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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, on June 1st, 2009.

ranger-cookies

It was about 25 years ago that Ranger Cookies hit my cooking radar. Aunt Harriet and Uncle Orville used to make them and store them in tall coffee tins in the freezer. Orville became the expert at making them, and when I’d visit them in Eugene, Oregon, they were able to convince me that because they contained some wheat-type cereal and oatmeal, therefore they were HEALTHY. Yeah, right. But every now and then I crave them.

After years of not making them, I looked up Epicurious’ recipe and decided to try theirs. My friend Debbie was visiting for a couple of days, so I asked her to be the cookie maker and baker. She gladly obliged. We both stood at the cookie dough bowl and needed to do several general taste-tests to make sure the dough was good enough (she and I both are fans of cookie dough . . .). Lots of quality control going on, you see. You know about that kind of rationalization?

The dough is nothing but easy. We used corn flakes (organic –  see – more healthy stuff), rolled oats (more organic healthy stuff), dried flaked coconut (unsweetened) and chopped walnuts. But then we fell off the health wagon and added chocolate chips. If you bake these on the lower side of the 8-11 minutes, they’ll still be very, VERY soft when you try to use a spatula to move them to a cooling rack. But they continue cooking and dry/cool to perfection. These took 8 minutes on the convection bake setting. If you want crispy cookies, by all means bake a bit longer. Actually I reduced the oven temp to 360 because they got a bit too brown before they were cooked through. I also reduced the sugar quantity in this recipe, and it’s just right to me. Even using unsweetened coconut too.

This recipe makes large cookies – next time I’d reduce their diameter to about 2 inches. We made 40 HUGE cookies, so a smaller size would make maybe 55? A guess.  Most of these went to my friend Norma, whose potassium has come down to a normal level, so she’s able to have nuts and chocolate again.
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Ranger Cookies

Recipe: adapted from Epicurious | November 2001
Servings: about 40 large, 55 smaller

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
Generous 1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup unsalted butter — (1 stick plus 2 2/3 tablespoons) slightly softened
1/2 cup vegetable shortening [not hydrogenated]
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup chocolate chips
2 cups corn flakes — crushed
1 1/4 cups chopped walnuts — (5 ounces)
1 1/4 cups flaked sweetened coconut — (about 3 1/2 ounces) [I used unsweetened]

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease several baking sheets or coat with nonstick spray. Or, use silpat liners.
2. In a medium bowl, thoroughly stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside. In a large bowl, with an electric mixer on medium speed, beat together the butter and shortening until lightened. Add the brown sugar and sugar and beat until fluffy and smooth. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until evenly incorporated. Beat or stir in the flour mixture until evenly incorporated. Stir in the oats, chocolate chips, corn flakes, walnuts, and coconut until evenly incorporated. Let the dough stand for 5 to 10 minutes, or until firmed up slightly.
3. Shape portions of the dough into generous golf-ball-sized balls with lightly greased hands. Place on the baking sheets, spacing about 3 inches apart. Using your hand, pat down the balls until about 1/3 inch thick.
4. Bake the cookies, one sheet at a time, in the upper third of the oven for 8 to 11 minutes, or until tinged with brown and just beginning to firm up in the centers; be careful not to overbake. Transfer the sheet to a wire rack and let stand until the cookies firm up slightly, about 3 minutes. Using a spatula, transfer the cookies to wire racks. Let stand until completely cooled.
5. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 1 month.
Per Serving: 180 Calories; 11g Fat (52.0% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 19mg Cholesterol; 55mg Sodium.

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  1. Marie

    said on June 1st, 2009:

    Hi Carol. I remember making these for a snack to take to my middle son’s pre-school way back when! They were very popular. Of course this was way before nut allergies etc.!! Carol I wonder if you would mind checking out my new page and giving me some feedback? I would really appreciate it! TIA
    http://theenglishkitchen.blogspot.com/

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on June 4th, 2009:

    I love the way it’s all healthy until you hit the chocolate, makes me giggle every time. I don’t eat much sweet stuff, I’d rather have savoury, but I do love the way you write about it. Thank you.

    Thanks, T-A! Gotta make this chocolate consumption sound a bit more healthy, even if it really isn’t! . . . carolyn t

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