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Recently finished reading The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke. All I can say is “wow.” In a general sense, this book is based on the premise of The Pilot’s Wife. But this one has some totally different twists and turns. A young wife is met at the door by police, informing her that her husband has died in an auto accident. Then she finds out he died in Hawaii – not Kansas, where she thought he was, on business. Then she finds out there was a woman in the car. Then she meets the fiance of the woman passenger and the two of them embark on a fact-finding mission in Hawaii to discover the truth. Well, I’m just sayin’ . . . the plot thickens. And thickens. And thickens clear up to the last few pages. Hang onto your seat. A really, really good, suspenseful read.

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 Novel by 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. 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 angry father is a wealthy and influential man in the area. 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.

 

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 Breads, Vegetarian, on May 11th, 2013.

cucumber_sandiwiches

Well. There are tea sandwiches, and then there are THESE tea sandwiches. Oh gosh were they delicious. As I’m writing this – and it’s breakfast time this moment – I’d eat these for breakfast if I had any of them!

Our daughter Sara decided to throw a tea for a group of her girlfriends. Her rule: no children allowed – it was going to be a time for her friends, all busy moms – to sit and relax. Since we were driving there to visit them that evening, she asked if I’d come early. Of course! I’m always up for tea! At home, I made two kinds of cookies to help her – the Baked Cinnamon Toasts I’ve already raved about here and the Moravian Sugar Cookies, although my recipe calls them Almond Spice Wafers. I also made lemon curd, and couldn’t believe it when we got all done and realized we’d forgotten to put it out! Oh, so sad. Sara made the middle cookies you can see below, rich chocolate shortbread kind of cookies pillowed with a chewy caramel layer. cookies_for_teaSara made 2 kinds of tea – a rooibos, which is her day to day favorite decaf tea, and a pot of Earl Grey. She also put out some gorgeous spring strawberries, sugar, milk, teacups and saucers, some crème fraiche that I sweetened with a little bit of sugar (this was in lieu of clotted cream), and napkins, of course.

The COOKIES: Baked Cinnamon Toasts are on the left, Sara’s chocolate caramel filled cookies in the middle and the Almond Spice Wafers on the right. Sara thought the Cinnamon  Toasts were the hit of the cookie category. I agree. I had about 5-6 of them I kept at home and within a day they were gone – even my DH, who rarely eats anything sweet – gobbled down 2-3 of them. Guess I’ll have to make them again.

I’ll write up a post in the next day or so with the two scones we made. One an apricot-orange and the star of the show, a lavender white chocolate chip.

The winner of the tea sandwich category at Sara’s tea was this cucumber one. I mean, what would a ladies’ tea be without some cucumber sandwiches? Sara found some tea sandwich suggestions at this website. For this sandwich it said:  Cucumber-Butter – Mix 4 tablespoons softened butter, 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest and 1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs. Spread on white bread and sandwich with sliced cucumber. Trim the crusts and cut into pieces.   We were making 5 whole sandwiches (which made 4 little quarters each), so we had 20 of each sandwich we made. I added minced chives, lemon zest, some salt and a teaspoon or so of fresh minced thyme leaves. I used 1 cube of butter for the 5 sandwiches and it was just enough.

Over the years, I’ve learned that you need to get just the right proportion of filling to bread.

Tea Sandwich Advice:

Make one tiny test sandwich with the filling and taste to see if it’s too bready, or too buttery or has too much filling. Adjust and taste again until you get it just right!

So in this case, with our first taste test, there wasn’t enough butter. The butter needed salt too. And the cucumber wasn’t quite thick enough. Obviously start with very soft butter, add the flavorings and taste. Cut off the crusts on the bread. We chose not to make round cutouts (too much trouble), so I generously buttered both sides of the bread and placed 4 cucumber rounds on each sandwich. We chose to cut just one slice rather than use many ultra-thin slices as I knew the multiple slices would slip and the sandwich would come apart from the moisture in the cucumbers. So one slice – in our case the cucumber was about 1/8 inch+ thick. The bread used was some very, very soft white sandwich bread we bought here in our local village at a Japanese bakery called Cream Pan. They make the softest and fluffiest white sandwich bread. Kind of like Weber’s bread, but a whole lot more tasty. With the cucumber in place the other bread slice was very carefully positioned, then I gently – oh so gently – cut the sandwich into 4 squares, trying not to cut into any of the cucumbers.

