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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 July 19th, 2016.

chai_masala_banana_bread_orange_whipped_cream

Are all banana breads the same, with not much difference? Not so! This one’s very different – not only does it have chai spices in it, but it also uses coconut palm sugar (a dark brown sugar from the coconut tree).

A few weeks ago I followed a link and ended up at a blog called Indian Simmer (that I now subscribe to through my RSS reader). I suspect the blog is aimed mostly at people from India, wherever they might be living. Sometimes I don’t even recognize the names of things they talk about, but the blog is written in English and comes from the voices of five different women. Right away I got interested in this recipe for chai_masala_banana_breadbanana bread, just because it contained chai spices. I had some aging bananas on my countertop, and I only had to go to the grocery store to buy coconut palm sugar. An item I’d never heard of – you could substitute dark brown sugar if you don’t have it, and I might do that next time. The sugar is quite dark brown in color, but also a very golden color (more like the color of gingerbread), definitely not light brown – it’s more of a caramel color, as you can see from the color of this banana bread.

Since I was expecting my granddaughter Taylor (the one who just finished her freshman year at Sonoma State) and 2 of her friends to arrive from Northern California that day, I thought this would be something I could have on hand that they could snack on if they wanted to. They have reported that they like this bread very much – they took several slices wrapped in a plastic bag when they headed for the day at Disneyland. If you’re expecting regular banana bread, this isn’t it. It’s sweet. It’s spicy. It warms your mouth for sure. I thought it was better the 2nd day, actually – I was able to taste the bananas in it better on day two.

chai_masala_spicesFirst, though, you have to make the CHAI MASALA (pictured) – not a lot of difficulty to do, providing you have all the ingredients (black peppercorns, cinnamon sticks, ginger, whole nutmeg, whole cloves, whole green cardamom pods). All those things get whizzed up in a spice grinder until they’re a fine, fine powder, then you mix them together. I didn’t make a whole lot because I didn’t know what else I might use it for, although it should last 6-8 months. I made two loaves of this bread and I used about 2/3 of the mixture you see on the plate. Whatever you do, just make sure you grind the stuff to a fine powder – that’s a real requirement as you don’t want to bite into a cracked peppercorn. The only problematical ingredient here is the pepper – it’s surprising that the recipe calls for as much as it does – you might think the bread would be hot-hot, but it’s not. You do feel a warmth; that’s all and since it couldn’t come from anything else (well, maybe the ginger, but I doubt it) it must be the pepper.

I suspect that amongst Indian cooks, everyone has her own combination of chai spices that she likes – maybe you like more ginger and less cloves, or more nutmeg and less pepper. That kind of thing. This combo tasted fine to me, so I’ll go with it!

chai_masala_banana_bread_ready2bakeThe bread mixes up much like any other – except that this bread contains yogurt, and olive oil plus milk and honey. All different tastes of things in this one. Into a greased loaf pan (unless you’re using one of the really nice, new pans that don’t require greasing) it goes. I have the ones from King Arthur Flour – they don’t require greasing or powdering, or lining. See photo at right with the batter just poured in. The recipe indicated the bread would be ready in 40 minutes. Uh . . . no. Definitely not cooked through. I used my instant read thermometer, and it took a full 60 minutes at 350° and it reached 198°F in the middle of the loaf.

It was all I could do when I upended them to cool, not to slice into it right then and there, but I knew it needed some more resting time. I waited an hour or so, the girls had arrived and they’d not had lunch, so I sliced a few pieces and we all snacked on it before I took them out to dinner.

As I’m writing this I’ve got things ready to make a chicken dish for dinner tonight, kind of like chicken fingers. A new recipe. If it’s worth its salt, then I’ll be writing it up in the next few days. Watermelons have been in a bin outside the entrance to Trader Joe’s for the last couple of months. I’ve not bought any until the other day, so I’m making one of my favorites, the Minted Watermelon Feta Salad to go along with the chicken. I made 2 of these banana bread loaves and the one in the freezer will be served to my Bible study group when they come to my house next (soon). I’ll take a photo of it then – served with the orange zested whipped cream to go along with it.

What’s GOOD: this might be an acquired taste if you’re looking for regular old-fashioned banana bread. This bears little resemblance to the traditional – but, the flavor is wonderful, warmed with the spices. The texture is super-tender, but it has plenty of structure so you needn’t fear slicing into it. The yogurt likely gives it the tenderness. I loved it – almost better on the 2nd day.

What’s NOT: maybe a little extra effort since you have to grind up a variety of spices to make the chai masala. Otherwise, it’s much like other banana breads as far as work is concerned. I liked it, so no complaint here.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Chai Masala Spiced Banana Bread with Orange Cream

Recipe By: From Indian Simmer blog
Serving Size: 12

2 1/4 cups white whole wheat flour — or use regular all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 teaspoons chai masala powder — see recipe below
1 large egg
1 cup coconut palm sugar — or substitute dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons honey
2/3 cups milk
1/2 cups Greek yogurt, full-fat
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium bananas — ripe
ORANGE WHIPPED CREAM:
zest of 1 orange
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar
CHAI MASALA POWDER:
2 tablespoons black peppercorns, ground to a fine powder
2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, ground from one stick
1 teaspoon ground cardamom pods, ground finely
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cloves
1/2 teaspoons freshly ground nutmeg

NOTES: If you don’t have coconut palm sugar, just use dark brown regular sugar. The flavor won’t be quite the same, but you might not want to buy the other. It’s a bit pricey. Next time I make it I will cut down slightly on the sugar – it was plenty sweet with a cup of the coconut palm sugar in it plus the honey.
1. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
2. In a bowl combine the flour, soda, baking powder, salt, and the chai spices. Use a whisk to combine and mix them. Set aside.
3. With mixer on medium, beat egg for about 1 minute, then add sugar, honey, milk, yogurt, vanilla. Keep beating until sugar dissolves well and the mixture gets light.
3. Add dry ingredients into the liquid ones and mix well with mixer on medium.
4. Add yogurt to the mixture while still mixing it. Turn off mixer and fold in mashed bananas until no streaks of banana are visible.
4. Pour the batter into a buttered and lined loaf pan. Place the pan into the oven and bake it for 45 minutes, then test with a knife. Continue baking for 5-minute intervals until the bread is cooked through and reaches an internal temperature of about 198°F.
5. Remove from oven and allow it to cool before pulling out of the loaf pan. After 15 minutes, slide a spatula down all four sides and gently turn the loaf over into your outstretched palm and arm, then allow it to cool completely. Eat it immediately, or serve as a dessert with orange whipped cream.
6. ORANGE WHIPPED CREAM: In an electric mixer with whisk attachment, whip the ingredients together, on medium high until stiff peaks form.
7. CHAI POWDER: Grind each ingredient separately in a spice grinder (or a coffee grinder that you reserve for spices), then combine them into a small jar. Keep tightly sealed and it will be usable for 6-8 months.
Per Serving: 360 Calories; 12g Fat (29.8% calories from fat); 8g Protein; 58g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 51mg Cholesterol; 390mg Sodium.

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