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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 Pasta, Salads, on July 4th, 2007.

I’d forgotten about this salad and how much I love it until last weekend when I went to Joan’s daughter’s home to greet their newly adopted infant, and Joan had made it as part of a lovely luncheon. Joan is rather “famous” for this salad – it’s one other people request too, not just me. We used to have season tickets to our local summer symphony series, and we’ve had many a picnic dinner on the lawn at the amphitheater, and every time Joan and Tom would attend I requested she make this. And she graciously gave the recipe to several people. So, thanks very much, Joan. I needed a salad for an outdoor dinner, and this just fit the bill.

Nothing about it is hard. It probably takes about 40 minutes to make it, including boiling the pasta. Be sure to not overcook the pasta. You don’t have to use penne, but that’s the way Joan makes it, and that’s the type I prefer too. You can add more sun-dried tomatoes if you wish – her recipe calls for 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup. I used 1/4. And our basil plant is proliferating, so I pruned it back for this salad. The basil is crucial in my opinion. It also will keep a few days, although it’s best the day it’s made.
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Joan’s Pasta Salad

Serving Size : 10
Serving Ideas: If this is served as a main course, it would probably serve about 6 people.

1 pound penne rigate — cooked al dente
1 cup cherry tomatoes — halved
1/4 to 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes — chopped
4 ounces Feta cheese — crumbled
1 cup Parmesan cheese — Fresh, grated
1/2 cup Italian parsley — chopped
1/2 cup fresh basil — chopped
1/2 cup green onion — chopped
1/2 cup pine nuts — toasted
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon salt — or more to taste
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic — minced
1/4 teaspoon sugar

Make dressing and set aside. Gather salad ingredients in a large bowl and pour dressing over. May be served immediately or chilled, but bring it back to room temp.
Per Serving: 382 Calories; 20g Fat (46.5% calories from fat); 13g Protein; 39g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 16mg Cholesterol; 529mg Sodium.

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  1. Anonymous

    said on July 7th, 2007:

    I copied this into my Master Cook program from our friend Joan. It looks yummy. Do you use sun dried tomatoes in oil and dried ones that you rehydrate?
    Your MC Pal …..Linda
    P.S. Thanks for everything!

  2. Carolyn T

    said on July 7th, 2007:

    Yes, I use sun dried in oil. You just blot some of the oil off before cutting them up. I have used dried ones, but it’s better with oil.

  3. yvette

    said on April 1st, 2012:

    I have been wanting to make this pasta salad for some time because it
    is listed under “Carolyn’s Favorites”. It belongs there ! I have never been crazy about pasta salads until this one !
    The dressing was an extra bonus on the pasta salad.

    Thanks, Yvette. My friend Joan will be happy to hear it! . . . carolyn T

  4. Jeannie Wolff

    said on September 25th, 2012:

    This salad is awesome!!! It deserves 10 stars! Thank you very much for sharing your friend’s recipe. My husband and I made this salad for dinner last night and today we’re still in awe of it. 🙂 BTW, is there something you can do with garlic so there’s not such a strong lingering aftertaste? That’s the only negative.

    Hi Jeannie – yes, there is something you can do: (1) Mix the dressing up the day before and let it sit; (2) Use a lot less garlic; (3) Cook the garlic just a little bit in a bit of oil (I’ve never done that, but it would be possible); or (4) Use garlic powder instead of fresh garlic. Try those things and see how it goes. I love it because of the maximum garlic flavor in it, but I know not everyone does. . . carolyn t

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