Book Review The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. Only after I started to read this book did I remember that I found The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes through a list of books by authors from the greater Seattle area…that of course being where I am from. I added it to my list for that reason, without knowing much more about it.
I want to support local up and coming writers, and I think Estes has a great future as a writer, even though this work of hers shows her as a neophyte author. I actually loved the plot but my only objection is when an author uses coincidence to further the plot in a way that seems far-fetched.
Beyond that, the story is beautiful. A tale of a wealthy young woman from Seattle who discovers a beautifully embroidered silk sleeve hidden under the stairs of her ancestral summer home in the San Juan Islands.
The novel unfolds in two parallel stories; that of 21st century Inara searching to find out whatever she can about the long hidden blue silk embroidered sleeve and Mei Lein a young Chinese immigrant living in Seattle and then the San Juan Islands a century earlier.
How are these two women connected? What is Mei Lein’s secret and why did she hide the embroidered sleeve under the stairs? What garment does the sleeve belong to and what story might be solved if that garment could be found?
Estes weaves the tale, adding a few too many coincidences to wrap it all up in the end, but this first novel for Estes is tender and thoughtful and leaves a message that we can forgive the sins of the past if we are brave enough to do so.
Taking a cooking class and going on a food tour in every country I visit is a goal I have. And I accomplish it often, but not always. But when I can I always enjoy it and over the past couple of weeks I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing two countries, two cuisines, too delicious – the food of Taiwan and Malaysia.
We spent six days in Taipei Taiwan. We weren’t really tuned in to the Taiwanese cuisine, half expecting it to be just like China. But unlike China, Taiwan has been strongly influenced from Japan (with historical influence also from Portugal and Holland) and it’s noticeable in the cuisine. The Chinese influence comes primarily from Eastern China (Fujian). And certainly the fact that Taiwan is an island, the cuisine has a much stronger focus on seafood than much of China.
A search online led me to Chef Calvin at GoTuCook. Thorough out our world travels I’ve taken cooking classes large and small, in cooking schools and home kitchens, from world famous chefs and humble housewives. And usually my favorite experiences are the ones where I have one-on-one time with the instructor in their home. This was my experience with GoTuCook.
We met early in the morning at the Beitou metro station from where we walked to experience the bustling thriving market and the local vendors selling to the local people. I always love this experience with a local who can explain unusual ingredients, answer my questions and enlighten me to this way of life long gone in America.
Next we headed to Calvin’s apartment, set up perfectfully for cooking classes. I had chosen three dishes I wanted to make ahead of time from a variety of options listed on the GoTuCook website. I chose as a starter Jellyfish Salad and for a soup course a chicken and mushroom soup and for our main course two kinds of pork dumplings.
I liked both the jellyfish salad (requires an overnight soak of the chewy jellyfish in the fridge before prep) and the fragrant soup with a broth we cooked with chicken feet as well as meaty parts from the blue chicken, but my favorite was the dumplings.
Making Chinese style steamed dumplings takes some practice. I’ve done similar work in classes before (making empanada in Argentina, pirogi in Poland and dumplings in Vietnam) but it’s still a chore to get your fingers to make the beautiful designs if it’s not a task you do everyday. We made pork with cabbage and spices and pork with corn and different spices. And then we ate!
Of course we had leftovers and I brought dumplings and jellyfish to my husband who was back at the hotel.
I really enjoyed this class and plan to tackle dumplings on my own soon. I recommend GoToCook if you visit Taipei.
We also took an amazing walking food tour with Taipei Eats where we expanded our Taiwanese cuisine knowledge with Taiwan Pork “burger”, stinky tofu, betel nut, scallion pancake and much more. Taipei Eats was one of the best food tours we have ever done. Our guide was amazing, there was so much food and we learned some interesting facts while meeting local people as well as other travelers from around the world. Such a wonderful experience!
What a country Malaysia is for a foodie. This remarkable country is a melting pot of many cultures, and it shows in everything, especially the food. Malay food is often spicy, and nasi (rice) features often. Eating with your hands is common. Pork is rarely featured in this cuisine because most Malay are Muslim.
On the other hand, many Chinese immigrated here in the 1800’s when this land was a British colony and the Chinese food is abundant, and often includes pork. Noodles, chicken and dumplings are also widely enjoyed.
And then there is the Indian food, representing the vast number of Indians living in Malaysia. The use of pungent spices and curries, more noodles as well as lots of vegetables make up this delicious cuisine.
