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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 Soups, on June 16th, 2007.


Remember a couple of weeks ago I posted about my dinner visit to Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen in St. Helena? And I showed a picture of the soup Cherrie and I had that night that we thought was so terrific – Tomatillo, Poblano and Asiago soup? And I researched on the internet and found a recipe from Stephan Pyles restaurant in Dallas.

Here’s what Cindy’s soup looked like:

Here’s my soup: Well, I’m here to tell you, this is very close if not one and the same. It looks the same. It tastes just about the same. And I’m a very happy camper, because now I can make this soup in a big quantity and freeze it like I do with most of my soups.


So what’s different at all? Well, the waitress at Cindy’s told us they sauteed the tomatillos for one thing. And they use masa to thicken the soup. I hunted all over in my pantry, but didn’t have any. I didn’t have any fine grind corn flour either (other than cornstarch, and I was certain that wasn’t what we wanted here). I did have polenta and cornmeal, but they’re both too coarse. So I used the regular flour called for in the recipe. And she thought there wasn’t any cream in it, but this soup (with milk and a little cream) looks JUST like theirs, so I’d say they did. Make sure you don’t get a single poblano chile seed in the soup – it won’t puree very well.
If I changed anything next time I make it, I will use less cheese. Asiago has a slightly bitter taste on the palate, and I think less would be an improvement. I only had a little over 1/2 pound, and the recipe called for 10 ounces. I think it has ample at that, and could easily be reduced, so I’ve changed the quantity in the recipe below. Asiago melts into the soup well – it’s doesn’t become stringy and difficult as some cheeses can do when added to hot soups. I did quick/flash fry the tomatillos first. A little olive oil, a hot burner and they browned in a hurry. Tomatillos have a lot of water in them, so once that was rendered out, they reduced to small pieces. I also sauteed the onion with the tomatillo, then the poblanos before adding any of the liquid. I’ve changed the recipe to that effect. I also didn’t strain the soup. I think the little bit of texture tastes just fine. I blended it well, though, so it wouldn’t have to be strained.

I can tell you I love simple soups, and this is one. You’re not likely to have all the ingredients on hand, however, but this one is certainly worth a trip to the market to buy the poblanos, the tomatillos, Asiago cheese, spinach and cilantro. Oh, yes, I’ll be making this again. Most definitely. Soon.
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Roasted Poblano-Asiago Cheese Soup

Recipe adapted from one by: Chef Matthew Dunn,
Stephan Pyles (restaurant), Dallas Servings: 6  – Makes about 7 cups

5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons butter — at room temperature
2 whole poblano chiles — roasted, peeled, seeded, chopped
1 whole onion — chopped
3/4 pound tomatillos — husked, rinsed, chopped
3 cloves garlic — chopped
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 cups milk
1 cup spinach — cleaned
4 ounces Asiago cheese — grated, or more to taste
1/2 bunch cilantro — chopped
Salt — to taste
Fresh ground pepper — to taste

1. In a mixing bowl, mix the flour and butter with a fork until the flour is totally incorporated.
2. Place the poblanos, onion, tomatillos, garlic, chicken stock, cream and milk in a pan and bring to a boil. Whisk in the flour and butter mixture and continue to whisk until lumps of flour disappear. Cook over medium heat until the mixture thickens. While stirring, add spinach, Asiago cheese and cilantro and continue to cook for 30 seconds. Transfer to a blender in batches and blend until completely smooth.
3. Strain through a medium strainer back into the heavy pan, season with salt and pepper and keep warm. Ladle the soup into warm bowls and garnish with tortilla strips and Pico de Gallo, if desired. Or sprinkle with additional chopped cilantro.

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  1. Kelly

    said on January 18th, 2011:

    I’m in love with this soup from Stephen Pyles. I’m so glad to find the recipe on your site, I can’t wait to make it!
    Thanks!

    I’m so glad! It’s not available anywhere else (the recipe disappeared from his website right after I found it) so far as I know. Let me know what you think about it. . . carolyn t

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