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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 October 17th, 2016.

choc_amaretto_bars

Planning ahead for Christmas cookies . . .

It’s only October, and my friend Cherrie and I are wanting to make some different cookies this year when we do our annual Christmas cookie baking, usually in early December. We’ve been stuck in a rut for some years, making the same ones year after year. With all of the recipe sorting I’ve done in the last couple of months, I came across a bunch – really a lot – of old time cookie recipes that sounded good. We started with a list of 9 cookies, and narrowed it down to four. So, one day, when it was still hot, summery and sticky outside, I cranked down the A/C and we dug in to try these new recipes.

gingerbread_madeleinesWe made some gingerbread madeleines. Well, they were a complete bust, pictured there at left. They: (1) were too sweet; (2) stuck to my supposedly nonstick madeleine pan; the batter was so firm after being refrigerated, per the directions, that I had to leave it out for an hour so I could even scoop it; and lastly (4) because they stuck to the pan, I couldn’t frost the correct (ridged) side as they were all pock-marked. Toss out that recipe for sure.

lemon_walnut_barsWe also made a batch of lemon walnut bars. It sounded so good – Cherrie and I both like walnuts and I still have lemons on my tree. BUT, they were also a bust. Pictured at right, they (1) were too gooey and even after baking longer and longer, the filling never really firmed up; so (2) were almost impossible to cut; and (3) because the filling was too wet/damp, the shortbread part on the bottom got soggy, which made them unstable to be a bar. They were also sweeter than I like for a cookie, too. Threw that recipe out too.

Cherrie and I decided that there are so many cookie recipes out there, it’s simply not worth our time to try to figure out how to fix these.

But these Amaretto bars with chocolate were great. After baking them, though, I almost thought they were going to be a bust too because we couldn’t cut them very well. I refrigerated them overnight and was able to cut them properly then, so I fixed the below recipe to make sure that problem doesn’t happen to you. The taste, though, is wonderful, but they’re RICH. Just so you know . . .

choc amaretto bars unbakedThe bars are layered. First there’s a shortbread layer on the bottom that’s baked; a filling contains eggs, chocolate chips, Amaretto, sliced almonds, sugar and corn syrup, butter and cornstarch. That’s poured over the hot bottom crust (see photo at left of the filling poured in and ready to be baked) and baked for 25 minutes.

The pan is cooled on a rack, then you drop 1/3 cup of chocolate chips into a heavy-duty (freezer) plastic bag, microwave it until it’s very warm and melted, then you snip off a corner of the bag and drizzle that all over the bars.

choc_amaretto_bars_bakedHere, on the right you can see the finished pan full out of the oven. The top is golden brown. It took a good long while for this pan to cool off – at least two hours. Do more-or-less cut the bars while the pan is warm (but not when they’re hot). The bars are ooey-gooey, but you’ll be glad to have an idea about cutting them the next morning when you can cut them completely. When chilled, the bottom shortbread is very firm, so I was glad that most of the bars were already mostly cut.

What’s GOOD: did I mention that they’re very rich? Yes, indeed, so do cut them into small squares. I’m not sure how many I got from the pan, so I guessed at 36. You might get more than that. Being so rich, you won’t want to eat more than one, most likely. If you’re a chocoholic, you’ll be a happy camper. If you prefer milk chocolate, just substitute for the dark listed in the recipe below. Great recipe.

What’s NOT: nothing about them is hard to do, and it makes a lot of cookies/bars, but it’s a bit fussy trying to get them cut properly. I thought it was worth the effort, but for some, you might find it a bit difficult. I advise using a glass 9×13 pan so when you use a sharp knife to cut, you won’t be damaging the knife on the metal pan. I used my nonstick pan, and won’t do THAT again. I’m surprised I didn’t make some permanent grooves in the nonstick coating.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Chocolate Amaretto Bars

Recipe By: a Nestle’s Baking Book, from the 1980’s probably
Serving Size: 36

CRUST:
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup butter or margarine — (1 1/2 sticks) cut into pieces, softened
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
FILLING:
4 large eggs
3/4 cup light corn syrup
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons butter or margarine — melted
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 cup amaretto — or 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups sliced almonds
1 2/3 cups chocolate chips — [I used dark chocolate]
CHOCOLATE DRIZZLE:
1/3 cup chocolate chips — [I used dark chocolate]

1. PREHEAT oven to 350º F. Grease a 13 x 9-inch glass baking pan.
2. FOR CRUST: Beat flour, butter and brown sugar in large mixer bowl until crumbly. Press into prepared baking pan.
3. BAKE for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown.
4. FILLING: Beat eggs, corn syrup, granulated sugar, butter, cornstarch and liqueur in medium bowl with wire whisk. Stir in almonds and 1 2/3 cups morsels. Pour over hot crust; spread evenly.
5. BAKE for 25 to 30 minutes or until center is set. Cool completely in pan on wire rack.
6. DRIZZLE: Place remaining 1/3 cup morsels in heavy-duty plastic bag. Microwave on HIGH (100%) power for 30 to 45 seconds; knead. Microwave at 10- to 15-second intervals, kneading until smooth (this may take 90 seconds or so to reach the melting point, but not hot enough to melt the plastic. Cut tiny corner from bag; squeeze to drizzle over bars. Using a knife, and with a tall mug of boiling water nearby, cut the bars into 1 to 1 1/2″ squares, dipping the knife back into the hot water if the filling sticks. Try using a sharp spatula to cut through the crust part. Refrigerate for several hours. Using a spatula or a kitchen knife or both, re-cut the scored part and carefully lift out the squares. If storing for awhile, put waxed paper between layers and seal in a plastic box for up to a week. Keep bars in refrigerator.
Per Serving: 228 Calories; 13g Fat (49.0% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 27g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 36mg Cholesterol; 65mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on October 17th, 2016:

    These look like a good addition to the Christmas cookie line-up. I always try to have at least a dozen kinds; used to be a dozen and a half or more, but I don’t seem to find the time for that anymore. And more and more of those I do make tend to be bar cookies. I’ll definitely want to try these–and it’s nice that you’ve already done the troubleshooting on this recipe! I’ll keep your tips in mind. Thanks!

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