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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 Veggies/sides, on April 30th, 2010.

You may think you don’t like Brussels sprouts. Once you taste these, you might just change your mind. As it was, all of us eating these just happen to love Brussels sprouts, so it was never even a whisper in our minds we might not like this preparation. We all loved it. Absolutely loved it. Was it hard? No. Time consuming? No. The payoff was huge. I might even eat these cold, they were so good.

The recipe I read over on Charmian Christie’s blog, Charmian’s Corner. And she said just about the same thing as I wrote above. Her recipe is called “Brussels Meet Brandy,” because the recipe came from a cookbook called Kitchen Scraps. By Pierre Lamielle.

So what’s involved? Simmer at high heat halved Brussels in a little bit of water with a pat of butter added. You boil it until the water is nearly all gone (and the Brussels are nearly cooked through). Then you add brandy. Now I diverged just a little at that juncture. I couldn’t find the brandy bottle, but I found Gran Gala, an orange-based brandy liqueur sitting unopened on my booze shelf. I didn’t flambé the Brussels as the recipe indicated; I just boiled off the liquor. Then you add fresh orange zest, the juice from the orange, a minced shallot, some fresh thyme and dried cranberries. That’s it. Oh yes, just a bit more butter too. You cook it for a few minutes, turning and stirring until the Brussels are done and the orange juice has boiled down to a syrup. Serve while they’re hot. The preparation was really VERY easy. The recipe below is pretty-much Lamielle’s version except for the type of liquor, the fact that I didn’t flambé it, and I added fewer dried cranberries. And trust me, you’ll like them.
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Brussels Sprouts with Orange Brandy and Dried Cranberries

Recipe By: Adapted from Pierre A. Lamielle’s Kitchen Scraps
Serving Size: 4

20 whole Brussels sprouts
2 pinches salt
4 tablespoons butter — divided use
4 tablespoons brandy — or Gran Gala, or Triple Sec
2 whole orange — zest and juice
2 whole shallot — minced
2 sprigs fresh thyme — leaves only
1/3 cup dried cranberries

1. Place the Brussels sprout halves flat side down in a large frying pan. Cover halfway with cold water, and add a pinch of salt and half of the butter. Place the pan on high heat, and cook at a rip-roaring boil until almost all the water has evaporated.
2. Add the brandy and simmer briefly; then add the orange juice and zest, shallot, thyme leaves, dried cranberries, and the last of the butter all at the same time. Toss and cook for a couple more minutes until the sauce gets syrupy and glossy. Serve.
Per Serving: 212 Calories; 12g Fat (55.5% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 17g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 31mg Cholesterol; 208mg Sodium.

One year ago: French Green Beans with Pears and Parmesan
Two years ago: Armenian Rice Noodle Pilaf (oh, is this ever delicious!)
Three years ago: Beer Margaritas (I don’t like beer, but I like these)

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  1. Marie

    said on May 1st, 2010:

    Carol, with moving and all the turmoil going on in my life these past months I have not had a lot of time for blog hopping. First of all congrats on your blog anniversary! That is a great accomplishment! Everything looks so delicious as always! You post the nicest recipes! xxoo

    Thanks, Marie. Glad you’re settled into your new home. I read your blog regularly too. . . carolyn t

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