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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 June 15th, 2007.

At least 15 years ago I attended a cooking class taught by Michele Braden, and bought one of her cookbooks at the class, Fast & Fabulous HorsD’Oeuvres (the book is out of print, unfortunately). I have no recollection as to what items she demonstrated for the class, but I remember being very pleased with the wide variety of recipe ideas in the cookbook. I’ve made a number of things from the book in the ensuing years, but this one I’ve prepared umpteen times.

What’s unique about the cookbook is that each recipe offers three options. First, there’s a Fast one. Then she gives you a Flashy method, and lastly, a Fabulous presentation. At the time, I suppose, it was her little corner, or niche to make her cookbook different. From what I read now, anyone not amongst published authors who wants to submit a cookbook for possible publication must have something very creative and unusual, otherwise it will never get past the first editor.

So back to the Dunk. Wonder why this little number is called a Dunk? Once Braden began cooking as a young adult, she definitely didn’t like the word “dip.” It conjured up the ubiquitous onion dip or clam dip etc. So, she decided to elevate the genre of appetizer to a new level, and calls it a Dunk. Whatever it is, dip or dunk, this particular one will make you think you’re having a part of the BLT. Just no lettuce, and you either dip/dunk a cracker into the mixture, or spread it on toast, or even celery. It’s the BACON, however, that makes this. The original recipe calls for 5 slices of bacon (to make about 1 1/2 cups of dunk). If you’re using thick-sliced, obviously reduce the amount. And I’ve found that I can use considerably less bacon and still get the flavor. If you hand chop the bacon, every bite will have a bit of bacon in it, so don’t leave the bacon in larger pieces. And whatever you do, don’t just whiz up everything in the blender or food processor and think it will work. It doesn’t. You lose all the texture and it becomes a very loose liquid. Not pleasant. Trust me on this, okay? Sometimes I just make it by hand rather than mess up the blender.In the case of this recipe, Braden’s recommendation for FAST was to prepare up to 4 days in advance and refrigerate. The FLASHY preparation includes using pita chips, crackers and garnishing with minced green onions, parsley, more chopped tomatoes and bacon. For the FABULOUS method, add avocado, stuff it into raw mushrooms or cold hollowed-out potatoes. Normally I just use pita chips from Trader Joe’s, or the little bite-sized toasts, although I usually do garnish the top with some minced tomatoes and a little bit of extra bacon.

As noted in the recipe, I have made this with low-fat mayo, but it just doesn’t taste all that good. If you’re going to splurge and have a little bit of bacon – go for the gold and use Best Foods mayo. Enjoy.
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Bacon & Tomato Dunk

Recipe: Michele Braden, Fast & Fabulous Hors D’Oeurves, 1992
Servings: 6
Serving Ideas: I have made this with low-fat mayo. I’d be lying if I said it’s “just as good.” It isn’t, but if you crave a BLT, it will satisfy. Serve with baked pita chips, crackers, or baguette slices, toasted. You may garnish the dunk with minced onions, parsley, additional minced tomatoes or crumbled bacon.
NOTES: This dip/dunk is sinfully delicious. If you are using thick sliced bacon, use about half the number of slices. Don’t overblend or it loses its appeal, and if you have any leftovers, it’s delicious on leftover pasta or rice, or even as a salad dressing.

5 slices bacon
2 medium ripe tomatoes
1/2 cup mayonnaise — Best Foods brand or homemade
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons green onions — coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons parsley

1. Cook bacon until crisp, drain on paper towels and cool. Chop into very small pieces and set aside.
2. Combine in a food processor the green onions and parsley and process until it’s a fine mince. Scrape out into a medium bowl.
3. Cut tomatoes in half and scoop out the seeds as much as possible. Process the tomatoes in the food processor until they are minced, but not pureed. Pour out into the same bowl and add the mayonnaise and Dijon mustard. Add the bacon and stir it into the mixture, then cover, and refrigerate for up to 4 days. It’s best if allowed to chill for at least 8 hours.
Per Serving: 172 Calories; 18g Fat (90.2% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 2g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 11mg Cholesterol; 209mg Sodium.

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