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Recently finished reading The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke. All I can say is “wow.” In a general sense, this book is based on the premise of The Pilot’s Wife. But this one has some totally different twists and turns. A young wife is met at the door by police, informing her that her husband has died in an auto accident. Then she finds out he died in Hawaii – not Kansas, where she thought he was, on business. Then she finds out there was a woman in the car. Then she meets the fiance of the woman passenger and the two of them embark on a fact-finding mission in Hawaii to discover the truth. Well, I’m just sayin’ . . . the plot thickens. And thickens. And thickens clear up to the last few pages. Hang onto your seat. A really, really good, suspenseful read.

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 Novel by 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. 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 angry father is a wealthy and influential man in the area. 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.

 

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 Salads, on February 25th, 2011.

belgian_endive_orange_salad

At the dinner party we did recently I wanted to serve something other than a green salad. Even though they’re good and generally reliable, I wanted to do something different. This certainly fits that requirement.

The recipe comes from an old Gourmet issue (from 2006). It’s available online if you want to go there. I bought the multi-colored Belgian endives (at Trader Joe’s), 2 greens and 1 red in each package of 3. Navel oranges are in season at the moment, and they’re so juicy and sweet. And then there’s the vinaigrette. The headnotes to this recipe said:

It’s impossible to overstate just how well the ingredients come together in this beautiful salad. The textural contrast of juicy ripe orange and crisp endives is enhanced by a surprisingly complex vinaigrette containing sweet, spicy and smoky flavors.

chipotle_canIt was that information that made me clip out the recipe 5 years ago. I’d just never gotten around to making it. And it definitely is the dressing that makes this salad. The sweet comes from the orange juice and maple syrup, the spicy and smoky both from the chipotle chile in adobo. You won’t use all the dressing (at least I didn’t – I have about a third leftover). The dressing does have a few other additions (sherry vinegar, red onion, lemon juice) and it’s just full of flavor.  I served this with a pork roast, so the fruit addition to the salad blended well with the meat. I think pork marries well with fruity sides. We had leftovers, and unfortunately this salad doesn’t keep very well – the Belgian endive leaves begin to wilt. So make just as much as you think you’ll eat. I served it on a large, flat platter – so you could see all the fruit and colorful endive.

chipotle goop_540I’ve talked about chipotle chiles in adobo sauce before on my blog. They’re jalapeno chiles that have been smoked and cooked in a sauce. I hope you can find it at your market – they’re usually in small, 8-ounce cans (see photo above of one of the many brands available). One of the cooking classes I went to years ago provided a really helpful hint about this stuff – once you open the can, mash up the ingredients in a bowl. Do be extra careful touching it – it’s spicy hot – don’t get it in a cut or abrasion – ouch! Spread it out flat (about 1/8 inch thick or so) on a piece of aluminum foil (see photo  – that is the frozen goop resting on a piece of aluminum foil), cover with plastic wrap and seal in foil, then freeze in a Ziploc plastic bag. When you need some of it, pull it out and chop off a little chunk of it – use a sharp, heavy knife to cut it. Then return the rest to the freezer for another time. The chunk I have in my freezer has been there for nearly a year and it’s just fine. If you’ve never had chipotle chile, you’re in for a treat. Just beware – use it in moderation until you know what your heat-comfort level is. Generally I reduce the amount of chipotle in things until I know how hot it’s going to be. You can always add more, right?

One of the best parts of this recipe is that I made up everything ahead of time – the separated endive leaves in a bag, the orange slices in another, and the dressing in another. Took but a minute to put the finished salad on the platter and dress it.

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Orange and Endive Salad with Maple Chipotle Vinaigrette

Recipe By: From Gourmet magazine, March 2006
Serving Size: 5
NOTES: The smoky vinaigrette (the smoky part comes from the chipotle chile in adobo) is what makes this salad. You probably won’t use all the dressing.

1/4 cup fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons maple syrup — dark type if possible
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon red onion — chopped
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon chopped canned chipotle chile in adobo plus 1 teaspoon adobo sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 whole navel oranges
4 large Belgian endive — ends trimmed

1. Whisk together orange juice, syrup, oil, vinegar, onion, lemon juice, chipotle with adobo sauce, and salt in a bowl until combined well.
2. Remove peel and any white pith from oranges with a sharp knife. Cut oranges crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Separate endive leaves and arrange with oranges on a platter, then drizzle with vinaigrette.
Per Serving (assumes you use all the dressing): 126 Calories; 6g Fat (37.2% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 215mg Sodium.

A year ago: Broccoli Casserole
Two years ago: Slow-Cooker Tamale Pie
Three years ago: Warm Bean Brie Dip

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