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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 Fish, on May 11th, 2012.


Luscious leeks in a bit of butter, a little jot of maple syrup, some orange juice, orange zest and some orange supremes over a salmon fillet and you’ve got a little salmon magic.

The photo doesn’t do this justice. The salmon fillet there on the bottom, is lapped with all those delicious morsels of leeks, maple syrup and orange segments. Oh my. This dish was absolutely fantastic. And EASY besides. I can’t take all the credit for this, as Phillis Carey devised the original recipe. I just did a riff on it and made up my own proportions. I added maple syrup and I added orange zest and the supremes as well.

The salmon almost cooked too long – it’s so hard to tell with salmon – I couldn’t have simmered it for more than about 5 minutes and already the white collagen had begun to seep up through the top layer, so I knew it was truly DONE. Quick like I took out the fish and finished the sauce with the addition of the zest, the orange supremes and a bit of cream. Really not very much – just enough to give the leek mixture some “sauce” consistency. Piled it on top of the fish and it was served.

Be sure to have everything else for your dinner completely finished before you start, as it comes together that quickly. Please make this!

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MasterCook 5+ import file – right click to save file, run MC, then File|Import

Salmon Fillets with Leeks and Orange Sauce

Recipe By: My own creation
Serving Size: 2
NOTES: If you want to use more orange zest, you may – it will be VERY orangey, however. The maple syrup counteracts any bitterness, but I think half the zest is sufficient.

12 ounces salmon fillets
2 small leeks — trimmed, cleaned, halved, sliced
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Zest of 1/2 orange
2 tablespoons orange juice — (from the orange you zested)
1 tablespoon maple syrup — (the real stuff, not the fake type)
1/4 cup orange supremes — (also from the one orange you’re using)
3 tablespoons heavy cream
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

1. Zest the orange first and set aside. Cut off the peel and pith, then cut out the little orange supremes. Set those aside. Then squeeze the orange of any remaining juice which you’ll use later on.
2. Rinse and pat dry the salmon fillets. Rest on a paper towel to absorb any additional moisture, while you prepare and cook the leeks.
3. In a medium-sized, nonstick skillet heat the butter over medium heat. Add the leeks and stir frequently as they cook, about 10 minutes. When they’re soft, add the orange juice and maple syrup and stir to combine.
4. Move most of the leeks to one side and add the salmon fillets. Cover the pan, reduce heat and simmer for 6-8 minutes (or longer), depending on the thickness of the salmon. When you can begin to see the white collagen seeping up to the top of the salmon, it’s done. Remove salmon to heated plates and loosely cover in foil.
5. Raise the heat in the pan and add the cream and orange zest. Allow to simmer gently until the cream has reduced by half. Add the orange sections, cover and simmer for about a minute, until the oranges are heated through. Pour the leek mixture over the salmon and serve immediately.
Per Serving: 412 Calories; 20g Fat (44.2% calories from fat); 36g Protein; 21g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 135mg Cholesterol; 142mg Sodium.

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