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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.

Scroll down to the bottom to view my Blogroll

Posted in Beverages, on August 27th, 2012.

agave_meyer_lemonade

Some weeks ago we attended a very special dinner. Reading Cheryl Sternman Rule’s blog, 5 second rule, I saw that Cheryl was going to visit our neck of the woods here in Southern California and would be cooking a dinner for up to 20 lucky people with help from a charming couple, Kim and Barry, who opened their home to host the dinner. Cheryl’s blog is a favorite of mine, and I’ve featured a couple of her recipes here in the past. She’s a professional food writer and developer; she’s also a wife and mother of two sons. And, she’s just published a cookbook (with an amazing photographer, Pauline Phlipot – and no, that’s not a typo – her name is spelled that way) called  Ripe: A Fresh, Colorful Approach to Fruits and Vegetables.

When I clicked on the link to enquire about the dinner, I discovered that the hostess lived very near us. Wow, that made it even more enticing. Quick-like, I signed up (and paid for the dinner, obviously) so my DH and I could go. Included in the price was a cookbook for each person! Yea! I will use the 2nd one as a gift, and I had it signed by Cheryl. When we arrived at Kim and Brian’s house, Cheryl and Kim were busy at work in the kitchen putting the finishing touches on a wonderful multi-course meal. Eighteen more people arrived and appetizers were served (a Radish and Olive Crostini) along with this very nice, refreshing lemonade enhanced with agave nectar. And Kim added in some vodka.

RIPE_cover, Photography © 2012 by Paulette PhlipotPhoto from: http://www.eastwest.com/september-2012-events-east-westIsn’t that cookbook cover just stunning? The book is so chock-block full of gorgeous photographs, it’s almost worthy of being a coffee table book, if you get my drift. Cheryl made a fabulous match with the photographer in creating this book. Cheryl did give a short talk to all of the dinner guests about how the book came about and shared some of the story about how any writer works with a publisher. That was interesting to me since I’d never heard much about the actual publishing part. I’ve heard and read that today, with the gigantic flush of cookbooks out there, and new ones every single day of the year, you have to have some kind of a hook, a niche, to be a successful cookbook author. Cheryl cleverly decided to write her book based on color. Yes, you read that right. Color. The book is divided into chapters for Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Purple & Blue, and White. Just imagine what fruits and veggies you’d find in each of those chapters. The theme, of course, is to cook or prepare foods at their prime, when they’re RIPE, and with some fairly simple additions or preparation, the fruit and veggies will do all the work. All the recipes are contained on one page, so that makes most of them relatively easy.

I’ll be sharing three of the recipes here on my blog (the publisher won’t permit more than that), so I had to choose – oh, that was hard because everything we had was delicious. Today I’m giving you the beverage. Another day you’ll read about the vegetarian main course, a delicious red pepper chili with grilled corn, and lastly the oh-so delicious dessert, a blueberry nutmeg cake.  Other bloggers and/or newspapers have featured all of the other menu items from the dinner we went to – click the links if you’re interested in any of these: Cucumber Halloumi Salad with Licorice Notes (it was the cheese that made that one special), Carrot Soup with Garam Masala Cream (I love garam masala, so it was a given that I’d like that one too), and a salad called Red Leaf Lettuce with Grapes and Table Flowers (this one wasn’t my favorite, but perhaps my salad didn’t have enough dressing on it – I liked the nice touch of the edible flowers, though).

lemonade_and_cookbookNow, back to this refreshing beverage . . . if you happen to have Meyer lemons, you’ll enjoy using the juice for this. If you have regular lemons . . . no worries . . . just add a bit more agave since regular lemons are a bit more sour.

meyer_lemon_540In the cookbook, on the page for lemons, Cheryl wrote a short blurb about lemons, about her dwarf Meyer lemon tree that thrives in her front yard. She swears that if she ever moves, the tree is going with her. Hmmm. Good luck with that! But just below (as she does with every fruit and veggie in the book) she gives a few simple ideas/uses. For lemons she suggests a risotto (butter, shallots, Arborio rice, white wine, stock, lemon zest, juice and pecorino); another suggestion is avgolemono (a Greek lemony soup) of stock, rice, egg yolks, lemon juice and parsley; and lastly lemon curd (egg yolks, sugar, lemon juice zest and butter). Then on the facing page is the recipe for the lemonade. And a photo of the food.

Cookbook cover photo:  © 2012 by Paulette Phlipot; Cheryl’s photo: www.eastwest.com. All other photos are my own. Recipes reprinted with permission from RIPE © 2012 by Cheryl Sternman Rule, Running Press, a member of the Perseus Book Group.

What I liked: well, I’m not much of a drinker, but I loved the vodka-enhanced lemonade. Loved the sweet-sour taste (more sweet than sour). Just so very refreshing. Great for a summer evening.

What I didn’t like: nothing whatsoever!

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

Agave Meyer Lemonade

Recipe By: Recipes reprinted with permission from RIPE © 2012 by Cheryl Sternman Rule, Running Press, a member of the Perseus Book Group.
Serving Size: 6
Yield: 1 1/4 quarts
NOTES: Cheryl Sternman Rule says: I can think of no better way to honor the bright, uplifting flavor of sunny lemons than with this fresh, agave-sweetened lemonade. If you can’t find Meyer lemons, swap the more acidic (and more common) Eureka variety. In either case, adjust the agave to taste.

1 1/4 cups Meyer lemon juice
1/2 cup agave nectar — (170-340g) or to taste (1/2 to 2/3)
4 cups cold water — (0.95l) preferably refrigerated
Ice
[Add vodka, if you’d like – our hostess prepared it that way]

1. Squeeze enough lemons (6 to 7) into a 2-cup (500-ml) glass measure to yield 11/4 cups (300 ml) of juice. Strain into a large pitcher.
2. Whisk in the agave nectar, beginning with 1/2 cup (118 ml) and adding more to taste. Pour in the water. Whisk to combine. [Add vodka if you’d like to zip it up a little bit.]
3. Chill, covered, until ready to serve. Distribute the lemonade among ice-filled glasses. Slice the remaining lemon (you may even have one left over), and float 1 slice in each glass. Serve immediately.
Per Serving: 13 Calories; 0g Fat (0.0% calories from fat); trace Protein; 5g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 5mg Sodium.

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