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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 Salads, on May 12th, 2008.


Goat cheese is one of those comforting foods that always hits the spot with me. I like it anytime as an appetizer, either plain with crackers, or with a topping of chutney or some fruit thing. And one of my favorite things to order in restaurants is any green salad with coins of chèvre. My all-time favorite use of chèvre is when the goat cheese coins have been covered in some chopped nuts and warmed before being put on a salad. I have a goat cheese cookbook; although I must sheepishly admit I’ve never made anything in it.

So anytime I see goat cheese or chèvre anywhere, I usually look more closely at said recipe or menu. This time it was in Food and Wine magazine, May of 2006. More sheepish looks here, but I just got around to reading it. I took a trip to France in May of ’06 and there were a bunch of my magazines that didn’t get read for about 2 months before and at least several months after. My DH had major surgery just a month later, so I lost many months of recipe clipping. I’ve been making a diligent effort lately to get a few stacks of magazines read and tossed out.

When I was planning a large dinner party for this last week, I knew I wanted to make salmon, so worked on rounding out the menu. This clipping spoke to me more than others. And the recipe itself is really quite different. In the explanation about it the article described the dressing as similar to ranch, but goat cheese instead. I wouldn’t have described it anywhere close to ranch except in color and opaqueness. It’s much thicker than ranch dressing and has a totally different taste and texture.

The room temp cheese is mixed by hand with some garlic, salt, white wine vinegar, a splash of water even, then some olive oil and walnut oil. Oh yes, and some fresh, chopped thyme. The salad is composed of light lettuces (they called for Belgian endive, frisee and arugula). Visiting 3 local grocery chains produced no frisée, except a few sprigs in a lettuce combo package. So I used arugula, both regular and red Belgian endive plus the combo lettuces. The salad is also dressed with some sliced apple and toasted walnuts.

I liked it a lot, actually. Our guests didn’t take much per serving, so we had leftovers, and they tasted pretty good the 2nd day (normally I toss out salads that have been dressed since I don’t like soggy salad) but for whatever reason, this didn’t soggify much. (You like that new word, soggify?)

Maybe you’ll have better luck finding frisee, but if not, just use whatever light lettuces you can find.
printer-friendly PDF

Greens with Chèvre Dressing

Recipe By: Food & Wine, May 2006
Serving Size: 4

3/4 cup walnuts — halved
1 small garlic clove — smashed
Kosher salt to taste
3 ounces soft goat cheese — chèvre, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon walnut oil
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves — chopped
Freshly ground pepper
2 heads Belgian endive — cored and leaves halved lengthwise
1 head frisée — torn into bite-size pieces
1 cup arugula — baby arugula if possible
1 whole Granny Smith apple — cored and thinly sliced

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the walnuts in a pie plate and bake for 8 minutes, or until toasted. Transfer to a plate and cool.
2. Meanwhile, on a work surface, sprinkle the garlic with a pinch of salt and mash to a paste with the side of a large, heavy knife. Transfer the garlic paste to a bowl and whisk in the goat cheese, then the vinegar and water. Add the olive and walnut oils, thyme and pepper and whisk until blended.
3. In a large bowl, toss the endive, frisée, arugula and apple slices with the walnuts and some of the dressing. Taste the salad and add more dressing or salt and pepper if needed. Serve at once. If you have leftovers, bring it to room temp before using it – it becomes very firm when chilled and impossible to toss in a salad.
Per Serving (the nutrition info assumes you use all of the dressing, which you may not): 290 Calories; 25g Fat (72.7% calories from fat); 11g Protein; 10g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 10mg Cholesterol; 104mg Sodium.

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