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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, Travel, on February 20th, 2009.

germ_choc_chip_cake_walnuts

This is not a new recipe to this blog. But I finally got around to taking a photo of it. I’d posted this back in 2007 when I had a fractured foot and was posting recipes, with internet photos or no photos at all.

So, my hubby and I are out at our house in the California desert (it was about 65 yesterday, gorgeous sunshine), and last night after a very light dinner of leftovers, I was craving something sweet. Since we’ve been renting our house here some this season, I knew there wasn’t much in the cupboards, but aha, there WAS a German chocolate cake mix. Sure enough, a few chocolate chips, and pecans in the freezer (the recipe calls for walnuts, but pecans work too). And yes, I had cinnamon, eggs, oil. Took all of about 10 minutes to mix it up (well, maybe 15 since I spilled nearly the whole bag of pecans all over the kitchen floor) and I popped it in the oven.

You can go to the post I did back in ’07 for the full recipe. This is EASY! REALLY EASY! Cake mix, oil, eggs, chocolate chips, nuts, cinnamon and sugar. Done. Makes a 9×13 pan full, great for taking to a potluck. Or camping. Or a picnic. A family favorite I’ve been making since the 1960’s. Nothing like the typical German Chocolate Cake with coconut, etc.

Here are some photos of our desert yesterday when my DH and I toodled around in our golf cart within our complex (1 mile square, 2 18-hole golf courses).

pd-mtns

A view toward the west, of snow-covered San Gorgonio peeking through the clouds.

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Another view – lantana in the foreground, an ocotillo just beginning to bloom on the right edge, ponds in the background just begging to swallow your golf balls

pd-petunias

Would you believe petunias are in full bloom here? The risk of frost is past, so they’re safe.

  

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on February 20th, 2009:

    Petunias? In February? Not until May here, perhaps later this year because of all the snow we had. Thank you for letting me see them, I love the colours. Are they fragrant? Some that we have here are, such a pleasant perfume.

    Hi TA – haven’t heard from you in ages . . . petunias don’t have much of a fragrance that I like. Not pungent, but not particularly pleasant, either. I guess I’d call them okay. They surely aren’t much different than yours. We’ve been hearing about all your snow this winter. . . Carolyn T

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on February 21st, 2009:

    It has been pretty bad for England but nothing like I recall it as a child in Wales. There we frequently had to dig ourselves out of the house and it went on for weeks at a time. It was just a shock because we have become used to milder, wetter winters. It really was a wake-up call. It’s much nicer now, the sun shone today and it was 12 degrees Centigrade. Looking forward to seeing my daffodils pop out of the ground.

    T-A: one of the joys of living in a harsher climate is really watching the arrival of spring and fall. Here in So. California it’s very subtle, although diciduous trees lose their leaves and annuals die off, but still we have greenery in lots of places. Grass grows and many hardy shrubs and bushes continue to leaf and grow even in temps in the 40’s. March 1st is usually the date when the local nurseries stock flats and flats of tender flowering annuals (pansies, petunias, etc.) and we can begin planting in earnest. I’ll hope for your soon arrival of daffodils peeking their heads up to check the weather. . . Carolyn T

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