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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 June 18th, 2010.

Oh, I do like that photograph! Just the right amount of blur, and the muffin front and offset from the center. Did you know that, in the art world, it’s a no-no to ever place your object/subject in the center? It’s always supposed to be off center. Even portraits. And usually you should have some kind of angle/triangle in your picture too (see the muffin tin edge on the right?). So I set this picture up with that in mind. With the crumbs still sitting there on the side. I didn’t pose the crumbs – they were just there when I extracted that one muffin. Dave and I promptly ate the muffin.

Back years ago, when my DH and I were still career folks, we used to leave early some workday mornings, in separate cars, and stop for breakfast at Mimi’s Cafe, a restaurant that’s right on the route we both took to work. And mostly we ordered their crock of oatmeal that came with a little bitty bowl of brown sugar and another of raisins, plus a pitcher of milk. We’d do this at least once a week, sometimes twice. And when you order some breakfasts at Mimi’s, you also get a choice of juice and/or a muffin. And they have a couple of muffins on their menu, but this buttermilk spice one was the one I always ordered. Heaven’s knows how many calories are in one of theirs (they’re much bigger than the one above). It always came with a huge, wide falling-off-the-edges top, smothered in those nutty cinnamony crumbs. Once in a great while I’d buy a few of them and take them to the office to share. They’ve always been a big favorite.

So it was with great glee a year or so ago that I read over at Culinary Concoctions by Peabody (one of my favorite blogs) that the recipe is online at Mimi’s website. I was astounded! Really? Yes. I promptly copied it over into my recipe software, thinking for sure they’d take that sucker down momentarily – that they’d been way too hasty giving away that famous recipe. Surprise – it’s still there! Meanwhile, I’ve looked at the recipe many times but never had the reason to make them.

I’d considered just running down to Mimi’s and buying them, but my recollection was that the price was considerable, even 15 years ago. So since I had the recipe, and I needed a bunch of muffins for a breakfast we had for a big group of houseguests, why not make them myself. Totally easy. It’s just an ordinary muffin batter, and ordinary ingredients in the topping. But put them together and they’re a wow in my book.

There you can see the batter in the paper cups. The topping mixture is in the center (sugar, walnuts, cinnamon and a drizzle of buttermilk to hold it together). On the right are the muffins ready to pop in the oven. The only caution I read was that you must put the muffins in the oven immediately after you add the topping – otherwise the topping sinks down into the batter. You definitely don’t want that to happen.

So even if you don’t have a Mimi’s in your neighborhood, you can try these wonderful muffins yourself! I definitely DO recommend them. Eat them right away, or freeze them. They will keep for a day, but I’d suggest you freeze them instead.
printer-friendly PDF

Buttermilk Spice Muffins

Recipe By: Mimi’s Cafe
Serving Size: 12
NOTES: Recipe yields 12 standard-size muffins, or six jumbo size muffins. If using the jumbo muffin pans, reduce the oven temperature by 25° and increase the baking time 5-10 minutes.

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
3 whole eggs
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 cup buttermilk — plus 1 tablespoon
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup walnuts — finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1. Grease the baking tins with butter. Or you can also use paper liners.
2. Preheat oven to 375°. In a mixing bowl, cream the sugar and the butter together with an electric mixer. When they are thoroughly mixed, add eggs and beat one more minute.
3. Sift the flour into a separate bowl, together with the baking soda, nutmeg and the cinnamon. Add the flour and the buttermilk to the first mixture, mix at low speed until smooth. To avoid lumps in the batter, add the wet and dry ingredients alternately, in small amounts.
4. Make the nut topping: Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl.
5. Fill each cup 3/4 full of batter. Add a full, rounded tablespoon of nut topping on top of each muffin cup of batter. Bake immediately or the topping will sink to the bottom of the muffin.
6. Bake at 375° for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown. A toothpick inserted in the middle of the muffin should come out dry. Home ovens heat differently from commercial ovens so you may need to adjust the temperature or the baking time accordingly.
Per Serving: 349 Calories; 15g Fat (38.6% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 47g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 74mg Cholesterol; 322mg Sodium.

A year ago: Madeira Onions (made from sweet Noonday onions from Noonday, Texas)
Two years ago: Pork Tenderloin with Mango Sambal (sambal is like a salsa)
Three years ago: Pesto Pea (and Spinach) Salad (an Ina Garten recipe)

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  1. Lori

    said on June 20th, 2010:

    I love buttermilk in recipes. It always works out so nicely.

  2. Angela

    said on November 20th, 2010:

    Thank you so much for this. I tried this recipe 3 times and they all turned out kind of dry. They were soft, but dry. What am I doing wrong? Also, is the batter supposed to be really thick? I wondered how the toppings of walnut and spices would sink if it were so thick.

    Hi Angela: I guess I should go back and double-check my recipe online with the Mimi’s recipe at their website. The muffins are not usually dry – reduce the baking temp a little or remove them a few minutes sooner. And the topping really just sits on top only. It doesn’t sink in – isn’t supposed to. . . carolyn t

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