No matter what ethnic background, the people in this country love fried foods and fried chicken, seafood, samosa and much more are popular both as street food and in restaurants.
Off the Eaten Track
The food tour we took in Kuala Lumpur was very unique and one of the best ever. At the end of the evening we had sampled twenty-four (yes you read that correctly) foods of this diverse and delicious country.
We signed up with Food Tour Malaysia for their Off the Eaten Track tour and were met by our guide Timothy at a subway stop in a suburb of Kuala Lumpur called Petaling Jaya where we began our gluttonous odyssey at an outdoor Malay neighborhood food court that operates 24 hours a day seven days a week. Here we found just locals enjoying the foods they loved. We had Nasi Lemak wrapped in banana leaf; ota ota, a smoked mackerel wrapped in palm leaf; a rich goat and potato soup; fried chicken and fried tempeh. I was full before we left this first stop.
Next we headed to probably the best night market I have ever been too, also in the suburb of Petaling Jaya. Here we learned about the popular “carrot cake” (not a cake in the sense we are used to, more of a pressed tofu), we had spring roll, noodles, dumplings and sweet Chinese daun pandan filled with peanuts.
Next we headed to a very local-only Chinese open air restaurant to sample more noodles cooked over an open fire and a delicious soup with chicken, okra, long beans and potato.
Our final stop was an outdoor Indian restaurant, and we were the only non-Indians there. And darn it I was so full I couldn’t really enjoy the amazing feast of roti, lentil dal, curry, a giant fried pancake with a coconut curry dip, fried chicken and mango smoothie. Roll me home. What a night it was. If you are ever in Kuala Lumpur, do this tour – but pace yourself!
The Versatile Housewives
To round off our food frenzy in Kuala Lumpur we spent one morning with Ruth, a cooking instructor who brings the flavors of her native India to visitors in Kuala Lumpur through her business The Versatile Housewives. We learned to make one of India’s most famous dishes, biryani, with a group of local university students in Ruth’s kitchen. Biryani is a rich and flavorful traditional dish, often served at weddings and ceremonies. It can be beef or lamb or chicken. We made a chicken biryani. The flavors of this dish come together by slowly preparing the fresh ingredients of caramelized onions, vegetables and spices like cardamon, cloves and pepper as well as herbs like cilantro and mint. After slowly blending all these flavors with rice and chicken, the biryani is served in a giant bowl and enjoyed communally. Check out Ruth’s website for a great selection of delicious Indian recipes.
No matter where you travel, diving into the culture through food is the most interesting and tastiest way to engage with locals, learn history and culture and broaden your culinary chops. Be brave! Eat the world!
I am not a Stephen King junkie. I think the only book of his 61 novels I have read was Carrie when I was in high school. That said I have loved some of his movies; The Green Mile, Stand by Me and Shawshank Redemption is possibly my favorite movie of all time.
Oh and I have to give a shout out to Rose Red (TV Miniseries) because my son had a cameo part in that movie! He was so cute.
But I digress. Stephen King books aren’t usually my cup of tea. But 11/22/63 kept showing up on lists of must reads, and then my friend Sue said it was here book club’s favorite of the year. Seemed like it was calling to me. And even though it was published in 2011, I’ve finally come around to reading it.
This book is a behemoth. More than 850 pages. What an undertaking King pulled off with this book. Apparently it too was a mini-series that I never heard of.
So by the title you can assume the book is about the assassination of John F. Kennedy on 11/22/63. But the focus of the story is much broader. This is the story of unassuming high school teacher Jake Epping who travels back in time through a “rabbit hole” found by his friend, in an effort to stop the assassination.
King takes his time with this story, filling the plot with exciting detail as we follow Jake’s efforts to change history. Not a simple task as he learns the past does not want to change, and the past throws obtacles at Jake, nearly killing him on several occasions. As Jake says over and over in the book the past is obdurate.
Jake makes multiple trips through the rabbit hole, and of course on each journey he meets, befriends and even falls in love with people from the past. Jake also makes enemies, gets to know Oswald and the other players in the JFK assassination and finds out changing history is not always the best course of action.
Although I felt a few parts of the book dragged, I also feel King’s detailed story is crucial to the complicated plot and thus justifies the length of this meticulously comprehensive book.
Does Jake succeed? You’ll have to read the book to find out.
