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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 Desserts, on November 29th, 2017.

mocha_chip_chiffon_cake

Very different . . . it’s almost like an angel food cake, it’s so light and fluffy. This doesn’t contain anywhere near the number of egg whites, so it can’t BE one, but it’s flavored with espresso granules and finely minced semisweet chocolate.

I follow a blog from a guy, Phillip Oliver, who is crazy about Maida Heatter, and it’s called MadAboutMaida. He blogs about her recipes (exclusively, I think). The cookbook this recipe came from isn’t one I own, so can’t give promises that this is exactly the recipe from the cookbook, but I’m guessing it is. It’s from her book Maida Heatter’s Cakes.

mocha_chip_chiffon_closeupWhen I saw his photo of the cake, it just spoke to me. I love light and tender cakes, so I decided to make it for a group function since it serves 12 people. It’s a straight-forward chiffon cake recipe except for the addition of chocolate chips and espresso powder. It takes a couple of bowls and 7 eggs, but it’s not difficult. It bakes up high and fluffy, and once cooled (the way you cool an angel food cake, inverted onto a narrow-topped bottle) it may take a spatula to dislodge the cake. Mine came off the tube pan easily, with just a bit of a nudge. The finished cake is very moist so it does stick to the sides, but not with difficulty.

When served, I had some vanilla ice cream too, which was nice with it. Or you can serve it straight. With coffee, please!!

What’s GOOD: so light and tender, you’ll truly think you’re eating an angel food cake. Easy to make. The espresso and chocolate flavors are subtle, so don’t expect a chocolate-centric cake cuz it isn’t!

What’s NOT: nothing really, unless having to use two bowls to make a cake is too much! One for the cake batter, the other for the egg whites.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Mocha Chip Chiffon Cake

Recipe By: Mad About Maida blog, 2017
Serving Size: 12

3 ounces semisweet chocolate — chopped VERY fine
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon espresso powder — or instant coffee granules
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
7 eggs — separated
1/2 cup Kahlua — or Tia Maria or other coffee-flavored liquor
1/4 cup cold water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
Powdered sugar to sprinkle on top

NOTE: This cake has the texture of an angel food cake, although it isn’t, as it contains egg yolks. It’s super light and fluffy.
1. Preheat oven to 325°F. You will need a tube pan, the type that has two pieces and which comes apart. Do not spray or butter the pan.
2. Chop the chocolate into pieces that are 1/4 diameter or less. Do not use chocolate chips as is, as the pieces will sink to the bottom of the cake.
3. Sift together the flour, 1 1/4 cups of sugar (reserving the rest), the powdered coffee or espresso, baking powder and salt.
4. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the oil, egg yolks, coffee liqueur, water and vanilla. Whisk together until smooth. Use a large spatula to fold in the chopped chocolate. Set aside.
5. In a separate mixer bowl, beat the egg whites until they are foamy. Add the cream of tartar and beat on high speed until soft peaks are formed. Always use the whisk beater for egg whites. Start out slow and gradually increase the speed until full speed. Reduce the speed and add the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar. Increase speed to high and beat again until stiff peaks are achieved. Beat for an additional minute to be sure the mixture is stiff.
7. In three additions, slightly fold in about 3/4 of the yolk mixture. Do not fold in thoroughly, just barely! Then fold the whites into the remaining yolk mixture, being a bit more thorough this time. Pour the batter into the pan and bake in the center of your oven for 1 hour and 10-15 minutes until the top springs back when pressed. The top will crack during baking. Internal temperature should be 198-205°F.
5. After removing the pan from the oven, invert it on a narrow bottle and let it cool completely. After cooling, use a long, sharp knife and gently run it around the rim of the pan and around the center tube. Carefully slide the pan apart and run the knife along the bottom of the pan under the cake. Remove the cake from the pan. If it is still sticking, use the knife to saw it carefully from the pan.
6. Use a flat pan, dish or an elevated cake plate. Sprinkle with confectioners sugar, if desired.
Per Serving: 382 Calories; 14g Fat (34.8% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 54g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 124mg Cholesterol; 254mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on November 29th, 2017:

    Very appealing. I love Maida Heatter–will have to check out that blog!

    I have at least one or two of her cookbooks (Maida’s) and must have seen something baked from a cookbook I don’t have, so I did a web search and discovered the blog about her baking. Have been following the blog ever since. . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on November 29th, 2017:

    I checked it out. I have three of her books, but this is a nice source of recipes from ones I don’t have. Thanks for mentioning it!

  3. Toffeeapple

    said on November 30th, 2017:

    I have no idea of the difference between Chiffon and Angel Food cakes!

    Angel food cakes use only egg whites, while chiffon uses both egg yolks and egg whites, but you whip the egg whites which lightens the cake batter. So it kinda looks like an angel food cake, but it’s richer, of course. . . carolyn t

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