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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 February 17th, 2011.

The walnut and red bell pepper spread is front and left center in the photo above. I made this a few days after the class I took when I learned about this dip. Mine turned out a little different color – because the red bell I used was more on the orange side than the bright red side. Tarla’s version was prettier. Here’s a photo of the plate she made.

middle_eastern_walnut_spreadIf you’ve never had muhummara (the red bell pepper and walnut stuff) you’re missing out. It’s very easy to make, can be made ahead, and the leftovers can easily go into something else to get used up if you have run out of the pita bread. It’d be great in chili, or a hearty stew. Or just dip your spoon into it and eat it straight away.

pomegranata_molassesDo toast the walnuts – it gives them so much more flavor. And you really must seek out the pomegranate molasses. We have several Middle Eastern markets in our area, and it’s even stocked in some of our local grocery stores. It’s a pungent fruity molasses, just like it sounds, and it adds so much flavor to a variety of Middle Eastern dishes. This recipe uses just 2 tablespoons of it, but it packs a punch. It looks just like ordinary molasses, but it has a lovely ruby color. Use it in lieu of regular molasses (like in cookies or gingerbread).

The muhummara mixture is whizzed up in a food processor and do allow it to mellow for a few hours in the refrigerator if time permits. Toast some pita bread wedges and serve. Traditionally this is also served with feta cheese, and other nibbles like kalamata olives and artichoke hearts, but it doesn’t have to be. You can just serve it with the pita. This recipe came from a cooking class with Tarla Fallgatter a week or two ago.

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Muhummara, Red Pepper and Walnut Spread

Recipe By: From a cooking class with Tarla Fallgatter, Feb. 2011
Serving Size: 6
NOTES: Muhummara is a Syrian or Turkish specialty, and there are ample variations. What makes this (and most) unique is the pomegranate molasses. You may have to seek out a Middle Eastern market to find it. This makes enough for each person to have 4 pita wedges with some of the spread on top.

1/2 cup walnuts — toasted
1 whole red bell pepper — roasted, seeded, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup red onion — coarsely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup panko — or regular, plain bread crumbs
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne — optional
1/4 cup olive oil
3 whole pita bread rounds — 6-inch size, each cut into 8 wedges
8 ounces feta cheese
1/3 cup kalamata olives

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Arrange pita wedges on a baking sheet and bake for about 7 minutes.
2. Finely chop walnuts and bread crumbs in a food processor. Add the red bell pepper, onion and lemon juice and pulse until finely chopped. Add the molasses, cumin, salt and cayenne and pulse once to blend. Gradually add the oil, blending until the mixtutr resembles a coarse puree. Transfer to a serving bowl (use one just large enough to hold the spread).
3. On a platter arrange feta cheese, olives and spread. Surround with pita wedges and serve.
Per Serving: 382 Calories; 27g Fat (62.6% calories from fat); 11g Protein; 25g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 34mg Cholesterol; 1156mg Sodium.

A year ago: Crispy Potato Roast (a most unique potato casserole)
Two years ago: Chocolate Sponge Roll
Three years ago: Almond Bar Cookies

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  1. Marie

    said on February 17th, 2011:

    Oh my, but that looks delicious Carolyn. I love hummous and am always looking for a different type of dip or spread. Most nuts taste so much better when toasted! Funny how that goes! xxoo

    It really is good – I’m going to be making it again very soon. I served it to guests, and it’s all gone! . . .carolyn t

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on February 17th, 2011:

    I can just taste that – a wonderful spread/dip!

    It really is delicious, and relatively low fat too. . . carolyn t

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