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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 Breads, on January 18th, 2008.

Think back to the 1960’s. We were just starting to eat more cereal, rather than bacon and eggs every morning. Grape Nuts. Corn Flakes. Oatmeal hadn’t hit the big time yet as a cholesterol fighter. We didn’t even know about cholesterol back then. We hardly knew about yogurt – it was a kind of “health food” as I recall. But the cereal manufacturers had produced both All-Bran and Raisin Bran, so sure enough, somebody came up with a variation other than consuming it in your cereal bowl. I’m sure this recipe made the rounds of most home cooks of the era. It may be a recipe devised by Kellogg’s for all I know, although I got it from a friend of my mother’s. It originally called for All Bran, but it was too, too much fiber and not all that tasty, so I substituted the bran flakes instead. Much improved and have made them that way ever since. You mix it up in a big bowl, refrigerate it and plop batter into a muffin tin in the morning. Voila. Fifteen minutes later you have freshly baked muffins. The batter keeps for weeks in the refrigerator. The marketing of the day convinced us this kind of muffin was healthy for us because it contained bran. And raisins. Never mind the sugar – it was considered an energy source. That mentality hasn’t changed – just look in the case at any Starbuck’s and you’ll see these humongous bran muffins – probably 500 or more calories and loads of fat. Hmmm.

These aren’t going to wow your next breakfast. But, they’re just plain and good. DH decided that our plain (unflavored, but sweetened) yogurt was just wonderful with these, and indeed they are. Something about the creaminess of the yogurt – like eating cream cheese with them, or something.
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Refrigerator Bran Muffins

Recipe: Mary Wilfert, a San Diego friend from the 1960’s
Serving Size: 30 (small)
Cook’s Notes: Doctor these up with some additional dried fruits (dried cranberries, for instance, or chopped up apricots or some crystallized ginger) if you’d like some variety. I added some more golden raisins because the brand of Raisin Bran flakes was a little light on the fruit, in my opinion. It’s wasn’t Kellogg’s, but somebody else’s label. You can also add some cinnamon and ginger to the batter too, if you’d like a spicy variation. I substituted 1/3 Splenda for the sugar, and these are not overly sweet even so. If you like a sweeter muffin, add another 2 to 3 tablespoons of sugar. After making one batch of these the other day, I decided they were not quite sweet enough (I’d put in less sugar than in the recipe below). So, I added about 2 T. sugar to the wet batter, stirred it around a bit, then once plopped into the muffin tin, I sprinkled just a tad of sugar on top of each muffin. Oh. Very good. I’ll do that again because the ouside of the muffin had just a bit of caramelization from the late-added sugar. I liked the texture. This whole mixture will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks if you want to bake them fresh in the morning.

3 cups Raisin bran — cereal
1 cup boiling water
2 whole eggs — lightly beaten
2 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
2 1/2 cups flour

1. Preheat oven to 425°.
2. In a large bowl mix bran cereal with boiling water, stirring to moisten evenly. Allow to cool, then mix in eggs, buttermilk, oil and stir well. Stir together (separately) the soda, salt, sugar and flour, then stir into the bran mixture.
3. Scoop batter into muffin tins and sprinkle tops with just a little bit of sugar. Bake for 20 minutes (small muffins). If using larger muffin tins, bake about 25 minutes.
Per Serving: 123 Calories; 4g Fat (30.9% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 19g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 15mg Cholesterol; 199mg Sodium.

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  1. Ramsey

    said on January 19th, 2008:

    Great recipe!

    Another high fiber muffin is the Miracle Muffin
    Tehse muffins are easy to make – Just add water, mix and bake! They are an excellent source of fiber. The fiber helps manage diabetes, cholesterol and weight loss as well as many other ailments.

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