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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, easy, on December 28th, 2013.

savory_herb_buttermilk_scones

Oh, just gaze at those. Merely looking at the photo makes my mouth water. These scones (or rich biscuits) are just the cat’s meow. The bestest. The most tender scones I’ve ever made, for sure. And they are just a pairing from heaven with some hot soup. Like cream of tomato? I made them to serve with one of my favorite recipes – Italian Sausage and Tomato Soup

The recipe came from a recent cooking class with Phillis Carey. And as she explained at the class, it’s very unusual to see eggs IN scones. Used as a glaze on top, yes, but rarely do you see any recipe with eggs in the dough. These scones (biscuits) are going onto my favorites list, if that’s any indication how good they were (are).

These are incredibly easy to make. You combine the dry ingredients and lightly fluff them with a fork so the salt and baking soda don’t clump in one spot. Then you add the cold-cold butter that’s been cut into little cubes. I use a pastry fork, and then sometimes I dig in with my fingers, since that’s fairly easy to do. The trick to this is leaving some of the butter in tiny little shreds. But in this case, the eggs provide additional leavening to the batter too. This one has fresh herbs in it, but you can vary which ones you use – don’t like rosemary? – just use dill or thyme. The cheese also adds a nice taste to them.

herb_buttermilk_scones_before_bakingThe dough makes a big chunk, so you cut it in half and shape each half into a circle, an inch thick. Don’t use any more hand-power than necessary – the less the better. I used a sharp knife to cut the scones into 6 wedges, then I carefully scrunched them back into the circle – barely touching. If you like all the edges to be more crisp, separate the wedges. If you want just 6 biscuits, halve the recipe below. When they’re shaped up and ready, use a pastry brush or silicone brush with some additional heavy cream to glaze the top, then sprinkle more herbs and cheese on top.

The end result is a very, very tender scone – almost like a light cake in texture. For years I’ve been making scones from a recipe I acquired back in the 1980s, and it’s been my go-to recipe – it’s also on my favorites list – Buttermilk Scones – and they’re just very different from these. The others are more like a biscuit, a southern biscuit, I suppose.

These are scrumptious with soup. I served them the other night, as I mentioned above, with another of Phillis’ recipes, the Italian Sausage, Tomato and Orzo Soup. We had 6 of us for dinner, and I had 4 scones left over – a few people took 2nds on both soup and scones. I wrapped each scone in plastic wrap and edged them into a freezer ziploc bag and they’ll be perfect for a later soup dinner.

What’s GOOD: oh gosh. Everything about them is good – texture, taste, tenderness, even the savory aspect  (the cheese and herbs). They’re very light in texture, which I like a lot. You’ll not be sorry if you try them.
What’s NOT: nothing, other than they’re fairly high in calorie. If you serve them with soup, perhaps the meal balances out, right?

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Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click link to open in MC)

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Savory Herb Buttermilk Scones

Recipe By: Phillis Carey cooking class, December 2013
Serving Size: 12

1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated
1/2 cup cheddar cheese — grated
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary — minced
2 teaspoons fresh thyme — minced
1 teaspoon Italian parsley — minced
SCONES:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter — chilled, cut in tiny cubes
2 large eggs — beaten
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup heavy cream
Additional cream for brushing on the tops

Notes: this batch can be made into slightly smaller scones if you shape each half into a rectangle and use a square cutter – about 8 per half (2 across by 4 lengthwise) = 16 scones. The batch for 12 makes fairly large scones.
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a small bowl, stir together 1 T. Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, 2 T. cheddar cheese and 1/2 tsp each rosemary, thyme and parsley. Set aside for sprinkling on top of the scones.
3. In a large bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Scatter the butter over the top and cut into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Quickly mix in the eggs, buttermilk and 1/2 cup cream. Quickly mix in remaining cheeses and herbs.
4. Turn dough onto a lightly floured work surface and divide dough in half. Pat each half into a circle about 1-inch thick (about 6 inches across). Cut each circle into 6 wedges and arrange, with edges mostly touching, on the prepared baking sheet. Brush the top of each scone with a little cream, then sprinkle on the reserved cheese and herb mixture. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the bottoms are lightly golden. The tops of these will not show browning or even a golden color – look at the bottom to determine if they’re done. Serve immediately with butter. [When I baked these it took exactly 25 minutes.]
Per Serving: 248 Calories; 15g Fat (54.7% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 21g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 78mg Cholesterol; 330mg Sodium.

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