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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, on April 19th, 2015.

cheddar_cheese_chive_biscuits

What’s there not to like about a rich biscuit? And filled with cheese? Here I made them to accompany a bowl of that Cheese and Ale Soup I told you about a few weeks ago. You can barely see a bit of it up in the top left corner.

Back when I made the soup the first time – the Cheddar and Ale Soup with Bacon and Shallots, I was testing it to serve at a lunch tea I was hosting at my home. It was a fundraiser for my PEO Chapter. There were 10 of us (8 guests and my co-hostess Linda, and myself) who came in early March. First we served the soup, sprinkled with shallots and bacon with this biscuit on the side. Butter was on the table, and everybody loved the soup – every bowl was scraped clean.

Then I did a tea demonstration. First I explained some little known history of tea – dating back to 2737BC (did you know that – the first known tea dates back that far in China?). I discussed types of teas (there are only 2-3 main categories of black tea) and the components of each one. As a young person all I knew was Lipton tea bags and an occasional cup of Constant Comment. So, I told the story of when I was first introduced to REAL tea, as I called it “praw-per” tea from my dear, dear friend in England, Pamela. And I opened 3 different tins of tea (Darjeeling, English Breakfast and Lapsang Souchong [a smoky tea, favored by Winston Churchill, in case you wanted to know]) to pass around the table for each person to smell. I also passed a jar of Lady Grey tea (a milder form of Earl Grey), and a packet of one of my favorites, Marco Polo, a blend from a tea shop in Paris called Mariage Frères (if you are interested, you can google it – you can buy it here and on their website, but expensive) that my friend Yvette introduced me to about 8-10 years ago.

At my lunch tea I demonstrated how to make a proper pot, from the water, the pot itself, the tea, the steeping, the straining, the tea cosy, milk, sugar, etc.  First I made a pot of blended tea (a mixture of mostly Darjeeling and English Breakfast, with a small amount of Lapsang Souchong) that my friend Pamela introduced me to, back in 1981. We poured each guest a small cup (very proper decorated English bone China cups and saucers) so they could taste it. A couple of them weren’t so enamored with the smoky part. This was almost like a wine tasting, or an olive oil tasting. Guests could throw out the remains if they didn’t like it. Then I made a pot of the Lady Grey. Several ladies really liked that – it’s made by Twining’s. The story is interesting – it seems that the Nordic people do love tea, but they generally didn’t like Earl Grey – too pungent most complained. So in the 90s, Twinings decided to make a “new” blend, with less oil of Bergamot (that’s what makes Earl Grey distinctive) and some citrus notes to market to the Norwegian population, to resounding success, apparently.  If you’re interested you can get it at Amazon: Classics Lady Grey Tea 20 Bag in several shapes, sizes and loose or bagged. I bought my box of it in England many years ago, and even after all these years, it’s still just fine. They’re sealed up well, however.

Then lastly, I made a pot of Marco Polo (I gave them a choice, but most wanted to try it). It got raves by more of the ladies. That tea, from Mariage Frères in Paris (in the Marais district), is their unique blend. So I read somewhere, it has Chinese and Tibetan flowers plus berries and fruit, in a bold black tea. It’s very different from Earl Grey. No bergamot for sure. The Marco Polo has become SO popular at the tea store, they now have about 10 varieties. Click this link to see them all. I have the standard Marco Polo, none of the other variations.

During the tea part of our luncheon, I served my favorite Buttermilk Scones, that I’ve been making for about 30 years (half with lemon zest, the other half with added golden raisins), some absolutely gorgeous, huge stemmed strawbebiscuit_with_soup_bowlrries and an apricot tea square Linda brought. Along with my home made lemon curd and crème fraiche. And apricot jam. And more tea. We had a lovely time.

