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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 Beverages, on August 26th, 2008.

white sangria

It was 2001, and watching Oprah one afternoon, she just went bonkers over a recipe for white sangria. Having only had red sangria to that point in my life, and hearing Oprah rave about it, I decided I had to try it. It is credited to a restaurant in New York City called Pipa. I had to go out and buy a great many of the special ingredients in this beverage – well, only three of them actually – since I had some of them on hand already. I remember my dear hubby saying to me “what’s all THIS for?” I think I was entertaining a group of women, and thought this would be a nice change.

This has now become my go-to recipe for white sangria. It’s just so refreshing. And EASY. You do need a few pieces of fruit (apple, peach, lemon, orange), and you need all the liqueur stuff. They were not bottles I had kept on hand (now I do). But the original bottles I bought back in 2001 I still have, although they’re all getting low. Drinking this sangria, you can’t quite figure out what’s in it. It would take a really good taster and sniffer to figure it out without some help. I have changed the recipe slightly since I started making it years ago – the fruit usually gets thrown out after wards, so I use less peach and less apple. And sometimes I add more 7-up. You can use your own discretion about this – if it tastes too strong to you, just add a bit more 7-up. I always use Diet 7-up for this since there is already enough sugar in it, to my taste.

Even living in a large suburban city, I had to go to several stores (including a liquor-only one) to find a couple of the liqueurs. But perhaps you’ll be lucky and find everything you need in one location. Once you have them on hand, you won’t need to replace them for a long time; unless you start drinking this every week . . . So, you’ll need Grand Marnier, Peach Pucker schnapps (tart flavored, sort of), Peach Schnapps, apricot brandy, Amaretto and Chambord.
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White Sangria

Recipe: adapted from Pipa Restaurant, NYC (via Oprah Magazine, July 2001)
Servings: 8

1/2 Granny Smith apple — sliced in thin wedges
1/2 fresh peach — sliced in thin wedges
1 lemon — sliced in thin wedges
1 orange — sliced in thin wedges
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier — or other kind of orange liqueur
2 tablespoons Peach Pucker schnapps
2 tablespoons peach schnapps
2 tablespoons apricot brandy
2 tablespoons Amaretto
1 tablespoon Chambord
12 ounces lemon-lime soda — or can use sugar-free
1 whole cinnamon stick
1 quart white wine

1. Slice all the fruit thinly and if using large fruit, cut pieces in half. This may be done a little ahead of time and placed in a plastic bag with the cinnamon stick. Be sure the apple slices are covered in fruit juice, so they don’t turn brown.
2. Place all sliced fruit in a large pitcher. Pour everything over the fruit except the wine and 7-up and stir gently. Allow to sit for 20 minutes.
3. Just before serving, add chilled wine and 7-up and stir gently. Pour sangria into large, chilled wine glasses and add pieces of fruit. Add ice if you prefer (I do).
Per Serving (assumes you consume all the fruit, which almost nobody does): 177 Calories; trace Fat (1.4% calories from fat); trace Protein; 17g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 12mg Sodium.

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