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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 Brunch, Desserts, Miscellaneous sides, on September 12th, 2011.

grilled_pineapple_nutella

Every once in awhile we grill pineapple to serve with a dinner outdoors. To go with a pork roast, for instance, or pork chops, or grilled chicken. Or grilled fish. This time as I was flipping through recipes in my to-try pile (actually it’s in a 3-ring binder, 1 of 2 that I have, and recipes are slipped inside clear sleeves, maybe 3-4 to each side) this one sounded like it might be fun for a brunch. Indeed it was.

nutella_scoopIf you’re not familiar with Nutella, you should be. In writing this I went to Nutella’s website and found out a whole bunch of info about it. It was first developed in Piemonte (the NW region of Italy). It’s pronounced new-tell-uh. What’s available here in the U.S. of A. is manufactured in Canada. It’s gluten-free. And kosher. And peanut free. They’re meticulous about that. And they use non-hydrogenated palm oil to emulsify it. Each 13-ounce jar contains about 50+ hazelnuts, sugar, skim milk and a tiny bit of cocoa. It all got started in the 1940’s because Mr. Ferrero, a pastry maker, couldn’t afford to pay the high (war time) taxes on chocolate – and because hazelnuts grow in abundance in Piemonte, it was a natural for him to devise a new spread. In the 1960’s Ferrero’s son started marketing it to consumers. It’s quite similar to the guianduja (an Italian product that’s 50/50 hazelnuts and chocolate) which you often see as a gelato flavor (it’s my favorite gelato).  Its most popular use is spread on toast (sorry, I don’t care much for Nutella that way – it’s too sweet – but most consumers disagree with me there). One of Nutella’s benefits is that it should not be refrigerated, although you do want to use it up within soon time frame – there is a use-by date on each jar. If you want some other options for using up the Nutella, there’s a website devoted just to World Nutella Day (February 5th).

Originally this recipe came from Giada de Laurentiis way back in 2004. Then, I took liberties with the recipe, but it’s still generally Giada’s design. I think this would make a great dessert with a little scoop of vanilla ice cream in the middle. And if you want to make it Giada’s way (with mascarpone instead of the crème fraîche, and adding vanilla and some whipping cream) then click over to her version. Mine is just a bit simpler.

If you want to serve this as a dessert, you’ll likely use all of the Nutella mixture; but as a brunch side dish I didn’t overwhelm any of the pineapple slices with too much Nutella. So I ended up with leftover Nutella. Not a bad thing, but I don’t eat Nutella in other things. However, I will say when I was craving just a tiny sweet something after dinner the other night I stuck my spoon into the leftover Nutella mixture. Mmmmm, good.

What I liked: this was SO easy to make as long as you have a little tub of crème fraîche on hand and the Nutella, of course. It’s very pretty too.

What I didn’t like: not a thing, really, Just don’t use too much of the (sweet) Nutella mixture; you want to be able to taste the pineapple!

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Grilled Pineapple with Nutella

Recipe By: Adapted from a 2004 Giada De Laurentiis recipe
Serving Size: 8
Serving Ideas: This can be served as a dessert – with a little scoop of vanilla ice cream nestled in the center, with a little tiny dollop more of the Nutella mixture on top, with more hazelnuts too. Or, serve at a brunch. Use a limited amount of the Nutella mixture in that case – this would be served as a side dish (not dessert) so you don’t want it to be overly sweet. You’ll have leftover Nutella in this case.

1 whole pineapple — peeled, cut crosswise into 1/3-inch-thick slices and core removed
1/3 cup crème fraîche — room temperature
1/3 cup Nutella — or other chocolate-hazelnut spread
Canola oil for brushing on the grill
1 1/2 tablespoons hazelnuts — chopped toasted

1. Lightly oil an outdoor grill. Grill the pineapple slices until heated through and beginning to brown, about 3 minutes per side. It’s important to leave the pineapple on the grill, untouched, to create grill marks.
2. In a small bowl combine the Nutella and the crème fraîche and set aside.
3. Transfer pineapple slices to a serving platter and spread a little bit of the Nutella mixture on each piece.
4. Sprinkle tops with toasted hazelnuts and serve while still hot.
Per Serving: 120 Calories; 7g Fat (50.7% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 14g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 9mg Cholesterol; 15mg Sodium.

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