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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 Pasta, Vegetarian, on January 22nd, 2010.

tomato sauce and butter

If you’d told me even a few days ago that I’d make a tomato sauce (without meat) for pasta and I’d be head over heels, I’d have laughed. I’m from that school-of-thought that says for any tomato or vegetable-based sauce to taste good, it’s got to have some meat in it somewhere. I’m definitely a carnivore. But something about the write-up at the Smitten Kitchen blog made me rethink my position. The original recipe is from one of Marcella Hazan’s cookbooks, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking (one I don’t own).

So, I actually made this a couple of days ago when we were in the midst of our rainstorms. I was inside the house, my DH was struggling outside for hours on end and I knew he’d be starving hungry for heavier fare than we usually eat for lunch.

Besides, I’d just read the blog post about this sauce. I had some canned San Marzano tomatoes in the pantry. I had butter. I had a yellow onion. And I had some Dreamfield’s pasta (the kind that’s a lower-glycemic carb). That’s all you need for this. The onion is peeled and halved, the large can of tomatoes and the onion are added to the pan, brought to a boil along with the 5 T. of butter and it simmers. The onion gets tossed out once it’s cooked (seems a shame, but it’s done its duty and out it goes). I happened to use San Marzano chopped tomatoes, but probably any kind of whole or chopped tomatoes would work here. The butter – well, obviously – that’s what gives it the supple smoothness.

I cooked up the pasta and spooned a glob of this sauce on top and sprinkled it with some freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and this was a mighty-fine meal. We really don’t eat pasta very much (not that we don’t love it, it just doesn’t love us), but oh my goodness, this may have to become a regular on some one of our menus. My DH loved it – really loved it. He asked questions about how I’d made it, so I knew he enjoyed it a lot.
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Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onions

Recipe By: Adapted from Marcela Hazan’s Essentials of Classic
Italian Cooking (read on Smitten Kitchen’s blog)
Serving Size: 4

28 ounces canned tomatoes — (San Marzano, if possible)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 whole onion — peeled and halved
Salt to taste
8 ounces spaghetti — cooked
1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated
1. Put the tomatoes, onion and butter in a heavy saucepan (it fit just right in a 3-quart) over medium heat. Bring the sauce to a simmer then lower the heat to keep the sauce at a slow, steady simmer for about 45 minutes, or until droplets of fat float free of the tomatoes. Stir occasionally, crushing the tomatoes against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon. Remove from heat, discard the onion, add salt and pepper to taste (adding salt might not be necessary) and keep warm while you prepare your pasta.
2. Serve with spaghetti, with or without grated parmesan cheese to pass.
NOTES: For me, the addition of grated Parmigiano was essential. Some might prefer it without. I used 2 ounces of pasta per person and divided the sauce equally. It was just enough to coat the pasta to my taste.
Per Serving: 386 Calories; 16g Fat (35.8% calories from fat); 10g Protein; 53g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 39mg Cholesterol; 302mg Sodium.
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A year ago: Pork Loin Roast with Apricot Glaze

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