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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 September 10th, 2008.

shrimp and avocado salsa

Lately I’ve been on a roll with salsas. There’s no question, I enjoy salsa of most varieties – except canned and ready-made grocery store types. We have one independent market near us, Pacific Ranch Market, which makes fabulous homemade salsa every day. Usually we rely on theirs – it’s so good – and already prepared.

But this time, we were going out for the evening on a Duffy Boat. You know of these things? Cute little electric-powered boats that hold oh, 8-12 people mostly. The driver sits in the rear seat and everybody else kind of sits around the edges. This one had clear plastic windows, but the cool evening breeze flowed in the front as we maneuvered all around Newport Harbor for two hours. From the picture at the right, you can see Cherrie and Joan, as we were cruisin’ and talkin’. We had lots of fun. My DH drove the boat most of the time – as he was the most experienced on the water, since he’s owned a sailboat since he was 7. There were eight of us – I may have mentioned this group before – we call ourselves the HGG – Healthy Gourmet Group. Initially we were eating really, truly, healthy food, but the group decided to think this again – so we try to choose lower-fat ingredients if we can. If we can’t, well, so be it. But we still call ourselves HGG anyway.

I was the front-man on this – I made the arrangements – so I suggested we bring heavy appetizers or finger food. The menu came together so fast I couldn’t believe it. Cherrie said she’d make some wraps (both turkey and ham). Joan would bring skewers of fresh fruit. I’d make some other kind of hearty appetizer, and Sue would bring dessert (brownies with Chambord in them) and coffee. Each couple brought a bottle of wine (one white, three reds). We tootled around the harbor for two hours, ate good food, drank good wine, and had hilarious fun talking.

Going through my appetizer repertoire (that I haven’t already blogged about, that is) I spotted this recipe for avocado and shrimp salsa. Very hearty. And absolutely delicious. I have no recollection where this recipe came from, but I’ve altered so much over the years that it no longer resembles the original version anyway. So it’s as good as “my” recipe. And note, there’s not a single bit of oil or fat in this except what little natural fat there is in some foods, provided by Mother Nature.
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Shrimp & Avocado Salsa

Recipe: my own concoction
Servings: 12

1 pound shrimp — not canned, peeled, deveined, cooked
2 whole poblano chiles — broiled, peeled (also called pasilla)
2 bunches green onions — minced
1 bunch fresh cilantro — minced
3 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 pounds canned tomatoes — diced
1 cup fresh tomatoes — chopped
1 tablespoon fresh oregano
1 tablespoon chipotle chile canned in adobo — minced
2 ears corn on the cob — removed, raw
2 whole avocados — chopped
salt — to taste
garlic salt — to taste, or one fresh garlic clove minced

1. Roast the poblano chiles: cut them in half, core them, remove seeds, lay flat on a broiling pan skin side up, then broil for about 5-8 minutes until the skin is crinkly black. Remove, cool in a plastic bag for 30 minutes, then easily slip the skin off. Roughly chop the chiles in small pieces. Watch carefully while broiling or it will completely dry up the chile flesh – that you don’t want!
2. Do not use canned shrimp in this dish. Cook and devein the shrimp and chop into medium-sized pieces. You want to be able to see the shrimp pieces.
3. In a large non-metallic bowl combine the shrimp, poblano chiles, onions, cilantro, lime juice, red wine vinegar, both tomatoes, oregano (may need more), chipotle chiles, avocados, corn and both salts. Taste for seasonings (add more wine vinegar or lime juice if desired). Chill for 8-24 hours before serving with tortilla chips.
Per Serving: 129 Calories; 6g Fat (39.9% calories from fat); 10g Protein; 11g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 58mg Cholesterol; 179mg Sodium.

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  1. Sophie

    said on September 16th, 2008:

    We would like to feature your shrimp and avocado salsa on our blog. Please email if interested. Thanks 🙂

    You can view our blog here:

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