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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 May 4th, 2010.

I had this all ready to post right around Easter, then promptly forgot it was in my “draft” queue. So, it’s a bit late, but . . . I didn’t want to look at it in my drafts until next Easter!

Ever watched the youtube video about how to peel hard boiled eggs? It was on somebody else’s blog a year or so ago and I couldn’t believe it. I watched it, but doubted it.

I don’t know about you, but periodically I have difficulty peeling hard boiled eggs. I did all the tricks – and my most common technique was to tap the wider end – after boiling – until it was cracked moderately, then I soaked them in ice water for half an hour or so. Supposedly the water seeps behind the membrane and loosens it. And most of the time that works. But not always.

Of course, you know the part about never hard-boiling newly purchased eggs. The chemistry is that air has to permeate the eggshell – to slightly dry out that membrane –  to allow a minuscule air pocket around the egg. That just takes time – a week or so while the eggs rest and dry out in your refrigerator. Once you boil them, it supposedly makes for easier peeling. But sometimes, no matter how hard I try – no matter how many days I wait, the shell just doesn’t peel easily.

SO . . . I tried this new trick from the video – adding baking soda to the water. I used 2 teaspoons of soda to boil about 16 eggs (I was making a lot of them). Our grandson Logan tried. He was “grossed out” about putting his mouth on the shell. He managed to get 2 of the 4 or 5 he tried, to pop out. But, gosh, it took a whole lot of huffing and puffing. I tried 3 and was successful with one, but it wasn’t worth it. So I stood at the kitchen counter and reverted to my usual method of letting the eggs soak in ice water for at least 30 minutes and peeling them the old way. We had problems with about 4 eggs out of 3 1/2 dozen. Not bad. But I probably won’t try the blowing trick again. We tried smaller holes, blowing from different ends, only blowing the ones that were perfectly intact (no cracks other than the mashed-in ends). None of that worked well. The one I was successful doing I blew from the large end. But the next one I tried – nope.

Surely every cook reading my blog has made hard boiled eggs, so I won’t belabor this. Except to tell you a few things:

(1) Simmer the eggs; don’t boil them.
(2) Rinse in cold water, then add ice cubes to the pan/bowl and let them soak for 30 minutes to an hour. Lightly crack the larger ends so some of the water can permeate. Then peel them . . .
(3) Trim a tiny little flat spot at each END of the eggs (i.e., don’t cut them in half lengthwise), then cut them in half, across. Each egg half will stand up perfectly. You can probably see this in the photo up top.

Then make up the filling. My deviled eggs aren’t all that different, really. But I often revert to a recipe my former business partner, Audré, used to make. She added curry powder. I loved them, and still do. Here’s what goes in my eggs:

  • Mayonnaise
  • Dijon mustard
  • Sweet pickle relish (not much, and no juice)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Curry powder (try a little bit first – you can always add more)

Taste it to see if it needs more salt, or pepper. Or curry powder. Sometimes I make half regular and half with curry powder. Not everybody likes curry. I took 3 dozen deviled eggs to church on Easter morning. We folks who sing in the choir had to sing lots of music on this celebration day, at 3 services (8, 9:30 and 11). During the 2nd service, after we sing, we leave the sanctuary and we eat breakfast, potluck. I’d signed up for eggs. I didn’t use curry for those because I wasn’t sure our choir friends were all that adventurous. I made more for Easter dinner, and in those I added the curry. Yum.

A year ago: Italian Crumb-Crusted Chicken
Two years ago: Mango Strawberry Salsa
Three years ago: Lemon Velvet Gelato/Ice Cream (a real favorite!)

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  1. Connie

    said on May 4th, 2010:

    Hilarious video! My method for hard boiled eggs is to cover eggs with water by an inch or two, bring water to a rolling boil, turn off heat and cover pan. Set timer for 12 minutes. Then drain off water from eggs, shake the eggs in the dry pan to crack all shells, cover with cold water to cool. I used to get discolored egg yolks all the time but since I started using a timer for “poaching” the eggs and cracking the shells (a tip from Alton Brown), they are pretty and yellow. Will try the baking soda thing, though.

    Well, good luck! Do let me know if it works for you! . . . carolyn t

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