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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, on February 18th, 2010.

irish soda bread

Is there some salivating going on looking at that photo of Irish Soda Bread? Should be. Especially if you were here on my end of the camera and you could smell the fresh-out-of-the-oven aroma of this bread. There surely are lots of ISB recipes out there. I even have one here on my blog. But it wasn’t as good as this one –  THIS recipe from Ina Garten. And it’s not all that different (it is made with buttermilk just like the other one) except that it contains some grated orange zest and a bit more butter. Orange zest is non-traditional, but Ina was kind of cute and cheeky when I watched her make this a week or so ago on her show when she said she likes orange zest, and so what if it’s non-traditional. It tastes good, and that’s all that’s necessary to make the addition! You can see a little bit of the orange in the bread if you look closely.

It’s very easy to make. Really it is. Almost no handling at all. Ina recommended mixing it up in a stand mixer, although surely it could be done by hand, even. Once all the ingredients are added the wet dough is rolled out onto a floured board and you literally knead it about 4-5 times adding a bit more flour if needed (mine didn’t except to keep it from sticking to the countertop), shape it into a round (I did an oblong kind of shape – this isn’t an exact thing) and into a 375 oven it goes for 45-55 minutes. I took it out at 45 and it was plum-perfect! Not only did we eat it with our ham dinner, but we had some with an elegant cheese course which was served afterwards.

Ina mentioned how fabulous this bread is as morning toast. We did have one small end leftover from our Sunday dinner and we had it for breakfast. Oh my yes. Loved it.
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Irish Soda Bread with Grated Orange Zest

Recipe By: Ina Garten
Serving Size: 12

4 cups all-purpose flour — plus extra for currants
4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter — (1/2 stick) cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 3/4 cups buttermilk — cold, shaken
1 whole extra large egg — lightly beaten
1 teaspoon orange zest — grated
1 cup dried currants

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
2. Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the butter and mix on low speed until the butter is mixed into the flour.
3. With a fork, lightly beat the buttermilk, egg, and orange zest together in a measuring cup. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture. Combine the currants with 1 tablespoon of flour and mix into the dough. It will be very wet.
4. Dump the dough onto a well-floured board and knead it a few times into a round loaf. Place the loaf on the prepared sheet pan and lightly cut an X into the top of the bread with a serrated knife. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. When you tap the loaf, it will have a hollow sound.
5. Cool on a baking rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Per Serving: 257 Calories; 5g Fat (17.6% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 47g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 32mg Cholesterol; 386mg Sodium.

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  1. Melynda

    said on February 18th, 2010:

    This looks so good, it must be soda bread week. Yours was the second one I have seen in 2 days. I have currents, I really want to make this!

  2. Darice T

    said on March 22nd, 2013:

    I like to make French Toast with Irish Soda Bread. I add cinnamon, fresh nutmeg, and rum extract to the egg. Very good!

    Gosh, that sounds wonderful! Our soda bread is gone already, but I’ll try to remember that the next time I make some. Thanks. . . carolyn t

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