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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 27th, 2017.

saras_best_cc_cookies_plated

A post from Sara: This recipe is so old (close to 30 years ago, ugh, makes me feel old!) that I’m not even sure of its origin.  I’m pretty sure it’s from a woman I worked with by the name of Ms. Mackey.  It’s unique in that the flour to fat ratio is higher.  It produces the sweet, chewy cookie that I associate with chocolate chip cookies.  These cookies are undercooked just a bit to keep the tender chewiness.

cc_cookie_ball_handcc_cookie_ballThese are a huge hit at my kid’s sports events.  The recipe makes 6 dozen so there are plenty to feed everyone and if you use Ghirardelli chocolate, they are safe for nut allergy kids (omitting the optional walnuts). I’ve also been known to use them to make ice cream cookie sandwiches.  Another huge hit during the summer months.

cc_cookies_saras_bakedWhen making these cookies, please beat the sugars, butter and eggs 3 full minutes.  It’s important and if you watch you will see the dough lighten and fluff significantly.  And then, after baking, allow for a few minutes cooling time before removing them from the tray onto the wire racks.  Since these are slightly undercooked, they need the time to set before sliding a spatula underneath them. I’ve had many a time that I was impatient and the cookies crumbled (ha!). In our home, the crumbled cookies are fair game for anyone waiting for the freshest batch out of the oven.

What’s GOOD: These cookies are your basic, all around fantastic chocolate chip cookie.  Tender, chewy. A real crowd pleaser. The cookies freeze well as does the dough.

What’s NOT: The recipe is not easily cut in half due the odd number of  eggs.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Sara’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

Recipe By: Sara’s recipe from a friend, 30 years ago
Serving Size: 72

1 pound dark brown sugar
1 pound unsalted butter — warmed to room temp
1 1/2 cups white sugar
3 large eggs — warmed to room temp
1 teaspoon salt — can add more if you like it more salty
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
6 cups all-purpose flour
24 ounces chocolate chips — (preferably Ghiradelli) *see note below about this
2 cups walnuts — chopped (optional)

NOTE: make sure butter is warmed to room temp. It makes a difference. The cookies will only be as good as the chocolate morsels you put into them – the better the quality, the better the cookies. * Ghiradelli is preferred. Chocoloate chips from Costco are a waste of money, as are ones from Trader Joe’s, IMHO. I prefer to use one bag of Ghiradelli 60% dark plus a bag of Ghiradelli milk chocolate.
1. Add brown sugar to bowl of stand mixer. Add white sugar and butter and mix on slow speed until well mixed.
2. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing slightly, then continue to mix at low speed until blended, then time it for THREE MINUTES. Turn up speed once everything is mixed.
3. Preheat oven to 350°F.
4. Add salt and baking soda. Continue beating. Add flour, one cup at a time as you SLOWLY mix it in. The bowl will be very full. Increase speed in between additions to mix in well. Turn off mixer and use thick wooden spoon to stir in chocolate chips and walnuts (if using).
5. Use a cookie scoop if you have one, or mound them one-inch high in your hand and roll gently to get a ball. Place on cookie sheet about 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake for 12 minutes (yes, you are undercooking them). Cookies should be cooked, barely. If you can see any part of the cookies that look like raw batter, bake for another minute. If you look closely they will still have some little glossy areas, which is what you want. Cookies must cool for 2-3 minutes on the sheet before using a spatula to remove to a wire rack to cool completely. They are very fragile, and if you eat them when still warm, they’ll be very soft inside and may crumble apart. These stale quickly, so it’s best to freeze them as soon as they’re cool.
Per Serving: 176 Calories; 10g Fat (49.8% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 21g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 23mg Cholesterol; 63mg Sodium.

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  1. Susan Lasswell

    said on November 30th, 2017:

    So glad to see you joining this fabulous blog! Looking forward to trying your cookies. Thank you!

    I don’t know how frequently Sara will be able to post recipes – she has lots of plans in her head about them, but making time to write the post, take photos, etc, may be more than she can handle with her busy life. . . we’ll see. . . carolyn t

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