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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 May 6th, 2010.

In the last week I’d read on two independently-written blogs about Cinnamon Toast. And like many people, I think I did the same “oh yea, sure, you sprinkle cinnamon and sugar on buttered toast . . . what’s the big deal.” Well, let me tell you right off the top. This is NOT your typical cinnamon toast.

Can I just tell you right now – you gotta make this stuff. It’s absolutely delicious. Easy. Fun. Different, and oh, so gosh darned good! This would also be a great project for you and your children. It took about 20 minutes, I’d guess, to make these, then 25 minutes to bake. But then, you’ve got to seal them up and let them sit for 24 hours (that’s really hard). In that 24 hours they go from being crispy cinnamon toast to something more like shortbread with cinnamon and sugar. A cookie. Naturally, I tasted them when they cooled, but the butter is still almost a liquid at that point. Hence you want it to sit so the bread soaks it up. At least I guess that’s the chemistry.

If you go over to Orangette to read the story, you’ll learn that this is a recipe that Molly found in her grandmother’s recipe box, her dear, beloved grandmother who died recently. But Molly got her recipe box when the family divvied up her grandmother’s things. I just love stories like this, but then Molly is a good story-teller of the first order! She’s written a book about recipes and her life called A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table. A wonderful read, I’ll tell you first hand. She and her husband Brandon Pettit now own a (mostly pizza) restaurant called Delancey in Seattle. A big dream for two people who had zero restaurant experience. Her blogging probably didn’t hurt any in the popularity department. Wish I lived in Seattle so I could go try it! And run into Molly, perchance.

So here’s what’s involved with making this simple treat/cookie. You mix up some cinnamon and sugar, you melt some unsalted butter, brush trimmed sandwich sized white bread triangles with the melted butter, sprinkle it with the cinnamon-sugar, place on a parchment-covered baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes. That’s it. Told ya it was easy!

The other recipe (that I didn’t make) is over at Pioneer Woman. Hers is different – soft butter spread on bread then sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar and broiled. More a breakfast food or maybe a fun snack.

So, please go out and buy some of that we-won’t-tell-white sandwich bread and give yourself a real treat! Trust me!
printer-friendly PDF

Baked Cinnamon Toasts

Recipe By: Orangette blog (from her grandmother’s recipe box)
Serving Size: 12

1 stick unsalted butter — (4 oz.) cubed
6 slices sandwich bread — thin white, or more slices if needed
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. If you want, line a baking sheet with parchment or aluminum foil. It makes cleanup easier.
2. Put the butter into a pie plate or similar baking dish. Slide the dish into the oven, and keep an eye on it. You’re looking for the butter to melt completely.
3. Stack the slices of bread, (cut off the edges if you’d prefer – I did) and then cut them diagonally into quarters. You should have 24 triangles.
4. In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar and cinnamon. Turn the cinnamon sugar out onto a dinner plate, or another pie plate.
5. When the butter is melted, remove it from the oven, and brush it onto both sides of a triangle of bread. Don’t be shy: apply the butter generously, so no spot is left uncoated. The bread should feel a little heavy in your hand. Dip the bread into the cinnamon sugar, (or hold each piece in your hand and use a spoon to cover both sides well) taking care to coat both sides. Lay it on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining pieces of bread.
6. Bake the toasts for about 25 minutes, until lightly browned. Transfer to a rack. The toasts will crisp as they cool. When cooled, store in an airtight container at room temperature.
Note: These taste best with a little age. Per Serving: 125 Calories; 8g Fat (54.7% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 14g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 21mg Cholesterol; 53mg Sodium.

A year ago: Mushroom Risotto (made in a pressure cooker)
Two years ago: Brownie-Bottom Pudding Pie
Three years ago: Mexican Chopped Salad (a favorite)

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  1. Stacey

    said on May 16th, 2010:

    This sounds scrumptious. Colin and Kaitlyn love everything cinnamon and sugar. I can’t wait to try this recipe.

    I guarantee they’ll like this one, Stacey! . . . carolyn t

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