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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 Uncategorized, on May 21st, 2010.

My cousin Gary, from the Bay Area, spends most Christmases with us. When he was here this last December, he asked us if he and his close friends, the Smith clan, and their extended family (that go back to his college years) could come stay with us for a weekend in June when their son graduates from UCR (University of California, Riverside). Of course, we said we would be happy to have them visit.

In the last few days I’ve been thinking ahead about the big dinner we’ll have with this group on the Saturday night of their visit. The whole family is going to Disneyland for the day and then we’ll have a celebratory dinner that evening. Fine. Well, that was, until I heard about the litany of dietary restrictions of this group. I figured sure, I can do this, right? I’m an experienced cook. I know how to create meals around some diet issues. My cousin Gary is GF (gluten-free) so I’m always thinking ahead when I see GF recipes. If it were only that I’d be okay.

Don’t get me wrong, here – and in case any of the Smith family happen to read my blog – there will be no shirking of responsibility here. I’m up to the task! It’s just so unusual that there would be so many “issues” relating to food! I thought all of you, my trusty readers, would get a kick out of this project. And you know that my cousin has most likely told the family all about my cooking exploits. So they’re expecting great things. Whew, the pressure is on!

First I’ll give you the list of restrictions. Later on (maybe after the fact) I’ll tell you what I actually fixed. And hopefully I’ll be able to share what worked. Or didn’t.

Here’s what the individual folks can’t eat because of food allergies (of course, this isn’t all the foods for all the people; each person coming has some kind of problem or problems and they’re all different):

No soy (no tofu, no problem, I rarely cook with it anyway, but no soy sauce either or soy milk)
No red meat (okay, no beef, pork or lamb; that leaves chicken or fish)
No animal protein (but she eats eggs, cheese, etc. so I’ll have to prepare a hearty vegetarian side)
No citrus (no lemon, orange, lime, grapefruit, kumquat in anything, so nix the lemon gelato I thought about making)
No spicy food (herbs are okay, but no hot sauce, jalapenos, chilies, spicy heat, so no chips and salsa)
No chocolate (oh my, that’s a tough one – eliminating chocolate from my recipe repertoire really limits my dessert possibilities)
No gluten (so that means no cakes, pies, cheesecake [because of graham cracker crusts], no breading of meats, no pasta, no cookies either)
No Caesar (oh my, all of my favorite salad dressings have a kind of Caesar bent to them, will have to do something different)
No peanuts
No corn
No mushrooms
No Brussels sprouts
And no cake – one of the group has a personal aversion (not an allergy) to cake.

So, you can see what’s ahead of me. I’ve prepared a list of my tried and true recipes that might work. One salad got eliminated because there’s lemon juice in the dressing. Another got eliminated because once I read the recipe, I realized corn was an important component. Substitutions may be possible. The plan at the moment is that we’re going to barbecue several different things (sausages, chicken, ribs) so people can choose. I’ll just need to have sufficient chicken types and fewer of the pork type. And grilled vegetables (red bells, red onions, zucchini probably). And a couple of salads – one a hearty bean type and a green type. And maybe one other carb type salad. Don’t know what I’ll do for dessert yet. A day or two ago my cousin emailed me to tell me that one of the guests is leaving early and won’t be coming to the dinner after all. But the new college grad IS coming. I haven’t heard anything so far about his food allergies. But in any case, the young man who isn’t going to be here was the anti Caesar- peanuts – cake person, so gosh, that’s opened up my possibilities by a lot! Stay tuned.

A year ago:  Summer Hummer (a drink)
Two years ago: Layered Eggplant & Hummus (a real favorite)

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