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Four stars for 11/22/63 by Stephen King. Read last week’s review of City of Girls.
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Seeing orangutans, gorilla and chimpanzees in the wild has been a long time goal of mine. Last year I checked off my bucket list seeing sloths and toucans in the wild. This year I’m totally focused on primates – including visiting endangered primates in Borneo.
And that is what has brought us to the far northeast region of Borneo and the Sepilok Forest – home to the beautiful but endangered orangutans as well as the bizarre and endangered proboscis monkeys.
We spent three days in Sepilok. Flying into the Sandakan airport we traveled by Grab (Uber) thirty minutes to our destination of the Sepilok Forest Edge Resort. I can not recommend this place highly enough. We loved our beautiful little chalet with veranda and outdoor shower (an indoor one as well). The breakfast was outstanding as were the two fantastic dinners we enjoyed in the restaurant. Just $80 per night for two with the breakfast included.
We arrived around 3:00pm and unpacked and took a short rest – very short because we had pre-arranged an evening boat tour through the mangroves. The tour was promoted as a Firefly Tour but it was way more than that.
First we drove about 20 minutes to a teeny village in the mangrove marsh where we were served yummy Cassava fritters and tea before boarding a small wooden boat. Our guides took us through the watery world of mangroves and it reminded me of our time in Bangladesh and even looked a bit like the Amazon and even the Everglades. We stopped to admire some long-tailed macaque monkeys grooming each other high in the trees.
We stopped on a tiny island where we were served fresh coconut and watched the sunset. Once it was dark we headed back into the mangroves in our boat and the fireflies lit up the night. The trees along the channels looked like lighted Christmas trees and the little bugs made me think of Tinkerbell. Returning to shore we were served a simple and delicious Malaysian meal of curry chicken, sweet and sour tuna, soup, rice and vegetable fritters. All of this cost $55 per person.
Next morning we were up early and enjoyed a wonderful breakfast in the open air restaurant before making the 15 minute trek to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center. Entrance fee was $7.50 each.
Did you know the words orang utan means forest human in Malay? When you watch these animals up close it is remarkable how humanlike their behavior is.
This is an amazing place working to keep the orangutans from becoming extinct. Over the past two decades the orangutan population in Borneo has dwindled from 200,000 to only 11,000! The main reason this is happening is deforestation. Native forests are being eliminated and in their place mile after mile after mile of palm oil trees are being planted…pushing the orangutans to the brink of existence. Palm oil is used in thousands of products commercially produced. Everything from ice cream to soap. It’s likely you have products in your home right now with palm oil as an ingredient that has come from Borneo.
At the Sepilok Orangutan Reabilitation Center two things occur;
Wild orangutans learn to come here to help supplement their diet during two “feeding” times a day. The wild animals, especially nursing mothers, that are unable to find adequate nutrition due to the dwindling native forests come to the reserve and receive fresh fruits and vegetables.
Injured or orphaned orangutans are brought from outside the region to receive medical attention or to learn necessary skills to survive in the wild. All with the goal of releasing these animals back into the wild when they are ready.
We saw dozens of orangutans while we visited the reserve…some just wandering around or swinging through the trees, others during their feeding. The reserve is not a zoo – there are no fences keeping these wild animals in. They come and go as they need.
It was a joyful experience and a dream come true for me!
We knew almost nothing about the funny looking proboscis (meaning nose) monkeys, but found that they too are suffering from deforestation. So on our final day we headed 30 minutes away to the Labak Bay Proboscis Monkey Reserve. Entry fee $15 each.
The facilities here were not as nice as the orangutan reserve (and twice as expensive) but we still really enjoyed seeing these strange animals with the Jimmy Durante nose. I was astonished at the size of the males and their strength as well as how they can jump like kangaroos. Unlike orangutans who live a pretty solitary life, the proboscis monkeys live a harem kind of hierarchy with one dominant male overseeing multiple females and offspring.
I learned a lot about all of these animals in our three day visit and we also saw macaque monkeys, one wild boar, and giant monitor lizards to round our our wildlife adventure!
An interesting note – monitor lizards are the only native animal thriving in the palm oil plantations. In fact, they are growing incredibly large and due to population explosion of monitor lizards they are more aggressive. A clear sign of an eco-system out of balance.
Although there were many tourists, we met no other Americans. It’s a long ways to come from the USA, but if you can it’s worth a visit. I truly enjoyed visiting endangered primates in Borneo.
