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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 Beverages, on July 19th, 2010.

When I sent my DH grocery shopping (in case you’re new to my blog, my hubby loves to go grocery shopping, so I let him do about 90% of it – actually I’m happy he wants to), I told him to buy some Tuaca. Huh? he said. What’s that. I just said it’s a liqueur. When he got home he said, with a rather strident voice . . . do you know how much that stuff cost? No, I didn’t. $25.00 he said. But I’m going to use just 1/2 cup, honey. That mollified him a little!

Until today I’d never tried Tuaca (pronounced too-ah-kah). And because I didn’t know much about it except that it’s vanilla scented, I went online to read up about it. Tuaca was originally produced by the Tuoni and Canepa families of Livorno, Italy. The liqueur is sweet and golden brown in color. Its ingredients include brandy, essence of orange, and vanilla. Vanilla is the dominant flavor.

The recipe supposedly dates back to the Renaissance. A legend claims that it was created for Lorenzo the Magnificent. Well, whatever its source, it’s a lovely flavor. It’s sweet, but not sickeningly so like some liqueurs can be. It’s more like a flavored brandy than it is B&B or Drambuie type. I did taste it – a tiny sip just so I’d know what the stuff tasted like – it’s nice.

For this lunch we did the other day for six couples (an old friend/couple came to town on a visit so we had a friends-reunion kind of thing), I wanted to serve something lighter, summer fare, for a drink. Some folks in the group don’t drink, so we had ice water and soft drinks. And I didn’t think that many people would want sangria – but, oh yes they did! I didn’t have enough of this. Wish I’d had at least double the amount – I’d have had no trouble getting rid of it – maybe I’d have had some leftover, which would have been nice. Very, very nice. Guess I’ll just have to make it again. Sooner rather than later.

I scrounged around in my to-try recipe file and found three sangria recipes that seemed interesting, so I took some ideas from each of them. Some of our guests don’t drink red wine, so I made it with white (Sauvignon Blanc). But then I added some other nice stuff: Limoncello, the Tuaca, fresh orange juice, a little sugar, some cinnamon sticks and then fruit stuff. I chilled everything the night before and muddled the fruit, sugar and wine for an hour or two before our lunch. Then I added some 7-up just before serving – not a lot, just enough to give it some spritz. And served it in that pretty pitcher you can see up top.

All of it lovely. I think Tuaca will keep on your liquor shelf for a looooong time, so even though it is an investment, you’ll be able to use it for years to come. Limoncello won’t keep quite as long, but almost. If you don’t want to invest in either of those liqueurs, add a little jot of vanilla and some lemon juice. But do make this.

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White Sangria with Tuaca

Recipe By: My concoction from about 3 different recipes
Serving Size: 8

750 milliliters Sauvignon Blanc
2 cups fresh orange juice
3/4 cup Tuaca
1/2 cup limoncello
1/4 cup sugar
12 ounces 7-Up® (or Sprite)
2 whole cinnamon sticks
1 whole orange — sliced (garnish)

1. Chill the wine, orange juice, Tuaca, and limoncello for a few hours or overnight. (You can combine those ingredients in a pitcher to start.)
2. Add the sugar, stir to dissolve the sugar, then add sliced fruit (you can use oranges, lemons, limes, peaches, mango, pineapple), and chill for another hour.
3. Add the 7-up (or Sprite) just before serving. Stir and pour over ice into small glasses (about 8 ounces) and serve.
Per Serving: 149 Calories; trace Fat (2.3% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 22g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 11mg Sodium.

A year ago: Heirloom Tomatoes
Three years ago: Shrimp and Bread Skewers with Romesco Sauce

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