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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 November 13th, 2011.

grilled_cheese_bacon_bites

Oh goodness. I could have eaten an entire plate of these appetizers, they were so good. Hot, right out of the oven with that little dollop of tomato jam on top. Oh yes.

A couple of months ago my friend Cherrie and I went to a cooking class taught by a private chef, Megan Barnett. Her class was all about bacon, yet she managed to give us a whole variety of different dishes. I’ll be sharing at least one more recipe from the class (a winter greens salad). She also made shrimp and grits, a buttery mac ‘n cheese, and a pork belly dish. I already have a great shrimp and grits recipe, rarely make mac ‘n cheese although it was truly delicious, and didn’t care for the pork belly (in an Asian marinade and sauce). But these cheese bites? Yes, yes.

First you have to make the tomato jam – there’s not much to making it, really – except a bit of time spent over the stove. You could use any leftovers for sandwiches or in any kind of sauce. The cheese mixture is easy to put together too – although you do have to cook up the bacon first. Otherwise, it’s very easy to make. Then the mixture is spread on baguette slices (clear out to the edges) and broiled. Done. Dollop on the jam and serve. You can’t have just one, I guarantee!

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Grilled Cheese Bacon Bites with Tomato Jam

Recipe By: From a cooking class with Megan Barnett, a private chef, 9/2011
Serving Size: 25
NOTES: If you have fresh Roma tomatoes, use them, peeled, seeded and diced. You may also use regular onion instead of green onion if preferred, but soak the onion in water for 20 minutes before using.

4 slices thick-sliced bacon — Black Forest (Whole Foods) or your bacon of choice
1/2 pound extra sharp white cheddar cheese
1/2 pound extra sharp yellow cheddar cheese
1/2 cup roasted red peppers — (jarred), drained, chopped
1/4 cup green onion — minced
2/3 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons Italian parsley — chopped
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 whole baguette — sliced into 1/2 inch thick rounds
TOMATO JAM:
28 ounces canned tomatoes — San Marzano plum tomatoes, including juice
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 pinch red pepper flakes
Salt to taste

1. TOMATO JAM: If using canned tomatoes, place them in a bowl and break them up with your fingers, lightly crushing them.
2. In a small saucepan combine the tomatoes, sugar, red pepper flakes, vinegar and a generous pinch of salt. Bring the tomatoes to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes are reduced by half, about 20 minutes. Cool to room temp and refrigerate until ready to use. Can be made up to 3 days in advance.
3. CHEESE BACON BITES: Preheat broiler.
4. Combine all the ingredients (except baguette) in a bowl and stir until smooth. You may also mix it in a food processor, pulsing just until chopped.
5. Spread each bread round with a generous spoonful of cheese, covering surface of the bread, right to the edges. Place the cheese breads on a sheet pan and broil until bubbly and hot. Serve cheese bites on a platter and top each with a small dollop of tomato jam. Cheese mixture will keep up to 5 days.
Per Serving: 166 Calories; 7g Fat (38.0% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 22g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 4mg Cholesterol; 337mg Sodium.

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