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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 June 1st, 2016.

provencal_olive_fougasse

Know how to pronounce it? Foo-ghass. A bread. A sort of chewy flatbread – not the thinnest type, as we often see in restaurants as a base for a semi-pizza kind of thing. No, this is an actual bread, maybe about an inch thick. This one studded with black olives (cured type).

When my friend Joanne invited me for lunch a few weeks ago I didn’t know she was going to prepare lunch at her home, so it was a special treat when I spotted this bread sitting on her kitchen counter and learned we would have some of it for our lunch. Oh, was it good. Chewy, still almost warm from the oven.

The recipe came from Dorie Greenspan’s cookbook, Around My French Table: More than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours. The dough is mixed (preferably with your stand mixer and the dough hook – makes it really easy). The batter/dough is allowed to rise for a couple of hours, then you turn it over inside the rising bowl, stirring and deflating it, cover, then you simply put it in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, or the next day, you kind of pour it out onto a work surface, roll it out into 2 rectangles, put them on rimmed baking sheets, sprinkling it with flour as you move it. You cut those holes into the dough (all the way through) and allow the bread to rise again out on your countertop (covered). They’re glazed with a bit of oil and sprinkled with kosher salt and you poke it all over with a fork. Then bake it in a hot-hot oven for 10 minutes, turn it and reverse the baking sheets, and bake another 10 minutes and it’s DONE. How easy was that?

The original recipe called for both oil packed sun dried tomatoes, rosemary and olives. Joanne only used the olives plus rosemary from her garden. I read that bacon is a very common addition to fougasse when you eat it in France. But, you can also use some dried fruit and nuts (not with the olives) to make it a bit different. What’s really nice about this is you make enough for 2 breads – you can bake one and leave the other one for another day or so in the refrigerator and bake the 2nd one later. Joanne and Larry had taken the first loaf to a neighborhood gathering and she said everyone raved about the warm bread. I raved too when she baked the 2nd one for our lunch. It was wonderful with the Nicoise salad. You need only plan to let it rise the 2nd time for about an hour or so and bake for 20 minutes. Again, thank you, Joanne!

What’s GOOD: what’s there NOT to like about freshly baked yeast bread. I’m a sucker for fresh bread anytime, anywhere. This one was lovely with the salad lunch. My friend Joanne made this one, but it’s easy and I’ll definitely remember this for some upcoming evening when I’m entertaining. It’s so EASY!

What’s NOT: well, you do have to plan ahead – this needs to be refrigerated at least overnight and allow for two rising times. One at first when you mix it up, then again before you bake it. That’s the only down side to making any kind of yeast bread. But this one’s worth the effort.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click on link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Fougasse

Recipe By: From Dorie Greenspan’s cookbook, Around My French Table
Serving Size: 12

1 2/3 cups warm water — plus 2 teaspoons, divided (105°F to 115°F)
1 3/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
5 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil — divided, plus more for brushing
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup oil-cured black ripe olives — pitted, quartered
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, oil-packed — drained, chopped (optional)
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary — minced
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
Coarse kosher salt

1. Pour 2/3 cup warm water into 2-cup measuring cup. Sprinkle yeast, then sugar over; stir to blend. Let stand until yeast dissolves and mixture bubbles, 5 to 7 minutes. Add 1 cup warm water and 4 1/2 tablespoons oil.
2. Mix flour and 1 1/4 teaspoons salt in bowl of heavy-duty mixer. Pour in yeast mixture. Attach dough hook; beat at medium-low speed until flour is moistened but looks shaggy, about 3 minutes. Increase speed to medium; beat until dough pulls away from sides of bowl and climbs hook, about 10 minutes (dough will be like sticky batter).
3. Mix olives, tomatoes (if using), rosemary, and lemon peel in medium bowl. Add to dough and beat 1 minute. Using sturdy spatula, stir dough by hand to blend.
4. Lightly oil large bowl. Scrape dough into bowl. Brush top of dough with oil. Brush plastic wrap with oil; cover bowl, oiled side down. Let dough rise in warm draft-free area until doubled, 1 to 2 hours.
5. Gently turn dough several times with spatula to deflate. Re-cover bowl with oiled plastic; chill overnight (dough will rise).
6. Sprinkle 2 large rimmed baking sheets with flour. Using spatula, deflate dough by stirring or folding over several times. Divide dough into 2 equal pieces. Place 1 piece on floured work surface; sprinkle with flour. Roll out dough to 12×8- to 12×9-inch rectangle, sprinkling with flour to keep from sticking. Transfer dough to sheet.
7. Using very sharp small knife, cut four 2-inch-long diagonal slashes just to right of center of rectangle and 4 more just to left of center to create pattern resembling leaf veins. Pull slashes apart with fingertips to make 3/4- to 1-inch-wide openings.
8. Repeat with remaining dough. Cover dough with towel. Let rest 20 minutes. Beat 2 teaspoons water and 1 tablespoon oil in small bowl to blend for glaze.
9. Position 1 rack in top third and 1 rack in bottom third of oven; preheat to 450°F. Brush fougasses with glaze; sprinkle with coarse salt and pierce all over with fork.
10. Bake fougasses 10 minutes. Reverse position of baking sheets and turn around. Bake fougasses until golden, about 10 minutes. Transfer to racks; cool 15 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Per Serving: 244 Calories; 10g Fat (37.0% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 34g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 591mg Sodium.

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