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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 December 23rd, 2007.

To tell you the truth, cheesecake isn’t something I order except on very rare occasions. Nor do I make it very often. Usually it’s just too rich for me. Especially if I’ve eaten a big dinner. My daughter, Sara, makes a really good cheesecake, and I enjoy it every time she makes it. She’s quite legendary in some parts of her family for her cheesecake. Her husband and his family often request it for family gatherings.

Here's the batter, thick and silky smooth (the cream cheese, sour cream, etc.)

But, THIS cheesecake I’m sharing with you today, is something altogether different. I must say that this has all the trappings of regular cheesecake. So how come it’s different? Well, you whip up the six egg whites until stiff and fold them into the cheesecake filling. It lightens up the texture considerably. I like this lighter, almost a souffle-like, style. You slice your fork into a bite and it meets little resistance and melts in your mouth. There’s a hint of lemon in it. Maybe next time I ought to add a bit of lemon zest to the filling too. I’ve never seen another cheesecake recipe that uses whipped egg whites. I’ve searched on the internet to try to find the origin of this recipe, but have found nothing.

Fine print: whatever you do, don’t go reading the nutrition content of this recipe, or you’ll never make this cheesecake. You’ll get depressed even thinking about it.

Springform pans: I own two. An 8 1/2 inch and a 10 inch. This recipe calls for a 9 inch. What to do? This time I used the smaller one and had enough to make another entire small bowl of cheesecake. Next time I guess I should use the 10 inch form. Definitely I’d need to make more crumbs, however. I already do that as it is, using about 3 cups of graham cracker crumbs in the mixture. And more butter. No additional sugar.

Folding the egg whites in is a bit of a chore, but lightens up the batter a lot.

This cheesecake is baked for an hour, then left in the oven for an additional hour (heat turned off) to firm up. Then you remove it to cool further. Having made this several times, I will tell you that it’s absolutely the best, cut and served when it’s still warm. Not hot. Just warm. If you have the time to plan it, serve it that way.

You can also make it several hours ahead, then put it back in a low oven for about 15 minutes. You don’t want to dry it out, whatever you do.

We invited our Southern California children and the grandchildren to come for dinner last night. To open our gifts and celebrate Christmas with them. I served a ricotta lasagna with marinara sauce, a big green salad with my favorite salad dressing, the VIP dressing, and this cheesecake for dessert.

gourmetcheesecakeinthepanIt’s poured in the graham cracker crumb crust and topped with toasted almonds. I over-toasted the almonds (sheepish grin).

printer-friendly PDF

Gourmet Cheesecake

Recipe: came from a friend I met in Oklahoma, about 1974.
Servings: 12

1/4 cup blanched almonds — toasted
CRUMB MIXTURE:
2 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
5 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons butter
FILLING:
6 whole eggs — separated
1 1/2 pounds cream cheese — softened
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup sugar
8 tablespoons flour — sifted
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice — fresh
3/4 cup sugar

1. Preheat oven to 325°. Toast almonds first and set aside.
2. Combine graham cracker crumbs, butter and sugar together and press into bottom and up sides of a 9-inch spring form pan, reserving about 3 T for top of cheesecake. Set aside.
3. Mix egg yolks, 3/4 cup sugar, cream cheese, flour, sour cream and lemon juice and beat until smooth.
4. Beat egg whites until frothy, then add 3/4 cup sugar gradually and continue to beat until stiff peaks form. Fold into cheese mixture. Pour into reserved graham cracker shell, spread top to flatten and sprinkle with reserved graham cracker mixture and almonds.
5. Bake for 1 hour, then turn off heat and leave cheesecake in the oven for another hour. Remove to cool. Best when served barely warm from the oven.
Per Serving: 577 Calories; 37g Fat (57.6% calories from fat); 11g Protein; 51g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 197mg Cholesterol; 383mg Sodium.

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  1. Britt-Arnhild

    said on December 24th, 2007:

    Mmmmm, this looks like the perfect cheese cake.

    Merry Christmas to you.

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on December 24th, 2007:

    I just wanted to wish you and yours a very happy Christmas and New Year.

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