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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, easy, on May 15th, 2011.

feta_spread

Last weekend we were invited to a Kentucky Derby party. It was great fun, with lots of good food to eat, and a big-screen TV to watch the horses and jockeys getting ready for the big race. The host passed a hat around the room with a pile of $2.00 tickets (bets) on all of the horses, so everyone at the party had one, and we knew there would be for sure one winner. Under 20 horses ran the race and there were over 20 of us at the party, so a few guests had chits for the same horse. I don’t know a darned thing about race horses (other than immensely enjoying reading the book Seabiscuit: An American Legend a few years ago). I don’t own a big floppy hat (only one woman wore a hat – and it was one of those “fascinators” like we saw recently at the Royal Wedding). Hers was very cute, small and chic. Anyway, I grabbed one of the bet tickets and passed the hat on. My DH grabbed one and I paid no attention to what horse he drew. We sat with anticipation and watched the race, sipping delicious Mint Juleps. I do love those things! I knew my horse was #16 and I watched as they led the horse up into the gate and noted the jockey’s green silks with a red V on his back. As we all watched, riveted to the big screen, what happened but that green silk eased up, and up and up. And won! I hooped with excitement. And discovered that my DH had drawn the same horse. SO, all that said, it means that we each won $43.80, since Animal Kingdom (the horse) had odds of 20-1. What fun!

Everyone at the party brings something, so I made a feta dip/spread. A VERY easy dish to make – took about 10 minutes total to put it together. I had the recipe in my to-try file and had all the ingredients on-hand. The combo of feta cheese, olive oil, garlic, oregano, lemon juice and some herbs is whizzed up in the food processor, allowed to chill for awhile, then when it’s served you drizzle some olive oil on top and sprinkle it with some red chili flakes. Serve them with baked pita chips or pita crackers. It was a good dip or spread – salty for sure since the Israeli feta I had was relatively high in sodium. My advice is to choose a feta that’s lower in sodium since you also add some capers to it, and they’re salty too. The recipe started from a Cat Cora one I found in Southern Living last year, but I added to it (a bit of sour cream to try to tame the salt, the capers, the EVOO garnish) so it’s not any longer an authentic Greek spread. You can use this as a sauce if you thin it some with milk – I think it would be good on grilled (plain) chicken or particularly good on grilled fish like swordfish. The leftovers could be tossed with pasta too.

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Feta Spread

Recipe By: Adapted from a Cat Cora recipe, Southern Living, 4/2010
Serving Size: 8
Serving Ideas: If you have leftovers, you can thin it out with milk or half and half and make a sauce that would taste great on grilled fish, or even as a spread for sandwiches.

1/2 pound feta cheese — crumbled and select a LESS salty type if possible
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 dashes red chili flakes
1 clove garlic — minced
1 teaspoon oregano — finely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon — juiced
1/4 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon capers — chopped
Toasted pita chips — as an accompaniment
Extra virgin olive oil to drizzle on top
More red chili flakes for garnish

1. In a food processor, mix together the feta, olive oil, chiles, garlic, oregano, sour cream and black pepper. Blend on low speed for 15-20 pulses. Add in lemon juice and capers and pulse the mixture until completely combined.
2. Pour into a bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or until ready to use. Garnish with a drizzle of EVOO and sprinkle with additional red chili flakes. Serve with toasted pita chips or pita crackers.
Per Serving: 123 Calories; 11g Fat (78.2% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 2g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 28mg Cholesterol; 331mg Sodium.

Two years ago: Ham and Egg Cups with Pesto, Tomatoes and Mozzarella
Three years ago: Molten Chocolate Cake with Caramel Sauce
Four years ago: Baked Onions with Thyme

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  1. Melynda@Moms Sunday Cafe

    said on May 15th, 2011:

    What a great party! That feta spread looks delicious, I love feta and new recipes to use it are always enjoyed. Thanks.

    You’re very welcome. Just make sure you choose a lower-salt feta variety. I’m very sensitive to salt, so perhaps it was just me, though . . . carolyn t

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