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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, on January 1st, 2011.

sweet_potato_biscuits_sandwiches

Oooh, these were so good, and so cute. And really quite easy too. They’re like tiny sliders (or smaller) in size – they’re about two bites total. You bake the sweet potato biscuits, even a day ahead if time is of an essence, then pull out some ready-made prosciutto slices. You use some spicy hot mustard on the bottom of each cut half, and a cranberry mixture on the top half. Put them together and you’re done. This recipe came from a cooking class with Tarla Fallgatter.

If, in fact, you make them using this combination of prosciutto (which is an air-dried ham), you can make them one, or two, or even three hours ahead of time. Just cover with plastic wrap. There’s nothing in this that would cause immediate bacteria growth. Don’t refrigerate it – it would stale the nice, tender biscuits. If you bake the biscuits the day before – just store them airtight. Don’t refrigerate them, either.

These don’t require very much prosciutto. The biscuit recipe makes 24, and a small 6 ounce package of prosciutto is ample to divide between all 24 biscuits. You may want to sample one to make sure you’re using sufficient hot/sweet mustard, and enough of the cranberry.

My suggestion: IF you have some cranberry sauce leftover from the holidays, or some cranberry relish, you could probably substitute that for this sweet cranberry compote or chutney version. If so, that should be added to the biscuits just before serving. A chutney or this compote contains quite a bit of sugar, which will retard bacteria growth. Regular cranberry sauce or relish wouldn’t qualify on that regard. In either case, any of them would be very tasty! If you decide not to make these right not, buy a bag of cranberries so you can make them when you DO want to.

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Sweet Potato Biscuits with Prosciutto and Cranberry Compote

Recipe By: From Tarla Fallgatter, cooking instructor, Dec. 2010
Serving Size: 12 (makes 24)
NOTES: Biscuits are very tender and light. Biscuits may be made one day ahead (do not refrigerate them). Complete the sandwiches several hours ahead – cover with plastic wrap and leave out at room temp.

1 3/4 pounds sweet potatoes — red-skinned, peeled, 1/2 inch cubes
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon brown sugar — packed
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 pinch cayenne
4 ounces unsalted butter — chilled, in 1/2 inch cubes
2 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 cup buttermilk
CRANBERRY COMPOTE:
2 cups fresh cranberries
1 cup maple syrup — use real maple syrup
2/3 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup brown sugar — packed
ADDITIONS:
6 ounces prosciutto — or black forest ham
1/4 cup spicy hot and sweet mustard — (quantity is an estimate)
1 cup arugula leaves — (quantity is an estimate)

1. Cook the sweet potatoes in a pan of boiling, salted water until tender. Drain, cool and mash.
2. Preheat oven to 425°.
3. Place flour, brown sugar, baking powder, salt, soda and cayenne in owl of food processor. Add cold butter and pulse in. Whisk yams and buttermilk together and pulse into flour mixture. Turn dough out onto floured surface and pat into 1-inch thick round. Using a 1 1/2-inch round cutter, cut out biscuits (should have 24 total). Arrange on a cookie sheet (without sides – don’t use a jelly roll pan), brush with melted butter and bake until puffed and golden on top, about 20 minutes. Cool slightly, then remove to a rack to cool completely.
4. Cut each biscuit in half horizontally, spread cranberry compote on top half and mustard on the bottom half. Fill with sliced prosciutto and arugula.
5. CRANBERRY COMPOTE: Combine all ingredients in a heavy pan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves and mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until berries pop – about 4 minutes. Cover and chill. Makes about 2 1/2 cups.
Per Serving: 341 Calories; 12g Fat (30.3% calories from fat); 8g Protein; 53g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 36mg Cholesterol; 825mg Sodium.

A year ago: The Future of Food
Two years ago: My cousin Gary’s Turkey Chili

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