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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 Soups, on July 21st, 2007.

It was just within the last 6 months or so that I discovered C&W even offered this package of butternut squash. I don’t know about you, but sometimes just CUTTING a fresh butternut squash is daunting. I have one gigantic curved chef’s style knife that is good for cutting squash, but even with that long and sturdy knife, sometimes I must work at it for 20-30 minutes peeling, cutting, de-seeding, etc. Trader Joe’s sometimes has fresh squash in little packages (maybe 2-3 servings), but the frozen squash sure makes it easy. I haven’t compared prices, but I’d guess the C&W frozen is probably the better buy.

This recipe comes from one of the cooking schools Cherrie and I enjoy attending. I’ve mentioned it before – Our House, South County – located in San Juan Capistrano (where the famous swallows return to the Old California mission every year during one week in March). Cherrie and I both just loved-loved-loved this soup. Sarah, the co-chef of the cooking school, told us about the C&W squash. I think I stopped at the market on the way home that day to buy a bunch of them. I liked this soup so much that when my DH and I had a “kitchen warming” for our newly remodeled kitchen a few weeks later, I served this to all of our guests. The recipe looks like it came from Sunset Magazine (October, 2006). For any of you who don’t live in the Western States of the U.S., you may not know about Sunset. It’s a fabulous monthly magazine which focuses not only the cuisine of the west, but also house projects, landscaping and ideas for living/entertaining unique to our area. It’s a magazine I’ve subscribed to for at least 40 years. I must have missed this recipe, but am so glad Our House, South County decided to serve it to us. Any number of guests asked for the recipe that night I served it. I was happy to share, as I am now.
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Butternut Squash Soup with Jalapeno & Ginger

Recipe from Sunset Magazine
Source: Our House, South County, San Juan Capistrano, California (now closed)
Servings: 8
NOTES: You can buy a fresh squash for this, or buy one-pound bags of frozen cubed butternut squash at the grocery store, C&W brand. If you’re sensitive to hot chiles, you might decrease the amount of it.

2 tablespoons olive oil
6 cloves garlic — minced
2 tablespoons ginger — grated
1 small jalapeno chile pepper — seeded and chopped
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
4 pounds butternut squash — peeled and cubed (see notes)
3 cups chicken broth
3 cups water
1 tablespoon brown sugar
3 tablespoons heavy cream
3 tablespoons creme fraiche — for garnish

1. Heat olive oil in large stock pot. Add garlic, ginger, jalapeno and salt. Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant but not yet browned, about 1-2 minutes. Add cayenne and cook for another 30 seconds. Add squash, broth, brown sugar and water. Bring to a boil, lower heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until squash is tender, about 30 minutes.
2. In a blender puree the soup in batches until smooth. Be careful not to overfill the blender container as the heat will explode the top off the blender. Pour back into the soup pot and stir in cream and adjust seasonings to taste. Serve hot with a little swirl of creme fraiche, if desired.
Per Serving: 178 Calories; 8g Fat (36.9% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 26g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 13mg Cholesterol; 1102mg Sodium.

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  1. Kris Thomas

    said on January 11th, 2012:

    Always have loved this soup. Today made a version with combo of delicata squash and butternut and I added a couple of chopped pears……still yummy!

    That’s great. Be innovative! I haven’t made this soup in a long while – I need to make it again. . . carolyn t

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