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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 September 15th, 2009.

ad hoc choc chip cookies

You’ve heard of Thomas Keller by now. Yes, surely you have. If you’re into food, then Thomas Keller is a beacon in today’s foodie world. Renowned for his restaurants (The French Laundry, Per Se, Bouchon, and Ad Hoc), Keller just looks at food differently, and always has some different take on things. Including cookies.

He has made quite a name for himself in the baked good department, with the Bouchon Bakery. Dave and I stopped there a couple years ago and sat out on the patio, in relative freezing cold weather, to enjoy some piping hot coffee, an almond croissant (probably the very best one I’ve ever eaten in my life!), and macarons. Oh my. All to die for. And most likely these cookies were there too, but my homing instinct was on croissants and macarons that day.

ad hoc cc 3 I read about this CC cookie over at Food Gal’s blog. What’s different about them is that you start with cold, cold butter, cut up in little pieces. Then you add all the other stuff, with the freshly chopped up chocolate (heavy-duty, good quality chocolate bars) at the end. One of the secrets to this is to sift the chocolate chunks in a sieve (to eliminate all the fine chocolate dust from coloring the cookies). It also has dark brown sugar in it. And one other helpful hint was to spray the cookies with water before baking – if you want softer cookies. I made some of both. The recipe indicates 33 cookies (large ones). I used a standard cookie scoop and got 44. Just so you know. . .

Good? Yes! Different textured cookies. I can’t exactly describe it, but they are softer in the middle than any traditional chocolate chip cookie. Other than the cookie dough I sampled, I’ve had a total of two cookies so far. Yummy. I’ll make these again. They may not be as spectacular as my favorite ones, the One Bowl CC Cookies, but they’re pretty darned good.
printer-friendly PDF

Chocolate Chip Cookies from Ad Hoc (Thomas Keller)

Recipe: From the Foodgal blog, but it’s from Thomas Keller’s “Ad Hoc At Home”
Servings: 33 [I made 44 more standard-sized cookies]

2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour — plus 1 tablespoon
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
5 ounces chocolate — 55 percent, cut into chip-sized pieces
5 ounces chocolate — 70 to 72 percent, cut into chip-sized pieces
8 ounces cold unsalted butter — (2 sticks) cut into small pieces
1 cup packed dark brown sugar — preferably molasses sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs

1. Position racks in the lower and upper thirds of the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with Silpats or parchment paper.
2. Sift flour and baking soda into a medium bowl. Stir in the salt.
3. Put chips in a fine-mesh basket strainer and shake to remove any chocolate “dust” (small fragments).
4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, beat half the butter on medium speed until fairly smooth. Add both sugars and the remaining butter, and beat until well combined, then beat for a few minutes, until mixture is light and creamy. Scrape down sides of the bowl. Add eggs one at a time, beating until the first one is incorporated before adding the next and scraping the bowl as necessary. Add dry ingredients and mix on low speed to combine. Mix in chocolate. Don’t overmix.
5. Remove bowl from mixer and fold dough with a spatula to be sure the chocolate is evenly incorporated. The dough or shaped cookies can be refrigerated, well wrapped, for up to 5 days or frozen for 2 weeks. Freeze shaped cookies on the baking sheets until firm, then transfer to freezer containers. (Defrost frozen cookies overnight in the refrigerator before baking.)
6. Using about 2 level tablespoons per cookie, shape dough into balls. Arrange 8 cookies on each pan, leaving about 2 inches between them, because the dough will spread. Bake for 12 minutes, or until the tops are no longer shiny, switching the position and rotating pans halfway through baking.
7. Cool cookies on the pans on cooling racks for about 2 minutes to firm up a bit, then transfer to the racks to cool completely. Repeat with second batch of cookies. (The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 days.)
8. Note: If your brown sugar has hardened, soften it in the microwave for 15 to 30 seconds.
Per Serving: 172 Calories; 9g Fat (44.9% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 23g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 28mg Cholesterol; 95mg Sodium.

A year ago: Tea

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