The sandwiches went onto a nice serving tray and Sara covered the platter with a dampened tea towel, which kept them very fresh for the hour prior to the start of the tea. We didn’t refrigerate them – but there wasn’t anything like mayo in anything, so that worked just fine.

prosciutto_pea_puree_sandwichesThe other tea sandwich was just okay. I probably wouldn’t make them again, but it was certainly different. Sara really wanted sandwiches containing some prosciutto, so the website suggestion said: Pea-Prosciutto: puree 1/2 cup thawed frozen peas with 1 tablespoon each olive oil and water in a blender; season with salt and pepper. Spread inside a split loaf of focaccia and fill with prosciutto and shaved parmesan. Cut into squares. 

My suggestion had been to use ham instead of prosciutto, but Sara really wanted the prosciutto, so I bought some imported less-salty prosciutto from our local Italian deli. Sara made the pea puree, which was cinchy easy. I spread the bread with the pea puree, then we took small strips of the prosciutto and layered about 3 ultra-thin slices on each sandwich, added some shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano (very thin). My other suggestion to Sara had been that we chop up the prosciutto instead of laying it in strips (ribbons, really) in the sandwich, but Sara wanted to SEE the prosciutto. Cutting this sandwich was more of a challenge because of the grain of the meat, cut the long way it was easy, but across the prosciutto grain was difficult. For sure use a serrated knife, like a bread knife and use a gentle repetitive sawing motion. Even she agreed later that it would have been easier to eat if we’d chopped it up. Prosciutto has a tendency to be kind of stringy – very do-able if you’re eating a slice out of hand, but not so easy when it pulls apart a dainty tea sandwich! But overall, we were unimpressed with this sandwich. It needed something moist in it – like a thin-thin slice of tomato maybe, or lettuce? And I think I would have added some mayo to the pea puree. I don’t think anybody went back for seconds on this sandwich, but that’s mostly because the cucumber one was SO delicious.

What’s GOOD: well, the herb butter just “made” the sandwich, I think. And the combo of the so very soft thin white bread [it was so perfect for this . . . too bad white bread isn’t all that healthy!] with the crispy cucumber slice, and the lemon zest. It was all just fantastic!
What’s NOT: nothing at all – just know you can’t make this very far in advance – an hour or so. Enlist someone’s help with it so if you’re the hostess you can be doing other things like stirring up scones and boiling water for the tea, setting the table, etc.

printer-friendly PDF – created using Cute PDF Writer, not Adobe
MasterCook 5+ import file – right click to save file (remember where), run MC, File|Import

* Exported from MasterCook *

Cucumber Herb-Butter Tea Sandwiches

Recipe By: foodnetwork.com
Serving Size: 10
Description: Makes 20 small quarter-sandwiches.

10 slices sandwich bread — (very fresh)
1/2 cup unsalted butter — softened to room temp
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh chives — finely minced
2 teaspoons fresh thyme — finely minced
1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
Salt to taste
20 slices cucumber — cut slightly more than 1/8″ thick

NOTES: Advice – make one small sandwich to get the proportion of butter- to bread – to cucumber, until it tastes right.
1. In a small bowl combine the butter, chives, thyme, lemon zest and salt. If time permits, allow this to sit for 2-3 hours (or overnight) to blend flavors.
2. Cut crusts off the bread. Working on one sandwich at a time (to keep the bread ultra fresh) spread a generous amount of the herb butter on one side of each piece of bread.
3. Place 4 cucumber slices on the sandwich, separated and not overlapping. Place second piece of bread over and very gently slice the sandwich into 4 small squares.
4. Place sandwiches on a serving platter and cover with a moderately damp tea towel for up to about an hour. Re-dampen the towel if it dries out too much.
Per Serving: 230 Calories; 11g Fat (40.1% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 31g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 25mg Cholesterol; 163mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on May 11th, 2013:

    I bet that lemon really adds some zest to this sandwich :). I do love cucumber sandwiches, and these sound so good, I’m not going to wait for my next tea party to make them. My daughter-in-law and baby granddaughter are coming for a visit this afternoon, and I think she and I will have our own little private tea party on Monday! Your daughter’s tea party sounds lovely–what a treat for everyone!
    Thanks for a super idea.

    You’re so welcome. Hope you enjoy this version as much as we did. . . carolyn t

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