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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 4th, 2011.


Actually, I didn’t make these. Tarla Fallgatter made them at the cooking class here at my house atrader_joes_puff_pastry week or so ago. They looked incredibly easy, really. She did, however, make them with smoked salmon (so you don’t even have to cook the salmon since it’s smoked-cooked). But I liked these well enough that I might even try them with regular salmon. However, I think you’d need to cook the salmon before making up the filling. In either case, though, they looked very easy to put together. Yes, it’s done with puff pastry. Trader Joe’s sells it in flat boxes and you just need to defrost it well before starting on this. salmon_pillow_collageSee photo at right. It’s an 18-ounce package.

The filling is a mixture of the salmon, some goat cheese, chives, a tiny bit of egg and a little bit of cream. See, I told you it was easy. The remaining egg  is gently brushed on top of each of the little pillows.

You roll out the the puff pastry to a 12-inch square. Tarla’s instructions said she put 9 little mounds of salmon, but I see from the photo that initially she made 12. I think she removed 3 and made it 9 (see 2nd and 3rd photos). I was busy taking pictures and didn’t see her do that.

After folding over the one side of the pastry, she gently pressed her fingers around each filling mound. She cut them with a rounded-edged cutter. I don’t have blunt-edged pastry cutters, but she said a small glass would work – someone else suggested a shot glass. Yes, those would work just fine.

Once the pillows were cut out and placed on a pastry-lined baking sheet, she poked each one in the top (for steam to escape), then brushed them just on the top (not down the sides) with egg yolk. It’s important to NOT let any of the egg glaze go over the sides as that will prevent the pillow from rising properly. Tarla didn’t chill them, but the instructions say to chill for awhile before baking. Do let them cool for 5-10 minutes before serving so people don’t burn their mouths! But do serve them warm.

What I liked: very tasty – full of taste, actually. And as long as you have all the ingredients, they’re quite easy to make. It’s not like you have to make the puff pastry – just buy it. They make a very elegant appetizer.

What I didn’t like: although I liked the smoked salmon, I think maybe the regular salmon would be even better, but that’s just my personal taste.

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Smoked Salmon Pillows

Recipe By: Tarla Fallgatter, from a cooking class
Serving Size: 18
NOTES: When these were demonstrated, Tarla used smoked salmon from Trader Joe’s. And it was good, but I think I’d try it with some just barely cooked regular salmon instead. The recipe makes 18 of these little pillows, enough for two per person. You won’t use all the puff pastry – so the calorie count is off significantly. Once you’ve cut out the pillows you throw away what’s left over – about a third of it.

18 ounces puff pastry — Trader Joe’s, frozen
2 ounces goat cheese — softened to room temp
2 ounces smoked salmon — or use some flaked cooked regular salmon
1 tablespoon fresh chives — minced
1 1/2 teaspoons heavy cream
1 whole egg — lightly beaten

1. FILLING: In a small bowl combine the goat cheese, salmon, chives, cream and 1 1/2 tsp. of the beaten egg. Add a tsp. of water to the remaining egg and reserve for glazing the top of the pastry.
2. PASTRY: Unfold pastry sheet and roll it out to a 12-inch square. Cut the square in half. On one sheet mark off three 2-inch wide columns and three 2-inch wide rows (making 9 small squares) using a knife of tines of a fork. Do NOT puncture through the pastry – you’re just marking spots to put the filling. Place a rounded teaspoon of filling in the center of each square. Gently fold 2nd pastry sheet on top and press down lightly between the rows and columns for form little pillows. Press down just enough to see the mounds of filling.
3. Using a round glass (something with rounded edges like a shot glass, not sharp like cookie or pastry cutters), cut each pillow through, placing even pressure on all sides. Place each pillow on a parchment lined baking sheet. Using a pastry brush, brush the top ONLY of each pastry pillow with the remaining egg glaze. Do not allow the egg mixture to drizzle down the sides as that will prevent the sides from rising properly when baking. As you place the pillows on the baking sheet gently press the edges together to seal. Cover the tray with plastic wrap and chill for a few hours.
4. Preheat oven to 425°. Arrange the rack in the center of the oven. Poke a small hole in the center of each pillow to allow steam to escape. Place pillows on a clean (not chilled) parchment-lined baking sheet (NOT the one you used to chill them) and bake until crisp, puffed and golden, about 12 minutes. Remove and allow to cool on the pans for 5 minutes. Transfer pillows to a rack to crisp slightly. Serve while warm.
Per Pillow (this is way too high because you end up discarding at least a third of the puff pastry): 180 Calories; 12g Fat (62.5% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 13g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 16mg Cholesterol; 110mg Sodium.

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