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Recently finished reading The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke. All I can say is “wow.” In a general sense, this book is based on the premise of The Pilot’s Wife. But this one has some totally different twists and turns. A young wife is met at the door by police, informing her that her husband has died in an auto accident. Then she finds out he died in Hawaii – not Kansas, where she thought he was, on business. Then she finds out there was a woman in the car. Then she meets the fiance of the woman passenger and the two of them embark on a fact-finding mission in Hawaii to discover the truth. Well, I’m just sayin’ . . . the plot thickens. And thickens. And thickens clear up to the last few pages. Hang onto your seat. A really, really good, suspenseful read.

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 Novel by 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. 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 angry father is a wealthy and influential man in the area. 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.

 

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 Desserts, on July 28th, 2009.

peach cobbler 1

My friend Norma (for whom I’ve been making puddings and custards for a few months) thought maybe she was improved enough that she could tackle some peach cobbler. As long as the topping wasn’t too bready, too dry. Swallowing is still an issue for her. No problem for me to find something to fill that request. I don’t like cobblers with lots of topping either.

My America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook has a full-page chart for making fruit cobblers. It suggests 9 different fruit variations, with how much fruit to start with, always using a 9-inch deep dish pie plate, how much sugar to add, how much cornstarch and what flavorings to use. Very helpful. I’ll be referring to this chart again. One of the things I like the best about this cookbook (and Cook’s Illustrated, and America’s Test Kitchen recipes in general) is that they explain why they do some things in recipes. Things that might be contrary to established practice.

In this case it was about baking the peaches for half an hour before adding the biscuits. They found that if you put the biscuits on top of the peaches from the beginning, the bottom part of each biscuit didn’t get baked sufficiently (not enough heat from underneath). So, they completely heated the peaches first by baking them for 20-30 minutes, THEN placed the scoops of biscuit dough on top. Ideally, I suppose, you would eat this all at the first sitting. I don’t know what the biscuits will be like refrigerated for a day or two. Maybe a bit soggy. The recipe also said they’d tried adding oatmeal to the biscuit mixture, and definitely eliminated that option. The oatmeal was too distinctive (overpowering flavor).

peach cobbler closeup 1

This recipe recommended 4-5 peaches. I wanted more peach to cobbler ratio, so I upped it to about 7. I used a tad more cornstarch too, the lower amount of sugar (it mentioned 1/4 to 1/3 cup). Then it suggested ground cloves, vanilla and brandy. I knew my friend Norma wouldn’t want the brandy, so I made hers without. Since I doubled this recipe, I was able to add the brandy to the one I made for us. As it turned out, the one I made for Norma just happened to have a lot more fluid in it – hopefully just what Norma will like. You may need to flex the cornstarch ratio – if the peaches are really ripe and juicy, the cobbler likely needs a bit more cornstarch.

peach cobbler lg 1

The cookbook recipe also suggested a variation with ground and crystallized ginger added to the biscuits. I threw caution to the wind and added the ginger AND the vanilla (and there were ground cloves in the peaches too). Why not, I thought? We liked this a LOT. The sweetness was at a moderate level (I don’t happen to like overly sweet desserts anyway). The buttermilk biscuits? Yum. I liked them a lot. Tender and tasty with the ginger inside. I like that variation a lot, actually. And the little sprinkling of sugar and cinnamon on top? Liked that part too. There wasn’t anything I didn’t like about this cobbler. It may become my new go-to recipe.
printer-friendly PDF

Fresh Peach Cobbler

Recipe: Mostly a recipe from America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook
Servings: 8
NOTES: If the fruit is very juicy, it may need a bit more cornstarch. Just add another 1/2 teaspoon. If using frozen fruit, double the quantity of cornstarch.

PEACHES:
2 pounds peaches — peeled, pitted, sliced
3 teaspoons cornstarch
1 pinch ground cloves
1/3 cup sugar — or up to 1/2 cup
BISCUITS:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup buttermilk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter — melted and cooled
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup crystallized ginger — minced
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
TOPPING:
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 400.
2. Prepare the fruit and place in a large bowl. Add the cornstarch and sugar, stir well. Pour into a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate. Place it on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet (curl up the foil edges in case of spillover).
3. Bake fruit for about 20-30 minutes until the fruit begins to release liquid.
4. Meanwhile, whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, soda. salt, crystallized ginger and ground ginger together in a large bowl. In a separate bowl whisk the buttermilk, melted butter and vanilla together. In a third bowl toss together the topping of sugar and cinnamon and set aside.
5. Remove the peaches from the oven. Then add the buttermilk and butter mixture to the dry mix. Stir just until all the loose flour is incorporated. Using a spoon, make about 8 small globs of biscuit mix. Flatten very slightly, then place them on top of the hot fruit.
6. Sprinkle the tops of the biscuits with the cinnamon-sugar mix, then place the pie plate back in the oven for another 15-20 minutes, until the biscuits are golden brown.
7. Remove from sheet pan and cool. Serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream.
Per Serving: 233 Calories; 6g Fat (22.9% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 44g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 16mg Cholesterol; 243mg Sodium.

A year ago: Barbecued Beans
Two years ago: Crisp Apple Pudding (my mother’s recipe, one of my very favorite recipes ever)

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  1. DV

    said on August 11th, 2014:

    I tried this recipe with some peaches from our tree and it was delicious!!!

    I’m so glad you liked it! Me too! . . .carolyn t

  2. Tim Tobish

    said on July 9th, 2015:

    Sounds great. I’d switch out the cinnamon for cardamom. And add a few blueberries.

    I made the Cook’s Illustrated cobbler years ago, want to try it again.

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