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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 July 4th, 2011.

salmorejo

This recipe had been languishing in my to-try file for about 5 years, just waiting for the right opportunity when I had some good tasting, ripe and very red tomatoes. This is a Mario Batali recipe, from his cookbook that he did with some help by Gweneth Paltrow, Spain…A Culinary Road Trip. But actually, I’d clipped the recipe from an article in Food and Wine Magazine.

In the headnote to the recipe, Mario explained that the tomato concoction resembles a gazpacho – the very traditional type they make in Spain – that contains a goodly amount of fresh, toasted country bread in it. Since I love gazpacho, I thought this was a shoe-in for me.

You start with some freshly chopped garlic, then add the chunked-up tomatoes (no need to peel or seed them) into a food processor. Add some olive oil, sherry vinegar (an essential ingredient – do not substitute regular vinegar) and some salt and pepper. That’s IT. I stopped the processor once to scrape down the sides and blended it until it was smooth. Poured it into a serving bowl and refrigerated it for a few hours before serving.

Now, the garnishes are a little unusual. The recipe calls for Serrano ham, a unique ham from Spain. A quite salty ham in case you’ve never had it. In Spain the ubiquitous noontime snack is a ham sandwich. Almost always made with Serrano ham. I could hardly eat such sandwiches because the meat is SO salty. I’m not even sure you can buy Serrano ham in the U.S., so I substituted some andouille sausage I had on hand. Then I added the diced-up hard boiled egg. From the photo at top, you can see the little bowls of both. But I’d suggest that if you garnish the baguette slices (with the dip on top) it’ll be a lot easier than asking your guests to do it. If you had shaved pieces of ham, that might be fine. If you had slices of egg, that might work too, but to get diced egg and diced ham to stick on the dip was difficult. Just so you know.

What I liked: The flavor was wonderful. Everybody liked it – we had a bunch of family at our home that day and even the grandkids liked it. You don’t have to add on the ham or egg. But in any case, the flavor combo was really delicious. I’d make it again. The recipe also said that if you have leftovers of this, just add some water (a little bit) and serve it as gazpacho (soup). The dip was also very easy to make!

What I didn’t like: As I explained 2 paragraphs ago, diced garnishes were a bit difficult to stick to the dip, so either compose the bread slices in the kitchen or make the ham and egg pieces much larger.

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Salmorejo, a Tomato and Garlic Dip

Recipe By: Mario Batali, in Food & Wine Magazine, 9/2008
Serving Size: 8
Serving Ideas: I used a sourdough country bread for this, but you probably could use a baguette. Since it’s composed with some bread in it, I think bread is the ideal vehicle to serve it on, rather than crackers..
NOTES: The salmorejo is a Spanish dip, very similar to the tradtional gazpacho soup – the kind that’s thickened with leftover bread. That’s what gives this the lighter color. Here, though, it’s ladled onto toasted bread slices and served as an appetizer. Ideally make this with good, ripe summer tomatoes. I didn’t buy Serrano ham, so I used a bit of Andouille sausage to sprinkle on the top instead. If you have leftover dip, serve it as a cold soup. Divine!

10 slices country bread — or baguette
1 pound tomatoes — chopped
1 medium garlic clove — thinly sliced
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil — plus more for brushing Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 whole hard-cooked egg — coarsely chopped
2 ounces serrano ham — [or Andouille sausage] thickly sliced, or finely diced

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. On a baking sheet, toast 4 slices of the bread for 8 minutes, or until lightly dried out. Cut off the crusts; cut the toasts into 1/2-inch cubes.
2. In a blender, puree the tomatoes with the garlic, vinegar and the 1/4 cup of olive oil until smooth. Add the toasted bread cubes and puree until thick and creamy. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer the salmorejo to a bowl and refrigerate until lightly chilled, about 30 minutes.
3. Preheat a grill pan. Brush the remaining 6 bread slices with oil; grill over high heat, turning, until toasted. Transfer the bread to plates and ladle the salmorejo on top. Garnish with the egg and ham and serve. The salmorejo can be refrigerated overnight.
Per Serving: 292 Calories; 9g Fat (28.0% calories from fat); 10g Protein; 44g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 31mg Cholesterol; 608mg Sodium.

Three years ago: Sweet and Sour Eggplant
Four years ago: Joan’s Pasta Salad (one of my favorites)

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