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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, Breads, on November 25th, 2017.

seeded_cheddar_triangles_crackers

Really easy home made crackers, brimming with cheese flavor (cheddar) and topped with a variety of seeds.

It was a couple of years ago I was at my friends, Joan and Tom’s for dinner, and Joan served these cute-as-buttons cheese triangle crackers. I was smitten with them, and intended to make them pronto. But time moved on and I just hadn’t gotten around to it. I had an event at my house recently – the group of 10 of us watched A Man Called Ove, on Amazon Prime, based on the book by Backman. Then, we all sat down in my dining room and had lunch (soup – a recipe that’s already here on my blog, but I updated it and will post soon – plus seeded bread from Whole Foods and a scrumptious apple dessert made by my co-hostess Linda). During the movie, I served these crackers, fresh out of the oven, and they were gobbled up in no time.

I started the crackers the day before – it’s mixed up in the food processor (EASY!). You  have the option of chilling the dough if you want to, or making them immediately. I wanted to do it ahead, but bake them just before we watched the movie. So, I pressed the dough into two flat rounds, slipped them into a plastic bag and chilled them. I took them out of the refrigerator about an hour ahead of when I wanted to bake them. They’re rolled out into sort of circles, then you brush on some egg white and the seeds are pressed into the top. Then cut them into triangles and into a 350°F oven they went and baked for about 16 minutes. I cooled them about 3-4 minutes before serving them still warm. The recipe came from Southern Living in 2010.

What’s GOOD: how easy they are to make, how wonderful they taste!! The recipe says it serves 16. Well, my group of 10 devoured them in about 30 minutes. I baked each round separately, so I served them about 20 minutes apart. SO, you might want to double the recipe!

What’s NOT: really nothing – these are so easy to do, especially if you’ve made the dough ahead of time.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Four-Seed Cheddar Triangles (Crackers)

Recipe By: From Southern Living, 12/2010
Serving Size: 16

10 ounces sharp Cheddar cheese — shredded
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsalted butter — cut into 4 pieces and softened
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons half and half
SEASONINGS:
1 whole egg white
1 teaspoon water
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, roasted — salted
1/4 cup sunflower seeds, toasted
2 tablespoons sesame seeds — toasted
2 tablespoons black sesame seeds

1. Pulse first 5 ingredients in a food processor at 5-second intervals until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add half-and-half, and process 10 seconds or until dough forms a ball. If it’s too dry, add about a teaspoon of the half and half and pulse again until the dough forms a ball. Divide in half.
2. Dough may be wrapped in plastic wrap, sealed in a zip-top plastic freezer bag, and chilled up to 3 days.
3. Preheat oven to 350°F.
4. If you chilled the dough, leave it out for about an hour before trying to roll it out. Roll each half into a 9- to 10-inch round. Transfer rounds to parchment paper-lined baking sheets.
5. Whisk together 1 egg white and 1 tsp. water just until foamy. Stir together pumpkin seeds, sunflower kernels, sesame seeds, and black sesame seeds. Brush rounds with egg white mixture, and sprinkle with seed mixture and press lightly so the seeds stick to the dough. Cut each round into wedges of random sizes, using a fluted pastry wheel. Separate wedges about 1 inch apart onto the baking sheets.
6. Bake 16 to 18 minutes; cool on baking sheets on wire racks for 10-30 minutes.
Per Serving: 199 Calories; 14g Fat (64.8% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 11g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 35mg Cholesterol; 233mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on November 28th, 2017:

    These look so good! Is the texture like pie crust?

    No, it’s not like pie crust. Hmmm. And not exactly like a regular cracker either. I’m hard pressed to describe it. It’s not as flaky as pie crust, but not dense like shortbread, either. Maybe buttery flatbread? . . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on November 29th, 2017:

    I’ll just have to try it and see!

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