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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 Appetizers, on May 26th, 2007.

In years gone by, I used to entertain on the fly a lot more than I do now. So I always needed recipes that were quick. My problem is that quick doesn’t always mean good or tasty to me. Or at least back in those years I didn’t have many quick recipes that were also exceptional. One of my other problems is that when I prepare a dinner for friends, at the back of my mind I’m always wanting to wow them. I’ve learned that’s just not possible with every part of a meal, but I still try. So, this recipe was a regular for me because I could make it ahead and it “lived” in the freezer until I needed some tasty hot appetizer for guests. Originally I made this just around holiday time, but it’s really just fine any time of year. I might not make it in the heat of summer just because I prefer cold foods then.

And when I tell you this is easy, I really mean easy. Bisquick dough is hardly difficult – it rolls out easily (really). But as you’ll read in the recipe itself, you simply must use a fatty sausage. No Jimmy Dean or butcher ground lean stuff. You want the grocery store tube (I used to buy Farmer John, I think, because that was what my local market carried). High fat. It’s necessary to give the biscuit dough the tender flakiness. I tell you this because I’ve made the mistake of buying leaner sausage, and it absolutely doesn’t look right. Doesn’t taste good, either. So trust me on this. The other caveat is that you simply must allow the sausage to warm to room temperature – about an hour – before you start spreading it. You can separate the sausage into smaller bits and it will take less time. So, you spread out the sausage on the Bisquick dough and sprinkle it with a tad of cayenne. A tiny tad, actually. Roll up the rolls, reshape them gently, seal the edge, cut them into smaller sections if desired, wrap in waxed paper, then in foil and freeze. The small sections allow you to use only a small amount for a few people, if that’s what you need. Otherwise you will be making a lot of them.

Here’s a picture of them in the frozen state. When you’re ready to prepare them, you must leave them out at room temperature for at least 15 minutes, maybe 20, in order to cut them. If you don’t the dough will crack off, which you don’t want, of course. As long as you warmed up the sausage ahead of time, this doesn’t take more than 15 minutes to prepare, start to finish. You can trust me on that, too.

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Hot Sausage Pinwheels

Recipe: I’ve been making these for so long I don’t remember where the recipe came from!
Servings: 12
1 pound pork sausage — NOT lean
1 dash cayenne
2 cups Bisquick® baking mix
2 tablespoons margarine — softened
Milk

1. Important: allow sausage to warm to room temperature, then blend in cayenne. Mix Bisquick with butter, then add milk according to the “biscuit” directions on the box. On a floured surface, roll dough to a rectangle measuring 12″ x 18″. With your fingers, spread sausage on the dough, leaving a dough edge around it. Starting from one of the short sides, roll dough like a jelly roll. Seal edge with water and press lightly to seal well. Press doughy ends in a little and seal as best you can.
2. Wrap the rolls in waxed paper, then in foil, seal well, and place on a flat surface in the freezer. Once frozen place in a plastic bag to seal.
3. Preheat oven to 375°. Remove about 10 minutes before you need to slice them. Slice in 1/3 inch slices and place on baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes, or until golden brown.
NOTES: I think I could make these in my sleep. These are really tasty and if your crowd is hungry they’ll disappear in a flash. In years gone by I used to keep one or more of these rolls in the freezer at all times, just in case I might need them. It is necessary to use good-old fatty sausage for this dish in order to make the crust tender. Brands like Jimmy Dean are too meaty.
Per Serving: 255 Calories; 20g Fat (70.3% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 13g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 26mg Cholesterol; 508mg Sodium.

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  1. Anonymous

    said on June 22nd, 2007:

    Wow,these are the best EVER!!!! I remember as a child my mom would make these for parties. I would have a couple and then a couple more. Mom would tell me no more, but I always managed to sneak a couple more. Mom, I will be down in a couple days so pull the extras from the freezer!!!

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