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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 Veggies/sides, on May 9th, 2011.

summer_squash_casserole_ritz_crackers

Goodness me, was this ever good. The day after I made it a friend came to visit who’d watched me put it together (but who wasn’t invited to the dinner – mean, huh?) and asked to taste it. Not only did she love it, but after dishing up a few bites for her, I just licked the spoon clean and it was even delicious cold out of the refrigerator!

summer_squash_raw_slicesThe recipe has an interesting story behind it. Amanda Hesser, who compiled the 1000+ recipes of  previously published ones into the new monstrous cookbook published last year from the New York Times, The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century, wrote this as the headnote to the recipe:

Warning to food snobs: the following recipe contains Ritz crackers.

As much as the Times food writers and editors (myself included) like to think we’re covering the nation’s foodways, it’s a bit of a lie. We are and have been preponderantly New Yorkers, smitten with the new and the best on our little island, and we have sometimes ignored – or even turned up our noses at – the way most Americans are cooking.

Julia Reed, who wrote regularly for the Magazine in the early 2000s, was one of the few who had the guts to run recipes involving jarred mayonnaise and iceberg lettuce. In this casserole – and I mean casserole in the American pile-in-the-ingredients sense, not the French – a moist squash puree is held together with grated cheddar and Ritz cracker crumbs. It’s the kind of dish that probably won a cooking contest or two, and it will win you plenty of compliments. Whether or not you reveal the secret ingredient [the Ritz crackers] is up to you.

With that kind of write-up, I decided it needed to be tried. And since one of our guests was recovering from surgery and barely starting to eat anything except soft foods, I thought this would be a perfect one to try. It does use squash puree to start with, so it’s almost a soft food to begin with.

summer_squash_casserole_wholeBut, with all the different things in it – like red and green bell pepper, onion, garlic, jalapeno, cheddar, eggs, cream, sugar, salt and cayenne – plus the fresh bread crumbs on the top – it makes it a company-worthy dish for sure. The recipe is available at the New York Times website. It was published in 2002.

It’s a cinchy dish to make – and if you didn’t put the bread crumbs on the top until later, you could easily prepare this ahead of time, which I should have done. But the recipe didn’t indicate  you could, so for my first time through I stuck to the recipe exactly.

What can I tell you except that the flavors are just dynamite. You can’t taste the Ritz crackers, of course, but it does give the squash part a delicious texture, somehow. I don’t know the how of it, just that it is. There is just the right amount of heat (with one jalapeno and some cayenne added). I left the jalapeno out of one part of it so our grandson would have some, but he didn’t like it period even so. But he was the only person at the table who didn’t. Trust me on this one, okay?

printer-friendly PDF

Summer-Squash Casserole

Recipe By: From The Essential New York Times Cookbook, 2010
Serving Size: 10
NOTES: This may seem like it’s over-the-top in fat and calories – well, I suppose it is – and you may scoff at using Ritz crackers. But taste this and you’ll be a convert.

2 pounds yellow squash
7 tablespoons butter
1 large onion — chopped
1 large clove garlic — chopped
1/2 red bell pepper — chopped
1/2 green bell pepper — chopped
1 medium jalapeño pepper — seeded and chopped
4 slices white bread — toasted
24 Ritz crackers — crumbed in food processor
1/2 pound sharp cheddar cheese — grated
4 large eggs — beaten
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Butter a 2 1/2-quart baking dish. Cut the squash into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Cook in boiling, salted water until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain. Purée in a food processor.
2. Melt 6 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and peppers and cook until just tender. Meanwhile, crumb the toast in a food processor, melt remaining butter and toss together.
3. Mix the squash purée, cracker crumbs and cheese. Stir in the eggs, cream, sugar and seasonings. Blend well. Pour into the baking dish. Top with bread crumbs and bake until browned, about 40 minutes.
Per Serving: 326 Calories; 25g Fat (67.0% calories from fat); 11g Protein; 17g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 147mg Cholesterol; 585mg Sodium.

Two years ago: Strawberry Mango Margarita
Three years ago: Trout Fillets
Four years ago: Creamy Cold Pea Soup

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