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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, on November 2nd, 2012.


You may have read before – brown food is hard to photograph. So I put this on a bright green plate, then added the white goat cheese as contrast. How’d I do?  This is a fabulous make-ahead appetizer. It’s worth the effort to make it – do try it. And by the way, those are not Ritz crackers – they’re Trader Joe’s version of them. They’re quite good!

I almost forgot to post this recipe – it was from a cooking class a couple of months ago. I was doing some background admin stuff on my blog  and ran across it – then realized I hadn’t written a story about it or shared the recipe. Every few months I have to transfer all the images from the posts to a CD for long-term safekeeping. So, I go through each image folder (I put all the photos into folders by recipe title, then they go onto a vaguely chronological ordered CD) and delete the extra photos that I chose not to use – wrong angle, bad light, parsley isn’t perky, shadows wrong, too far away – pear_marmalade_cookingyou know, those kinds of things. I had a photo of this from the class, but it was terrible. All brown everywhere. So I needed to make it in order to take a better picture! First I had to buy all the ingredients (didn’t have the pears or five spice powder). Then I had to wait 3 days for the Bartlett pears to ripen. Finally, then, got it made! I didn’t need an appetizer, but I decided to make this now, knowing I’ll be needing some for holiday entertaining. Here at right are the ingredients before I started cooking them. Just chopped,  raw pears, water, orange zest and juice, ginger I whizzed up in the food processor, five spice powder, brown sugar and cinnamon sticks. Oh, and vanilla.

What’s great about this appetizer is that you can make the marmalade several weeks ahead. With all the sugar in the pear mixture, it should keep for awhile. My thought was to make it for sometime over Thanksgiving weekend. I made a double batch, so actually I will freeze half for using in December. The mixture doesn’t have enough sugar that it’s truly a “marmalade” by jam-making standards. So it won’t keep for months on the shelf in the refrigerator. Use this within a week, and freeze what you haven’t eaten. Just don’t invite the same people over more than once! On second thought, I think you’ll like this enough you won’t pear_marmalade_cookedbe concerned to serve this twice, even if it was the same group of friends. Or family.

There’s a photo of the finished marmalade – I left the cinnamon sticks in the picture just for more brown-on-brown contrast. The pears have a lovely, warming bite from the fresh ginger in it. The orange zest and juice add some nice sweet notes. Then it’s also got vanilla, cinnamon (stick) and five-spice powder. The five-spice gives it a real interesting depth. It’s kind of elusive – you might not know what it is unless someone told you. Makes it different. Really different. The pear marmalade needs something to cut the richness (although there’s not a bit of butter or fat in it – I mean the intense flavors), so the goat cheese is the perfect choice.  With a bit of the left overs, I paired it with grilled pork chops. It was lover-ly.

What I liked: the sweet, the bite from the ginger. Loved the Chinese five-spice powder in it. It’s a sweet appetizer – just know that. With some goat cheese to spread on a cracker and the marmalade piled on top? Yummy. This would also make a delightful hostess gift if you’re into making these kinds of things to give to friends. If you wanted to make it complete, give the hostess a log of goat cheese and a tube of crackers.
What I didn’t like: absolutely nothing. It’s a keeper.

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Goat Cheese with Asian Pear Marmalade

Recipe By: Tarla Fallgatter, caterer and cooking instructor
Serving Size: 8
Notes: I used a mixture of half Asian pears and half Bartlett (something Tarla said was an option).

1 2-inch piece ginger, peeled and grated
1/2 cup water grated zest of one orange
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1/2 cup brown sugar — packed
1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 whole cinnamon stick
4 whole Asian pears — peeled, cored, chopped into 1/2″ pieces
11 ounces goat cheese — log type
1 tablespoon Italian parsley — garnish
plain crackers

1. In a medium saucepan, combine all the marmalade ingredients together. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 3 minutes. Uncover and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes, or until soft and mushy.
2. Remove and discard the cinnamon stick. Let cool to room temperature. Place the log of goat cheese on a platter and spoon some of the marmalade on top. Garnish with Italian parsley and surround with crackers. If you’d like a more sticky hold-together mixture, remove all the pears and drain through a colander, reserving all the fluid. Return the fluid to the pan and reduce it until it’s almost syrupy. Also, I removed about a third of the pears and mashed them, then put them back in. That way there will be some mushy pulp and some pieces.
Per Serving: 243 Calories; 14g Fat (51.1% calories from fat); 12g Protein; 18g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 41mg Cholesterol; 140mg Sodium.

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