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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 Miscellaneous, on July 20th, 2007.

mango salsa

My love affair with salsa goes way back to my childhood. Growing up in San Diego, my parents and I frequented on a weekly basis, without fail, a Mexican restaurant in Old Town dating to the early 1950’s. It was called the Aztec Dining Room. When the matriarch of the family died in about 1985, the family closed the restaurant down. Although I didn’t live there anymore, I was very sad to hear it. Their family recipes were kept very close to the chest, as the saying goes, but were better than most. My Dad used to order their chile verde con queso, #6 on the menu, which is not what is currently served by that name in countless Mexican restaurants (it’s pork and green chiles). This was a tomato and green chile-based sauce with a large layer of cheese melted on the plate. My Dad would place a flour tortilla in the middle of this steaming dish and scoop the tomato cheese sauce up and over the tortilla, adding a layer of their good home made refried beans, another tortilla, more beans, then the rest of the sauce scooped around and over the top. My Dad rarely ordered anything other than that item. It was muy delicioso as he’d often tell the waitresses every time he ordered it, or the owner, Mrs. Sandoval.

The restaurant made their own salsa, though it was not the salsa fresca served most places now. I suppose it was made with canned tomato sauce. Good nevertheless. I remember dipping hundreds of crisp tortilla chips into their sauce over the years.

Then about 20 years ago I visited Santa Fe, New Mexico. Since I’d read up on what to do in Santa Fe, I knew a meal at the Coyote Cafe was high on my list. And it was there, watching Mark Miller (now fairly famous in restaurant circles with multiple restaurants to his name – that night he was making cocktails in the bar), that I came to know about fruit salsa. This Pineapple Salsa recipe comes from his book, The Coyote Cafe Cookbook. Salsas are a regular part of my summer repertoire now. I make both a pineapple one, and a mango one, but use the same recipe. I love it served on grilled fish, grilled chicken and even steak. It’s quite versatile, really. The lime juice makes a difference, so don’t be tempted to use lemon juice. And I always add more cilantro, because I like it.
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Pineapple Salsa or Mango Salsa

Recipe: Adapted from the Coyote Cafe Cookbook by Mark Miller
Servings: 8
COOK’S NOTES: I have yet to find any grilled meat, poultry or fish that doesn’t go well with this. I always make a larger quantity because it’s so good on other things. I buy a whole pineapple and just mix and taste as needed. The lime juice makes a difference – lemon juice just doesn’t taste right. And, I always use more cilantro.

1 cup fresh pineapple or mango — (see notes)
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar — or substitute
1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar — seasoned
2 whole serrano peppers — minced (or less to suit your taste)
1/4 cup red bell pepper — minced
1 Tbsp lime juice
1 Tbsp cilantro — minced

Use a very ripe pineapple. Peel, core and finely dice the pineapple or prepare in food processor. In a bowl combine all of the ingredients. Taste and add more lime juice and chiles as needed. Stir and refrigerate for a couple of hours. Will keep for about a week.
Per Serving: 17 Calories; trace Fat (5.2% calories from fat); trace Protein; 4g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 1mg Sodium.

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