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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, Veggies/sides, on February 27th, 2011.


Yes, I know. This looks like a vegetable, doesn’t it? And it can be served as one, but I’ve always served it as an appetizer. An unorthodox one, to be certain. Who serves green beans as an appetizer? Well, I do. Especially if you have a meal that is more carb-centric. I always like finding a recipe for a veggie-oriented appetizer – more healthy for us, I think. And this one certainly is – especially if you use egg whites (like Eggbeaters) instead of whole eggs. The original recipe I started with called for canned green beans. Yuck. I never used anything but fresh ones, left whole.

So, exactly what is this? Well, it’s a veggie dish with some onion, bell pepper, bread crumbs, Parmesan, sherry, garlic (lots) and seasonings. If you really want to make it look pretty, layer the green beans (pre-cooked to al dente) in one direction. That’s not hard to do because you leave the green beans whole. Once it’s baked, you can more easily cut the little rectangular shapes as servings. I did do that. I cut smallish cubes of the beans (barely holding together because of the eggs and bread crumbs) and served them on a large platter with a little spatula for people to help themselves. Actually the spatula is a cookie spatula, but it was the perfect size for serving this dish. Then I suggested people take a serving on an appetizer plate. With forks.

Be sure to layer the green beans in a casserole dish (or even an edged cookie sheet would work) so the beans are about 1/2 inch thick. Higher than that and the beans will fall apart when served – because the egg part kind of sinks to the bottom. My dish above was too small (so they were thicker than they should have been), so the beans did kind of fall apart when served. But it still tasted good. Nobody seemed to mind. And I served the leftover beans as a side veggie reheated in the microwave.

Where we live we have a small town in north central California called Gilroy, near Monterey. It’s the garlic capital of the world. Once a year they hold a Garlic Festival – always in mid-summer. When it’s way too hot to go to Gilroy, in my opinion. But they have ample booths and cooking contests. Everything possible is served with garlic, including garlic ice cream, in case you’re interested. We’ve never been to the festival. But we’ve stopped in the town and one time I purchased a cookbook of compiled recipes from local restaurants, festival contributors, farmers and growers. This recipe came from “The Garlic Cookbook,” one I must have given away awhile back. If you’re interested in garlic recipes, they have a section on their website with dozens of them (this one not included – probably too old).

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Green Bean and Garlic Frittata

Recipe By: from ‘The Garlic Cookbook’
Serving Size: 7
NOTES: This is very garlicky, and it’s a relatively healthy vegetable. You can substitute Eggbeaters for the whole eggs, if desired with almost no decrease in flavor. If serving as an appetizer, I think they’re best served at room temp or slightly warm.

1/2 small green pepper — chopped
1/2 small onion — chopped
3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds green beans — Blue Lake, if possible (you may also use haricot verts, if available)
3/8 cup bread crumbs — I use Panko
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese — grated (use the good stuff and use more if desired)
2 tablespoons dry sherry
2 whole eggs — beaten (or Eggbeaters)
2 large garlic cloves — minced
1/2 tablespoon Italian seasoning
1/8 teaspoon salt — or more if needed
1/16 teaspoon pepper — or more if needed
1/8 teaspoon paprika

1. Preheat oven to 325. Prepare green beans, trimming only the stem end and leave whole. Steam or simmer in water until barely tender. Undercook rather than overcook them.
2. In a large pan sauté green pepper and onion in a small amount of the olive oil. When limp, add beans, bread crumbs, Parmesan, sherry, eggs, garlic and seasonings – except paprika. Taste it for seasoning and add more salt if needed.
3. Place bean mixture, arranging the beans in one direction, no more than about 1/2 inch thick, in 2-quart baking dish and sprinkle additional Parmesan and the paprika on top. Bake for about 20-30 minutes. Don’t over bake or the beans will get wrinkled and tough. May be served hot from the oven, or at room temp, or chill and serve cold. Can be either a vegetable or an appetizer.
Per Serving: 155 Calories; 9g Fat (54.6% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 12g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 63mg Cholesterol; 167mg Sodium.

A year ago: Cranberry Pudding Cake
Three years ago: Almond Crusted Orange Roughy

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  1. Marie

    said on February 27th, 2011:

    Carolyn, that sounds and looks fantastic. I love green beans and I adore frittata of any kind. This is going onto the to try list and soon!! Lots of love and hugs to you and Dave!! xxoo

    Thanks, Marie. Hope you like it like we do. Not exactly a traditional appetizer, though! . . . carolyn t

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