with serving it to Lynn, telling him it is a bean pate.

curry pate platter It’s really a dip – and contains many of the usual ingredients for one – like cream cheese (light), and sour cream (light). But then it veered off in another direction:  hardboiled eggs, an onion, a small quantity of cannellini beans, and some cooked cauliflower. The seasonings are mild – salt, pepper, curry and parsley. As a matter of fact, the online recipe I found called it curried cauliflower pate, but the recipe didn’t contain any curry. I added curry powder and also lime juice because it needed just a little something to zip it up some. And I’d probably add even more curry powder, but didn’t want to overwhelm the palates of us all. I used less beans, less sour cream, less cream cheese, and MORE cauliflower. The online recipe contained butter, but I left it out.

I served it with some veggies and pita chips. along with a second appetizer too (an almond dip, which I’ll post in a day or so). A Greek type one based on skordalia, the Greek sauce made with baked potato. More on that one later. I also took a Roasted Sweet Potato, Black Bean and Red Bell Pepper Salad with a jalapeno dressing, which was really good (I posted that one last week). Very international menu, based on what I was bringing! Sue made a delish Mexican baked chicken dish with tomatoes, sour cream, avocado and a tomatillo sauce. And a very nice spinach, apple and pomegranate salad. Oh yes, and for dessert we had pieces of Julia Child’s chiffon pumpkin pie that I thought was fabulous. She’s going to give me the recipe.

So, you want to know how it went? Lynn tried both dips and didn’t say much at first. He then pointed to the skordalia dip and said “now, you didn’t slip some cauliflower in this one, did you?” Honestly, I could say with great laughter, “no, no cauliflower.” Sue asked him how he liked the other dip, this pate, and he said great. Liked it. We all did. When I told him it WAS cauliflower, he didn’t believe me. We all laughed and nearly finished the bowl. It was good. Not like a meat-based one (like clams) or a very major veggie one (like caramelized onions or artichokes) – in this one you really cannot taste or feel cauliflower. I liked the curry hint to it – it might not be to everyone’s taste. I liked the texture. And it’s fairly low cal and low fat.
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Curried Cauliflower Pate

Serving Size: 8

4 ounces canned cannelini beans — drained
4 ounces light cream cheese — room temp
3/4 cup sour cream, light
7 ounces cauliflower — cooked
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 small onion — cut in small chunks
2 large eggs — hard boiled
1 teaspoon salt — or more to taste
1 teaspoon black pepper — or more to taste
1 teaspoon curry powder — (or up to 2 tsp. to taste)
2 teaspoons lime juice — (juice from one lime)
1 teaspoon fresh parsley — minced
2 teaspoons fresh parsley — minced and whole, for garnish

1. Using a food processor, blend white kidney beans, cream cheese, sour cream, cooked cauliflower, curry powder, lime juice, Cheddar cheese, red onion, eggs, salt, black pepper and parsley. Puree until smooth. Taste for seasoning. Add more curry powder if desired, and/or salt and pepper.
2. Pour into small ramekins and chill until ready to serve. Garnish with fresh minced Italian parsley.
2. Serve with crudites, crackers and/or pita chips. Serving Ideas: This tastes best with crispy pita chips. Or celery sticks. A fairly neutral something to get it from plate to mouth since the flavorings in the dip are quite subtle.
Per Serving: 140 Calories; 9g Fat (56.8% calories from fat); 8g Protein; 7g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 78mg Cholesterol; 495mg Sodium.

A year ago: Pork Tenderloin with Cherry Grape Sauce

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  1. megan meyers (lasswell)

    said on November 5th, 2009:

    Fun to read about you enjoying time with my folks; especially when the joke is on my dad!!! I’ll have to try to trick him into some cauliflower when they’re visiting over Christmas…
    Hi Megan – oh, by all means, see if you can pull a fast one on him. I think I should quit with the cauliflower stuff now (because he will suspect with everything I make!), so I’ll pass the torch on to you! . . . carolyn t

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