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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 Salads, Veggies/sides, on April 22nd, 2011.

rice_veg_salad

Have you learned yet, that when I tell you you need to make something (like this salad) you believe me? I don’t say it all that often – you  HAVE to make this cuz it’s just so gosh-darned good. I’ve been making it for years – probably about 30 years – from the Silver Palate Cookbook when the original book came out. I bought it and this was the very first recipe I made from the book. And I’ve been making it ever since!

our_favorite_vinaigrette_silver_palateHere’s a photo of the dressing after I poured it over the salad – it hasn’t been mixed in yet – but that’s what the dressing looks like. And it’s the dressing that “makes” the salad. And it’s really nothing all that unusual – it’s the Silver Palate’s own “Our Favorite Vinaigrette,” from the same book. It’s olive oil, red wine vinegar, some herbs, Dijon mustard, and a tiny bit of sugar. The rice – because it’s a carb – soaks up oodles of the dressing. And THAT’S what makes this salad great.

With summer coming on, this makes a great salad to take to a picnic or somebody else’s home for a barbecue. It isn’t just for an outdoor occasion, or for summer weather, though. Any time of year is fine – but I’d say it’s better in the summer. You can make everything up ahead of time and toss it together with the dressing just before serving it. Or, you can mix it up about an hour before serving. It’s not all that great after a day – whatever happens, it loses its great flavors – but it’s still good. So, if you don’t think you’re going to eat it all in the first sitting, set the dry rice mixture aside and add the dressing later – even the next day.

So, make this, okay?

printer-friendly PDF

Rice and Vegetable Salad

Recipe: From The Silver Palate Cookbook
Serving Size: 10 (probably more)
NOTES: This recipe may also be made with orzo pasta instead of rice. It will keep for a day or two, but the flavor is definitely not as good. All the ingredients can be prepared ahead, just don’t mix the salad together until an hour or so before. To make 8 cups of rice, cook about 2+ to 2 1/2 cups of rice.

8 cups cooked rice — (hot)
1 whole red bell pepper — julienned
1 whole green bell pepper — julienned
1 medium red onion — diced
6 whole green onions — minced (or more)
1 cup currant — or golden raisins
2 whole shallot — peeled and diced
10 ounces frozen peas — or more if desired
1/2 cup black pitted olive — Mediterranean type
1/4 cup Italian parsley — minced
1/2 cup fresh dill — minced salt and pepper — to taste
SILVER PALATE VINAIGRETTE: (makes about 1 3/4 cups)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup Italian parsley — chopped
2 tablespoons chives — chopped
1 cup extra virgin olive oil

1. Prepare rice (to make the 8 cups) and transfer to a large mixing bowl. Add the Vinaigrette and toss thoroughly. Cool the rice to room temperature.
2. Prepare all remaining ingredients and add to the cooled rice mixture. Correct seasoning as necessary.
3. Serve immediately, or refrigerate up to 4 hours. Return to room temperature before serving.
Per Serving: 478 Calories; 23g Fat (42.9% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 62g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 351mg Sodium.

A year ago: Blood Orange Polenta Upside Down Cake
Two year ago: Pickled Grapes (an appetizer)

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  1. Melynda@Moms Sunday Cafe

    said on April 22nd, 2011:

    I have never made a rice salad, but you are right, this looks wonderful. I am sure it tastes great too. I just happen to have that cookbook.

    It IS so very good. The leftovers were fine the next day, and we’ve been eating it ever since. The peas don’t stay bright green, but the flavor is still quite good. Very much worth making . . . carolyn t

  2. Marie

    said on March 20th, 2012:

    This is one of my very favorites. I was looking for a copy of the recipe to send to a friend. Thanks for posting. Your photo is gorgeous. I think I’ll trawl your site because if you like this recipe I know you have good tastebuds. 😉 I am really craving this now.

    Oh yes, that IS a great salad. Haven’t made in in awhile, but my mouth waters just thinking about it! Hope it’s as good as YOU remembered! . . . carolyn t

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