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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, easy, on July 23rd, 2010.

A couple of weeks ago we invited a long-time friend over, who brought her new BF to meet us. Donna brought along not only Mark, but a delicious appetizer too. This stuff is scrumptious. It’s the cream cheese that makes it, I think. Well, and the bacon. And there isn’t anything in it that’s healthy, but if you want an easy and really tasty dip that you can make a few hours ahead (in fact it should be made a couple of hours ahead of time), this is it.

Donna said she found the recipe on the internet somewhere. Ah, I found it at about.com. That site that offers lots of information. Kind of like Wikipedia, but it’s different. And they have some recipes too.

Anyway, you just mix up cream cheese and mayo, then add in the cooked and crumbled bacon, Parmigiano-Reggiano grated, a dash of garlic powder, some green onions, then gently stir in some chopped cherry tomatoes. It gets refrigerated for a couple of hours and you’re ready to go.

We really enjoyed Mark – he’s a keeper, as they say in dating circles. So is she, for that matter! Donna was one of the first employees I hired at the first ad agency I worked for. This was back, oh, 1977, I’m guessing. She only worked for me for a year, then she got pregnant and quit. But we stayed friends, through many jobs for her, through her divorce. That’s what being girlfriends is all about. Donna is a sweetheart and I love her to pieces. She’s a grade school teacher now. She e-mailed the recipe and said it was okay to share it on my blog. This, too, is a keeper.

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Bacon Cherry Tomato Dip

Recipe By: From my friend Donna, who found it at about.com
Serving Size: 8

8 slices bacon — cooked, crumbled
8 ounces cream cheese
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/3 cup green onion — minced
1 cup cherry tomatoes — chopped

1. Combine the cream cheese and mayonnaise in a bowl. Mix well, until it’s thoroughly combined.
2. Add the Parmigiano, garlic powder, bacon and green onion. Stir to combine, then gently stir in the cherry tomatoes.
3. Cover and chill for 1-2 hours. Serve with breadsticks, crackers or toasted French bread (the best).
Per Serving: 262 Calories; 26g Fat (87.2% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 2g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 45mg Cholesterol; 358mg Sodium.

Three years ago: Citrus Gazpacho

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