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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 September 16th, 2010.

Well, what can I tell you except this is really different. Truly, it is. And it may not appeal to some palates. I’m sure children wouldn’t like it. Our group of adults loved it. It’s so very unusual, which I like about it. Certainly not the run-of-the-mill appetizer.

We learned real quickly that you don’t want to use very much of this jelly on the buttered bread. It depends on the astringency of the balsamic. Next time I make this I’ll use one of my fruit-flavored balsamics (like the fig one, or the tangerine) all infused with fruit, but they’re milder/sweeter. That would be a good thing. I think the regular balsamic (note that my balsamic bottle was 10-year old stuff – not exactly cheap – and I associate high acid with the cheap types) is too sharp. Just be warned: use very little of the jelly. I even added more honey, because I tasted it, decided it was still too sharp and added another tablespoon. And that was to a half batch – when I made this I made a half a recipe.

Recipe Tip:

I learned that within about 20 minutes this firm gelatinized balsamic had turned into mostly a thick liquid. SO, I recommend you place the little bowl of balsamic jelly on ice when you serve it. Otherwise you too will have liquid. But this stuff is still worth making even with that caveat. Note: re-refrigerating it allows it to firm up again.

Next time I’ll make a quarter of the recipe, since a little bit goes a loooong way. So, with that in mind I reduced this recipe to half of the original. That will make two little bowls of it – enough for about 15 people, I’d think. I have a few little, tiny bowls that are just perfect for some things, this being one. The bowl at top in the picture is a little wooden one given to me by our friends Lynn and Sue after their trip to Africa. The bowls have the cutest little wood scoops. They’re hand carved.

Oh, and I forgot the best part – this is SO EASY to make. Takes maybe 10 minutes with a little cooling time in between.  Then about 8 hours of chilling time. Don’t be tempted to make this at about 3:00, thinking it will be ready by 6. No. It needs the full 8 hours, okay? You can also make this several days in advance.

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Balsamic Jelly

Recipe By: Adapted from a restaurant in Seattle called
BOKA Kitchen + Bar (in Bon Appetit Mag, 8/2010)
Serving Size: 8-10
NOTES: You can also try using a fruit-infused balsamic, which might have less acidity. Even with the honey added in, this can be very tart. I’ve upped the amount of gelatin from the original recipe.

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
3 tablespoons honey — or more depending on acidity of balsamic
Sliced crusty bread or toasted ciabatta
Softened butter

1. Pour vinegar into small saucepan; sprinkle gelatin on top. Let stand until gelatin softens, about 10 minutes.
2. Stir over medium heat until gelatin dissolves and mixture is hot (do not bring to a simmer). Remove from heat.
3. Add honey and stir until it’s completely dissolved.
4. Divide mixture into several ramekins or small bowls. Chill until gelatin sets (about 8 hours). Can be made ahead, up to a week, covered and chilled.
5. Serve balsamic jelly with bread and soft butter.
Per Serving (nutrition info does not include the bread and butter): 29 Calories; 0g Fat (0.0% calories from fat); trace Protein; 8g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 2mg Sodium.

A year ago: Stuffed Pork Chops
Two years ago: Pickled Carrots

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  1. Marie

    said on September 23rd, 2010:

    Oh gosh Carolyn, that looks seriously good! I love balsamic vinegar and could eat it by the spoonful. This is something I want to try soon! Thanks for posting! xxoo

    It’s definitely worth trying if you’re a fan of balsamic. Hope you like it as much as I did! . . . carolyn t

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