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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, Fish, on September 28th, 2011.

smoked_albacore_appetizer

The first time I had this was probably 50 years ago. Oh my goodness, do I feel old writing that! The recipe, if you can call it that since it’s nothing more than a couple of ingredients, is from my friend Linda’s mother, Van (Linda is a childhood friend that I still see once in awhile, and she still lives just a few doors from the house I grew up in, in San Diego). Anyway, Linda’s parents are both deceased now. But her dad loved to fish, and he caught hundreds and hundreds of pounds of tuna each year. The family would have a tuna-canning-fest. I can still remember being given a couple of the short, fat Mason jars packed full of tuna, garlic and onion, as I recall. I don’t believe it was smoked tuna, but just “canned” tuna. Van had a big canning kettle and I vaguely remember the family all complaining about the big job it was, to can dozens and dozens of jars of tuna.

Tuna isn’t something we eat with as much regularity anymore, what with the amount of mercury in it. On Wikipedia I found this statement about tuna: Due to their high position in the food chain and the subsequent accumulation of heavy metals from their diet, mercury levels can be high in larger species such as bluefin and albacore. Also, according to Wikipedia, a can of StarKist brand tuna contains about 10 TIMES the amount of mercury as other similarly labeled grocery-shelf tuna.

I’ve told you, my readers, about the albacore tuna that I do buy online, though. It’s by Carvalho Fisheries. They catch young tuna, and as such, younger tuna haven’t consumed enough metals in the sea to have as much measurable mercury in their flesh. I’ve been buying Carvalho’s tuna for about 8-9 years now. Each time, I buy a 12-pack of regular low mercury albacore in its own juices. Last time I ordered I also got some salmon and some smoked albacore. That’s when I started using the smoked version in this simple-easy appetizer.

First, though, you cut up half of a red onion, cut that half in half, peel it and remove the ends, then  thinly slice the onion. As thin as possible. Into a bowl those little slivers go. I add water to cover, then add a jolt (probably about 2 T. ) of vinegar or red wine vinegar and let that sit for 30-60 minutes. What that does is remove the harshness of raw onion – soaked onions make that raw onion taste mild and sweet. If you’d like it actually “sweet,” just add a little dash of sugar to the brine and you’ll have sweet onions. Phillis Carey shared that tip with one of the many cooking classes I’ve been to, and it’s a great little trick.

smoked_albacore_crackerThere you can see one of the crackers (I prefer crackers to bread, but it’s completely up to you) with a little bit of the big flakes or shards of tuna with the onions on top. Makes two delicious bites per Vinta cracker. Nothing else is needed – no sauce – no mayo – no nothin’. It’s just good the way it is.

When I make this I start an hour ahead, soak the red onions and leave them out on the kitchen counter. Then I open the can of tuna, put it on some kind of tray or plate, the onions in a small bowl and surround it with crackers. How simple is that?

albacore_can_carvalho_fisheriesThere’s a photo from Carvalho’s website of the Coastal Albacore. It’s a traditional tuna-sized can. I still have several in my pantry at the moment, just waiting for my next tuna recipe. My favorite is the Sicilian Tuna Salad. Pasta, herbs, a delicious lemony dressing, and the tuna.

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Smoked Albacore and Red Onion Appetizer

Recipe By: From my friend Linda’s mother Van
Serving Size: 10 (maybe less if they’re really hungry, but a little bit goes a long ways)
Serving Ideas: If you have some kind of sauce (I’d suggest a mayo based) on hand, you could dab a little bit of it on the cracker, or on the tuna and stick the onions to it. The appetizer doesn’t really need anything else, but this is just an idea. I happen to have some Mississippi Comeback Sauce in the refrigerator at the moment, and it would probably be delicious with it.
Notes: If you can’t find smoked albacore (available at upscale fish markets, usually) you can use a high quality ordinary canned albacore. The point is to use albacore because it will break off into nice bite-sized flakes. Do not under any circumstances use the tiny-flaked canned tuna from the groery store shelf. I buy smoked and regular albacore from Carvalho Fisheries (search online) because they harvest young tuna which contain much less mercury.

6 ounces smoked albacore — or just good quality tuna, drained
1/2 whole red onion
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
water

1. An hour before serving prepare the onion. Remove end and skin, cut onion half in half and cut very thin slices.
2. Place onion slivers in a bowl. Add water just to cover, then add the red wine vinegar. Stir and set aside for one hour.
3. Drain onion and blot on paper towels, then place in a small serving bowl.
4. On a platter place the onion bowl, the tuna with a small fork so people can separate flakes of it. Add crackers of your choice.
Per Serving (doesn’t include the crackers): 27 Calories; trace Fat (15.0% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 1g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 7mg Cholesterol; 67mg Sodium.

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