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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 Breads, Brunch, on August 24th, 2014.

apple_mini_muffins_raisins_walnuts

Mostly I’m wishing fall was in the air. But it’s not, and won’t be for a long time in this land of sunshine. So the only thing I can do is start to bake a very typical fall bread. I made this traditional muffin recipe into mini-muffins (max two bites per) and this recipe makes 24 of the cute little things. And yes, they’re delicious.

My Scrabble group was due at my house last week and the hostess usually bakes something. Sometimes we’re overly busy and we might buy something, but usually there’s some kind of bread or muffin served when we Scrabble. I bought a Granny Smith apple, cut the recipe (that made 12 regular sized muffins) in half (I gave away all but one or two of of the 24 the recipe made), added some chopped raisins and walnuts and they came together in a jiffy.

mini_muffins_ready_to_bake

Starting with a recipe from King Arthur Flour, I decided to not use whole wheat flour (I wanted a tender muffin), so I adapted their recipe a bit. The raisins and walnuts were my addition to the recipe, but the basic baking chemistry was all kudos to the King Arthur baking folks at Baking Banter. I didn’t have buttermilk on hand, but I did have Greek yogurt (which was an acceptable substitution in the original recipe). I think their recipe was hand mixed. I used my Kitchen Aid instead. Just don’t over-mix, that’s all. The pan you see in the picture is one of King Arthur’s – they’re bright aluminum looking, but they have some kind of Teflon surface because these muffins slipped out like greased lightning with no pre-greasing. Note that only about a rounded tablespoon of batter went into each muffin cup.mini_muffins_ready_to_bake_2

There’s a close-up of the batter. You can see the corrugated style of the pan. Makes for very easy cleanup, I’ll tell you for sure. If you don’t own any of these, I’d highly recommend you add a few to your Christmas wish list.

A little bit of brown sugar is sprinkled on top just before baking. I don’t know that I’d bother with that the next time – some of the brown sugar spilled out onto the muffin pan surface once the muffins began to rise in the baking process. But no big deal – none of it stuck to the pan.

What’s GOOD: the best part is the tenderness (from the yogurt/acidic dairy). This recipes requires just one apple – a good thing. I liked the raisins in it and the walnuts (neither were in the original recipe – I just added them for texture). This was quick to mix up and bake. Delicious when they were still warm and still really good at room temp. When I served them I heated them up just briefly in a low oven.

What’s NOT: nothing that I can think of. These are really tasty. And easy.

printer-friendly CutePDF
Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click on link to open recipe in MC)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Super Tender Apple Nut Mini-Muffins

Recipe By: Adapted from King Arthur Flour, 2013
Serving Size: 24 mini-muffins

1/4 cup unsalted butter — 4 tablespoons, at room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3/8 cup brown sugar — divided use
1/2 large egg
1/2 cup buttermilk — or 1/2 cup plain (not Greek-style) yogurt; or 3/8 cup Greek-style yogurt + 2 T milk (to equal 1/2 cup)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 cup Granny Smith apple — cored, and chopped; about 1 large apple

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease and flour a mini muffin pan, or line with papers and grease the insides of the papers.
2. Mix together the butter, granulated sugar, and a little more than half of the brown sugar, beating until fluffy.
3. Add the egg and mix well, stopping once to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl.
4. Gently mix in the buttermilk or yogurt.
5. Stir in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.
6. Fold in the chopped apples, walnuts and raisins.
7. Using about a rounded tablespoon of batter each, divide among the prepared mini-muffin cups, sprinkling the remaining brown sugar on top.
8. Bake the muffins for 12-15 minutes (mine took 14), or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.
9. Remove the muffins from the oven, cool them for 5 minutes in the pan, then turn them out onto a rack to finish cooling completely.
Per Serving: 59 Calories; 2g Fat (32.2% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 9g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 10mg Cholesterol; 56mg Sodium.

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