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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 January 12th, 2008.

Can you just leap through your screen and take a bite of this tart? Double dare you to ever find anything more heavenly than your mouth full of this creamy, buttery, chocolatey and raspberry concoction. Sinfully delicious.

This is another delectable item on the menu at the luncheon I attended the other day. The hostess, Robin, outdid herself with this spectacular dessert. The buttery short almond pastry, almost like a light cookie crust filled with chocolate, some currant jelly, topped with fresh raspberries, chocolate shavings, powdered sugar and draped with some real whipped cream. Oh my. So very good. Robin retrieved her recipe from a 1993 Bon Appetit issue to show us. I wrote down the title, and was fortunate to find it on the internet. This isn’t a quick little number that you can whip out in an hour. There are a number of steps, chilling, baking, watching, more chilling, etc. But, it was definitely worth it. We gobbled up the tart – which said it served 12 – but with several of us taking tiny slivers of seconds, it left just one piece. So, I’d say this probably serves 9-10 rather than 12. If I made this, I’d probably offer a bit more whipped cream. But, however you count the slices, you need to have some of this. Now.
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Raspberry Almond Truffle Tart

Recipe: Bon Appetit, December 1993, via the internet
Servings: 12
NOTES: To make chocolate shavings: Scrape a sharp knife blade across the flat side of a bar of bittersweet chocolate. The shavings will be very fine and very fragile; do not touch them with your fingers or they will melt! Transfer shavings on the knife blade.

SHELL:
1/3 cup blanched almonds — slivered, about 1 1/2 ounces
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup all-purpose flour — less 2 tablespoons!
1 dash salt
6 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter — cold
2 1/2 teaspoons water
FILLING:
1 1/2 cups currant jelly — red currant preferred
2 teaspoons sugar
2/3 cup heavy cream
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate — or semisweet
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
TOPPINGS:
2 cups fresh raspberries
1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate — shaved for decorating the top
powdered sugar for dusting

1. CRUST: In processor bowl, combine almonds, sugar, vanilla and almond extracts. Proceed until very fine. Add the flour and salt; pulse unit well mixed. Cut butter into 10 to 12 pieces and distribute over flour mixture. Process until mixture resembles coarse meal. Sprinkle in water and pulse until mixture starts to form a dough. Turn out onto a sheet of plastic wrap and push together into a flat patty. Refrigerate 30 minutes or until firm enough to roll.
2. Roll dough, between two pieces of plastic wrap, into a circle about 11 inches in diameter and 1/8-inch thick. Peel off top sheet of plastic. Use bottom sheet to lift pastry and invert it into tart pan. Line pan as much as possible using the plastic still attached to pastry, as an aid, easing dough into corners without stretching. Peel plastic from dough. If dough is too soft and plastic won’t peel, place in freezer of refrigerator for a few minutes before peeling. Pinch dough off at upper rim of pan. Patch the dough as needed with pinched off bits of dough. Reinforce sides, strengthen corners and neaten up rim of crust, making everything as even as possible. Chill at least one hour.
3. Position rack in lower third of oven; preheat to 400 degrees. Prick bottom of pastry shell all over with a fork. Bake 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown Check after 6 to 8 minutes; if bottom has puffed up, prick again with a fork or skewer to deflate. While still hot, press the bottom of the pan gently just enough to release the edges of the crust from the pan. Leave crust in pan. Cool on a rack. Cool completely before filling.
4. FILLING: Simmer jelly with sugar 2 to 3 minutes until thickened. Brush bottom of cooled pastry shell with just enough hot jelly to coat thinly, reserving the rest.
5. In a small saucepan, bring cream to a simmer. Place chopped chocolate and butter, cut into small pieces, in a medium sized bowl. Pour hot cream over chocolate. Let stand one minute. Stir gently without whisking or beating until chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Do not reheat; if chocolate is not completely melted, set the mixture aside for a few minutes then stir again. Pour mixture into tart shell. Refrigerate until firm.
6. TOPPINGS: Arrange berries over chocolate, starting around the edge and working toward the center, leaving a tiny bit of space between each berry so that some chocolate is visible. Reheat the red currant jelly and dab each berry lightly to give it a little shine–do not overdo–no need to use up all of the jelly.
7. Remove tart rim and place tart on serving dish. Decorate the edge or center of the tart with chocolate shavings. Refrigerate tart until 30-60 minutes before serving. To serve, use a very fine sieve or tea strainer to dust powdered sugar over berries and shavings, like a very light snowfall.
Per Serving: 415 Calories; 26g Fat (52.5% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 49g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 40mg Cholesterol; 45mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on January 13th, 2008:

    Oh, I wish I would not read your posts before eating! I want that dessert right now! You were so lucky…drooling now.

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