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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 Beef, easy, on May 18th, 2010.

Knowing that we were going to have a new patio cover installed on Friday (last week), I decided we should have a celebratory dinner. And we’d sit outside, no matter how chilly it was. It’s not every night I dig out beef tenderloin steaks. But this was special. It’s just starting to be warm enough to sit outside in the evenings. If we wear jackets.

I’ll give you photos of the patio when it’s fully completed. We’re having two fans installed and lights too (neither of which the installers do – that’s work for an electrician). That won’t happen for a few weeks when our electrician son-in-law (well, now he’s our ex-son-in-law) comes to visit. So we have a couple of weeks to pick out what we want and it shouldn’t take long for him to do the work once he’s here.

You see, I gave my DH a kind of an ultimatum. No more entertaining in the summer (we eat outside all summer long) until we have a proper patio cover of some kind. We’d had a cheapo $299 12×12 gazebo flat-topped thing for the last several years – we bought it from OSH, that had fabric covers we’d insert during the hot months. But it was falling apart. Made in China, you know. It was rusted and about to collapse on some unsuspecting guests. And we had no lighting outside except for candles. Wasn’t the kind of atmosphere I really liked.

So, we decided to install something called alumawood. It’s made of aluminum, but it’s sculpted, coated and painted to look like wood. Will never need to be painted. Ever. Yippee. Won’t ever get dry rot. More yippee. Won’t get blown about by winds because the wind will whistle through the slats (it’s very lightly screwed down into the bricks of our patio). It’s just beams and crosspieces, so in the late afternoon we’ll have full shade. Just what we want and need. I’m thrilled. It’s high enough that it doesn’t really reduce the light coming in our kitchen or family room. But gives a nice cozy outdoor area. We have a seating area with comfy seating for 4, but with extra chairs here and there if we have a larger group. Our table will seat about 8 if we squish. And we have sufficient chairs.

The recipe I used came from an ‘09 issue of Food & Wine, but it apparently comes from a relatively new cookbook out, called Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ Book: Recipes and Secrets from a Legendary Barbecue Joint. I baked some garlic and that went into the garlic-herb-butter (with fresh rosemary, oregano and thyme) that was slathered on top of the steak when it was served. Delicious! Quite easy altogether except for the 45 minutes to bake the garlic. And the steaks need to sit at room temp for an hour with a kind of wet-dry pepper rub on them. We liked the recipe a lot. With a nice glass of 10-year old Cabernet, and a patio cover over our heads!

Now, now that we’ve christened the patio cover, so to speak, you know what this means? I’m going to need to entertain sometime soon. Should we have a patio-cover-(house)warming?
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Peppered Beef Tenderloin with Roasted Garlic–Herb Butter

Recipe By: From Bib Bob Gibson’s BBQ Book (found in Food & Wine, Jan. ’09)
Serving Size: 6
NOTES: We use a meat thermometer in all of our steaks, and remove them when they reach precisely 123 degrees. Tent lightly with foil for about 5 minutes, then serve.

2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper — coarse grind, preferably
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
6 small beef tenderloin steaks — about 1 1/2 inches thick
4 whole garlic cloves — unpeeled
2 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon fresh thyme — rosemary and oregano
4 tablespoons unsalted butter — softened

1. Preheat the oven to 275°. In a bowl, mix the pepper, salt, brown sugar, soy sauce, vinegar and 1 teaspoon of the olive oil. Rub 2 teaspoons of the paste all over each steak. Wrap the steaks individually in plastic and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour.
2. Meanwhile, on a double-layer square of aluminum foil, toss the garlic with the herbs; drizzle the olive oil on top. Fold the foil to enclose the garlic and transfer to a baking sheet. roast for 45 minutes, until the garlic is very soft.
3. When the garlic is cool, squeeze the cloves from their skins into a bowl; add the herbs. Using a fork, mash the garlic with the herbs and butter. Spoon the garlic butter onto a sheet of plastic wrap, roll into a log and refrigerate until firm, 30 minutes.
4. Build a very hot fire on one side of a charcoal grill or light a gas grill. Unwrap each steak and grill over high heat for about 7 minutes, turning once, for rare meat. For medium-rare, transfer the steaks to the cool side of the grill, close the lid and cook for 4 minutes longer, turning them once halfway through. Top the steaks with the garlic-herb butter and let stand for 5 minutes, then serve.
Per Serving: 383 Calories; 33g Fat (78.0% calories from fat); 18g Protein; 3g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 91mg Cholesterol; 421mg Sodium.

A year ago: Peanut Butter Fudge Brownies
Two years ago: Molten Chocolate Cake w/Caramel Sauce
Three  years ago: Baked Onions with Thyme (a favorite)

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