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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 Cookies, on December 21st, 2015.

choc_chip_cookies_food52

Yes, it IS a different kind of chocolate chip cookie – maybe you wouldn’t know the difference if you’re not a collector of variations of the chocolate chip cookie theme. I was standing in front of the light, so that’s why some look different in the photo.

Last month I made a quick trip up to Northern California to visit my daughter and her family who live there. While staying there I did do some cooking, rather than go out to eat for most meals. Dana made a spaghetti dinner one night, and I made those lemony chicken thighs I posted about a week or so ago. My daughter doesn’t cook much, and she never eats breakfast. Period. While there, I got the following message from my best friend Cherrie:

Okay you need to hurry home, read about this chocolate chip cookie and make them immediately.  I figure we could have some with coffee by Wednesday if you don’t get distracted.

I laughed when I read it – Cherrie almost never says something like that – but you see, she’s not much of a baker. She does bake Christmas cookies, and as I write this (in late November) we have a date scheduled for last week, actually, just before this recipe will post, when we’ll get together in my kitchen and bake up a whole bunch of cookies and divide them between 3 of us, Cherrie, Jackie and me. But Cherrie knows I’m a sucker when it comes to chocolate chip cookies. They are, hands down, my favorite cookie. Period.

If you read Food52, you may have already read about this cookie and tried it. If not, then you may want to read about it here. There are several major differences with this cookie – (1) there is no egg in the dough; (2) it uses vegetable oil instead of butter; (3) you absolutely MUST let the dough rest overnight in the refrigerator; (4) it’s vegan, in case you are interested in that aspect. With that in mind, I bought the ingredients while I was up in Placerville, and made them there, leaving most of them for Dana’s family to enjoy. I brought home 3, ate 2 and froze one for Cherrie. She got it last week, and I have forgotten to ask her what she thought of it. It wasn’t by Wednesday – it may have been 10 days later that I saw her, it was near dinnertime, and she surely would not have wanted to eat it then.

The cookies look and feel different – because they chill overnight, the dough is kind of hard to work with (I thought) and the cookies stood up – they weren’t flat at all like the cookies shown on Food52’s website. I used dark chocolate chips (which are specified in the recipe), but you could use anything you prefer – use the regular ones, which might be easier to manipulate in the chilled dough since they’re smaller than Ghiradelli’s. The baking part was about the same. The texture of the cookie was not quite as tender as regular ones (using butter and egg). And I thought the dough was less interesting – less flavorful because of the oil. Part of the joy of chocolate chip cookies, to me, is the cookie part, not just the chocolate chips.

What’s GOOD: well, they’re different. They’d probably keep longer since they have no egg in them. Most people at Food52 just raved about them. I’m not quite so enamored with them, but perhaps I should give them another try in my own kitchen. And I’d use regular chocolate chips next time. Will these become my go-to recipe? Nope, probably not. You’ll find my favorites listed on my Carolyn’s Favs with three chocolate chip cookies recipes listed as favorites.

What’s NOT: only that you must let the dough rest in the refrigerator overnight. For a die-hard chocolate chip cookie lover, that was hard to do! I did taste the dough (which you’d have no health problem doing in this recipe since you won’t be ingesting any raw egg), which seemed about the same as usual. Dough was a bit harder to work with when cold. A cookie scoop would help with that – my daughter didn’t have one, so I used an ice cream scoop instead.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 14/15 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Ovenly’s Secretly Vegan Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies

Recipe By: Food52, 2015
Serving Size: 18

2 cups all-purpose flour — 250 grams
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 1/4 cups dark chocolate chips — use at least 60% cocoa content
1/2 cup sugar — (100 grams)
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar — (110 grams) or dark brown sugar
1/2 cup canola oil — grapeseed, or any other neutral oil plus 1 tablespoon
1/4 cup water — plus 1 tablespoon
Coarse-grained sea salt or flaky sea salt like Maldon for garnish

1. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the chocolate chips to the flour mixture and toss to coat.
2. In a separate large bowl, whisk the sugars briskly with the canola oil and water until smooth and incorporated, about 2 minutes. Note: Use fresh, soft light brown sugar. If there are clumps, break them up with the back of a spoon or your hand before whisking.
3. Add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture, and then stir with a wooden spoon or a rubber spatula until just combined and no flour is visible. Do not overmix.
4. Cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate the dough for at least 12 hours and up to 24 hours. Do not skip this step.
5. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Line two rimmed sheet pans with parchment paper. Remove dough from the refrigerator and use an ice cream scoop or a spoon to portion dough into 2-inch mounds. We recommend freezing the balls of dough for 10 minutes before baking as the cookies will retain their shape better while baking.
6. Sprinkle the balls of dough with coarse-grained sea salt (if freezing, remove balls of dough from the freezer first), and bake for 12 to 13 minutes, or until the edges are just golden. Do not over bake. Let cool completely before serving.
Per Serving: 223 Calories; 11g Fat (41.6% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 32g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 136mg Sodium.

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