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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 August 31st, 2009.

almond spice wafers coffee

It’s been several months since I’ve made any cookies. My friend Norma hasn’t been able to eat cookies for several months, and I had successfully convinced myself that I didn’t need to eat any if I wasn’t giving more than half of them to her! But we were having guests for dinner, and banana gelato was on the menu. I needed a cute cookie to stick in the top.

I have a copy of Martha Stewart’s newest cookie book, appropriately named ‘>Martha Stewart’s Cookies. What’s unique about this cookie cookbook is how it’s divided into chapters. There’s one for Light & Delicate; another for Soft & Chewy; yet another for Crumbly & Sandy; and Chunky & Nutty; also Cakey & Tender; and Crispy & Crunchy; and lastly Rich & Dense. This recipe came from the Crispy & Crunchy chapter. At the beginning (the table of contents, if you will) are pages (with the above titles) with photographs of each and every cookie. It makes deciding on a cookie SO much easier. You don’t have to read the recipe, or flip through dozens of pages to find pictures. You can see on msl cookies photos just 8-10 pages at the beginning exactly what each cookie looks like. There’s a picture of two of the pages from the Soft & Chewy section. Don’t want a sandwich cookie? No problem, you can gloss right over those. Anyway, it’s a cool method. I’ve had 2 or 3 cookies from this cookbook so far, and have been very pleased.

Perhaps I’ve mentioned it here before, but I have a real lack of willpower when it comes to cookie dough – eating it straight out of the mixing bowl. My favorite is chocolate chip. But this one, oooh, I’ll admit, this cookie dough was mighty tasty. From the brown sugar that sweetens them, plus the delicious spices throughout (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves). I licked the spoon and promptly put all the prep parts in the dishwasher so I wouldn’t be tempted to continue searching for smidgens of batter somewhere.

almond spice wafers pans Once you mix up the dough, you pack it into two smaller sized loaf pans (lined with plastic wrap), gently press it down evenly, fold over the wrap to seal it up and put them in the freezer overnight. Here’s what the pans looked like, at right.

After freezing them overnight, let them sit out for about 10 minutes so the dough is a bit easier to cut, then use a sharp knife to cut thin, thin slices. 36 of them out of each little loaf. They go onto Silpat-lined baking sheets, are stuck with a few sliced almonds and baked. That’s it. VERY easy.

Kitchen Tip:

Allow the dough to defrost about 10 minutes before trying to slice them into thin wafers.

The cutting and slicing is a bit tricky. Doesn’t matter a bit as far as the taste is concerned, but it’s almond spice wafers just bakeddifficult to cut even slices. Leaving the frozen dough out that 10 minutes does help a lot, though.

My cookies were not as perfect looking as in the Martha Stewart style. Now that I know more about the difficulty in slicing them evenly, I’ll hopefully do better on the next batch. Yes, there will be a next batch. These are good – would be especially good for Christmas.
printer-friendly PDF

Almond Spice Wafers

(like Moravian spice cookies)
Recipe: April 2008, Martha Stewart Living
Servings: 72
NOTES: I baked mine on Convection Bake at 385 degrees. They were done in 9 minutes. I did not freeze the cut cookies before baking, though.The cookie dough block is a bit hard to slice evenly. If you start slicing before it’s defrosted enough (softened that 10 minutes) you’ll have more uneven slices. The cookies DO spread a little on the baking sheet.

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter — (1 cup) room temperature
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar — packed
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 cup sliced almonds

1. Line 2 mini loaf pans (6x3x3) with plastic wrap. Leave generous edges which you’ll fold over the top of the cookie dough.
2. Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. Beat butter and sugar with a mixer on medium speed for 4 minutes. Reduce speed to low. Add eggs and spices. Beat in flour mixture in 3 additions.
3. Press cookie dough into pans, and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Freeze overnight (or up to 1 month).
4. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove dough from 1 pan. Let soften slightly (about 5-10 minutes). Cut eight 1/8-inch-thick slices with a sharp knife. Cover remaining dough, and freeze in pan until ready to slice and bake.
5. Place slices 1 1/2 inches apart on a cookie sheet lined with a nonstick baking mat. Top each with 2 to 3 almond slices. Freeze until firm, 5 minutes. Bake until dark golden brown, 9-10 minutes. Let cool on sheet on a wire rack. Repeat.
Per Serving: 64 Calories; 3g Fat (41.8% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 9g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 13mg Cholesterol; 29mg Sodium.

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  1. Kathleen Heckathorn

    said on August 31st, 2009:

    Hope I had a hand in coverting you to the Martha Stewart Cookie Book Fan Club! The ones on the cover are my favorite.

    I DO like the cookbook, although have only made 2 or 3 recipes so far (not including the ones you brought to our house that night). This one was a real winner. . . carolyn t

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