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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 September 22nd, 2010.

Recipe Tip:

Use the leftovers spooned onto a block of cream cheese, or on top of pizza, or as a topping for chicken breasts.

A week or so ago my friend Cherrie and I went to a cooking class with Tarla Fallgatter. Not only was the class held at an adorable home in Laguna Beach (I want to move in there; see Heydie, the hostess pictured below in a limited view of her kitchen), but the food was especially good. Tarla made a couple of things with prosciutto in the class – although not this appetizer. It was good all by itself. She actually had some dough for making flatbread (above) but I think I’d serve it with some lightly toasted pita bread, or even toasted baguette slices. Or, better yet, some sangak bread from our local Middle Eastern market.

Ragout is a term usually reserved for main dishes, I thought, so I went online to look it up. Wikipedia says: “The term ragout (French ragoût) refers to a main-dish stew. (The etymologically related Italian ragù is a sauce such as Bolognese used typically to dress pasta.) The basic method of preparation involves slow cooking over a low heat. The potential ingredients are many; ragouts may be prepared with or without meat, a wide variety of vegetables may be incorporated, and they may be more or less heavily spiced and seasoned.”

So, this ragout isn’t a main dish, but it’s definitely stew-like. An appetizer/stew if you want to associate the word origin here. It’s a mixture of onions, bell peppers, garlic, tomatoes, vinegar, maybe sugar, golden raisins and basil. For me, the golden raisins are the secret ingredient, if you could say there is one. For this appetizer Tarla used it as a topping for bread. I think it would be fabulous as an appetizer scooped on top of a big cube of cream cheese. And Tarla mentioned serving it on top of a grilled or cooked chicken breast. Or on pizza too. So if you make this, you’ll have numerous options of how to use up the leftovers.

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Sweet Pepper Ragout

Recipe By: From a cooking class with Tarla Fallgatter
Serving Size: 8
Notes: Serve a small spoonful of it on top of flatbread. Can also be served as a relish on top of cooked chicken breasts. Mediterranean mixed spice includes: rosemary, cumin, coriander, oregano, cinnamon and salt.

1/2 cup olive oil
1 whole onion — thinly sliced
1 teaspoon Mediterranean spice rub
3 large red bell peppers
3 large yellow bell peppers
2 large garlic cloves — finely minced
3 medium tomatoes — vine-ripened, peeled, seeded, diced
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1/3 cup golden raisins — plumped in hot water, drained
2 tablespoons fresh basil — thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Remove seeds and veins from the peppers and thinly slice. Heat olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat; add the onions and spices, then saute until softened – about 8 minutes. Add the peppers and garlic, reduce heat to low, cover and cook until tender, about 20 minutes.
2. Add the tomatoes and vinegar and stir well. Add sugar and raisins. Add basil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for a few minutes to allow the flavors to mingle.
Per Serving: 187 Calories; 14g Fat (63.2% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 17g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 7mg Sodium.

A year ago: Pork Chops with Sweet and Sour Cabbage
Two years ago: Tiramisu Angel Cake Torte, but this other one is a real tiramisu –  the best Tiramisu

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  1. Marie

    said on September 23rd, 2010:

    I would love to do a cooking class like that with a friend Carolyn. They always sound like so much fun, and fun shared is twice the fun! That looks fabulous. What is in the spice rub? (I am guessing oregano, garlic and maybe fennel?)

    If you read the recipe, on the headnotes I list them: rosemary, cumin, coriander, oregano, cinnamon and salt. . . carolyn t

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