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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 Beef, on August 13th, 2007.

I probably should start out this posting with the sentence: I love thyme. It is this recipe that introduced me to its culinary virtues. And I’ve been a frequent user ever since.

My memory served me poorly on this recipe. I’ve been making it for so long, and it’s been written into my old recipe binder for so many years that I didn’t remember who gave it to me. When I did a search for the title (in French), sure enough, I found it. This is Julia Child’s recipe from her first major tome, Mastering the Art of French Cooking (2 Volume Set). I found a write-up about the recipe on the Julia-Julie Project (the young woman who decided to methodically cook the entire contents of Julia’s book in a year, all the while blogging about it, and she subsequently wrote a book based on her blog). I tried to read her blog a couple of years ago (after I read Julia’s memoir, My Life in France  by Julia Child, written by her nephew, which I just loved), but this woman, named Julie, has such a foul mouth I just couldn’t continue. (I’m not even going to insert a link to her site because I disliked it so much.) I don’t understand why people feel they have to use the f and s words in every sentence. (Later note . . . Julie’s website was taken down once work started on the movie, Julie & Julia.)

So, obviously, this isn’t anything original. This has been a staple in my cooking repertoire for 35 years. I’ve even served it to guests (I double the sauce in that case), and whenever I do make these I make extra and freeze at least 4 patties so I can make them just by defrosting. They aren’t difficult. Not in the least, although they do take a bit more time than just making patties from raw meat and cooking them.

Since I haven’t read Julia Child’s take on using minced beef (raw), I don’t know the origin of this either. But she recommends using lean beef, then you ADD butter to the raw meat. Interesting, huh? Most current chefs and cooking magazines recommend using nothing leaner than ground chuck. But, realize that when you cook these, if the cold butter is in the middle, when the heat finally reaches the butter, it melts right into the meat, not out into the pan. That’s what gives the meat it’s richness. But first you saute some onion and butter, cool it, then combine that with egg and thyme to make thick patties. It’s necessary to allow these to chill a little bit (with the egg to hold it together). That’s an important step. Then you dredge them in flour, then fry them up until done to your liking.

You remove them from the pan and set in a warm oven while you make the sauce. Then you drain the fat from the pan, and add wine or broth. I usually use red wine, but have also used sherry. You can also use broth, or white wine for that matter. You deglaze the pan, scraping up any of those pan juices and little sticky parts, until the wine has evaporated some. Remove from heat and add some additional butter, in bits. Pour into a HOT little pitcher to serve at the table. The recipe says pour the sauce on the burgers, but then most of the sauce ends up on the platter, not on the burger, so I prefer a pitcher.

I like serving this with pasta, just simple buttered pasta. Because some of that sauce tastes great with the pasta. Then with a bright colored veg – like broccoli, or green beans perhaps. And a salad. This used to be – back in the days when nobody thought anything of eating beef 3-4 nights a week – a frequent visitor on my regular family menu. Now it’s a treat.
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French Hamburgers

(aka Bifteck Hache a la Lyonnaise)
Recipe: Julia Child, Mastering the Art of French Cooking
, Vol. 1
Servings: 4

BEEF PATTIES:
3/4 c onion — minced
2 tbsp butter
1 1/2 lb lean ground beef
2 tbsp butter — softened
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp thyme
1 whole egg
DREDGING MIXTURE:
1/2 c flour
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp vegetable oil
SAUCE:
1/2 cup red wine — or sherry or port or broth
2 tablespoons butter

1. Cook minced onion slowly for 10 minutes in butter, until tender, but not brown. Pour into a mixing bowl. Add the ground beef, additional butter, and seasonings to the onions and beat just until combined. Form into 4 patties, 3/4 inch thick. Cover with wax paper and chill several hours.
2. Just before sauteing the patties, gently roll them in the flour. In a large, heavy frying pan, melt butter and oil, bring to a moderately high temperature and add patties. Sear them until they’re brown on both sides, then reduce heat until they’re done to your liking. This usually takes longer than I think – about 15 minutes.
3. Remove patties to a heated oven. Pour fat out of the pan and add sherry (or other wine), scraping up the pan juices, until it’s reduced to a thick syrup. Take off the heat and add the butter (allow butter to melt) and serve in a small pitcher to pour over the patties. I often poke holes in the top of each patty (with a fork) so the sauce will ooze down into the meat.
4. Note: the original recipe calls for red wine, white wine, vermouth or beef stock for the sauce. You can use either red wine, sherry or light port or even Madeira.
Per Serving: 766 Calories; 60g Fat (73.4% calories from fat); 34g Protein; 15g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 235mg Cholesterol; 1160mg Sodium.

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  1. Kalyn

    said on August 13th, 2007:

    Hi Carolyn,

    I wondered if you knew that Lisa from Champaign Taste is having a blog event to celebrate Julia Child’s birthday on August 15. This recipe would be perfect for it!

    You would have to edit and add a link to Champaign Taste if you wanted to enter; then just send Lisa the permalink for this entry and she would mention your blog and recipe in the roundup. No pressure, I just thought you might like your recipe to be included.

  2. Carolyn T

    said on August 15th, 2007:

    Thanks, Kalyn. I did read her blog a few weeks ago and had forgotten all about it. Thanks for the reminder. Don’t know if I’ve made it under the deadline or not. We were out of town for 2 days and just sent it this morning. We’ll see.
    Carolyn T

  3. Fully Alive

    said on April 29th, 2016:

    We just finished dinner – the Bifteck Hache a la Lyonnaise along with the Pasta in Tomato Cream Sauce and fresh steamed asparagus. We are rubbing our bellies and smiling. Both were delicious and quite easy. Even better – just a few inexpensive ingredients. Thank you for sharing.

    Debbie

    I’m so glad you enjoyed the dinner! Two of my favorite recipes. Thanks for letting me know . . . carolyn t

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