We look forward to more primate encounters in the months ahead, but we will never forget our amazing time visiting endangered primates in Borneo. Fabulous.
I need to preface this review with two things before I can tell you how I feel about this novel;
First – Gilbert. If you have only read her work Eat Pray Love then in my opinion you don’t really know her work. I HATED Eat Pray Love. Yeah, yeah I know….everybody loved it. I did not. HOWEVER her novel The Signature of All Things is one of the best pieces of fiction I have ever read. And so I know that Gilbert is a talented writer.
Second – City of Girls is about Sex. A lot of sex. In fact this book is about a woman who LOVES sex. However there is really only one sexual encounter in the story that is descibed in “detail”. Otherwise, the main character in City of Girls just has sex – and a lot of it. If you can’t get past that you won’t like this book. I could get past it and see through it to a character that was lost and searching for love and fulfillment in a period in America where women rarely got both. Gilbert writes the emotions of this story brilliantly. I listened to this book on Audible and it is one of my favorites this year.
So, Book Review City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert. Her third novel and her fourth book (EAT is a memoir not a novel). In this story we meet Vivian, a very old lady looking back at her life and telling the story of it. We aren’t sure who she is telling the story to, until very late in the book.
Vivian’s story begins when she is 19 years old in the early 1940’s, has just flunked out of Vassar and her parents have sent her off to her Aunt in New York City, as they have no idea what else to do with her.
And thus Vivian’s life adventures begin as she is swept up into the theatrical world surrounding the Lily Playhouse run by her Aunt. In the company of risque theater people, actors, actresses, dancers, rich New York patrons she finds herself basically unchaperoned, and living a life she never could have dreamed of.
Quickly she looses her virginity, falls hard for an actor, betrays a close friend and scandal ensues. She is a survivor however and finds her way back, although never all the way back to some of the people she loved the most but who cannot forgive her.
In the end, Vivian has a full life, sexual partners too many to count, and is a successful business woman in a very unique way for a women of the time period. And in the end, her life has meaning in an unexpected way as she finds true love, but to a man she can never have sex with or even touch. A lesson here? Definitely.
I enjoyed the characters, the story and Gilbert’s writing. The plot so completely different than The Signature of All Things, yet similar only in the strong female character busting out of the constraints of the era they were born into.
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Five stars for City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert. Read last week’s review of The Invisible Woman.
We were supposed to go to Hong Kong, but canceled at the last minute due to the violence going on there. What to do? Where to go? How about Taipei Taiwan last minute? Great decision. What a great place.
I knew nothing about Taipei. I didn’t mean for it to be my second choice. And after spending six days there, I can most assuredly say you should put it in your travel destinations.
Here are my favorite things we did in beautiful Taipei Taiwan last minute;
Like It Formosa
As we do on our first day in most cities we did a “free” walking tour with Like It Formosa. Our tour guide Eleanor was amazing. Her wealth of knowledge about Taipei old and new, ancient history and current events made the three plus hour tour remarkable. I highly recommend Like It Formosa. On the tour we made several stops but my favorites were;
Lungshan Temple – this is a favorite of locals – one of the few that survived WWII. This 300 year-old temple is in one of Taipei’s oldest neighborhoods and it is visited by people of multiple faiths including Taoists, Buddhists and Confucians. As a visitor it’s a wonderful place to see local people who bring offerings of flowers, food and other items as they worship here to several gods including a match-making god and a fertility god.
Sanxia Old Street – partially restored (with additionally restoration underway) this ancient street was built during Taiwan’s period of Japanese rule and displays the baroque-style architecture of the period.
Chiang Kai Shek Memorial – a bit shocking in its immensity, it was here we learned on our tour details about this man…someone I would have thought the Taiwanese revered. But Chiang Kai Shek held the country under martial law for decades, and in his life acted more like an Emperor than a President and so the Taiwanese have mixed feelings about the leader of the Republic of China.
Tower 101 and Neighborhood
On our second day we wandered the city on our own and enjoyed riding up to the top of the Taipei 101 Tower. We had bought ticket online ahead of time but did not need to as it was not busy at all. The view in this 1200 foot high building is remarkable, and the elevator ride is impressive – one of the fastest elevators in the world.
The tower building is also home to a vast shopping mall as well as a wonderful food court in the basement. We enjoyed dinner here walking around and choosing a variety of dishes including the popular oyster omelet, glazed chicken, tempura vegetables and a chocolate pound cake.
