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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 January 2nd, 2017.

lemon_crumb_muffins

Light and tasty with lemon juice and lemon zest. And, topped with a really nice crumb, then lastly, drizzled with a lemon glaze. Yum.

My daughter Sara raved about these muffins, so as soon as I had an excuse, I baked these for my Tuesday night bible study gathering. As far as muffins go, these were cinchy easy to make, as long as you have sour cream and a lemon on hand. It’s an easy batter to mix up (standard ingredients), mixed with the wet ingredients and scooped into muffin cups. Then you sprinkle the crumb mixture on top.

lemon_crumb_muffins_unbakedThe original recipe (from Taste of Home) said it made 40, so I cut it down, and cut it down, and I got 10 from the batch, but I think I should have tried to make 9 of them so they’d have been a little taller.

While the muffins are baking, you mix up the glaze and have it ready.

There’s only one caution – make sure all the muffins are baked through – two of mine weren’t quite done, and after they were out of the oven and cooling, then sunk deeply in the middle. Had to toss those out. So, use a cake tester or toothpick to make sure there isn’t any batter sticking to it before you remove them. I baked them 21 minutes, but perhaps they needed 24-25. Just an FYI.

I let the muffins rest for about 5 minutes before I used a small teaspoon to drizzle the lemon juice and sugar syrup on top. That little drizzle made them especially delicious, I thought.

What’s GOOD: the overall lemon flavor, tender crumb to the muffins themselves, and lastly, the good lemony crunch from the drizzle. The crumbly mixture on top also gave these good texture.

What’s NOT: nary a thing.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Lemon Crumb Muffins

Recipe By: Taste of Home
Serving Size: 9

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup butter — melted
3/4 tablespoon grated lemon peel
1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
TOPPING:
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon cold butter — cubed
GLAZE:
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/3 tablespoons lemon juice

1. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. In another bowl, combine the eggs, sour cream, butter, lemon peel and juice. Stir into dry ingredients just until moistened. Fill greased or paper-lined muffin cups three-fourths full. (These don’t make really tall muffins – if you want taller, just fill them more than 3/4 full.)
2. TOPPING: In a small bowl, combine flour and sugar; cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle over batter.
3. Bake at 350° for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. DO use a tester because if they’re under-done, they will sink in the middle. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks.
4. GLAZE: In a small bowl, whisk glaze ingredients; drizzle over warm muffins. Serve warm.
Per Serving: 345 Calories; 16g Fat (40.0% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 48g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 84mg Cholesterol; 211mg Sodium.

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  1. Claudine Bratcher

    said on January 2nd, 2017:

    Thanks for posting this recipe in a reduced amount. I had seen it on Taste of Home website, but as it made 40 muffins, I didn’t try it. These muffins are the best as I do so love anything lemon! Now, my question is this WHERE ever did you get that neat muffin pan? I’ve just got to get one. Thank you again for this recipe and I do so enjoy your newsletter.

    Thank you, Claudine! The muffin tin is made by KitchenAid. Actually, I don’t like it much. I use it, because I bought it some years ago, and I’m not one to give something away when it works well enough. It’s a bit hard to handle – you can only hold it at each end with difficulty and gently on the sides, otherwise you’re pushing up the cups from underneath. I actually dropped it once when it was full of baked muffins. Didn’t hurt them, but I’m very careful now. You can read the reviews of the pan down below on this amazon site:
    https://www.amazon.com/KitchenAid-12-Cup-Snap-In-Muffin-Pan/dp/B000HGUNKE/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_product_top?ie=UTF8

    You’ll notice that it’s no longer available. You might use the product name to look on ebay or something. If you REALLY REALLY want it, I might be persuaded to send it to you – which would give me an excuse to buy a new muffin tin.

    . . . carolyn t

  2. Jean

    said on January 2nd, 2017:

    These sound wonderful! Since my oven tends to cook slow, your cooking time advice is much appreciated. Thanks for another excellent recipe. Happy New Year!

    They were nice – if you have an instant read thermometer you might try it, sticking it right down into the middle of the muffin – it should be between 196-200°F. Even over that a little would be okay. . . carolyn t

  3. hddonna

    said on January 3rd, 2017:

    These are very appealing; something lemon sounds good right now, after all the nuts, spice, and chocolate in my holiday baking. I’d like to cut the calorie count a bit, though. Wonder if they’d work with less sugar.

    I would think they would. I’d sure try it next time I make them too. . . carolyn t

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