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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 Pork, Soups, on March 29th, 2011.

posole_pork_hominy_stew

The first time I had posole – when I was visiting Santa Fe, New Mexico for the very first time, I was blown away with the intense flavors. I attended a cooking class in Santa Fe and learned some of the nuances, and about the important New Mexico chiles and/or powder that must be in it. Whenever I see posole on a menu I usually order it. But really, it’s not hard to make, and I think this recipe is as good, if not better, than any I’ve ever had at a restaurant. It freezes well, too, although the toppings must be made within an hour or so of serving.

I made this a couple of weeks ago when we were visiting our Northern California family, and the grandkids could pick and choose which toppings they wanted on their soup. Our 17-year old grandson doesn’t like vegetables, he says. Pushes them around his plate to avoid eating them, and he picked all around the veggies in this soup. Our granddaughter, though, is game for tasting almost anything (thank you, Taylor! – she reads my blog) and she liked this soup and ate it all.

The soup is pork based – this one uses country style ribs. They are slow cooked for a couple of hours, then the mixture (including the broth) gets refrigerated overnight. Now, you don’t have to do that step, but it makes for a healthier soup since you can remove the fat from the meat and the broth before proceeding. The dried New Mexico chiles are an essential ingredient – I hope you can buy them at your local market like I can. Anyway, the chiles are soaked in water for half an hour, then made into a thin puree in the blender (with some added onion, garlic, salt and waterpork_cooked).

The actual soup preparation is easy. I actually add some vegetables to my posole. It’s likely not traditional, but this soup isn’t billed as an authentic posole anyway. You can add what types of veggies you like – I used carrots, more onion, and because I had one, I charred a pasilla chile and added that chopped up as well. The hominy, though, is a necessity. Mostly this stew is all about the hominy. You can find hominy in the canned vegetable aisle. You could substitute other beans, but it definitely wouldn’t be a New Mexican style posole that way. If you don’t like hominy, use canned pinto beans instead. Pictured here you can see the big bag of shredded, chilled pork, all ready to be poured into the soup.

The garnishes, though, are what make this dish. Truly they do. You simply must have some corn tortillas chips. You can use packaged chips – or visit your local Mexican restaurant and buy a small bag of their homemade chips if you don’t want to make your own. Do add the finely shredded Romaine lettuce, some diced avocado, radishes (very finely sliced or diced), some freshly chopped cilantro and if you really want to cap it off, serve with a couple of lime wedges on the side of each bowl.

posole_stewThis would make a very fun company meal – especially if you make oodles of toppings to put out. Cheese isn’t traditional, but maybe some of the Mexican crumbly white cheese (queso fresco) would be good too. The finished soup flavor is spicy, but not overwhelmingly hot. The dried chiles add a really delicious depth to the soup, and a gorgeous red/orange color. This soup is really flavorful!

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Pork and Hominy Stew with Red Chiles and Avocado

Recipe By: Adapted from a recipe by Susan Vollmer, A Store for Cooks, Feb. 2011
Serving Size: 8
NOTES: DO make the pork the day before – so you can refrigerate the broth mixture and remove all the fat before you proceed with the soup portion.

PORK:
1 head garlic — (save 2 cloves and set aside)
12 cups water
4 cups chicken broth
4 pounds country style pork ribs
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
RED CHILES:
2 ounces dried New Mexico red chiles
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1/4 whole onion
2 teaspoons salt
SOUP:
1 teaspoon salt
60 ounces hominy (canned)
2 large carrots — peeled, chopped
3/4 whole onion — chopped
1 whole poblano chile — also called pasilla
GARNISHES:
1 whole avocado — diced
2 cups Romaine lettuce — shredded
1/2 cup radishes — minced
1 cup cilantro — minced
2 whole limes — cut in wedges
8 whole corn tortillas
1 cup vegetable oil, for frying the tortillas

1. Peel garlic cloves and reserve two for the chile sauce. Slice remaining garlic. In a large heavy pot bring water and broth to a boil. Add sliced garlic and pork. Skim the surface of any scum, then add dried oregano. Gently simmer, uncovered, for 1 1/2 hours, until pork is tender. Ideally, make this part one day ahead so you can chill the cooking liquid and remove congealed fat the next day.
2. Meanwhile, place dried red chiles in a flat bowl and cover with boiling water. Soak for 30 minutes. Remove stems and seeds, then place chiles in blender with the onion, soaking liquid, the reserved garlic and 2 tsp. of salt.
3. Transfer pork to a cutting board and reserve broth mixture. Shred pork and discard all the bones. Rinse and drain the canned hominy.
4. Roast the pasilla (poblano) chile: if using gas, hold it over the flame until the skin has blistered and turns black. Or, broil on all sides until the skin blisters. Remove chile and place in plastic bag. Set aside for about 15 minutes to cool. Remove from bag and remove black, blistered skin, cut into pieces (removing stem and seeds).
5. Strain pork liquid and return to pot. Bring to a simmer and add carrots and onion. Simmer for about 10 minutes, then add the pasilla chile, reserved shredded pork and canned hominy. Simmer for about 10-30 minutes and serve.
6. Fry the tortillas, cut into strips, in hot vegetable oil until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.
6. GARNISHES: Place all the garnishes out for your diners to select whichever ones they wish to eat. Place about 1 1/2 cups of the posole/hominy stew in a wide bowl and hand each one to your guests.
Per Serving: 302 Calories; 7g Fat (21.5% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 52g Carbohydrate; 9g Dietary Fiber; trace Cholesterol; 1701mg Sodium.

A year ago: Plum Compote (oooh, that was delicious – try it during plum season)
Three years ago: Iceberg Wedge with Blue Cheese

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  1. Melynda@Moms Sunday Cafe

    said on March 29th, 2011:

    This sounds delicious. A great dish to make when the family comes to dinner. thanks.

    Let me know what you think of it! . . . carolyn t

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