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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, on March 27th, 2011.


You can’t really see these biscuits very well. Sorry. I cut large squares, rather than smaller round biscuits since these were going on a casserole – actually they went in the bottom of the casserole, and more on top. I’d picked up a used book – a cookbook, of course – called Biscuit Bliss: 101 Foolproof Recipes for Fresh and Fluffy Biscuits in Just Minutes. Every time we visit Placerville, where one of our daughters and her family live, I stop by a cute used book store in town. And invariably I come out of there with a new (but used) cookbook in hand. This time I bought three (a memoir about Julia Child, written by one of her associates for about 20 years, and Maya Angelou’s cookbook, which is almost more story than it is recipes, although each short chapter does contain one recipe relating, somehow, to the story she tells about her growing up. Or her family.

Finding several recipes in this biscuit book to try, I finally settled on this one. I liked the idea of light and fluffy, and my daughter did have some Crisco on hand. When I use shortening these days I buy the non-hydrogenated kind, but this was just one meal, so I used Crisco that was on the cupboard shelf. It’s a long drive to the local grocery store, besides, and not all stores carry that other type.

Picnik collageThese took no time to mix up – there’s a dry mixture and a wet mixture. The dry mixture includes butter, which needs to be cut into the flour part (I used my fingers) since my daughter didn’t have a pastry blender. The dough is rolled out to a thin layer and you just cut. I used a square cutter because it was easier to use for a squarish-shaped casserole. At left you can see the bottom biscuits (with cutter), then I scooped in the casserole and added more biscuits on top.

The recipe suggests baking this at 475°. I didn’t bake it that high because it had a casserole underneath it, and if I had it to do over I’d have baked the casserole for about 20 minutes first, to get the mixture hot, THEN I’d have added the biscuits. But biscuits had to go on the bottom too, so I just winged it and baked the casserole at 400° for a longer period. The biscuits were supremely light and crispy-crunchy. Delicious texture. Everybody ate their fill, me included!

So, who’s Sam, you ask? The cookbook author, James Villas, says Sam is a Texas friend of his, who has a far and wide reputation for making the lightest and fluffiest biscuits around. Villas says it’s from the cake flour, the shortening and the egg in it. Whatever, or however, they were really very good.

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Sam’s Cloud Biscuits

Recipe By: From Biscuit Bliss by James Villas, 2004
Serving Size: 24

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cake flour
1 tablespoon sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shortening — CHILLED
2/3 cup whole milk
1 large egg — beaten

1. Preheat oven to 475°.
2. In a large mixing bowl whisk together the two flours, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the chilled shortening and cut it in with a pastry cutter or rub with your fingertips until the mixture is very mealy.
3. In a glass measuring cup, whisk together the milk and egg, then add to the dry mixture, and stir with a fork just until the dough follows the fork around the bowl.
4. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead gently 4-5 times. Roll out the dough about 1/4 inch thick and cut out rounds or squares with a 2-inch cutter. Roll the scraps together and cut out more biscuits.
5. Arrange the biscuits fairly close together on two baking sheets. Bake in the center of the oven just until golden, 10-12 minutes.
Per Serving: 84 Calories; 5g Fat (51.3% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 9g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 10mg Cholesterol; 132mg Sodium.

A year ago: Chicken with a Garlic Lemon Crust
Two years ago: Meat – about buying good quality
Three years ago: Vermont Cheddar Bread

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