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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, Desserts, on February 26th, 2009.

baileys-brownies

After I baked these brownies, I went to my recipe files to make a comparison of this recipe (from Culinary Concoctions by Peabody blog) to my old standby, Heavenly Cream Cheese Brownies, a recipe that dates back to the 1960’s. Sure enough, they’re really similar except for the Baileys. Peabody’s recipe has more bar chocolate and chocolate chips, the Bailey’s, of course, and she added a Bailey’s glaze on top too.

We had invited friends over for dinner because Bob is renovating their kitchen, and Peggy just struggles to create things to cook when the kitchen is in such a mess. They were SO happy to go out. So, even though we had a 5-hour power outage at our house yesterday (some kind of maintenance thing), as soon as the power was turned back on I quick-like-a-bunny started dinner. Made a slow-cooker tamale pie, which had just enough time to do its thing. I had some leftover veggies from the other night which were sufficient for nibbling before dinner, made a big green salad with everything but the kitchen sink in it, and I had just read Peabody’s post about these brownies. I had the cream cheese, had the Bailey’s, so quick-like I made them too.

baileys-brownies-2

The swirled brownie batter in the pan

You make two batters – the vanilla and Bailey’s one, and a larger amount of chocolate/brownie one. They’re layered in a pan, then lightly swirled with a knife to mix them up a little. Oh-so very pretty, I think. Then once they’re baked and cooled a little, you add a Bailey’s glaze on top, cool completely, cut and serve!

These are RICH. And SWEET. As I said, they have more chocolate than in the older recipe, so I’ve reduced the amount of sugar in both batters below. But overall they’re delicious. If you’re a Bailey’s fan, you’ll adore them. I served them with just a little slurp of Bailey’s on the side. Yum. If I’d had vanilla ice cream I’d have served that with it too.
printer-friendly PDF

Bailey’s Cream Cheese Swirl Brownies

Recipe: Based on a recipe by Culinary Concoctions by Peabody (blog)
Servings: 16
Serving Ideas: Would be especially good with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
NOTES: I’ve altered this recipe by reducing the amount of sugar in both the Bailey’s swirl batter and the brownie batter. If you like things sweet, add another tablespoon or two to each.

BAILEYS SWIRL:
3 ounces cream cheese — room temperature
2 tablespoons unsalted butter — room temperature
3 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons Bailey’s Irish Cream
BROWNIES:
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate
3 tablespoons unsalted butter — room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips — (I think 1/2 cup would be plenty)
GLAZE:
4 ounces sifted powdered sugar
1 tablespoon Bailey’s Irish Cream
milk to thin out (amount will vary)

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly butter 8-inch square nonstick baking pan. Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese and butter in medium bowl until light and fluffy. Gradually add sugar and beat until well blended. Beat in egg. Mix in flour, Bailey’s, and vanilla. Set mixture aside.
2. Stir baking chocolate and butter in heavy small saucepan over low heat until smooth. Cool slightly. Using electric mixer, beat sugar and eggs in large bowl until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Mix in flour, baking powder and salt. Mix in chocolate mixture and extracts. Stir in chocolate chips.
3. Spread half of chocolate batter (about 1 1/4 cups) in prepared pan. Just do the best you can to spread it out. Using rubber spatula, spread cream cheese mixture over chocolate batter. Using a spoon, drop globs of remaining chocolate batter over top of cream cheese mixture. Using tip of knife, gently swirl through batter, forming marble design. 4. Bake brownies until tester inserted into center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, about 30 minutes.
5. Make glaze. Combine powdered sugar and Irish cream. If too thick thin out with milk. Pour over warm brownies and spread out as well as you can to the edges. Allow to cool completely and cut into about 16 pieces.
Per Serving: 250 Calories; 16g Fat (53.4% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 28g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 55mg Cholesterol; 83mg Sodium.

A year ago: Potato & Onion Cakes (a side dish)

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