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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 Desserts, on June 24th, 2008.

roasted balsamic strawberry ice cream

I’m a regular reader of the Brilynn from Jumbo Empanadas. And I’ve tried several of her recipes over the year I’ve been monitoring her blog. So when this recipe popped up the other day my taste buds went into zing mode.

Probably about 20 years ago my DH and I and our good friends Bud & Cherrie used to go to San Diego on an occasional Saturday and have a wonderful wine tasting lunch at the Wine Sellar and Brasserie.  You can go for just the wine tasting, but for a nominal fee, you can have their pre-set light lunch (very gourmet, I might add) to accompany it.

Anyway, at one of those tastings, the dessert was home made vanilla ice cream with strawberries, balsamic vinegar and cracked black pepper. Yes, you read that right. Since then I’ve seen it served at other places, but at the time my taste buds just went into overdrive. It was about the cracked pepper, but the combination of strawberries and balsamic vinegar is simply a match made in heaven.

You can see why, then, the Jumbo Empanadas’ recipe title put me into strawberry-balsamic nirvana. Just had to try it. And since strawberries are definitely on the wane here, I needed to do it right NOW if I was going to do it this season! My kitchen freezer is nearly chock-a-block full, but I just had to find room somehow. Even if I had to defrost something else to make room. I’m embarrassed to tell you how big this freezer is and it’s absolutely full to the brim.

The idea of roasting the strawberries with the balsamic seems like such a novel idea, and makes this luscious juicy mash of fruit and juice. And you can get yourself a little spoon to slick up the very last little droplets around the pan. It’s that good.

And don’t forget to reserve a bit of the fruit to drizzle on the top of the ice cream when it’s served. That’s a really nice touch. The taste: oh my goodness. Rich. Sweet. Delicious. Over the top. Fabulous. Wanna have it again SOON!
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Balsamic Roasted Strawberry Ice Cream

Recipe By: Jumbo Empanadas & from Zoe Cakes 6/10/08
Servings: 8
COOK’S NOTES: Chop up the strawberries that go into the ice cream at the very end, as they may freeze as whole pieces, and you want them to break up just a bit.

STRAWBERRIES:
2 pounds strawberries — about 2 baskets
1/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
CUSTARD:
3 large egg yolks
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk [or fat-free half and half]
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with foil including up on all sides so that the wonderful juice that’s going to be created can’t escape. Wash and hull the strawberries and pat dry. Toss with the sugar and let stand for 30 minutes. Add the balsamic, toss again and then spread out onto your baking tray. Bake for approximately 40 minutes, until strawberries are jammy and there’s lots of juice. Pour the berries into a bowl, cool and chill.
2. In a heavy bottomed saucepan bring the milk and cream to a boil. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until pale. Continue to whisk while slowing pouring in the hot milk mixture until it is completely incorporated. Pour it all back into the pan and stir until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Pour into a bowl, stir in the vanilla extract and then cover and refrigerate until completely chilled,
3. Once both the strawberries and the custard are completely cool, remove a couple scoops of strawberries with juice out of the bowl and set aside (to use as a topping on the ice cream when it’s finished). Strain the rest of the strawberries and combine the juice with the custard and pour into your ice cream machine and process according to your manufacturer’s instructions. When the ice cream is almost finished, add in the strained berries until they’re just incorporated, (if you add them in at the beginning, the machine has a hard time processing them). If you like your ice cream soft, you can eat it right away, topped with the reserved strawberries and juice, otherwise stick it in the freezer to firm up a little more.
Per Serving: 275 Calories; 14g Fat (45.5% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 35g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 125mg Cholesterol; 30mg Sodium.

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  1. brilynn

    said on July 20th, 2008:

    I’m interested in adding black pepper to the mix now too!
    I just made a strawberry balsamic sorbet tonight, using egg whites and no cream… I’m still waiting for it to come out of the ice cream machine to see how it turns out!

  2. Carolyn

    said on July 21st, 2008:

    I’m interested to hear what you thought of it. You are so inventive, Brilynn. The first time I made this ice cream I made it using a blackberry balsamic vinegar with pear (made by Tulocay’s). It was out of this world. Second time I used a good quality but plain balsamic. There was a difference – it was less sweet, less depth of flavor. But the strawberries were not as good as the first time, either. I’m going to have to find a bottle of that vinegar again and try it next strawberry season!

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