All that said, these biscuits – well, they’re a recipe from a restaurant in Encinitas (in San Diego County) called Solace and The Moonlight Lounge. It’s been at least 8-10 months ago my San Diego good friend Linda and I went there for dinner or lunch and we’d been told to be sure to order their biscuits. They brought them first, still warm, along with an orange honey butter to go with it. The recipe for that is down below in the next paragraph. Oh my goodness. Well, awhile after that, the recipe was printed in the Union-Tribune, so Linda sent it to me. Thank you, Linda.

They’re as simple as any biscuit, really. It does require buttermilk, though. And it’s heavy on the butter! But oh, so good.

What’s GOOD: they’re a rich biscuit (meaning there’s more butter than standard). The kind of cheese makes a difference – I used half Irish sharp white cheddar and some Tillamook sharp cheddar (yellow) and a bunch of fresh chives minced up. They taste wonderful. You might, just might, be able to eat them without adding butter on top, but if you’re going to indulge, go for added butter! At the restaurant they serve it with orange honey butter (1/4 pound unsalted butter whipped well to make it light, 1/4+ tsp orange zest, 3/4 tsp honey, a couple of dashes of salt and 1/8 tsp minced garlic, mixed well, refrigerated, then allowed to warm back up to room temp).

What’s NOT: nothing that I can think of – need to have buttermilk on hand and fresh chives (or you could probably substitute parsley). Serve while they’re hot from the oven.

printer-friendly CutePDF

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Cheese and Chive Biscuits

Recipe By: Solace & The Moonlight Lounge, Encinitas, CA, 2015
Serving Size: 15

1 1/2 cups pastry flour
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter — cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons chives — minced
1 1/2 cups white cheddar cheese — loosely packed, grated [I used all cheddar this time]
3/4 cup Fontina cheese — loosely packed, grated
1 1/4 cups buttermilk — may need up to 1/4 cup more
1 egg white — (optional)

1. Sift together flours, baking powder and salt. Add butter, chives and cheeses and mis with a pastry knife or a paddle attachment of a mixer on low speed for 2-3 minutes ti incorporate the butter. There should still be small, pea-sized chunks of butter; this will make the biscuits flaky. At this point you can store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for a day or two if necessary.
2. Slowly add buttermilk, starting with 1 cup and fold together for about 10 seconds. Move the ingredients around by hand and pour the remaining 1/4 cup buttermilk into the bottom of the bowl to make sure the moisture gets there. Mix again for just a few seconds. Add another 1/4 cup buttermilk if the dough hasn’t pulled together. Do not over mix the dough.
3. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead 2-3 times only. Handle the dough as sparingly as possible to keep the butter form melting. Using your fingertips, flatten dough out to about 3/4 inch thick and brush the top with egg whites. Cut into desired shape.
4. Preheat oven to 425°. Line a heavy baking sheet with parchment paper. Bake biscuits in the middle of the oven for 17-20 minutes or until golden brown. If you have a convection oven, bake at 400° for 12-14 minutes. You can crack one biscuit open to make sure it is cooked through. If it is not, reduce oven temp to 250° and check again in about 2 minutes. You can bake these ahead of time; when ready to serve, reheat. Be certain the biscuits are fully cooked through, however, as they will fall while they’re cooling.
ORANGE HONEY BUTTER: If you want to serve these with what they do at the restaurant, add this: 1/2 pound unsalted butter, 3/4 tsp grated orange zest, 1 1/2 tsp honey, 3/4 tsp salt, 1/4 T garlic, minced: Whip butter in mixer for 10 minutes until light and airy. Add remaining ingredients and whip for another 8 minutes. Use immediately, or refrigerator, but let it warm back to room temperature before serving.
Per Serving: 253 Calories; 15g Fat (53.3% calories from fat); 8g Protein; 22g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 44mg Cholesterol; 339mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on April 19th, 2015:

    What a beautiful pebbly, golden crust! I can almost taste them! The Marco Polo tea is intriguing. I keep a ridiculously large assortment of teas on hand but am tempted to try it.

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