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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 March 21st, 2011.


Can you see the little morsels of Granny Smith apple nestled in the middle of this cake? And the toasted pecans? And the stick-your-spoon-in-it-and-lick-it-clean brandy sauce (drizzle) all around it? Oh my. This is another one of those – if you trust me – you need to make this cake. It’s SO moist. So delicious. It makes a very tender cake (well, it should, since it does have 1 1/2 cups of vegetable oil in it!). The title may be a tad misleading. You’d think it must have some kind of Cajun spices in it with a Cajun name to it. No, it really doesn’t. It’s the sauce that makes it Cajun, using brandy, or praline liqueur if you have that, or bourbon.

There’s nothing difficult about this cake – it makes a thick batter and your pour it into a 9×13 pan. Once baked, it’s cooled, then you pour part of the brandy sauce over it and serve a bit more on each plate. The sauce is very easy to make – you merely bring the ingredients to a boil, cool. Pour. You could make this in a bundt pan. You can halve the recipe and make one 9-inch round cake pan of it. You can double it to serve a whole lot more people. And it’s better the next day, actually.

The recipe came from Katherine Emmenegger, the executive chef at Great News, the cooking school in San Diego that my friend Cherrie and I visit with regularity. Katherine prepared a New Orleans style meal from beginning to end. I’m starting with the end since this was my favorite recipe of the bunch. Make this one, okay?

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Cajun Apple Cake with Brandy Drizzle

Recipe By: Katherine Emmenegger, chef at Great News, San Diego (March 2011)
Serving Size: 12
NOTES: The cake can be made in a bundt cake pan also (might require slightly longer baking time). You can also halve the recipe and bake it in a 9-inch round cake pan. The recipe also can be doubled if you’re serving a crowd; just divide the doubled batter into two pans. Katherine Emmenegger says this cake is even better the second day.

1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 large eggs — beaten
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
4 teaspoons brandy — or praline liqueur or bourbon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups Granny Smith apples — small diced (dropped into lightly salted water and drain on paper towels when ready to use them)
1 cup pecans — toasted
4 ounces unsalted butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup whole milk
3 tablespoons brandy — or praline liqueur or bourbon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. CAKE: Preheat oven to 325°. Prepare a 9×13 cake pan with a light coating of Baker’s Joy (or butter and flour the pan).
2. In a large bowl sift the salt, baking soda and flour together.
3. In another bowl combine the eggs, oil, sugar, liqueur and vanilla; add to the flour mixture and combine.
4. Add the apples and pecans. Stir to combine. This makes a very thick batter.
5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Lightly bang the cake pan on your countertop twice, to burst any air bubbles in the batter. If using a glass or ceramic cake pan, do this carefully!
6. Bake for 45 minutes, but start checking the cake at 30 minutes and every 5 minutes thereafter, until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the center of the cake.
7. Set on a rack and allow to cool to room temperature, then top with brandy drizzle and serve.
8. BRANDY DRIZZLE: In a saucepan over medium heat combine the butter, sugar and milk. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the brandy and vanilla extract and allow to cool to room temperature. DO NOT refrigerate the cake.
Per Serving: 729 Calories; 43g Fat (52.7% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 80g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 74mg Cholesterol; 312mg Sodium.

Two years ago: Butterflied Leg of Lamb with Cherry Merlot Sauce

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  1. Marie

    said on March 22nd, 2011:

    Oh gosh Carolyn, Todd would love this cake. He just loves apple anything. I am having the missionaries over for supper tonight. I might make them this cake, minus the brandy of course! Perhaps a brown sugar sauce would go down well. xxoo

    It is a really delicious cake. Just use vanilla instead of the brandy! . . . carolyn t

  2. Lisa @ Sweet as Sugar Cookies

    said on March 27th, 2011:

    Mmm, that cake sounds nice and apple-y. Looks like a great way to end a meal. I have a sweet treat linky party going on at my blog and I’d like to invite you to stop by and link your cake up.

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