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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 October 30th, 2008.

Until I decided to write up this recipe, I can’t say that I knew much about Auguste Escoffier, other than he was a famous French chef. And that he wrote a cookbook or two which are considered sacrosanct by lots of chefs and foodies in France and abroad. He lived from 1846 to 1935 and spent his life in the French food arena, beginning when he was apprenticed to his uncle’s restaurant in Nice at the ripe age of 12. He revolutionized (streamlined) the running of top-drawer kitchens, and implemented new techniques of canning when he was the Chef de Cuisine for the French Army during one of France’s wars. So there’s your little food history lesson of the day.

I’ll just comment briefly that as I was growing up (I think I’ve mentioned it here before) both grandmothers always served lots of pickles and relishes with meals. They likely did lots of canning since they grew their own vegetables, so they had lots of cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers to use up every season. But then, pickles and relishes were just de rigueur. My mother served her fair share of them too, and I can’t say that I was all that enamored with them as a child. Actually, salsa is a similar kind of condiment, and I certainly eat plenty of THAT. Once I ventured into making fruit salsas (my mango or pineapple salsa being a particular family favorite), I must have reacquainted my palate to the kind of sweet and sour mingling that goes on with pickles and relishes. I also have that Mexican onion relish that is so good too. And remember my write-up about the piquante peppers from South Africa? They have a very similar taste, although this pepper condiment has many more layers of flavor with the addition of onions, garlic and spices. The South African peppers are just pickled somehow.

My fellow blogger, Luisa, the Wednesday Chef, wrote up this recipe, having read it in the Los Angeles Times (no longer available online). In her post she used many, many superlatives. I usually stand up and notice when bloggers use words like fabulous, fantastic, can’t keep my spoon out of them. That kind of language. Since I had some leftover meatloaf (obviously cold), this recipe seemed like a cinchy combination. I had everything on hand except the red bell peppers, and that was easily rectified.

This recipe is SIMPLE. Really. It took about 20 minutes to chop and cook, then it bubbled away on the stove for an hour or so. I had golden raisins instead of dark, but that was the only substitution I made in this recipe. I didn’t weigh the peppers – I used 4 peppers. The picture above is the combination of ingredients to make the peppers. Nothing all that unusual. And the second photo shows the spices used. They made a very attractive pile on my cutting board, so I decided to photograph them for you. The only thing a bit different here is the freshly grated nutmeg. I almost never use jarred pre-ground nutmeg. The flavor of the fresh is just so much better. Years and years ago I bought a nutmeg grinder (less than $10 then) that has served me well all these years.

The verdict? Fabulous. This relish would be wonderful with just any kind of meat (roasts, chops) and even chicken. Even some kinds of fish. So often leftover meat from a pork roast, for instance, loses that juiciness once it’s cooled down and chilled, so you need something to moisten every bite. I can see this as a great condiment in sandwiches too. I can’t wait to try this on a turkey or meatloaf sandwich. I don’t know that I’ll be eating it straight out of a bowl because it does have a vinegary sharpness. Muffled by the sugar, though. Overall: delicious. And did I tell you it was EASY?

This little note is being added nearly a month later . . . I still have these peppers in the refrigerator. They’re fine. Just fine. I served it recently as a side with grilled sausages for dinner. All that vinegar in them  must keep them preserved well.
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Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click link to open recipe in MC)

Peppers for Cold Meats a la Escoffier

Recipe: Auguste Escoffier via the Wednesday Chef blog
Servings: 16 (makes about 4 cups)

4 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion — minced
1 pound red bell peppers — washed, cored, seeds removed, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon mixed spices (allspice and nutmeg)
1 pound ripe tomatoes — drained (most of a 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes works)
1 clove garlic — minced
1/2 cup raisins [I used golden]
1/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup red wine vinegar

1. Put the oil in a saucepan. Chop the onion very fine, add to the pan and fry over low heat until softened. Add the peppers, salt, ginger and mixed spices, and cook for 10 minutes.
2. Stir in the tomatoes, garlic, raisins and sugar. Add the vinegar; cook over very lot heat, covered, for 1 hour and 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover the pot and cook with the lid off for 5 to 10 more minutes.
Per Serving (approximately 1/4 cup): 72 Calories; 4g Fat (41.2% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 11g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 70mg Sodium.

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  1. Melynda

    said on October 30th, 2008:

    Good evening, I made this also. Delicious is all I can say!

    Hi Melynda – yes, I agree. Those peppers are delicious. I’m looking forward to having them for a few weeks on various and sundry things. . . . Carolyn T

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