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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 Appetizers, Breads, on May 27th, 2010.

At the bacon-oriented cooking class last week, Phillis Carey served numerous dishes, including this bread/tart/pizza thing that she mentioned was one of her top favorite dishes anytime, anywhere. That kind of recommendation is something I listen to closely. So when it was served early-on in the class, we all had great expectations. It did not disappoint!

This could be served as an appetizer. It could be served as a dinner dish – with a salad (that’s what I did) – or with soup. If there was such a thing as a French pizza, this would be it. It’s rich. Not only are the onions rich, but you stir it up with some sour cream (I used light) and an egg, along with a little squirt of Dijon mustard. Then you add some cheese on top. I happened to have some goat-cheese Monterey jack cheese on hand (Trader Joe’s). I mixed it with Gruyere and sprinkled that on top – you don’t need much. Oh my yes this was fabulous.

Buying a raw ball of pizza dough is so darned easy. A 1-pound ball (Trader Joe’s) is just enough to fill one of the 15×10 baking pans. Do use a Silpat underneath . . . the dough will adhere to it well and it takes very little effort to push it out to the edges. If you don’t have a Silpat, I am pointing my finger at you … telling you to go out and buy one. You’ll not regret it. I use mine all . . . the . . . time. The filling is piled on top (leaving a 1/2 inch border of dough) then cheese is sprinkled. It bakes for about 25 or so minutes – do use convection bake on this one. You want the underside of the pizza to be just golden brown – so check for that as it’s baking.

If you don’t have convection bake it might take another 5 minutes or so of traditional baking time. Let it rest for a few minutes (so you don’t burn the roof of your mouth) before serving.
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Bacon and Caramelized Onion Focaccia Tart

Recipe By: From a Phillis Carey cooking class 5/2010
Serving Size: 6

8 slices bacon — smoky type, thick-sliced, chopped
5 cups yellow onions — sliced
1 large egg
1/2 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt — (maybe optional)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pinch ground nutmeg — freshly grated
1 pound pizza dough
1/2 cup Gruyere cheese — grated

1. Preheat oven to 375 using convection bake, if that’s available.
2. Saute bacon in heavy, large skillet over medium-high heat until slightly crisp. Drain out most of the bacon drippings. Add onions to bacon and saute over medium heat until onions are very tender and golden, about 20 minutes. Cool.
3. Whisk egg, sour cream, mustard, salt (if using), pepper and nutmeg in a large bowl to blend. Stir this into the cooled onion mixture.
4. PIZZA DOUGH: Use a large baking sheet and line it with a Silpat. Roll and stretch the pizza dough out onto the Silpat. If it shrinks, stretch it as far as it will go, cover with a slightly dampened tea towel and wait 10 minutes. Stretch the dough again. Allow it to rest a 2nd time and stretch the dough until it’s nearly filled the pan.
5. Spread the onion mixture over the dough, leaving a 1/2 inch unadorned border around edges. Sprinkle the pizza with the cheese (it will seem like very little, but it’s sufficient). Bake the tart until the onion-custard is set and crust is golden brown around the edges and on the bottom (use a knife to lift up the crust to see if the bottom is browned), about 25 minutes.
6. Remove the pizza from the pan and put out onto a cooling rack (off the baking sheet). Allow to cool about 10 minutes, then slice and serve in wedges or rectangles.
Per Serving: 357 Calories; 14g Fat (35.4% calories from fat); 13g Protein; 45g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 61mg Cholesterol; 392mg Sodium.

A year ago: ButterSCOTCH pudding
Two years ago: Mashed Potatoes with Shallots and Truffle Oil

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