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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 Veggies/sides, on April 18th, 2011.

green_beans_balsamic_dill

It wasn’t all that long ago that we were eating in a nice, fairly upscale restaurant, and our waiter, a nice young man, was reciting his litany of specials. And he rattled off the sea bass preparation and said it was accompanied by “hair-a-cots verts.” I know I said “what?” He said “hair-a-cots verts. You know, little green beans.” So, being part of the foodie police, or maybe more like a closet teacher, I explained that it’s a French phrase, and it’s pronounced “hair-eh-co vehr.” He asked me to repeat it so he’d get it right. I was amazed that nobody in the restaurant hierarchy had told him how to pronounce it!

Our Costco sells  a lovely bag of haricots verts for a quite reasonable price, and I buy them every few weeks because I enjoy them so much. My go-to recipe for them is garlic green beans. I must make those about every 3-4 weeks for sure. We were having our friends Bud & Cherrie over for dinner, and ever since she had them at my house, she’s been making them regularly too, so I needed to find something new. I turned to my newest cookbook, the The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century, Amanda Hesser’s newly published 881-page book. I must write up a separate post just about this cookbook, as it’s SO interesting. I’ve left it sitting out on my kitchen counter and have been putting yellow stickies in it every day or two when I scan an interesting recipe.

Anyway, everything for this side dish can be done ahead of time. You can even dress the salad a couple of hours ahead and leave it out at room temp for awhile. That’s the kind of side dish I like when I entertain! I made the balsamic vinaigrette, then simmered the beans in a huge pot of boiling water, plunged them into ice water to cool them off (and keep the color), then minced the red bell pepper, dill and green onions. Just before serving I tossed some of the dressing on the beans – just enough to give them a light slick – and mounded them on a white platter, then garnished them with the red pepper, dill and green onions. It was delicious. Easy. Do put this on a white or light colored platter. Ever so pretty.

printer-friendly PDF

Haricot Verts with Balsamic Vinaigrette

Recipe By: Adapted from The Essential New York Times Cookbook by Amanda Hesser
Serving Size: 4

BALSAMIC VINAIGRETTE:
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3/8 cup extra virgin olive oil about 15 grinds of freshly ground black pepper
HARICOT VERTS:
1/2 pound haricot verts — or regular sized green beans
1/4 cup green onions — minced
2 tablespoons red bell pepper — finely minced
1 tablespoon fresh dill — minced
lettuce greens of your choice to serve under the beans, if desired

1. VINAIGRETTE: In a glass jar dissolve the salt in the two vinegars. Add mustard, pepper and olive oil. With lid on, shake vigorously until the mixture is thick and smooth. Yield: about 1/2 cup. This will keep for several days in the refrigerator. You need about 3 T. for the above salad.
2. BEANS: Steam the beans for 3-4 minutes (don’t over cook them) until they are just barely tender. Drain and pour beans into a large bowl of cold iced water. Stir until beans are cold, then drain and set aside in a colander until most of the liquid has evaporated. Remove the stem ends only of the beans.
3. In a bowl place the beans and add the vinaigrette, then toss. Taste for seasoning.
4. Place beans onto a serving platter and sprinkle the top with the red bell pepper, green onions and fresh dill. Serve, or cover and keep at room temp for an hour or two at the most. Per Serving: 184 Calories; 20g Fat (96.8% calories from fat); trace Protein; 1g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 417mg Sodium.

Two years ago: Pork Tenderloin with Pears and Mustard Port Sauce
Three years ago: Coffee Walnut Cookies

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