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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 14th, 2012.


Really, this could be any kind of sweet onion, but Vidalias were the first out there in the race for sweet onions which didn’t happen until about the 1980’s. You can use Maui, Walla Walla, or the more rare Noonday onions from Texas. My friend Joan generously gives me a few of those latter ones each spring and she and I both like to find new ways to use them – Joan, here you go! Anyway – it’s just sweet onions you need. The onions are caramelized to bring out that ultra-sweet flavor, then combined with Greek yogurt (no sour cream here). VERY easy to make.

Did you know that Vidalia onions were first grown in the 1930’s? That was news to me until I read about the different varietals in sweet onions at Wikipedia. In case you’ve forgotten what’s sweet_onion_dip_spatuladifferent about them, it’s that they have a low sulfur content (that’s the stuff that makes our eyes burn) and they contain a lot more water. Hence they don’t keep very long, as you probably have discovered if you’ve left them in your pantry for any length of time.  I don’t keep any in my pantry at all unless I have a specific (read immediate) use for them. Actually I wrote up a post about a caramelized onion dip 3 years ago which uses regular onions. It’s similar . . . but different. It also uses yogurt and it has sour cream in it too. This one surely is healthier (all yogurt). And this one has thyme in it – one of my most favorite herbs. You can see the sprigs of variegated thyme in the photo at top. I prefer the pungency of regular thyme, but the variegated looks pretty in the dip, don’t you think?

vidalia_onion_dip_plateWhat was nice about this one was how quickly the onions caramelized. The recipe, which came from Sunset Magazine, didn’t specifically say to caramelize the onions – to the dark, golden brown state that you might expect, but once those suckers began to brown (in a fairly hot nonstick skillet) I had to stand there stirring often – very often – to keep them from burning. So my dip may be even more caramelized than the recipe intended. I liked it that way.

So, you brown the onions (chopped up in fine dice) in some olive oil, then I added the fresh thyme to help bloom the oils in the herb. It cooled, then the mixture got added to yogurt. The recipe called for low-fat Greek yogurt – I used full fat, but you sure could try it with either low-fat or fat-free Fage – it probably would be fine! Season with salt, pepper, and I added some dried thyme that I scrunched between my palms to open up the flavors of the dried stuff. Make it a day ahead so the flavors have ample time to permeate throughout the yogurt. If you serve it immediately it will taste like you have just mixed up yogurt and onions.

What’s good: the healthy part foremost, and it was a less rich appetizer than, say, cheese and crackers. I made this for a dinner party where I served my Easy Cassoulet (a fairly heavy entrée), so I wanted a lighter nibble beforehand. It had lots of oniony flavor, which is what I was looking for. I served it with sangak bread, actually, not the crackers I used in the photo above. The recipe indicated serving it with potato chips (like with Lipton’s dip) but that didn’t appeal to me at all.
What’s not: merely that it’s not going to taste like Lipton’s dip – just don’t even think of comparing the two, okay?

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* Exported from MasterCook *

Sweet Onion and Thyme Dip

Recipe By: Adapted from a Sunset magazine recipe, 2010
Serving Size: 8
Notes: Make ahead up to 4 days, chilled.

2 cups sweet onion — finely chopped Maui or other sweet type, about 12 ounces
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons fresh thyme — chopped plus thyme sprigs for garnish
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 1/2 cups Greek yogurt, full-fat — or use low-fat
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1. Cook onion in oil in a large nonstick frying pan over medium heat, stirring often, until golden, 12 to 15 minutes. Watch carefully that it doesn’t burn.
2. Add chopped fresh thyme, salt, and pepper and cook another minute. Let cool.
3. Stir in yogurt and dried thyme that you’ve crushed between your palms. Stir well, taste for seasonings then transfer to a bowl. Chill at least 30 minutes (it’s even better the next day). Garnish with thyme sprigs and serve with potato chips or toasted pita chips.
Per Serving: 96 Calories; 7g Fat (64.7% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 6g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 18mg Cholesterol; 199mg Sodium.

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