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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 Pasta, Salads, on August 18th, 2008.

When I saw this recipe title my head tilted sideways and a big question mark floated skyward out of my ear. No, you don’t barbecue the salad. Who whooda thunk of putting barbecue sauce in a pasta salad, I ask you? The recipe came into my inbox from Cook’s Illustrated (I get an email epistle from them regularly) and this recipe was in the list, but credited to Cook’s Country, a magazine I don’t subscribe to. It sounded so incongruous I had to go investigate the recipe further.

Pasta is something we severely limit around here, and not because we don’t like it. But when I read this, it just sounded so different I had to try it. Right off the bat, I didn’t have scallions (used red onion instead) or red bell pepper (used some baby mild mini peppers instead), and I prowled my refrigerator for BBQ sauce and finally found something close (an Ancho Chile Spicy glaze). But hey, necessity is the mother of invention. I wanted to make this salad, and I used what I had on hand. Once  prepared, I dipped my spoon into the bowl and was absolutely wow-ed by the taste. I l-o-v-e-d it. We had it with our dinner and for leftovers a day later. I made a half batch. After two dinners, I added more vegetables to the mixture and prepared a small amount of additional mayo and bbq sauce which the salad needed. The vinegar is an important aspect of this salad – when I added the veggies with the added mayo and BBQ sauce, at first I didn’t add the vinegar. The salad was flat. If you do add more veggies to it, you’ll need more dressing. Also another dash of hot sauce too. Next time I’ll try it with low-fat mayo. With all the flavor in the salad already, it may not need the boost of full-fat mayo.

The dressing is simple: mayo, barbecue sauce, cider vinegar, some spicy hot sauce (I used a Vietnamese one I keep on hand at all times), chili powder, garlic powder, cayenne (actually I omitted this because I used a spicy barbecue sauce) and black pepper (see photo with the pepper dotting the top). The dressing is poured on top of the pasta which is mixed with bell pepper, celery and the onions (scallions). It took about 15 minutes to make, not including the time to heat the pasta water. You could eat it immediately (although it would be warm or room temp), but they recommend letting it chill for 30 minutes or so, but it will keep for a couple of days. Perfecto for a summer barbecue dinner. You will be missing out if you don’t try this one. I’m so excited when somebody finds a way to make something ordinary into something fabulous. Why didn’t I think of that?
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BBQ Macaroni (Pasta) Salad

Recipe: From Cook’s Country magazine
Servings: 10-12
Cook’s Notes: use more veggies if you’d like. Tomatoes would be a nice addition too, particularly if they’re good, ripe ones. Also cucumber. Leftover chicken or turkey could also be added to be a nice main course. If you add more veggies, you’ll need more dressing.

Table salt
1 pound elbow macaroni [I used pennette]
1 whole red bell pepper — seeded and chopped fine
1 rib celery — chopped fine [use 2-3x as much]
4 whole scallions — sliced thin [I used red onion]
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon hot sauce
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1 cup Best Foods mayonnaise
1/2 cup barbecue sauce [I used a Honey-Roasted Ancho Chili BBQ Glaze]
Ground black pepper

1. Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot. Add 1 tablespoon salt and macaroni and cook until nearly tender, about 5 minutes. Drain in colander and rinse with cold water until cool, then drain once more, briefly, so that pasta is still moist; transfer to large bowl.
2. Stir in bell pepper, celery, scallions, vinegar, hot sauce, chili powder, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper, and let sit until flavors are absorbed, about 2 minutes. Stir in mayonnaise and barbecue sauce and let sit until salad is no longer watery, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve. (The salad can be covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Check seasonings before serving.)
Per Serving: 343 Calories; 20g Fat (50.3% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 37g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 8mg Cholesterol; 250mg Sodium.

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  1. johanna

    said on August 21st, 2008:

    ah! this is just to my taste! i love pasta salads, they’re such a perfect and complete dinner! when you have pasta salad, you really don’t need anything else! well, a cake, maybe… thanks for your contribution to WTSIM!
    You will absolutely L-O-V-E this salad, then. Providing you like barbecue sauce. It isn’t overwhelming, but you do know it’s there. Hope you like it as much as we did. . . . Carolyn

  2. Polly

    said on August 22nd, 2008:

    My mother used to make this salad when I was a kid. It’s fabulous! She added a can of chick peas (I don’t know why), but it is actually very good! It adds another texture to the salad, as well as some protein and fiber. This was the only pasta salad we would eat as kids. By using whatever sauce you have on hand, you can have either a sweeter or spicier salad. Very versatile.

    Polly – I wouldn’t have thought to use chick peas. So I guess this salad mixture with barbecue sauce in the dressing has been around for awhile. Funny that I’d never heard of it.

  3. Monica Coleman

    said on October 13th, 2008:

    I like the idea of using red onions; I can’t eat scallions. How much red onion did you put in?
    Can’t wait to make this for our Western-themed Halloween party!

    Monica – I would probably use about 1/2 or 1/3 cup, minced up finely. But if you really like it, use more. But basically you’d be substituting the red onion for the green onion, so use your own judgment! Hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

  4. Jessica

    said on December 24th, 2008:

    For what its worth, google likes this site. In my google webmaster tools, It’s showing over 100 backlinks to tastingspoons
    That’s incredible indexing!
    Best regards, Jessica@ makemoneykingdom.com
    Jessi194@ yahoo.co.uk

    gee, that’s good to hear. Thanks. . . . Carolyn T

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