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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, Desserts, on February 28th, 2016.

coconut_lemon_teacake1

Oh, what a lovely slice of deliciousness. Coconut flavor in the bread and on the top, and lemon caramel drizzled over the top. This one’s really, really good!

One of my book clubs came to my house awhile back, and not only did I review a book (The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry: A Novel by Rachel Joyce), but I also needed to prepare some mid-morning food for everyone who came. We had a really interesting discussion about this book. It’s one of my favorite books I’ve read in the last couple of years and I think this book “experience” was enhanced by a group discussion.

I made coffee, had fresh fruit, some Biscoff cookies, this bread, and also some chocolate/banana small cake bites too. I’ll write up the cake recipe too – soon. When everyone left, I packaged up everything and put it in a big ziploc bag in the freezer for my Scrabble group that came to my house a couple of weeks later. But I’ll tell you – I had a hard time staying out of that bag during the ensuing weeks because I wanted some of this bread.

The recipe – I read about it on Orangette, but it comes from a book titled Lemons by Alison Roman (not available at amazon). I’ll need to frequent some used book stores to see if I can find it. You can buy it from the publisher for $14, (which seems pricey for a 48 page cookbook), so I’d like to find a used copy if I can do so. I have a couple of lemon cookbooks, but if this recipe is any representation of what’s contained in that cookbook, then I need to own it!

teacake_sliced_coconut_lemonThe recipe is just slightly different than most tea bread recipes, in that it uses coconut oil (melted). And it does have a coconut topping that’s baked along with the bread. Then you make a lemon juice mixture to go on top. Here’s where my cooking went off the track (in a good way). I set the lemon juice and sugar in a small saucepan on the stove, then walked 10 feet away and began working on something here at my computer. I lost track of time, and the aroma of lemon juice/sugar didn’t seem to alert me that I needed to get back to it. When I finally smelled it, I dashed over to the stove and discovered that the mixture had turned to a light brown caramel. I didn’t want to make another batch, so I just used it anyway – I used a spoon to drizzle the lemon-caramel over the top of the finished bread. It was a delightful change/mistake that I’ll probably do the next time I make it, so I’ve included it in my recipe below. It gave it a lovely crunch, in addition to the unsweetened coconut flakes that were also slightly crunchy.

What’s GOOD: the coconut and lemon flavors are prominent (which I liked). There isn’t much of anything made with lemon that I don’t like, but this tea cake is particularly good, and I want to bake it again, because I didn’t have enough of it the first time around.

What’s NOT: not a single thing. Worth making for sure.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Coconut-Lemon Tea Cake with Caramel Drizzle

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Lemons, by Alison Roman but I read about it at Orangette blog
Serving Size: 9

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1 cup sugar — divided
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
3/4 cup Greek yogurt, full-fat — or 2% yogurt, or sour cream
1/2 cup coconut oil — melted
2 large eggs
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
CARAMEL DRIZZLE:
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a (9×5 approximately) loaf pan lightly with cooking spray or butter, and line it with parchment paper. Grease that too (with difficulty). If you have a nonstick pan, this step may not be necessary.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, and kosher salt.
3. In a large bowl, rub 1 cup of the sugar with the lemon zest until the sugar is fragrant and yellow and smells like you just rubbed a lemon in there. Whisk in the yogurt, melted coconut oil, and eggs. Add the flour mixture, and stir just to blend.
4. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and smooth the top. Sprinkle coconut flakes over the surface, and bake until the top of the cake is golden brown, the edges pull away from the side of the pan, and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 50 to 55 minutes. (I found that the coconut flakes were browning before the cake was done, so tent the cake loosely with foil after about 45 minutes.)
5. During the last 10 minutes or so the cake is baking, combine the lemon juice and remaining ¼ cup of sugar in a small saucepan, and bring it to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved. Then continue simmering until the mixture has turned golden brown (caramel), but don’t let it burn. Remove cake from oven, and leaving it in the cakepan, drizzle this mixture over the top of the teacake with a spoon, keeping all of it on top (not down the sides). Allow cake to cool completely before removing the cake and serving. Cut pieces a bit thicker than normal as the topping is crunchy and you’ll tear it as you slice. Hold your hand across the top (at the top of both sides) as you slice between two fingers (carefully) each piece so each slices stay whole.
Per Serving: 328 Calories; 15g Fat (40.4% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 45g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 55mg Cholesterol; 291mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on February 28th, 2016:

    Two of my favourite flavours in that cake!

  2. hddonna

    said on February 28th, 2016:

    The idea of a coconut lemon loaf didn’t grab me until you described your serendipitous mistake. A caramelized lemon drizzle! Wow! Sounds like it would be a perfect tea-time treat.

    Well, yes, that mistake (sort of) did make for an altogether different flavor on the topping. I’ll be making it again sometime. . . carolyn t

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