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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 Appetizers, on May 25th, 2010.

Last week my friend Cherrie and I attended a cooking class with Phillis Carey. And the class subject? Bacon. There was bacon in absolutely every single dish. Yes, including dessert. You’ll have to stay tuned for that one!

Certainly you wouldn’t want to serve all of the bacon-laden dishes in the same meal, but oh, there are some real winning recipes in the bunch. I’ll be posting them in the next week or so. Maybe I’ll intersperse them with some others so you don’t go into bacon-reading overload.

Pancetta. You know what it is – an Italian bacon, but it’s not smoked. We Americans are much more interested in smoked food than other cuisines and cultures, apparently. Many major grocery stores now sell a little package of sliced pancetta. Pancetta comes in a round tubular shape, like a log, and they slice it super-thin. That’s what must be used for this appetizer. Here’s a photo of a typical pancetta package. Each of those tiny rounds is laid flat on a parchment-lined baking sheet (not touching) and reshaped slightly if necessary (you want it to be a complete round, not a u-shape).

The pancetta pieces are baked at a high heat until they turn golden-crisp, about 10 minutes. They need to be carefully slid onto a rack or on paper towels to drain. Meanwhile you mix up the filling. I use that word loosely as the pancetta rounds kind of crinch-up a bit, they get humpy and bumpy (examine the picture at top and you’ll see what I mean), so really all you do is carefully place a teaspoon of the goat cheese/pesto mixture on top. Whatever you do, don’t press down on the pancetta or the careful little tower you’ve built will collapse and shatter. Garnish with a little sliced basil and you’re done. Serve them while they’re still warm, if you can and eat the crisp in one bite.

Do make extra of these, as you’ll likely crumble a few. An average pancetta package holds about 8 slices, so you’ll need at least two of them, if not more. These are just scrumptious, so everyone will want at least two of them. Maybe you can buy the pancetta at an Italian deli also.
printer-friendly PDF

Pancetta Crisps with Pesto Goat Cheese

Recipe By: From a Phillis Carey cooking class 5/2010
Serving Size: 16
NOTES: You can substitute sun dried tomato pesto for the basil, if preferred. MAKE AHEAD: You can also crisp the pancetta an hour or two ahead of time, then rewarm them for about 4-5 minutes at 350 before continuing with the filling, etc. The pancetta you want to use is extremely thin – you could almost see through it. Some markets sell it sliced and prepackaged, or buy from an Italian deli and have the butcher slice it for you. The crisps are very fragile, so do make more than needed as there will be some breakage.

16 slices pancetta — very thin slices (the round shaped type)
freshly ground black pepper
3 ounces goat cheese — or cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons pesto sauce — (basil)
1/4 cup fresh basil — finely shredded (sliced)

1. Preheat oven to 450°.
2. Place wafer-thin slices of pancetta in a single layer on a parchment-paper lined baking sheet. Reform the slices so each are more solidly round (overlap as needed). Sprinkle pancetta with pepper. Bake them until golden, and crisp, about 10 minutes. Using a spatula, VERY CAREFULLY slide pancetta crisps onto a paper-towel lined plate. Allow them to cool slightly.
3. In a small bowl mash together the goat cheese and pesto. Gently spoon about one teaspoon onto the top of each pancetta crisp (don’t press down on it or the pancetta will shatter). Top each crisp with some shredded basil and serve.

A  year ago: Grilled Skirt Steak with Quesadillas
Two years ago: Cashew Caramel Cookies
Three years ago: Roast Pork Loin with Apricot Compote

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