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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 Breads, Brunch, on January 16th, 2010.

lemon ginger muffins

Aren’t these cute? I bought a new silicone pan the other day – I probably should have placed something in the picture so you could see the relative size of these little guys. They’re small – about 1-inch square. A little bigger than bite-sized. These are lemon and ginger mini-muffins. With a tart lemon glaze on top. The recipe is from an old Bon Appetit, but is credited to the Baldpate Inn in Estes Park, Colorado. I made a couple of changes to the recipe – I added some minced crystallized ginger to the batter and I added the lemon glaze on top. An easy recipe, really. A mixer is not needed, as everything is stirred up by  hand. They’re good. Maybe not sensational, but tasty. My only caution is to not overwork the batter – you know how muffin batters are – they don’t like to be over-handled. Just mix it up until the streaks of flour have disappeared. You can make these in regular muffin tins (in a paper liner) too – that’s how the original recipe makes them.
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Lemon-Ginger Muffins

Recipe By: Adapted from Bon Appetit, 2005, from the Baldpate Inn, Estes Park, Colorado
Serving Size: 8
NOTES: I used a Wilton mini-brownie pan (silicone with about 18 tiny squares) for this. I filled the little cups almost level and baked them for 17 minutes. Test with a toothpick to make sure they’re fully baked in the middle. The lemon glaze was my own addition as well as the crystallized ginger. Do not overmix the batter or the muffins might be tough.

1/2 whole lemon — peel only, use juice for frosting
1/3 cup fresh ginger — peeled, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 large egg
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons crystallized ginger — very finely minced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter — melted
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice — approximately

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 8 muffin cups with paper liners. Using vegetable peeler, remove peel (yellow part only, no white) from lemon. Coarsely chop peel. Or, use a microplane. Place peel, ginger and 1/4 cup sugar in processor. Process until moist paste forms.
2. Whisk remaining 3/4 cup sugar, flour, baking soda, and salt in large bowl. Whisk buttermilk, eggs, oil, melted butter, crystallized ginger and fresh ginger mixture in medium bowl to blend well. Stir into flour mixture to just blend.
3. Divide batter among prepared muffin cups. Bake until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. If using a different sized muffin pan, adjust time accordingly.
4. Combine powdered sugar and some of the lemon juice. Stir and add more juice as needed for a very thin glaze. Brush the glaze onto the top of each muffin, doing it twice if you have enough.
Per Serving: 229 Calories; 7g Fat (28.3% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 38g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 35mg Cholesterol; 176mg Sodium.

A year ago: Turkey Meatballs
Two years ago: Gingerbread Pudding Cake

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  1. Melynda

    said on January 19th, 2010:

    I made this dish on Sunday, very good! I also served the Gingerbread Pudding cake, everyone loved both dishes. The gingerbread pudding will be made again and again, I love gingerbread. Thanks.

    So glad you liked them! . . . carolyn t

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