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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 November 13th, 2016.

choc_almond_cherry_cookies

Oh, goodness gracious! Trust me, you’ve GOT to try these cookies. If you love chocolate, this is a winner. If you like dried cherries, this is a winner. The combination makes it a double winner!

You know already if you read my blog, that I follow Food52’s blog regularly. When I saw this recipe a year ago I added it to my to-try recipes, but it’s taken me a year to get around to it. What a mistake to wait! These cookies are sensational. Merrill Stubbs is the co-owner, co-cook, co- everything at Food 52, along with Amanda Hesser. Merrill chimes in often, but not too often do you see a recipe that’s all to her credit. Here is one. She created it last year when Food52 did some kind of holiday food truck in NYC. It was her contribution to the food truck ‘show.’

choc_almond_cherry_dough_ballsThere is nothing all that unusual – other than some almond flour (I used the type carried at Trader Joe’s – it’s shelf stable and doesn’t get stale). It’s mixed with some AP flour, and baking soda, plus some powdered cocoa – my go-to type usually is Hershey’s Special Dark. I do have other cocoa on my shelves, but for a cookie, that type was just fine.

Butter, brown sugar and white sugar are mixed up thoroughly (with salt and vanilla), then you add in the flour/cocoa mixture, and lastly, some chopped up dark chocolate and chopped dried cherries are mixed in briefly. The dough is refrigerated for a bit (I only had time to chill it for about 35-40 minutes), then you scoop (cookie scoop) a small ball of it, roll choc_almond_cherry_balls_ready2bakeit in your palms, then roll it in granulated sugar. Onto parchment (or Silpat) lined baking sheets they go and baked for 12-14 minutes (mine took 13) at 325°F. They are VERY tender – they must cool on the cookie sheet, and then onto racks (on the parchment still) until fully cooled. I cheated and removed half of them from the parchment (so I wouldn’t have to use yet another sheet of parchment for that 3rd and final sheet tray) onto racks. A few cookies didn’t make it to the rack because they’re just so fragile until they’re fully cool. Just so you know. Lesson learned!

I’ve left the metric measurements in the recipe below because I think, in this recipe, the weight of the almond flour is important, not just the volume.

What’s GOOD: everything luscious little thing – the soft texture, the good dark chocolate, the little bits of chopped dried cherries and the unctuous mouth-flavor. Altogether wonderful in my book.

What’s NOT: nothing at all. Easy to mix up, chill a bit, relatively easy to roll and cover in granulated sugar. Bake. 1-2-3, done. I’m sure you’ll hear some mmmmms and ahssss.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Chocolate Almond Cherry Cookies

Recipe By: Merrill Stubbs, Food 52
Serving Size: 36

125 grams almond flour (7/8 cup)
50 grams all-purpose flour (3/8 cup)
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder — [I used Hershey’s Special Dark]
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
11 tablespoons unsalted butter — softened
2/3 cup light brown sugar — packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar — plus more for dusting
1 1/4 teaspoons sea salt — flaky
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate — roughly chopped (pieces should be 1/3 inch or smaller)
2/3 cup dried cherries — chopped

1. Whisk together the almond flour, all-purpose flour, cocoa powder and baking soda.
2. Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter on medium speed until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula once.
3. Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla extract and beat for 2 minutes more. Turn off the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the dry ingredients, drape a kitchen towel over the mixer and pulse at low speed for 1 to 2 seconds, about 5 times. Remove the towel and keep beating at low speed for about 10 seconds more, until everything is just combined. Scrape down the bowl again.
4. Add the chopped chocolate and dried cherries and mix on low speed for another 5 seconds or so, just to incorporate. Transfer the dough to an airtight container and refrigerate for 30 to 60 minutes.
5. Center a rack in the oven and heat it to 325 °F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats. Pour about 1/2 cup sugar onto a large plate. Using your hands, form the dough into balls about an inch and a half in diameter. Roll the balls in the sugar and arrange them on the baking sheets, at least 2 inches apart.
6. Bake the cookies for 12 to 14 minutes; they should dome slightly in the middle, and they should look dry on the surface but still be soft to the touch. Cool the cookies on the baking sheets on racks for 5 minutes, then transfer the parchment to the racks to finish cooling.
Per Serving: 97 Calories; 6g Fat (54.8% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 10g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 9mg Cholesterol; 86mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on November 14th, 2016:

    Looks like a good one to add to the Christmas cookie roster. My daughter Sarah is crazy about anything with cherries. And these days, I’m all for quick and easy recipes for Christmas cookies.

    These were pretty simple – except for having to chill the dough. Rolling them out wasn’t much trouble, although if you made a lot of them, that would take some time. Next time I’ll be doubling the recipe for sure, as it only made about 34 for me. . . carolyn t

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