We hiked up the arduous 500 steps to Elephant Mountain, a popular and sometimes busy viewpoint of the city. It was a real workout, but we were glad we did it.
We visited the lively, local Beitou daily market where locals buy and sell everything from bok choi to pigs trotters and papaya to frogs legs. It was busy and loud and colorful and I loved it.
We also visited two of Taipei’s famous night markets…there are dozens of night markets. These serve as gathering places for locals to walk, meet, eat, drink and shop. We loved the Shiling Night Market and spent several hours there grazing our way through dumplings and octopus and more. We also went to the Linjiang Night Market, but it was rainy and wet that night and there were not many people out enjoying it.
As I do as often as I possibly can while traveling I spent a day in a cooking class with a local chef. It was outstanding and I learned some fun recipes and enjoyed a great meal at the end with Chef Calvin of GoTuCook. I’ll be writing a full blog about this soon.
As usual food is a big part of our travels and one of the best things we did during our visit to Taipei was a Night Food Tour with Taipei Eats. Our guide Diego was awesome! And we tasted at least ten different foods and I was about to explode by the end of the night. I highly recommend this tour and ask for Diego. Some of my favorite things were Taiwan Green Guava with salt, Taiwan “burger” which was pork, peanut powder and cilantro in a hot fresh Bao Bun, scallion pancake, soup dumplings, Moon Cake (filled with egg yolk and sweet red beans. We also tried stinky tofu (no thanks) and betel nut (like tobacco – eww) and the specialty of Taiwan pineapple cake. What a wonderful night it was.
Out of the City
We spent one day checking out some sights outside of the city. Originally we wanted to do some hiking, but the weather turned wet so we ended up booking a shuttle service with Klook that would take us to several beautiful and interesting places outside of the city throughout the day. I’m really glad we did because we enjoyed most of it. We especially liked;
Yeolin Geo Park – a UNESCO National Geological site with incredibly strange yet beautiful geological formations on the sea in the north of Taiwan. It was fascinating and if you had the time you could spend many hours in the park.
Jioufen – a historic mountain side village literally hangs from the side of the mountain. Jioufen is now pretty much gone over to tourism, but we still enjoyed the beautiful views from the town and walking around the historic old village. We had a remarkable bowl of beef noodle soup to that was worth the price of admission.
We also stopped at Shifen…but were a bit disappointed in this place. First of all it was pouring down ran, but mostly it was crowded with tourists who come to release paper lanterns into the sky for luck. But it was pretty kitschy and not at all authentic and so we didn’t love it. Maybe on a sunny day…
Taipei Taiwan Last Minute
We have no regrets about our visit to Taipei. We stayed at the Dandy Hotel near Daan Park, which we loved. The room was small but comfortable, the breakfast was incredible and the staff was excellent. Right next door was the Metro. We used Taipei’s remarkably efficient and inexpensive metro throughout our visit and loved it.
And finally the Taiwanese people are wonderful. They are proud to be Taiwanese NOT Chinese, although there is a small faction that wants the island nation to return to China and the People’s Republic of China. But everyone we met wants to remain independent with their current government (Republic of China) which has been governing for 70 years despite the fact they still are not recognized by the United Nations.
Taipei Taiwan last minute. So glad it happened.
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We all know of the life and work of Charles Dickens, in fact two of my all time favorite novels Great Expectations and David Copperfield are the works of Dickens, born in 1812 in England.
Through out his very public life Dickens carefully crafted his persona as a gentile man of the Victorian era with a wife, family and a marvelous talent to create fictional characters and stories that would endure.
“Dickens is remembered as one of the most important and influential writers of the 19th century. Among his accomplishments, he has been lauded for providing a stark portrait of the Victorian-era underclass, helping to bring about social change.” – Biography.com
Front and center during his entire life as a man of virtue – Dickens was leading a double life for more than a decade, as he had a love affair with Ellen “Nelly” Ternen for the last thirteen years of his life.
With tenacious persistence Dickens and those closest to him managed to efface Nelly Ternen from public record and most all association with Dickens.
But talented biographer Claire Tomalin sleuths the facts like a well-heeled detective and brings convincing evidence to light about Nelly Ternen’s life, Dickens’ deception and how their affair managed to escape the public’s notice for decades.
A remarkable tale of both Victorian life for men and women as well as a brilliant story of research and persistence.