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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 Brunch, on May 15th, 2009.

ham-and-egg-cup

Oh, are these a winner. Exceptional breakfast or brunch food. Easy. And amazingly delicious with the pesto and mozzarella, and the little cooked tomato, and the ham. Well, just everything about it is good. I read about this over at Proud Italian Cook, a blog I read regularly. Marie found it in a new cookbook called Gale Gand’s Brunch. Gale Gand used to have a series on the Food Network, years ago, called Sweet Dreams. She’s primarily a pastry chef, and owns (I think) the restaurant called Tru in Chicago.

But, seeing a picture of these on Marie’s blog, I was smitten. I haven’t spotted this new cookbook yet, but may have to go check it out at the local bookstore. If this recipe is any representation of what’s in the cookbook, I’ll have to buy it!

ham-and-egg-muffin-cups

Right out of the oven, without the pesto topping (yet)

Here’s what you do: buy some thinly-sliced deli ham. At my Italian market, the big round ham was Black Forest. Perfect. You need fairly big (not thick, but big in diameter) slices of ham. The recipe indicated making these in ramekins, but Marie had altered it for muffin cups, which worked fine for my needs anyway. So, you butter the ramekins or muffin tins, then gently fan the ham slice in the muffin cup, pressing it out so there’s a nice big hollow in the middle (it’s a little hard to do this, but you don’t have to be precise about it). You smear a bit of pesto in the bottom, then add in a couple of nice-sized cubes of mozzarella cheese, a small cherry tomato, then crack in an egg. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, bake. The recipe indicated 20 minutes or more, but in a 350 oven (lower than the recipe indicated), when I did them it took 27 minutes. Just keep checking and jiggling the muffin pan a bit. Pull them out when they still jiggle just a small amount. If you wait until they no longer jiggle, they’re overdone.

Once baked, you merely add another dollop of pesto on top. Serve immediately while they’re still perfectly cooked. The ham I bought was quite big, so you notice that the upper edges burned a bit. Next time I’ll trim them down. But I’ll definitely be making these again – great for a brunch with guests. It takes very little time to put it all together, and if you had another pair of hands, it would come together in a jiffy.

ham-egg-cups-lgNote added later: I made these again – for dinner one night. I still had two slices of ham leftover from the Mother’s Day brunch, and was able to put this together in no time flat. The ham worked much better in ramekins rather than the muffin tin. I also used 2 eggs each. I cut up the cheese in slightly smaller pieces and put them around the outside edges as best I could. I also used two tomatoes, both cut in half and stood them up with the cut sides against the ham (looked nicer), on opposing sides. Then I dropped in the pesto and the raw eggs. The eggs baked in slightly less time, but I removed them BEFORE they got too done. This was a winner the second time around.
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Ham & Egg Cups

Recipe: From Proud Italian Cook blog – from Gale Gand’s Brunch
Servings: 4

1 tablespoon butter — softened
4 ounces ham — cut very thin (a guess on quantity)
1 1/2 tablespoons pesto sauce
4 ounces mozzarella cheese — cubed (that’s a guess)
4 whole cherry tomatoes — (if they’re small, use two per cup)
4 large eggs
4 teaspoons pesto sauce — for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 375.
2. Butter a muffin tin generously.
3. Fold the ham slice in half, then half again and place it in the muffin tin, then gently unfold it – fan it out – to create a cup/shell shape.
4. Place some pesto in the bottom and two cubes of mozzarella cheese and the cherry tomato. Try to put those around the edges, if possible.
5. Crack an egg into each ham cup, then sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.
6. Bake for 20 minutes and check for doneness (jiggle the pan). Bake until the egg is done to your liking – may take up to 30 minutes depending on your oven.
7. Place another dollop of pesto on the top of each egg and serve.
Per Serving: 299 Calories; 23g Fat (69.3% calories from fat); 19g Protein; 4g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 264mg Cholesterol; 665mg Sodium.

A year ago: Molten Chocolate Cake with Caramel Sauce
Two years ago: Baked Onions with Thyme (another family favorite)

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  1. Marie

    said on May 16th, 2009:

    Beautiful job with your egg cups! Yes we both have those crispy edges. Aren’t they the cutest? I definitely need to get that book! Your photo’s look great, makes me think I want these for breakfast again! Thanks so much for the shout out, and a big thank you to GG.
    xox, Marie

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