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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 Desserts, on November 6th, 2009.

rice pudding

Rice pudding may not be on everyone’s radar. Maybe too comforty. Too old time. Too yesterday. But even though I don’t make it very often, whenever I do, it’s just so gosh darned GOOD. Hits the spot. And this one may be my forever go-to recipe from now on. My friend Norma thought rice pudding sounded good. She’s still recovering from very major surgery and because of radiation damage to her throat, has a very hard time swallowing. She’s had major skin cancer caused by anti-rejection medication she must take for the rest of her life. Taking the medication allows her to live with her transplanted lung, but she seems to be one of the many who develop skin cancer because of it. She’s getting better, but slowly.

A day or so ago I made another big, huge batch of the Italian Sausage and Tomato Soup that I just posted about 3 weeks ago. It was so good I had to make more of it. Half went to Norma and she says it tastes good. She just can’t swallow very much of it. But puddings she can do. They go down more easily, as long as they’re kind of soupy. There isn’t a pudding I haven’t made. I’ve done butterscotch, chocolate, tapioca, vanilla, milk chocolate and rice. So we’re starting back on ones I’ve made before, this time rice.

I did a search for rice puddings – even though I’d made Dorie Greenspan’s recipe the last time, I wanted to try something different. Norma wanted a thin, not too rich one. I found one at Elise’s blog, Simply Recipes that intrigued me. Basically I used her recipe, but I changed it a bit. I like the proportion of milk to rice (I added a tetch more rice than Elise did). And I used part 2% milk and part half and half. I used converted rice because I’d read a story awhile back about why it provides a better texture in rice pudding. I also used a part of a cinnamon stick to flavor enhance the milk/rice mixture. I also used  half the amount of brown sugar. I tasted it and thought it was just fine. I also added nutmeg. The real freshly grated stuff – both to the pudding and just a whiff of it on top too. This one’s a keeper.
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Rice Pudding

Recipe By: Adapted from Simply Recipes (blog)
Serving Size: 6

3 1/2 cups 2% low-fat milk
2 cups half and half
3/4 cup converted rice [Uncle Ben’s], or regular rice
2 pinches salt
1/2 whole cinnamon stick
2 large eggs
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 cup raisins

1. In a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring the milk, rice, cinnamon stick and salt to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer until the rice is tender, about 20-25 minutes. Stir frequently to prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Remove scum from top of milk if any forms (and discard). Remove and discard the cinnamon stick.
2. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together egg and brown sugar until well mixed. Add a half cup of the hot rice mixture to the egg mixture, a tablespoon at a time, vigorously whisking to incorporate.
3. Add egg mixture back into the saucepan of rice and milk and stir, on low heat, for 10 minutes or so, until thickened. Be careful not to have the mixture come to a boil at this point. Stir in the vanilla, ground cinnamon and nutmeg. Remove from heat and stir in the raisins. Serve warm or cold.
Per Serving: 364 Calories; 14g Fat (33.7% calories from fat); 12g Protein; 49g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 111mg Cholesterol; 177mg Sodium.

A year ago: Butternut Squash Soup with Pancetta

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on November 6th, 2009:

    I have to ask, what is converted rice?

    Gosh, never thought that might not be available everywhere. Here it’s “Uncle Ben’s” brand. It’s rice that’s been parboiled and dried, then packaged. It develops a bit of a harder skin, if you can call it that, which, when it is finally cooked (the same as regular rice, but uses less water and a bit shorter cooking time), is considered a low-glycemic rice – it takes longer to disgest (a good thing) and the kernels are more defined and don’t stick together at all. In this recipe you could just use regular rice. No change to the recipe at all. Thanks for asking . . . carolyn t

  2. julie

    said on November 6th, 2009:

    It really does sound heavenly 🙂 I love all the warm comforting flavors mixed in there together..yum!

    It is good – it’s really just rice pudding – I put the “heavenly” superlative on it. But it delish. . . carolyn t

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