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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 Appetizers, on September 10th, 2007.

I must start off stating that the above picture is not this dish. I’m still not able to walk or stand much, so am still having to resort to internet photos. BUT, it looks similar.

So, now that’s off my chest, I can tell you about how easy this is to make. Don’t we all have a baked brie recipe of some kind? And it’s not exactly baked brie season, if there is such a thing, but hot, oozing brie reminds me more of the winter, maybe even Christmas or Thanksgiving. So save this for some cool night when you’re having some friends over.

A few nights ago Jenny, the daughter of friends of ours came to our house and cooked dinner for us. Her parents, Marty & Julie, joined us too. Jenny is such a delight, a teacher, and loves to cook. She made a lamb stir fry dinner, Texas caviar, spinach salad and the cutest cookies (chocolate chip dough with a Reese’s peanut butter cup baked in the center – oh yum were they good). The entire meal was just delicious. AND, she brought a wedge of brie to snack on too. That’s what made me think about the baked brie.

What’s different about this preparation is that after you bake the 2 half-pound rounds of brie, covered in the crescent roll dough, you put it in the microwave for about a minute or two to just finish off the heating/melting of the cheese. What a clever method, I thought, when I first had it. It doesn’t stay in the microwave long enough to soggify the crescent dough. And you serve this with sliced apples as the sled upon which you place the brie. Not crackers or bread, which would just add to the high carb nature. But apples. So, you’re getting a little bit of healthy thrown in with all the cheese. I think I haven’t ever used the 3 apples. More like 2, I think. But, buy 3 just in case you like the apple slices bigger than I do.

I don’t remember where this recipe came from – it may be a Tarla Fallgatter recipe (she teaches classes here). My notes don’t tell me, so I can’t be certain I’m giving proper credit for this recipe. But, from whence it came, any way you do it, it’s mighty good.

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Baked Brie with Apples

Servings: 12
COOK’S NOTES: Very easy appetizer, although it’s best to make this just before baking. If the dough sits out at room temperature it darkens and doesn’t rise as well.

1 pound brie — (2 wheels)
3 tubes Pillsbury crescent roll
3 whole apples — sliced

1. You need 3 tubes of crescent roll dough to make 2 appetizers, just in case you questioned the quantities.
2. Unroll the 3 tubes of dough and divide them into two groups. With one group “cut and paste” so to speak, the pieces to make a large sort-of round shape. Place the chilled brie round in the center and gently pull the dough up around the edges. Generally I trim the outside edges to make them fit better and throw away the excess. Be very gentle since pulling the dough can separate the rolls at the perforations, and you do not want the cheese to melt out during baking. Dampen your finger in cold water to help seal edges, if needed.
3. Follow instructions on the dough tube, but usually these are baked at 350° for about 15 minutes, until the rolls are golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to sit a few minutes if desired. Then place the brie wheels on a plate and microwave on high for about 1-2 minutes (no more than that) and serve with apple slices.
Per Serving: 174 Calories; 12g Fat (62.1% calories from fat); 8g Protein; 8g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 38mg Cholesterol; 293mg Sodium.

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