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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 Essays, on May 22nd, 2010.

My friend Cherrie was telling me a week or so ago about how much she enjoys reading Saveur magazine. Now I’d not ever read it, so I bought an issue. And have now subscribed. Cherrie was telling me that her hubby Bud reads it from cover to cover whenever it arrives. Usually before Cherrie gets to read it. And that he’d really enjoyed the May issue’s story about refrigerators, written by Sara Dickerman. All the info comes from her article. (He was also intrigued by the article about mac and cheese and they’ve already made one of those recipes to great praise, apparently.)

Sure enough. He’s right. I found the article just fascinating. I wanted to snap photos of the page with pictures of all the old refrigerators on it, but I don’t want to get in trouble with the photo police. So I went online and found a couple of images that were on lots of sites, so figured they were safe to use.

Not only did I enjoy reading about the timeline of the refrigerator, but they included a blurb at the end about the misinformation regarding food storage in today’s refrigerators. I learned a thing or two.

So here’s your history lesson about fridges:

7th Century AD – icehouses were known to exist in Persia – cold stream water was routed into dome-shaped, tile lined huts

1803 – the engineer Thomas Moore coined the word “refrigerator”

1810s – Zinc or tin lined wood cabinets (ice boxes) become the forerunners of today’s fridge – home ice delivery made it possible – with a compartment for the ice and a tray below to catch the melt-off

1926 – Clarence Birdseye invented the blast freezer and his frozen vegetables and fruits zoomed in popularity – they produced over 500 tons a year

1927 – GE sells the first home fridge equipped with a round compressor that sat atop each unit – it cooled with sulfur dioxide

1933 – a fellow named Guy Tinkham (an engineer) invented the flexible ice cube tray at a cost of 50 cents

1933 – Crosley Radio Corp introduced the “Shelvador,” with shelves in the door, increasing space inside the fridge by 50%, they claimed

1947 – fridges with separate freezer units came on the market

1949 – the first self-defrosting units were introduced

1955 – Kelvinator introduced the Foodarama, the first side-by-side unit (8 feet wide!), which also had a non-refrigerated drawer for bananas – and supposedly it also had a built-in plastic-wrap dispenser [you ever see one of those? I haven’t]

1970’s – Fridges started adding crisper drawers, lazy Susan’s, butter compartments, and the interiors became plastic – oh yes, colors like avocado green and harvest gold were popular (yup, I had one of those)

2000s – we’re demanding more compartmentalized fridges, and the way of the future, apparently, is separate units (not necessarily put together in one place) which all cool at different temps (like meat, cheese, produce etc) – in my kitchen I have a separate refrigerator and freezer (both big) and a 2-drawer under-the-counter refrigerator unit where we store beverages and overflow from the refrigerator – AND we have a 2nd more traditional refrigerator in the garage with a bottom drawer freezer, which is where I store all of my frozen meat

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And here’s the definitive guide to how to store food in today’s fridge:

Butter shouldn’t be kept in the butter compartment – it’s too warm – it should be in the coldest place which is the front of the top shelf [I don’t think that’s where I want to store butter . . . it would be in the way of everything for me]

Leftovers should also be kept in the coldest spots – either top shelf front, or middle shelf rear [actually I do store leftovers in that area]

Meat – only goes in the meat drawer if you have one – should be kept the coldest [we have a middle, wide drawer, but it has grids that are open to the whole refrigerator . . . it’s where I store cheese, and as I learned that’s not where I should be storing cheese . . . sigh]

Crisper drawer – good for greens, produce of most types AND cheese – it’s moist (good) [well, good thing the crisper drawer is for keeping things crisp since that IS where I keep all my produce, but not cheese]

Herbs – believe it or not, THEY should go in the butter compartment (warmer spot) [wow, this was a big surprise – I keep herbs in the crisper – and actually my DH stores his injectable insulin in the egg compartment because I already knew we aren’t supposed to put eggs in those egg depressions in the fridge – they’re supposed to be left in the boxes and stored on a fridge main shelf area]

Drinks and condiments – in the door (that’s a warm spot) [yes, I do store bunches of bottles of condiments in the door, plus milk, cream, juices . . . spot on that one]

Cold-sensitive veggies (like mushrooms, corn) – should be kept in the warmest spot in the fridge – that’s the front of the bottom shelf [this was a revelation – maybe this is why mushrooms don’t keep very long in my fridge because they get too cold in the crisper – maybe they’d be best in the butter compartment . . . ]

That’s it, folks. Hope you enjoyed this little lesson in refrigeration . . .

A year ago: Seven sins of chocolate (a book)
Two years ago: Cream of Cucumber Soup (my friend Jackie’s recipe, SO good)
Three years ago: Apricot Ice Cream

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