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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 easy, Salads, on July 26th, 2010.

Did you ever taste something – way back in your youth – and you never knew how to make it? And you’ve still not found out? Even though you’re a foodie? And you cook a lot? And you read a lot of cookbooks? And you know how to do internet searches? And you’ve still not found the recipe? That’s what this post is all about.

The neighbor who made marinated tomatoes and let me taste just a tiny bite, served them to me when I was in my 20’s. She would not share the recipe. She said it was her family’s secret recipe. Darn. My palate wasn’t as fine-tuned as it is now – sometimes I can dissect what’s in a dish if I really think about it. I close my eyes and allow the taste to roll around in my mouth. But sometimes flavors are very elusive. Like salty flavors – it could be salt itself, or it could be Vietnamese fish sauce in small quantities. I don’t suppose I could tell the difference, actually.

In any event, I’ve never been able to find a recipe that satisfies me – enough that I’d think it was the recipe. But this one comes close. I thought I’d try it as-is first, without making many changes to it, then if it worked, I’d try it again adding shallots. I do remember there were shallots in the marinade. At the time I don’t think I knew what shallots were, but I could tell they weren’t garlic, and they weren’t onions, either. Years later I had an ah-ha moment when I discovered shallots in a gourmet market and they were frightfully expensive. (And, no, I didn’t buy any.)

The marinade also contained oil and vinegar, I think. Maybe some lemon juice. And pepper and salt. But that’s all I could determine. At the time I’d never even heard of marinating tomatoes. Why, I thought? And yet when I tasted them they had a lovely piquant taste. Puckery almost. Yet the tomato flavor shone through. Especially with the summer tomatoes in full swing. I can even describe to you what kind of a dish this neighbor served them in. I was that tuned into wanting to have more of them. She’d put them in a 10×14 Pyrex dish, with each tomato perfectly flat in a single layer. Each slice was from a tomato about the same size. She didn’t even use the smaller ends. And there actually wasn’t any parsley on it. Well, TMI, I know . . .

So over the course of my life I’ve always honed in on any recipe that called itself a marinated tomato. Or if I saw a salad recipe using sliced tomatoes with anything on it. I’ve tried recipes up the gazoo over the years. Of course, I’ve had ample summers since my 20’s to test different methods too. Even though this may not be the recipe, it’s a great recipe. An easy recipe, that’s for sure. Colorful too. Makes an attractive plate to serve to guests. On a hot, summer night.

Now, this marinade is a lot about Italian parsley, as you can see from the photo at the top. A lot of parsley. Maybe too much. But the dressing is interesting. Well, I need to explain about the recipe – it appeared in our local newspaper, eons ago. There is/was a column each week along the lines of  “You Asked for It,” where readers submitted recipes to queries from other readers. Old time recipes they’d lost in a move. Recipes from grandmother’s time for pickles, perhaps. Or a restaurant recipe given out once upon a time. Anyway, this one must have made the rounds here in Orange County because two people had heard of it – the person who asked (for a recipe for “Mrs.. Nylander’s Marinated Tomatoes”) and the person who answered. Who in the heck Mrs.. Nylander was, I have no clue. I looked up on the internet for the recipe and Mrs. Nylander and found nothing. Although I did see that there was a Mrs. Nylander who served at an Assistant Secretary of Commerce, or something like that. Maybe she was from tomato country and it was her contribution to help sell tomatoes! Maybe one of you, my readers, know about this person? If so, please let me know. I’d be curious to find out.

I did make one change to the recipe – the original calls for tarragon wine vinegar (usually that’s a white vinegar, I think). And the recipe calls for “prepared mustard.” Well, I don’t even own hotdog mustard, so it would have to be Dijon. But I DID have some tarragon mustard (good stuff, imported from France, and it’s not like I use it very often!!!). So, I did change the recipe to include the tarragon mustard and upped the red wine vinegar. Regular wine vinegar. Do use good tasting tomatoes (I used heirloom and some vine-ripened ones). Since I did this post, I’ve made these tomatoes several times. The most recent time I used parsley and fresh mint (that’s the picture you see just above this – I used small vine-ripened hydroponic tomatoes. Great combination. So, you see, you can vary the herbs you put in it.

So how was it? Fantastic. I loved, loved this dish. And it was incredibly easy. Looked so pretty. I don’t think I’d marinate them for all that long, though – maybe an hour. But I think my search is over – I need look no further for marinated tomatoes! Whoopee!

printer-friendly PDF

Mrs. Nylander’s Marinated Tomatoes

Recipe By: Adapted from an ancient newspaper clipping, The Orange County Register
Serving Size: 10
NOTES: If you want the best flavor, use heirloom tomatoes. To remove the skin, you can dip tomatoes into just simmering water for about 20-30 seconds. Remove, and the skin should come off easily. Alternately, if you have a swivel, serrated edged peeler, it will peel raw tomatoes quite well. If you don’t have tarragon mustard, add some fresh tarragon to the dressing mixture and use Dijon mustard instead. The original recipe called for red tarragon vinegar and regular red wine vinegar (equal quantities).

8 whole tomatoes — firm, peeled
1/2 cup parsley — chopped
2 whole cloves garlic — crushed, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
4 teaspoons tarragon mustard — or Dijon plus fresh tarragon minced

1. Cut tomato into 1/2 inch slices and place them in a rimmed, shallow serving plate. Sprinkle the chopped parsley all over the tomatoes (evenly as possible).
2. In a measuring cup combine the oil, vinegar, mustard, garlic, salt, sugar and pepper. Stir well to combine, then pour evenly all over the tomatoes. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 1-2 hours. Allow tomatoes to sit out at room temp for at least 20 minutes before serving. Do save the dressing (drain it through a mesh sieve to remove the wilted parsley and tomato seeds) as it tastes great on any kind of greens or other vegetables.
Per Serving: 124 Calories; 11g Fat (77.4% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 6g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 356mg Sodium.

Three years ago: Brunch Grantinee Eggs

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  1. Bob Smith

    said on July 26th, 2010:

    I will definitely have to try this. I too have such an experience with marinated tomatoes in my youth. A family friend married Suzi a French lady, before returning to the US after WWII. Suzi would make the tomatoes and they were heaven. I try to replicate it often in the summer. The taste is never exactly right, but what does after all these years. Sometimes the dish had chopped hardboiled eggs…but not always.

    Have you asked Suzi how she makes them? Or is it the same thing – no, it’s a family secret? I like the idea of the hard boiled eggs. I’ll try to remember that! Well, I’m tickled with this new recipe and will be making them again during the tomato season. . . carolyn t

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