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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, easy, on January 13th, 2012.

artichoke_romano_bruschetta

As I’m writing this, my mouth is watering. Just remembering the slightly sharp taste of the artichoke hearts, the Romano cheese and onion do it. So good, and so very easy. As long as you have marinated artichoke hearts on your pantry shelf – and some Romano cheese (Romano has a stronger flavor than Parmesan – but if Parmesan is all you have – go for it). I always have red onion and mayo. But you’ve got to start with a fresh baguette loaf too.

All you need to do it chop up the onion and let it sit in some vinegar water for 10 minutes or so to take away that harsh bite, drain it, blot it dry, then mix it with some chopped marinated artichokes, some grated Romano cheese and some mayo. Really, how much more simple can that be? You don’t have to pre-bake the baguette slices – as long as you bake these in a hot oven (400°) it crisps up the slices during the baking time. Spread some of this on top of each baguette slice, bake and you’re done. Instant appetizer almost. Or a quick lunch? And if, by some strange chance, you have some leftover topping, pile it on top of the flattened chicken breast, top it with some buttered bread crumbs, or just plain Panko crumbs, and bake for about 15-20 minutes. Also easy.

The recipe came from yet another Phillis Carey cooking class – this one was about planning for Thanksgiving. The mixture can be made ahead a day or two – just assemble and bake at the last minute.

What I liked: well, the flavor altogether. And how easy it was.

What I didn’t like: nothing at all.

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Artichoke Romano Bruschetta

Recipe By: Phillis Carey
Serving Size: 16
NOTES: If you have leftover artichoke topping, it will go great on top of a chicken breast – just add some buttered bread crumbs to the top and bake. Soaking the onion takes away that raw-onion taste – since these little toasts aren’t baked all that long, the onion can still be a slight bit crunchy.

6 ounces marinated artichoke hearts — drained, patted dry, and chopped
1/2 cup Romano cheese — freshly grated
1/3 cup red onion — finely chopped
5 tablespoons mayonnaise
16 whole baguette slices

1. Soak the chopped red onion in about 1/2 cup water with 1-2 T. of white vinegar added. Set aside for 10-15 minutes. Drain and blot dry.
2. Stir together the artichoke hearts, cheese and red onion in a medium bowl. Mix in enough mayonnaise to form a thick spread. Add a little more mayo if needed, but you shouldn’t need more than a tablespoon.
3. Preheat oven to 400°. Spread the baguette slices with the artichoke mixture and arrange on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake until the top is bubbly and bread is crisp, about 6-8 minutes. Allow to cool for a minute, then serve immediately.
Per Serving: 124 Calories; 6g Fat (42.6% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 14g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 5mg Cholesterol; 253mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on January 14th, 2012:

    I hadn’t heard of Romano cheese so I investigated and it is, I believe, what we would call Pecorino. I love the taste of raw red onion so doubt if I would soak it. Anything with toast is a winner for me.

    Sorry, I should have written Pecorino-Romano, because, indeed, that’s how it’s sold here too. I don’t know why I didn’t correct it, but it was someone else’s recipe and I just wrote in what she suggested! If you like raw onion, by all means don’t soak it. The raw-onion taste lingers in my mouth for hours, so I really like the soaking method! . . .carolyn t

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