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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 Beverages, on June 28th, 2012.

moroccan_mint_tea

Over the years we’ve gone to Marakesh (the restaurant) and always at the end of the meal they serve mint tea. Hot, sweetened mint tea. And I always love to watch the servers pour it from long narrow-spouted decorated metal teapots into delicate glasses from 2-3 feet above.

Until the other day I’d never made mint tea. In Moroccan tea culture, the tea is made with gunpowder green tea – and mint added. Checking info over at wikipedia, I discovered the Moroccans are concerned now about all the pesticides used in commercial mint production, so some Moroccans are foregoing the mint. How sad, I say!

Fortunately I had a copious amount of mint (without pesticides!) from my friend Joan’s garden. She made the mistake of planting it somewhere in her back yard some years ago and now it wants to take over, as mint likes to do. I used a LOT of mint in my Moroccan dinner I made the other night. And making the mint tea was so easy – I bought some green tea at Trader Joe’s (green tea isn’t a tea variety I turn to, nor did I have any in my tea arsenal). You can vary the amount to suit your taste – I made about 12 cups, I think, and used 5 green tea bags (which were so easy to remove once the tea had steeped) and about 3-4 long mint stems (about 5-7 inches long) and attached leaves. It steeped for 5 minutes, then I strained it, let it cool and chilled it. I also sweetened the tea, but I didn’t add as much sweetener as the recipe called for, and I liked it that way. You might want to taste it before you add too much.

Interestingly, when I was reading info at wikipedia, in Morocco, actually boiling the tea with sugar is an important step because it allows the sugar to undergo hydrolysis, giving the tea a distinctive taste. Photo at right came from wikipedia, showing the pouring of hot mint tea into glasses. They pour it from a distance in order to create foam.

In Morocco, tea serving is generally the bailiwick of men, believe it or not! And it’s an important sign of hospitality. Some years ago Dave and I did visit Morocco (only for a day), and were served Moroccan mint tea several times – at a spice merchant’s shop, at a Moroccan carpet store, then again after lunch. I have no recollection if it was served by men or women, though.

So anyway, I made the tea, cooled it, chilled it, then served it with a mint sprig in the top and set a pitcher of tea on the dinner table, with a bowl of ice and more mint. Everyone enjoyed it. I had left over tea, so I enjoyed it for many days afterwards. Green tea has less caffeine than black tea, and less caffeine than coffee (a lot less, actually). I’m very careful about caffeine. I get “the jitters” quickly from drinking regular coffee, so on rare occasions do I drink any beverage with much caffeine.

What I liked: the refreshing taste – I like spearmint (but not peppermint at all) – and I like the very mild sweetness added to it. The mint shines through.

What I didn’t like: nothing.

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Moroccan Mint Tea

Recipe By: Phillis Carey’s version.
Serving Size: 6
NOTES: If you buy Moroccan tea, it likely is a combination of green tea AND mint, so you may not need the fresh mint except for a garnish.

4 teaspoons green tea — or Moroccan tea (traditionally Moroccans use gunpowder green)
24 whole mint leaves — plus more for garnish
4 tablespoons sugar — or more to taste [or use agave, or Splenda]
4 cups boiling water — plus more to warm the teapot

1. Rinse teapot in boiling water (to heat the pot). Pour out water. Quickly add tea, mint leaves and sugar to the pot, then add boiling water and swirl the pot gently a few times to dissolve the sugar. Replace lid (cover pot with a towel or a tea cozy if you’re serving hot tea) and allow to steep for 5 minutes.
2. Pour tea through a strainer into serving cups. Or, cool to room temp and chill if you’re serving it as iced tea. Serve with a mint sprig in or on top.
Per Serving: 34 Calories; 0g Fat (0.0% calories from fat); trace Protein; 9g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 6mg Sodium.

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  1. elizabeth

    said on June 28th, 2012:

    I’m surprised they use pesticides on mint? What bugs bother mint?
    I made some mint and meyer lemon ice cubes that are very refreshing. I’ll have to try this Moroccan mint tea recipe, I drink decaf green tea every day. Mint is one of the herbs that survives the winter here here in Montana, sage and tarragon also came back this year Spring.

    Hi Elizabeth – I really don’t know what pests like mint. I read that information at wikipedia, and maybe they use something that also boosts growth (more mint=more money). I don’t know. My mint does have little holes in it on lower leaves so some critters do get into to, but I have no idea which or what! I like your ice cube idea – it does sound refreshing. . . carolyn t

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on June 30th, 2012:

    Some butterfly species lay their eggs on mint and the larvae eat the leaves, at least they do here in UK, also the Leaf Hopper bug does the same thing.

    I have drunk mint tea in Morocco and Tunisia but find it too sweet for my liking, I do however, make a Tisane of fresh mint leaves, bruised, then covered with boiling water and left to infuse for several minutes. You would most definitely have been served the tea by men since you were in shops and stores where women rarely, if ever work, especially in the Souks.

    How interesting that some butterflies lay eggs on mint. I certainly didn’t know that. We don’t have leaf hoppers here, I don’t think – although maybe we do and we just don’t have any in our yard! You’re right about no women in the stores or souks – I’d forgotten that part – on our one day in Tangiers we did briefly visit a souk, but our guide insisted we could not “shop” but just walk through. No pausing anywhere. But as I recall there WERE only men in the stalls. . . carolyn t

  3. elizabeth

    said on July 22nd, 2012:

    I really like this and have made it a few times now. I also add a few sprigs of stevia from the garden which gives the tea subtle sweetness. Luckily, I don’t have any bugs here in Montana that like my mint.

    Oh, I’m glad you liked it, Elizabeth. I decided yesterday that I need to make another batch. I just have to find enough mint – my husband pulls it out almost as soon as it sprouts above ground level that I’ll have a hard time finding even a bunch-worth to use. But I’m craving it! . . . carolyn t

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