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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, Brunch, on February 1st, 2008.


As a card-carrying chocoholic, I will attest, these little numbers are too darned good. I ate a whole one plus a little piece of another just after baking. And it took all my will power to stay out of them. My advice: either don’t make them at all, or put the leftovers – immediately – into the freezer.

I was putting away recipe clippings the other day, and needed something to fix for DH’s Bible study group, and this recipe went into the “try immediately” stack. They came together easily, although I did dirty-up many a bowl getting them ready. I mixed up the dry ingredients the night before. I watched a demo on TV just the other day of a chef mixing in cold butter to flour. You do it by hand, just smashing the little pieces of butter and making those pieces smaller and smaller by sifting the mixture through your hands and pressing. It was fun, actually. Made a bit of a mess of my hands, but so what? Then you add the liquid ingredients (heavy cream and egg yolk), before kneading slightly into a big blob and pressing it out for cutting. I brushed the tops with heavy cream instead of milk, and I sprinkled the tops with just a tad of white sugar too. Were these good? Oh my yes. The recipe is from an issue of Bon Appetit in 2006, I believe, and is credited to The Balmoral Hotel near Edinburgh, Scotland, The Bollinger Bar at Palm Court.

Here are the scones before baking, brushed with cream and sprinkled with granulated sugar.
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Chocolate Scones

Recipe: The Bollinger Bar at Palm Court, Balmoral Hotel, Scotland
Servings: 18
Serving Ideas: Serve with raspberry jam and clotted cream.

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter — chilled, cut up into 1/2 inch cubes
1 1/4 cups heavy cream — chilled [I had to add about 1 T. more]
1 egg yolk
Milk — to brush tops, as needed

1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
2. Combine flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, cocoa powder in a large mixing bowl. Using a pastry blender, cut in butter until a coarse meal is formed. Or, use your hands to press the butter pieces smaller and smaller until it’s a coarse meal.
3. Whisk together the egg yolk and cream in a small bowl, then stir into the flour mixture just enough to blend (do not overmix). Dump dough onto a lightly floured surface, dust your hands lightly with flour and knead dough gently 5 times, just to bring the dough together. Gently press dough into a thick round, then use a 2 1/2″ round biscuit cutter to cut out scones. Gather scraps, reform your dough circle and cut remaining scones out.
4. Bake on large baking sheet lined with parchment and brush lightly with a bit of milk. Bake until puffy and dry around the edges, about 18 minutes.
5. Cool on racks slightly.
Per Serving: 196 Calories; 12g Fat (53.5% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 21g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 48mg Cholesterol; 122mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on February 1st, 2008:

    I think I’d better pass on those if they are addictive.

    Are you able, Carolyn, to tell me what the difference is between one of your bicuits and one of our scones? For the life of me I have been unable to tell, for a lot of years!

  2. Carolyn T

    said on February 1st, 2008:

    Certainly there is some international culinary confusion about the words biscuit and scone. Here in the U.S. biscuits are a savory bread you’d serve with an entree. I think a scone is a scone wherever it’s served. But in Britain (and maybe in Australia too) when you say biscuit, it’s what we call a cookie. So in those places, you’d have a cup of coffee and a biscuit (a cookie).

    My favorite rich biscuit is very similar to a scone (side by side the ingredients are almost identical) but the biscuit has no sugar in it or fruit, while the scone is sweetened. Does that help?

  3. Toffeeapple

    said on February 2nd, 2008:

    Yes, thank you, it does help. I seldomn think of a scone as being sweet, always preferring savoury things to eat so that might be where my confusion started. My first American bicuit was eaten in North Carolina, with chicken gravy. I enjoyed it very much! That is also where I had grits for the first time (actually, it was in Charleston so I think that is SC. They were so delicious, creamy and buttery, yum…

  4. Kristen

    said on February 3rd, 2008:

    Oh my… those do look addictive!

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