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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 June 4th, 2012.


Okay, listen up, folks. If you like risotto, this one’s a winner. It’s going onto my “favorites” list, if that gives you a clue as to how delicious it is! It’s the lime juice and lemon juice that “make” this, in my opinion.

We had invited friends over for dinner a week or so ago, so I decided to fix this new recipe I’d acquired at a cooking class recently. I took photos of it at the time, intending to share it here, but then accidentally deleted all the photos. Duh! So I just had to make it sooner rather than later, that’s all.

Avocado Tip:

Did you know that if you rinse cut avocado pieces or slices in tap water it will sit, unaided, for several hours without turning brown? True. Very useful in this recipe.

This recipe does take a bit of prep, but once you have everything ready to go, it’s easy enough to start the risotto itself. You can do all that prep a few hours ahead. I made the marinade but didn’t put the shrimp in it until it was near to dinnertime. I’d prepped all the salsa mixture and I cut up the avocado too. One of the quick tricks Phillis Carey shared with us was about rinsing avocado in water. I guess I’d not heard that one before – if you rinse avocado in cold water, it will sit for a few hours without turning brown. Very simple, eh?

The risotto on its own, without the salsa part is fairly bland. But you add in the tomatoes, green onions, avocado pieces AND the lime juice (a must) it transforms this rice dish to spectacular. The Parmigiano doesn’t hurt, either. The raw shrimp slumber in a citrus marinade for about an hour, then are briefly grilled (you could do this on a stovetop grill too – or even do it in a frying pan if that’s easier). The risotto is like lots of other recipes – uses chicken broth, stirred a lot, then at the very end, when the Arborio rice is almost done (al dente is how you want it – with just a little bit of bite) you add in the colorful stuff – the tomatoes, avocado (and I added in some corn cut off the cob because I had some and remembered how good another of Phillis’ recipes was that included corn in a risotto). I added just a little more lime juice because I loved the tartness of it – be careful and don’t use too much.

Once it’s ready, have everything in place to portion out, garnish and serve before it gets cold. You’ll hear raves at the table, I promise. Even my DH commented to me the next morning how delicious this was. Phillis also said the recipe works equally well with salmon, halibut or sea bass instead of shrimp. I loved the shrimp, though.

purple_plum_torteOur friends brought a very simple baby arugula salad with a sweet lemon juice dressing that was a perfect foil to the risotto. And just because it was so good, I’m also showing you a photo of the dessert I made – it’s already on my blog – a very special dessert since plums are in season these days. This dessert, Purple Plum Torte,  is on my favorites list too – an all-time, highly-requested recipe from the New York Times. If you haven’t made this dessert yet after reading my blog about it, you’re missing a great addition to any menu. I served it with almond-flavored whipped cream.

What I liked: the piquant taste in the risotto (from the lemon and lime juices, I’d guess). I love everything in it and about it.

What I didn’t like: gracious . . . nothing at all. So worth making.

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

Risotto with Avocado Tomato Salsa and Citrus Grilled Shrimp

Recipe By: Phillis Carey, cooking class, 5/2012
Serving Size: 4-5

1 pound large shrimp — cleaned, raw, tails left on (optional: salmon, halibut or sea bass)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic — minced
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon lime zest
1 tablespoon cilantro — minced
1 1/2 whole avocados
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice — or more to taste
3 small plum tomatoes — seeded, diced
2 whole green onions — finely chopped
5 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup onion — finely chopped
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine — [I use vermouth]
2/3 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — finely grated
1 whole avocado — sliced, then rinsed in cold water
2 tablespoons cilantro — minced
4 sprigs cilantro — for garnish
1 cup fresh corn — [optional, my addition]
Salt and white pepper to taste
4 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated, for garnish

1. SHRIMP: In a plastic zip-loc bag combine the shrimp and marinade. Cover and refrigerate for 30-60 minutes (no longer or the shrimp will begin to “cook” in the acid from the citrus). Soak bamboo skewers in water for at least 30 minutes. Remove shrimp from marinade and thread onto bamboo skewers (use flat ones if you have them, otherwise use two skewers to thread 4 shrimp each). Once you are cooking the risotto, grill the shrimp at the last minute, at medium heat (350) for a total of about 3-4 minutes per side. Don’t over cook them!
2. SALSA: Toss avocado with lime juice in a small bowl. Add tomatoes and green onions. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
3. RISOTTO: Place broth in a saucepan and bring to a simmer, keeping it hot while the rice cooks. In a large skillet (use wider rather than taller) heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Do not brown. Add the rice and stir to coat rice evenly with the oil and onions. Cook, stirring often, for about 2-3 minutes. Add the white wine and cook, stirring constantly, until absorbed.
4. Continue adding hot broth, one cup at a time, stirring constantly between additions, and only add more broth when rice begins to dry. Continue adding broth and stirring until rice reaches an “al dente” state (still a litle bit of bite to each rice kernel). Gently fold in the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, avocado, salsa and cilantro. Add corn (if using) and stir just to warm all the ingredients through. Add more lime juice if you like that flavor – taste it first.
5. SERVE: Spoon generous cups of risotto into bowls and top with a slice or two of avocado, cilantro sprigs, additional cheese. Nestle the shrimp (tails standing up) into each bowl.
Per Serving: 787 Calories; 40g Fat (45.6% calories from fat); 38g Protein; 68g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 150mg Cholesterol; 1208mg Sodium.

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