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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, easy, on October 13th, 2012.

pumpkin_cream_cheese_ball

That, right there, is savory pumpkin deliciousness. A pumpkin cheese ball. You can’t exactly tell what’s inside – it’s mostly cream cheese, with some flavorings and a bit of pumpkin puree. And it’s a bright light pumpkin color. I should have taken a photo of what it looks like inside. Next time. It’s formed into a ball and rolled in chopped pecans. Made a lovely appetizer.

There’s almost nothing I like more at this time of year than pumpkin things. Oh, well, maybe I should also say I like vests, sweaters, blue jeans, fuzzy shirts, sweat shirts even. Warm shoes. And socks. But in the food realm, it’s all about pumpkin. My favorite is pumpkin pie. Hands down favorite. I inherited this craving/disability from my father who was a pumpkin pie lover from way back. Our son also has this bug – this pumpkin pie sickness, if you can call it that. His favorite thing is pumpkin pie the morning after Thanksgiving. I’ve been known to go down that road myself, but not every year. I try real hard to resist. When our son was a strapping teenager and even into his 20s he begged me to provide him with an entire pie just for him. His. Alone. And I did. Year after year. Once his sister Sara was old enough to bake them, she made an extra pie just for him. Every Thanksgiving we tease him about it and he just grins, hoping somebody will place an entire pie into his open hands. With Costco making such wonderful ones, most of us in our family don’t bake pumpkin pies anymore. Last year I wrote up a whole post about Costco’s pumpkin pies – about the statistics – how many they sell, how they’re made. It was very interesting. Click HERE if you’d like to read about it.

So, my first venture into pumpkin-land this year was this appetizer. (I also made pumpkin scones, which I’ll share in a few days). I scoured my pumpkin cookbooks and found this recipe in an old Libby’s (pumpkin) cookbook I purchased at the grocery store some years ago. Who would know better about pumpkin recipes than Libby?

It was cinchy easy to make – softened cream cheese is mixed up (in a bowl, or I did it in the food processor) with a small amount (really) of pumpkin, some cheddar cheese, garlic, Worcestershire, curry powder (just a little bit) and lemon juice. Once mixed, I chilled it for about 2 hours. If you don’t, the mixture is just too soft and gooey to form into a ball. What I did was put plastic wrap into a ramekin, scraped the cheese mixture into it and folded the edges up. It chilled overnight. When I removed the plastic wrap it was pretty easy to mold it into a more-round shape and dip it into the chopped pecans. Use plain crackers (those in the photo are Trader Joe’s pita chip crackers – one of my favorites). The cheese ball flavors are slightly on the delicate side so don’t overwhelm it with a flavored cracker.

What I liked: how easy it was to make; the smooth flavor and the hint of curry. Next time I might add a small  garlic clove – the garlic was fairly pungent in this.
What I didn’t like: nothing, really. The cheese is a little hard to handle (gooey) but hey, that’s minor.

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Savory Pumpkin Cheese Ball

Recipe By: From Libby’s booklet, Favorite Pumpkin Recipes, c. 2000?
Serving Size: 10
NOTES: If you don’t love garlic, you can easily remove it. The curry powder is very subtle, but if you are at all curry-averse, just eliminate it. I think I added more than 1/4 tsp of lemon juice. Taste and see.

6 ounces cream cheese — softened
1/4 cup sharp cheddar cheese — shredded (I used medium)
1/3 cup canned pumpkin
1 small garlic clove — smashed
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 cup pecans — finely chopped

1. In a food processor combine softened cream cheese, cheddar cheese, pumpkin, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, curry powder and lemon juice. Process until smooth, stopping at least twice to scrape down the sides.
2. If time permits, cover workbowl and chill for 1-2 hours (until the cheese has firmed up).
3. Scrape all the cheese out of the food processor work bowl and press the mixture into a ball, starting with damp hands, then dip the top 1/2 of the ball in the finely chopped pecans. Place on a serving platter and provide plain crackers along side. If desired, sprinkle just a little tiny bit of finely minced parsley all over the top. If making ahead, combine cheese mixture into a ball, but don’t press the ball into the nuts until just before serving.
Per Serving: 110 Calories; 11g Fat (83.1% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 2g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 22mg Cholesterol; 70mg Sodium.

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