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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 Pork, on January 9th, 2012.


What I’d really wanted was one of those lovely, big bone-in pork loins, the kind that Costco usually sells over the holidays. And only during the holidays. My freezer was just too full to buy one, even though I would have cut it into more manageable sizes. So, when my DH went there on December 31st, this type was the only thing available. I’m not usually very crazy about this kind of tied-up roast because the butchers have taken two smaller boneless loins and just stuck them together to make one bigger roast. They never seem to have the same flavor as the bone-in ones. But this was what I had, so I needed to work with it, whatever it was.

pork_loin_collageMy friend Cherrie had made this roast for Christmas Dinner and told me it was really delicious. The original recipe came from Southern Living, their December issue. When I made it, it was January 2nd and although some local food markets were open, I just decided to improvise and use what I could from my own pantry. I wanted it to be grilled on the barbecue, not oven roasted. I wanted to make the sauce in a pan, not nestled in the bottom of the pan with the pork grease, and I didn’t have mixed dried fruits, so I used dried apricots only. And it worked! Maybe not quite as pretty looking as the magazine’s finished product (they butterflied a big pork loin, stuffed it, then rolled and tied it).

Here, at left, are some additional photos: (1) the darling, little Seckel pears used for the sauce; (2) the sauce as it just began to simmer (with pearl onions, honey, butter, lemon juice, fresh rosemary); and (3) a plated portion with the slice of roast on the bottom, sauce on the top with some of the juices.

The roast, in a pan, on a rack, cooked in the barbecue for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours, and we let it rest, tented, for about 10 minutes before everybody couldn’t stand it any longer and we started eating. And it WAS really good. Everyone seemed to like the fruit sauce. Ideally you will cut thinner slices, so everyone gets a full round slice (with stuffing in the middle). What most people wanted, though, was a half of a thicker slice. It did fit on a plate a bit better, but not quite as attractive without the fruit stripe.

What I liked: how pretty it looked; how tender the meat was, and not dry because it was removed from the barbecue at exactly 145°; the sweet/savory taste of the fruit sauce on top.

What I didn’t like: even though I added butter to the fruit sauce, I think a bit of the drippings from the pork roast would have been exceptionally good in it. I’ll leave that up to you. In the original recipe the fruit soaked up a lot of the fat – I wanted to minimize that – but surely it would be good with just a bit of it.

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Fruit Stuffed Pork Loin with Pear Onion Sauce

Recipe By: Adapted from Southern Living, December 2011
Serving Size: 14
NOTES: Three firm, ripe Bartlett pears may be substituted for the Seckel pears. Core each pear, and cut into 4 wedges. And sugar may be substituted for the honey. The original recipe called for cippolini onions – if you can find them and can spend the time, they’re a deliciously sweet onion. Otherwise, use the frozen pearl onions.

6 pounds pork loin, lean, boneless
8 ounces dried apricots — or mixed dried fruits, chopped
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt — divided
1 1/2 teaspoons coarsely ground pepper — divided
Kitchen string if needed to tie or re-tie roast
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons fresh rosemary — finely minced
3 cloves fresh garlic — smashed, finely minced
1 tablespoon fresh sage — finely minced
2 tablespoons canola oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
6 whole Seckel pears — firm ripe
2 tablespoons butter — melted
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons honey — or sugar
1/4 teaspoon fresh rosemary — finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 pound pearl onions — (frozen at Trader Joe’s) or fresh, peeled
2 tablespoons apricot preserves — or more if needed

1. Prepare Pork Loin: Combine filling ingredients in a small bowl. If pork loin is of the type with two loins put together and tied, use your fingers and gently stuff the apricot filling in-between the layers, pushing the fruit in to evenly fill the interior.
2. Combine the Herb Rub dry ingredients. Using your hands, slather the oil all over the roast on all sides, then roll in the herb mixture.
3. Preheat barbecue to 375°. Place pork roast on a rack set in a roasting pan and place pan in the barbecue with indirect heat with a meat thermometer.
4. Grill roast pork for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until the meat registers 140-145°. Remove from grill, cover with aluminum foil, and let stand 15 minutes.
5. While meat is roasting (start this as soon as the meat is in the barbecue or it can be made ahead) prepare Roasted Pears and Onions: Preheat oven to 350°. Cut pears in half lengthwise, and remove cores. Cut pear halves in half if desired, or leave them in the larger halves. Stir together pears, butter, honey, lemon juice, rosemary, salt pepper and onions. Use a pan that can go from stovetop to oven, if possible. Bring pear mixture to a boil on stovetop, then cover and bake at 300° for about an hour. Remove to the stovetop and continue to cook, if necessary until pears are soft but not falling apart, about 10 minutes. Add apricot preserves at the end just to thicken the sauce some. If desired add a tablespoon or so of the pork drippings to the sauce.
Per Serving: 363 Calories; 14g Fat (35.2% calories from fat); 36g Protein; 23g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 92mg Cholesterol; 405mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on January 9th, 2012:

    That looks very festive. I have not heard of those pears, they must be an American fruit. Are they hard or soft before cooking?
    They’re a very small pear, green and red skin, and they’re like any other soft pear. The recipe says you can substitute Bartlett. . . carolyn t

  2. Dorothy

    said on January 9th, 2012:

    I love that you changed your profile picture. Wish other people would do that now and then. Also, I enjoy your book recommendations and have read quite a few of them.

    Well, thank you Dorothy! Our church recently had a photographer in to update our member directory. For an additional $18 I got a CD and we “own” the photos. Go to my About page and you’ll see another photo of me with my husband. If you’re interested.

    Am so glad you enjoy some of my book recommendations, Dorothy. I’m so glad! . . . carolyn t

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