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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, on June 30th, 2011.

spiced-nuts

We’re back home from our 8-day trip to Colorado. And I need to write up some posts just about the journey and the sights we saw, places we stayed, etc. Plus, I have several posts to write about some of the delicious food Sue fixed for us while we were there. Meanwhile, here’s a recipe I made before we left – and I took some of it along to give to Sue & Lynn, our gracious hosts in Denver.

It must have been a year ago that I purchased David Lebovitz’ book – a memoir of his life in Paris – called The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World’s Most Glorious – and Perplexing – City. I started reading it, got about half way through and somehow the book got put down somewhere – under something or filed in a book shelf somewhere – and I couldn’t find it. Then just recently it popped up in that unlikely place and I picked up where I’d left off. At the end of each chapter he inserts a recipe. Some of them I’d already read on his blog, and perhaps I’d read this one there too, but it didn’t galvanize me into action like it did this time.

A nut mix that’s baked with an elusive glaze. If I didn’t know what was in it because I made it, I’d never have suspected there was smoked paprika in it. Or unsweetened cocoa, either. Or cinnamon, for that matter! And because there’s not a lot of any of those spices, none of them overwhelms. But put together, the mixture is ever so delicious. There is some sugar (dark brown) and some maple syrup. And a touch of butter. And pretzels. In my mixture above, the pretzels I used were little short bite-sized logs rather than the twisted pretzels he called for in his recipe. And I used hazelnuts, cashews and macadamia nuts in my mixture (you can vary what you put into it). You combine half pretzels and half nuts.

spiced-nuts-baked

The mixture gets tossed with all of the glaze ingredients and it’s roasted for about 15 minutes, cooled, then you do have to break the stuff apart (the sugar acts as a kind of glue/glaze – although it’s nowhere near that kind of sweet). In one recipe he said it will keep a week; in another he suggests 5 days. Anyway, use it up in a few days.

This would make a really nice hostess gift too – just attach a little note that suggests eating it soon. Likely this mixture would not freeze well with the sugar glaze on it. I haven’t tried it, but my instinct is no, don’t try. Just know this is one of those recipes you need to make and eat.

What I liked about it: it was easy to make. I liked that I could vary the nuts and make it something a bit unusual. (He didn’t recommend walnuts in this mixture, fyi.) We ate them for about a week, with no noticeable change in flavor. We loved the flavor – the crispy sweet glaze that doesn’t overwhelm.

What I didn’t like: I do keep a supply of different nuts on hand in our garage refrigerator; but if I didn’t, I’d have had to make a trip to the market for nuts. I don’t stock pretzels in my house at all, so a trip to the store was needed for those. Therefore, it’s not exactly something you could whip together at the last minute. And hopefully you’ll have it all eaten up before it gets stale since its shelf life is short.

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Spiced Nut Mix

Recipe By: David Lebovitz, from his book, The Sweet Life in Paris
Serving Size: 10

2 cups nuts — (200 gr) any combination of cashews, whole almonds, peanuts, pecan halves, and hazelnuts
1 tablespoon unsalted butter — (15 gr) melted
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar — (45 gr)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon smoked paprika — or chile powder
1/2 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon flaky sea salt or kosher salt — (optional)
2 cups pretzels — (100 gr) small pretzel twists or other shape

1. Spread the nuts on a baking sheet and roast in a 350° (180C) oven for 10 minutes, stirring once for even toasting. (For easy cleanup use foil underneath.)
2. In a medium bowl, mix together the melted butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, cocoa, paprika, and maple syrup.
3. Add the warm nuts, stirring until coated. Then mix in the pretzels, and stir until the nuts and pretzels are completely coated.
4. Spread the mixture back on the baking sheet and return to the oven for 15 minutes, stirring twice during cooking. Remove from oven and cool completely, separating the nuts and pretzels as they cool. Once cool, add salt (if desired). This mixture can be stored in an airtight container for up to a week.
Per Serving: 392 Calories; 19g Fat (41.6% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 50g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 3mg Cholesterol; 817mg Sodium.

A year ago: Grilled Pound Cake with Balsamic Peaches
Three years ago: Cauliflower Tabbouleh (a real unusual salad – maybe not to everyone’s taste)
Four years ago: Grilled Sweet Potato Salad (a favorite)

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  1. hddonna

    said on June 30th, 2011:

    I’ve made the blog version of this 3 or 4 times and I think it’s just fabulous. The combination of sweet, salty, and hot is tantalizing! The blog version says “chile or red pepper powder” rather than , and I used part ground ancho chiles and part cayenne–varying the heat according to the preferences of the audience. I used mostly almonds and pecans, and once I did include macadamias. It was all great, and I, too used it as a hostess gift recently–it was a big hit. I like your idea of pretzel logs instead of the twists–will try that next time. One question: you mention not suspecting there was unsweetened cocoa powder in it, but I don’t see that in the recipe you print here, nor in the one I have from the blog. Just wondering.

    I see that your grilled pound cake with balsamic peaches appeared last year at this time. I’ve been dreaming of that lately and plan to make it as soon as I can get some peaches worthy of it!

    Oh dear, I went online to get the recipe and just copied it over – his blog version doesn’t have the cocoa in it. But the book does. It’s 1/2 teaspoon added to the dry stuff. I’ll go back and fix that. Thanks for mentioning it! . . . we have beautiful peaches here now, so you should be getting them soon. . . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on July 1st, 2011:

    Ah, that explains it! I see I didn’t proofread my comment very well; I left out “smoked paprika”, should have said “chile or red pepper powder rather than smoked paprika”. I will try the cocoa powder and smoked paprika version next time.

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