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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 July 27th, 2016.

choc_chip_cookies_baked_cookbook

Why would I bake yet another cookie of the chocolate chip variety? I have nothing fewer, to date, than 20 similar recipes – on my index here on my blog, I have a category on the cookie page just for chocolate chip cookies.

Why would I do it? Well, it was the rhetoric that accompanied the recipe – that it had become the best chocolate chip cookie in her collection. Or something like – this is my go-to cc cookie. That kind of language perks my ears, piques my interest. It made me save the recipe, and ultimately, to make them. And I must admit, these cookies are downright fabulous. I prefer crispy chocolate chip cookies, and these definitely fit my mold, satisfying my craving for a crispy cookie. My first pans full I over baked them – the photo above. They were almost burned because I forgot to set the timer once I switched the pans around half way through. Suddenly I began to smell something hot – yep, these cookies. But oh gosh – they were so good! The next batches I was more careful and removed them after 14 minutes. They were perfectly golden on the outside but still slightly soft in the middle. Below is a photo of the cookies done at exactly 14 minutes. To adhere to the recipe instructions, these are still over-baked as she recommends taking them out when the edges are just golden. So if you make them you can decide for yourself.

cc_cookie_bakedThis recipe is much like most cc cookie recipes – I looked at this one side-by-side with my other favorite, the ones from Silver Moon bakery, and the ingredient list is nearly identical, with this one containing slightly less butter and a little less flour. About the same on everything else. These taste sweeter. Don’t know why. The batter is very sticky – the difference being the amount of flour as mentioned, I suppose. Hence the chilling time is necessary to make the dough manageable (to roll balls in your hands).

Next time I make these I’ll use a little less sugar and see if I like them even better. I got the recipe from CakeSpy (a blog). When she made these, she got the recipe from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking (cookbook) by Matt Lewis. CakeSpy changed the recipe only slightly to add walnuts and reduce the amount of chocolate chips by that amount. I always like cc cookies with both chips and walnuts, so I chose to use her variation on the cookbook recipe. I sent some home with granddaughter Taylor and her friends as they headed back to NoCal.

What’s GOOD: has this moved into #1 position in my ranking? Hmmm. Not sure. They’re awfully good, but I still think Silver Moon ones are my favorites. I’ll have to make a decision, I guess, in a few days about the ranking! I freeze my cc cookies, and I eat them frozen, so that will be my final test, eating the hard, frozen cookie. I must say, however, that his cookie was oh-so good, still slightly warm with a cold glass of milk. Yum.

What’s NOT: only that the batter has to chill for several hours. Not sure why, but it’s in the recipe. Maybe it helps them keep their shape better since they start out cold on the baking sheet. Fabulous cookies – can’t complain about anything!

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Chocolate Chip Cookies – from Baked (cookbook)

Recipe By: From Cakespy (blog) and she adapted it from Baked (cookbook)
Serving Size: 72

4 cups flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups unsalted butter — softened
2 cups packed dark brown sugar — (might use less next time)
1 cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs
4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 1/3 cups walnuts

1. In a large bowl, whisk the flour, salt, and baking soda together; set aside.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugars together until smooth and creamy. Scrape down bowl and add eggs, one at a time, beating until incorporated. Mixture will look light and fluffy. Add vanilla and beat for 5 seconds.
3. Add the flour mixture, bit by bit, mixing after each addition.
4. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, fold in the chocolate chips and walnuts.
5. Cover the bowl tightly and put in the fridge for several hours.
6. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
7. You can bake larger cookies (2 tablespoons each) or smaller (2 teaspoons each). Use your hands to shape into perfect balls and erase any imperfections. Place on prepared baking sheets, leaving at least an inch between cookies.
8. Bake for 10-12 minutes for smaller cookies, 12-14 minutes for larger cookies. Rotate pans halfway through to ensure even baking. They’re done when the edges are golden and the tops are just starting to lose their shine.
9. Remove pan from oven and cool on wire rack. They are great warm, but you could also let them cool, if you’re so inclined.
10. These can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days or freeze for longer storage.
Per Serving: 168 Calories; 10g Fat (49.0% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 26mg Cholesterol; 102mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on July 27th, 2016:

    Goodness, 72 cookies at once? What a lot. I haven’t eaten a choc chip cookie in years and I don’t think I ever made any. Enjoy those that you have left.

    Well, I certainly didn’t eat them all. I give them away, I take them to friends, I serve them now and then too. Chocolate chip cookies are my favorite cookie, bar none; even more interesting to me than a brownie, which certainly contains more chocolate. I don’t know exactly what it is about a chocolate chip cookie that intrigues me so much. I admire you that you don’t eat or make them – that’s why you’re tall and lithe and I’m short and much wider! . . . carolyn t

  2. elizabeth

    said on July 30th, 2016:

    I haven’t made this one yet, but the smitten kitchen salted choc chip cookie recipe is great. Maybe another one for you to try?

    I’ll take a look . . . carolyn t

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