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Recently finished reading The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke. All I can say is “wow.” In a general sense, this book is based on the premise of The Pilot’s Wife. But this one has some totally different twists and turns. A young wife is met at the door by police, informing her that her husband has died in an auto accident. Then she finds out he died in Hawaii – not Kansas, where she thought he was, on business. Then she finds out there was a woman in the car. Then she meets the fiance of the woman passenger and the two of them embark on a fact-finding mission in Hawaii to discover the truth. Well, I’m just sayin’ . . . the plot thickens. And thickens. And thickens clear up to the last few pages. Hang onto your seat. A really, really good, suspenseful read.

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 Novel by 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. 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 angry father is a wealthy and influential man in the area. 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.

 

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 21st, 2008.

About eight years or so ago I tasted homemade hummus for the first time. Served to me by a friend who is Armenian (she’s a Parisian – not Persian, but Paris-ian, but she’s Armenian, and she lets you know you’d better not forget it!). My taste buds hit nirvana. I’d had nothing but ready made previously, and didn’t realize how incredibly easy it was to make. Or how delicious it could possibly be. Not long after that I attended a cooking class and the instructor demonstrated this method. Oh my gosh. It was so gosh-darned delicious!

The appetizer is not all that difficult, but it does have a moderate amount of work involved. I wish I could tell you there wasn’t. But, you can do most of it ahead – even the day before if you’re pushed for time. Because it has so much work involved, I tend not to make this when I’m doing a company meal with several courses. But, I’ll tell you, nobody has ever come away from the platter without oohs and aahs. Guaranteed.

Here’s what’s involved. One, you make the hummus in the food processor with canned garbanzos, garlic and tahini (sesame seed paste). Two, you slice up the eggplant and sauté it in batches in olive oil. Three, you concoct a simple balsamic vinaigrette which gets tossed with the eggplant once it’s chopped up. Mound the hummus on a lovely platter, then mound the eggplant on top of that and garnish with a bunch of chopped cilantro (or Italian parsley) and toasted pine nuts. That’s it. I serve it with toasted pita chips. The eggplant takes on a very rich mahogany color and when you serve this on a big platter with the eggplant on top, it’s very colorful. You don’t use all of the dressing, so the nutritional information is misleading.

This recipe is one of my all-time favorites and will be so marked on my recipe page (click Recipes in my right sidebar). We had a friend over for dinner last night and she helped with the preparation of this dish (thanks again for your help, Kathleen!).
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Layered Hummus and Eggplant Appetizer

Recipe By: Judy Bart Kancigor, http://cookingjewish.com
Serving Size: 10

HUMMUS LAYER:
2 large garlic cloves
1 teaspoon salt
15 ounces garbanzo beans, canned, save liquid
1/2 cup tahini
1/2 cup water — or juice from garbanzos
1/4 cup vegetable oil
4 tablespoons lemon juice — or to taste
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
EGGPLANT:
1 1/4 pounds eggplant, whole — purple type, no bruises
1/4 cup olive oil
DRESSING:
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt — or to taste
1/4 teaspoon black pepper — or to taste
GARNISH:
1/2 bunch fresh cilantro — chopped
1/4 cup pine nuts — toasted

1. HUMMUS: Turn on processor and drop in garlic cloves, and process until minced. Add salt and allow to sit while you collect the ingredients down through ground cumin. Add those items to the processor and blend until smooth. Add a bit of water if mixture is too thick. This makes about 2 cups of hummus.
2. EGGPLANT: Slice the eggplant in 1/3 inch thick slices, or slightly thicker. Heat just enough oil in the bottom of a large skillet and fry over medium-high heat, in batches, on both sides until the eggplant is cooked, brown and slightly crisp, approximately 5 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels, then coarsely chop. Place in bowl.
3. DRESSING: Meanwhile, combine in a lidded jar the balsamic vinegar, oil, sugar, salt and pepper and shake until combined. An hour before serving, pour about 2 T. of the dressing over the eggplant and stir. Set aside.
4. Toast the pine nuts in a hot skillet until barely brown. Set aside. Chop cilantro a few minutes before serving.
5. To serve: spread the hummus on a large, flat serving platter. Spoon the eggplant over the top, leaving hummus layer visible around the edges. Sprinkle with cilantro (or Italian parsley, if preferred) and toasted pine nuts. Serve with torn or cut pita for scooping.
Per Serving (not accurate because you don’t use all the dressing): 351 Calories; 30g Fat (75.2% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 17g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 463mg Sodium.

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  1. Connie

    said on September 27th, 2013:

    I doubled this for a social gathering and it turned out great. I did not have any tahini, but I added a couple cups of fresh basil, an extra can of garbanzo beans (drained) and a cup of walnuts, minced. I found that the humus was too runny to support the eggplant so I had to beef it up. Perhaps using less garbanzo juice would have been better.
    In addition to the eggplant, I also added a half cup of onions (remember, I doubled it) and some fresh tomatoes, all sautéed.
    This was a great way to use all the japanese eggplant, basil and tomato form my garden.

    I improvise like that all the time – am glad it was successful for you. . . carolyn t

  2. Carol Distabile

    said on December 2nd, 2015:

    While on safari hummus was served as an appetizer. I tried to locate this recipe under vegetable dips but was unsuccessful. Perhaps I should try the hummus and eggplant instead.

    I haven’t updated my recipe index for several weeks. I did post it – go to this link:
    http://tastingspoons.com/archives/12766

    Carolyn

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