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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, Restaurants, on July 13th, 2010.

It’s amazing what photo software can do to a picture taken in almost complete darkness! I couldn’t even see the biscuits in my viewfinder, hardly. And yet, even though the photo was taken without flash, hand-held for at least 2 seconds, it came out! So I brightened it up, decreased the yellow saturation, and voila!

And these little biscuits were just fabulous. I must say! But I haven’t made them myself – these were tasted and devoured at a first-class restaurant, A.R. Valentien (named after the famous artist) near San Diego (actually La Jolla, very near the University of California, San Diego). At the Lodge at Torrey Pines. The chef, Jeff Jackson, gives out the recipe, gratis. How nice!

Our son, his wife, and our grandson were staying at the resort for a long-needed vacation, and they invited us to join them for the afternoon and dinner at the restaurant. Of course we would! Having never been to the well-known resort or the restaurant either one, we knew it would be very enjoyable.

Here are two pictures I took on the front (ocean side) of the hotel. The hotel overlooks a 36-hole  golf course (the U.S. Open sometimes plays there), well known in pro golf circuits.

I didn’t take any photos in the restaurant (except the biscuits, and that was when there were almost no people in the room). But do click over to their website for some nice views, if you’re interested.

We opted to order the set menu ($60/person; $100/person with four selected wines)  for four courses. It was lovely. The regular menu looked wonderful too. First we were served some delicious breads – these biscuits were part. Also on their bread tray was sourdough bread and a wheat bread; we all thought the breads were exceptional. Then they brought a tiny amuse-bouche, a potato soup – about 3 small bites of it, with a tiny smidgen of salmon on top. Then we had a clear soup with a poached egg (and mushrooms, I think). It was okay. Not great, but okay. Then they brought the best course of the meal, I thought, some lovely halibut cheeks laid over some Frenched green beans and roasted tomatoes. The halibut had some kind of citrus rind garnish. Am not sure what was in it, but it was delicious.

Then we had a lovely sorbet course, a palate cleanser – a honeydew melon and mint one. It was so good we asked our waiter about it, and the chef kindly shared the recipe. I’ll be posting that shortly, after I’ve tried making it! There are only 3 ingredients in it! Stay tuned for that.

Then we had tender, juicy duck breast on a bed of farro. Also really, really good. And dessert – a light lemon cake with fresh sauced strawberries and a vanilla ice cream with something interesting in it, and a tiny piece of lattice-looking fruit leather, we thought, and a tuile cookie. All four plates were slicked clean, I’ll tell you! And the finale was a little plate of five different cookies. I was simply too full – but the plate was cleaned by others at the table, except for a few crumbs and one piece of homemade marshmallow.

The restaurant’s walls are graced by a dozen or so of A.R. Valentien’s watercolors. He was commissioned by one of the Scripps family (a very famous and philanthropic family in San Diego) back in the early 1900’s to paint dozens and dozens of the indigenous flowers. His painting of a pepper tree in full berry is the one used for the menu cover.

I can’t wait to go back there again. But in the meantime, I’ll make some of these biscuits to have with some soup. Even a cold soup would be lovely with these little beauties.

The Lodge at Torrey Pines
11480 North Torrey Pines Road
La Jolla, CA 92037
(858) 453-4420

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Cornmeal Thyme Biscuits

Recipe By: From Chef Jeff Jackson at The Lodge at Torrey Pines, La Jolla, CA
Serving Size: 12
NOTES: The Chef’s recipe was double the quantity above, and there was no number of servings. I’m merely guessing at 12 – it might be many more.

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cornmeal — plus 1 tablespoon
3 tablespoons sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 ounces butter — [the recipe doesn’t specify salted or unsalted]
1 cup buttermilk
3 sprigs fresh thyme — stems removed, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350°.
2. Sift the dry ingredients together into a medium-sized bowl.
3. Using a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the butter becomes pea-sized.
4. Add fresh thyme and buttermilk. Mix until the dough just comes together. Do not overwork or the biscuits will be tough.
5. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to approximately 1-inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes. Place on ungreased baking sheet.
6. Bake for 20-30 minutes, turning the pan halfway through. Serve immediately.
Per Serving: 222 Calories; 12g Fat (48.3% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 25g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 32mg Cholesterol; 338mg Sodium.

A  year ago: A visit to Cardwell Hill Cellars (a winery in Oregon owned by friends of ours)
Two years ago: Mexican Chicken Uva (means with grapes)
Three years ago: Shepherd’s Pie with Chipotle Sweet Potatoes (a favorite)

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