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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 August 20th, 2011.


So the story goes, there’s a market (grocery store) in Houston called the Central Market. I’ve never been to Houston (except at the airport), so have no personal experience at this mega-market. But apparently they make something there call “Love Dip.” It’s a big favorite of a lot of Houstonians, and the market will not release a single thing about how they make it. So someone in the Food department at the Houston Chronicle decided to try to replicate it; hence, their version (no longer online) tastes quite similar. They called it “Mock Love Dip.” Lisa, from the Homesick Texan blog adapted it from their recipe, to remind her of her hometown (she lives in NYC now), and she wrote it up on her blog in 2007.

I made it back then – this was before I’d started my own blog – so I didn’t photograph it. Just fixed it, served it, and enjoyed it. A friend of ours (who spent a lot of years in Houston) asked me recently if I’d heard of Love Dip. Well, indeed I had. And I thought it probably was on my blog. But no, it wasn’t. We’re fixing that right now!

As so often happens, as I go about the prep for a recipe, I find I don’t have something in the ingredient list. In this case, I didn’t have any salsa. BUT, I had all the ingredients to make salsa, so I just added those in kind of willy-nilly to the food processor bowl, and I decided to use up a half of an avocado I had in the fridge. Now the avocado isn’t an original ingredient in this dip, so if you want to make Love Dip true to it’s Houston Chronicle version, eliminate that. And as luck would have it, I didn’t have 8 ounces of cream cheese either, but I did have 4 ounces, and a 5-ounce little log of soft goat cheese. So I used them both.  I also added lime juice, not lemon, but that’s a fairly easy exchange. I hope Lisa will forgive me for tinkering with her recipe!

salsa_veggiesMost likely I also added more of the salsa ingredients than she did too – here’s a picture of what I put in it. I didn’t exactly measure it, just tossed those things in the workbowl. I love cilantro anyway, so wanted more of that in any case. From the top: both yellow and red cherry tomatoes, red bell pepper, a part of an Anaheim chile, green onions and cilantro.

First, though, I whizzed up the two cheeses to get those blended before I added veggies. Then I added in everything else (except the lemon and lime juice). Lastly you add the citrus. I tasted it several times to add in a bit more salt and pepper, and another little squeeze of lime juice. I used more than Lisa indicated, but you use your own taste buds to determine what’s right for your palate.

What I like: how EASY this dip is to make. Well, especially if you have some salsa right on your refrigerator shelf. There’s nothing to it, really. I like the fact that there are a good amount of veggies in this – so you’re getting some fiber along with the cheese! It also keeps for a few days too, and it’s versatile – not only can it be a dip, but you can use it as a sauce for chicken or fish. I like it with fresh veggies, but you can also use chips, pita bread, baguette (toasted) slices, or crackers.

What I didn’t like: nothing at all. It’s delish. Is it healthy? Well, probably not very, with all the cheese in it, but you could use low-fat cream cheese. I’d bet you couldn’t taste the difference. I just didn’t have any.

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Love Dip

Recipe By:Adapted from the Homesick Texan weblog
Serving Size: 8

4 ounces cream cheese — softened
5 ounces soft goat cheese — softened
1/4 cup salsa — (or add a handful of fresh vegetables to make salsa: tomatoes, green onions, green chile, cilantro)
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon dried tarragon — or 2 leaves fresh tarragon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 teaspoons lime juice — or lemon juice or both
1/2 avocado — peeled, diced (optional)

1. Throw all the ingredients except lime or lemon juice in a blender and puree until smooth.
2. Add citrus juice to taste. Goes well with crackers, bread, tortilla chips, vegetables, chicken and fish.
Per Serving: 121 Calories; 11g Fat (77.2% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 2g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 24mg Cholesterol; 211mg Sodium.

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