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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 19th, 2009.

coconut-french-toast

When our son, Powell, met Karen (now his wife), his cooking mostly went onto the back burner (pun intended), since Karen is a VERY good cook. But on special occasions (like Mother’s Day, for instance) he prepared one of his now family-popular dishes, the above pictured coconut french toast. He came up with the idea himself – he’s quite innovative about cooking, when he puts his mind to it. And we, the family, get to eat the benefits of his creativity on those occasions when he does the cooking.

First off, he uses King’s Hawaiian Bread for this. In case you live in King’s-deprived areas, it’s just a very rich, tender eggy bread. And quite sweet as sliced bread goes. King’s also makes dinner rolls (I use the rolls for beef sliders, and the sliced bread for a pineapple upside down baked french toast dish I’ve been making for years for holiday breakfasts). But if you can’t buy a similar kind of sugar-sweetened sliced bread, use whatever you CAN get and I’m sure it will be fine. You might just add a bit of sugar or sweetened to the milk-egg mixture, where he uses a combination of light coconut milk and sweetened condensed milk. He dips the bread into this mixture, browns the slices on a stovetop grill and serves them with a mango sauce he makes using fresh mangos and lime juice. Then he sprinkles some sweetened coconut on top. Although this dish is sweet, it’s not overly sweet. And it’s gosh-darned good. Thank you, Powell, for sharing the recipe!
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Coconut French Toast with Mango-Lime Sauce

Recipe: Our son Powell’s original recipe
Servings: 6-8
NOTES: If the mangoes are particularly sweet, you may need more lime juice.

5 whole eggs
15 ounces light coconut milk
6 ounces sweetened condensed milk
12 slices King’s Hawaiian Bread — sliced
1/3 cup sweetened coconut flakes
MANGO SAUCE:
2 whole mangoes — cubed
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice — (from 1 medium lime)

1. In a bowl combine the eggs, coconut milk, and sweetened condensed milk. Use a whisk to combine thoroughly. Set aside until ready to start grilling.
2. Mango Sauce: Peel and cube the mangoes, place in a blender and process with the lime juice until it’s a smooth puree.
3. Pour milk mixture into a flat plate or container. Dip bread slices into the milk and grill on a buttered pan until golden brown.
4. Serve each slice with about 2 T. of mango puree and sprinkle top with shredded coconut.
Per Serving: 295 Calories; 10g Fat (30.5% calories from fat); 10g Protein; 43g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 140mg Cholesterol; 296mg Sodium.

A year ago: Steamed Pureed Cauliflower
Two years ago: Hashed Brown Casserole

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  1. Marie

    said on May 21st, 2009:

    This looks so good Carolyn. What is Hawaiian bread?

    It’s a rich (egg, butter) bread, kind of like challah, perhaps? It’s also much sweeter than regular bread – not a bread you’d use for a sandwich, for instance. It’s also very light in texture – doesn’t take much to soak up the milk mixture for french toast. . . . carolyn t

  2. Lauren Z.

    said on October 3rd, 2010:

    Holy smokes – this looks SO good! Probably doesn’t help that I’m pregnant as well. Thanks for having such a great blog!

    Thanks for visiting, Lauren. It is good, actually. . . carolyn t

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