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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 Beef, Pork, on July 29th, 2007.


We may be one of the few cultures to make baked meatloaf. Lots of other cuisines include a ground meat stuffed something (pastry, cabbage, etc.) or small orbs of some kind of chopped meat, but we Americans appear to have invented meatloaf (really, we did), meaning we started with finely chopped raw meat. Mostly I learned, earlier cooks used cooked meat to make any kind of chopped meat dish. I wanted to know more about the history of the dish, and found this:

  • The raw, ground meat commonly used to make today’s American meat loaf has a humble heritage. In the 19th century, we know the Industrial Revolution made it possible for ground meat to be manufactured and sold to the public at a very low cost. At first, many Americans were slow to purchase raw ground meat products and generally regarded them with suspicion. Cooks continued to mince their meat (often already cooked, as was the practice for centuries) by hand. Companies selling meat grinders to home consumers at the turn of the century endeavored to change this practice by providing recipe

Regarded as the ultimate comfort food, there are certainly lots of types of meatloaf. Some with fillers and additions (bread crumbs, cracker crumbs, carrots, onions, eggs, red bell pepper) and many variations of toppings (savory tomato, catsup type, even teriyaki style). But the most common is with a tomato-based sauce on top. I’m no different than the crowd, so this may not be one of the recipes you’re going to try since you may already have a favorite sauce. But for me it’s simply the sweet and sour sauce that is a must here. The recipe came from one of my old 1960’s era military officer’s wives cookbooks, and since I first made it, this has been the standard by which any and all meatloaves are measured. In our family, this is THE recipe, and mashed potatoes on the side are an absolute must. No rice. No pasta. It must be mashed potatoes.

And generally I increase the sauce because everybody loves to put more sauce on the potatoes. So early on I began doubling it. No problem. It’s easy enough to make. I’ve made this with partly ground turkey, and it’s also very good. I think my daughter Sara makes it with all turkey and her family loves it that way. When I make it now I use 50/50 beef and ground turkey. That gives the meatloaf a little firmer texture, which is what we (and most people, I surmise) miss about eating ground turkey. It just doesn’t have the “tooth” to it that beef does. I’ve made this using Splenda (it’s fine) and with Brown Sugar Twin (also fine). So we can still have this but with less carbs.

Back when our children were teenagers we asked each of the kids to choose a weeknight and be responsible for preparing dinner for the family. (We’re a blended family, so between DH and I we have 3 children, two daughters and a son, all in their late 30’s now and for most of their teenage years we all lived together.) We had to plan ahead so the ingredients were on hand, and mostly the kids were pretty good about it. They got to fix one of their favorite meals, and we were all appreciative (at least I think we were). I will tell you that this item was a real “regular” on the menu. Everyone in our family loves this meatloaf and they all learned how to make it because they had to do it.
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Meatloaf with Sweet & Sour Sauce

Recipe from a Military Wives’ Cookbook from the 1960’s
Servings: 6
Notes: Over the years I began to double the sauce recipe because we loved to spoon the sauce over the mashed potatoes, and we never seemed to have enough sauce. The original recipe said you could use either tomato paste or sauce, but we prefer the sauce. If using paste, increase the water in the sauce as it will be too thick. You want the sauce to stick some to the meatloaf, although most of it drips down into the pan.

MEATLOAF:
1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef or mixed with ground turkey
1 whole egg — beaten
1/2 cup bread crumbs
2 ounces tomato sauce
1 medium onion — minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons Italian herbs
SAUCE:
4 ounces tomato sauce
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1. Preheat oven to 375. In a large bowl combine beef, egg, crumbs, tomato sauce, onion and spices. Mix just enough to combine the ingredients; no more. Mound into a loaf shape and place in baking dish somewhat larger than the meatloaf with at least 1-inch sides. It’s better to use a higher sided dish than a lower, flatter dish.
2. In same bowl combine the sauce ingredients: tomato sauce, water, vinegar, sugar, mustard and Worcestershire. Mix to blend in the brown sugar, then gently pour over the meatloaf. Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes. Allow to cool for 5 minutes, then slice and serve with more sauce on each slice.
Per Serving: 378 Calories; 25g Fat (60.3% calories from fat); 23g Protein; 14g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 120mg Cholesterol; 564mg Sodium.

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  1. jeanne bee

    said on July 29th, 2007:

    This brought back memories! My mother was a navy wife and this was a fairly frequent dinner!

  2. Carolyn T

    said on July 31st, 2007:

    How fun, Jeanne. Most likely there were thousands of military wives who found that recipe too.

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