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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 Appetizers, on June 14th, 2012.

yogurt_spinach_dip

You could say this is something like the spinach dip you can find at lots of grocery stores these days. The kind that’s made with full-fat sour cream and mayo. Whereas this one is made with yogurt; with the exception of the little bit of olive oil drizzled over the top, there isn’t any other fat in it. And it’s delicious – maybe even better than the store-bought stuff. This version has mint, and some crumbled walnuts on top.

Slowly over the last month or two I’ve been trying to make some of the contest winners over at Food52. Every single one of them has been a winner. And this one was no exception. If you haven’t browsed recipes there, you should. This one was not difficult to make, and in actuality, it didn’t take all that much time, either. However, you do need to blanch the baby spinach (leaving it in boiling-hot water for a minute), which is a bit of a nuisance. Other than that, it’s pretty easy to stir together the other ingredients in this.

One little detour must be explained – the recipe calls for dried mint – an item I don’t have in my pantry. I just never use it. Period. Once you plant mint in a California garden, you’ll have mint forever. It jumps barriers, spreading its little vines. But I use ample mint in my cooking. So anyway, I didn’t have dried mint, which the recipe inventor here insisted should be used for its woodsy flavor. Instead, I put fresh mint IN the dip, not sprinkled on top. Maybe one day I’ll have to try the other version. I also added more garlic because I had just two garlic cloves left and we like garlic.

The dip contains simple ingredients – full fat Greek yogurt, the spinach, garlic, a little tiny bit of olive oil, then walnuts are sprinkled on top and you drizzle a little bit of extra virgin olive oil on top too. I served it with sangak bread, that wonderful, yeasty Iranian bread I’ve mentioned numerous times before. Lavash would work or any kind of very thin, fresh flatbread. Even toasted pita bread would work well too. The spinach flavor is certainly there. Make this, okay?

What I liked: well, half a recipe disappeared in a flash when our son, his wife and their son came to visit. In fact they scraped the last of it out of the bowl after dinner was over with – they liked it that much. Does that tell you anything?

What I didn’t like: gosh, not a single thing. Loved it. Will make it again for sure.

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Yogurt Spinach Dip

Recipe By: Adapted from a recipe at Food52.com
Serving Size: 8

12 ounces baby spinach
2 cloves garlic — minced and divided into two separate batches.
2 tablespoons olive oil — (not necessarily extra virgin, but the type you use for sautéing)
10 1/2 ounces Greek yogurt, full-fat
salt
4 tablespoons fresh mint — minced [the original called for a sprinkling of dried mint on top – even though she strongly discouraged fresh, it’s all I had)
1/4 cup walnuts — crushed, sprinkled on top
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil — to drizzle on top

1. Blanch the baby spinach for one minute, then drain in a colander.
2. Once cooled, squeeze little hand-shaped balls of the spinach to get all the liquid out. Chop fine.
3. Sauté one clove of garlic in 2 tbsp olive oil and add the baby spinach. Add a pinch of salt. Stir for a few minutes.
4. Remove from stove, allow to cool, then squeeze out any more excess liquid (yes, there will be some).
5. In a bowl, add yogurt, a clove of minced garlic, baby spinach, fresh mint and stir gently. Add salt to taste.
6. Transfer to a wide bowl you are serving it in, and sprinkle with crushed walnuts and a lazy trail of olive oil.
7. Serve with lavash or whole wheat pita. [I served it with sangak bread, similar to a fresh lavash.]
Per Serving: 123 Calories; 10g Fat (73.3% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 5g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 15mg Cholesterol; 53mg Sodium.

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  1. Kalyn

    said on June 14th, 2012:

    It certainly sounds delicious!

    It IS delicious and relatively easy to make as well! . . . carolyn t

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on June 16th, 2012:

    I like the idea of that Carolyn, I tend not to buy ready made dips, there are so many additives, in them to make their shelf-life longer. I have never seen the point of dried mint, I always have some available from my small patch. I am thinking though, that I should prefer watercress to the spinach, more of a punchy flavour. Might just try it next week.

    Watercress! That’s an idea for sure. We have a few upscale markets here in our vicinity that actually make real dips (like the spinach/sour cream type I mentioned) without additives. They’re in similar containers, but they’re all made fresh every day or so and keep for a week. But they’re expensive and SO full of fat. In a pinch I’ll use them, but otherwise I’d try to make my own. . . carolyn t

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