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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 Lamb, on July 2nd, 2012.

lamb_kebabs_harissa_plate

Something totally different – Moroccan marinated lamb with a fantastic yogurt sauce that contains harissa (a spicy pepper condiment), cumin and coriander. And garlic. I swear I could eat it with a spoon, but it’s ever so much better with a little bit of lamb, or chicken or fish with it. Or pita bread.

harissa_sauce_320Many cultures have some kind of hot sauce associated with it – like salsa, or sambal oelek, that really hot chile pepper mixture from Indonesia. The Vietnamese have their hot sauce too – we fondly call it rooster sauce because it has a picture of a rooster on the bottle. A big jar lives in the door of my refrigerator. In this case it’s harissa, a briskly hot condiment from Morocco. There you can see it right out of the jar – thick and spicy. You don’t want to use much – the amount I spooned up for the picture would be way too much for a standard sauce. Harissa originally came from Tunisia, but has been adopted by many cuisines of the region, Morocco among them. They’re much the same – red chiles, cumin, coriander, garlic and a little bit of oil to smooth it out. You can make your own easily enough too. That jar will likely last me the rest of my life because you don’t use much of it in any one dish, and I don’t make Moroccan, Tunisian or Libyan food with any frequency!

lamb_kebabs_skewersNow then, back to the meal – the lamb. It was marinated overnight in a variety of things like olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, mint, coriander, cumin. Most of the lamb soaked up the marinade – how can that be? But it did. We actually served the lamb two ways – butterflied and grilled, and also cut into cubes and threaded onto flat-bladed skewers as kebabs.

harissa_yogurt_sauceThe Harissa Yogurt sauce was ever so simple to make – jarred roasted red bell peppers were whizzed up in the food processor along with garlic, oil, cumin, coriander, Greek (thick) yogurt and seasoned with some salt and the harissa. That’s it. Chill until ready to serve. The sauce will keep for a week or so and could be used on other proteins too.

onion_kebabs_grilledTo round out the meal I highly recommend you also make the side skewers too – red onion wedges and whole dried apricots. I wouldn’t have believed that grilled dried apricots would make such an impression on me – they were wonderful. During grilling the edges get charred, and that caramelized them, of course. Delicious. And the onions – crunchy just a bit and a great accompaniment. They need to be grilled first since they take about 10 minutes longer than the lamb – once done just move them over to a cooler part of the grill while you grill the lamb. Serve with rice or couscous.

Because I had a lot of sauce left over (I made a double batch – far more than needed) I used it about a week later this way, pictured below. This was the broiled lemon salmon recipe that kind of goes with the asparagus pesto – I served it with some freshly made wild sockeye salmon and our dinner guests had a choice of either or both sauces..

What I liked: well, first and foremost I loved the sauce. Did I mention I think I could eat it with a spoon? Yes, well, it’s good! Loved the skewers of onion and apricots too. All worth doing.

What I didn’t like: nothing, really. Delicious meal beginning to end.

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Moroccan Lamb Kebabs with Harissa Yogurt Sauce

Recipe By: Phillis Carey, 2012 (also from Food Network)
Serving Size: 8

LAMB:
3/4 cup olive oil
2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
6 cloves garlic, minced — minced
2 tablespoons mint — chopped
4 teaspoons salt
4 teaspoons grated lemon zest
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper — thawed
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
4 pounds boneless leg of lamb — cut in 2″ cubes
SKEWERS:
16 metal skewers (12″ long)
32 dried apricots — whole, not halves
4 large red onions — each cut in 8 wedges, with some of root end attached
HARISSA YOGURT SAUCE:
1/4 cup roasted red peppers — jarred, drained
1 clove garlic — minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon hot chile paste
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup Greek yogurt, full-fat — plain

1. Combine in a large heavy-duty plastic bag: olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, mint, salt, emon zest, pepper, coriander and cumin. Squish it a little then REMOVE 1/2 CUP to use as a basting sauce.
2. Add lamb to plastic bag and toss. Marinate at least 2 hours, preferably overnight, refrigerated.
3. Yogurt Sauce: place red bell peppers, garlic, hot chili paste, olive oil, cumin, coriander and salt in food processor and puree. Stir this mixture into the yogurt. Cover and chill for at least an hour before serving. Will keep for 2-3 days.
4. Preheat grill. Remove lamb from marinade and drain on paper towels. Thread lamb cubes onto 8 skewers, dividing them equally. On the other skewers thread the apricots and onion chunks alternately. Brush all the skewers with some of the reserved marinade. Sprinkle the onion-apricot skewers with salt and pepper.
5. Grill onion-apricot skewers until onions begin to soften and begin to brown, turning and basting with marinade. Move skewers to cooler part of barbecue if necessary to keep apricots from burning, about 10 minutes. Grill lamb skewers to desired doneness, turning occasionally, about 8 minutes total for medium-rare. Serve meat with Yogurt Sauce.

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