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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 Cookies, Desserts, on April 29th, 2011.

choc_chunk_brownies2

The other day I was thinking about chocolate. Of late, I haven’t had much chocolate except in an occasional cookie. And what I was craving was a brownie. Then I recalled this recipe, one that was originally published in Chocolatier magazine a very long time ago. A magazine that is no longer, unfortunately. I never subscribed, but occasionally bought an issue. I did a search on the internet just in case it still existed, but could find nothing concrete.

choc_chunk_brownies_singleDon’t you just want to reach right into the screen and grab that piece? Way back in about 1989 Chocolatier published an article about the best of the best brownies. We’d been to the home of some business associates of my DH, and the wife, Karen, served these incredible brownies to us, with some good vanilla ice cream. I was smitten with them. Karen kindly snail-mailed me a photocopy of the recipe a week or so later (email didn’t exist back then), and over the years I’ve made these a few times. I’ve just never blogged about them before, so that means I haven’t made them in over 4 years!

choc_chunk_in_panYou do need both semisweet and dark chocolate to make these. Other than that – and some corn syrup, walnuts and a few eggs, the other ingredients are regular staples in most kitchens. What makes them different? I have no idea, except the combo of the dark and medium chocolate seems in just the right proportion. They’re not overly sweet, which is something that’s important to me. I’m not so much a candy-type person – except for very small pieces, even fudge is too sweet for my taste buds. But these are rich with chocolate, no question about that.

It’s best, really, if you bake these the day before you need them, as they’re more easily cut into bars or squares after they’ve set overnight on your kitchen counter. They like to have a rest (and firm up just a bit) before you easily remove the entire pan full using the foil sling (see photo) and set a knife into them. They keep (closed up in an airtight container) at room temp for about 5 days. Otherwise, freeze them if you think the recipe makes too much for you to eat in that time period. I do love these brownies. Here on my blog I do have another brownie – called Classic Brownies – The Best Ever. And my Heavenly Cream Cheese Brownies too. Oh, I do love those as well. Sigh. I just love chocolate! Anyway, the Classic Brownies are one of my favorites, but they’re quite plain. These, on the other hand, contain nuts and chocolate chunks. There’s a place in my repertoire for both!

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Chocolate Chunk Brownies

Recipe: From “Chocolatier,” 9/1989
Serving Size: 24

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon baking powder — double acting
1/8 teaspoon salt
14 ounces semisweet chocolate — finely chopped
1 cup granulated sugar — (I scant the cup by about 2 T.)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
9 tablespoons unsalted butter — cut into tablespoons
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
3 large eggs — chilled
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups walnuts — coarsely chopped
9 ounces dark chocolate — chopped in 1/4″ chunks

1. Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 325. Line a 9×13 baking pan with a double thickness of foil so the foil extends 2 inches beyond the 2 shorter ends of the pan. Fold overhang down along the sides of the pan. Butter the bottom of the foil-lined pan.
2. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Place the semisweet chocolate in a large bowl.
3. In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, butter, corn syrup and water. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the butter melts. the sugar is dissolved and the mixture comes to a boil. Remove from heat and pour hot syrup over the chocolate. Let mixture stand for 1-2 minutes, to melt the chocolate. Whisk until smooth.
4. One at a time, whisk in the eggs, blending until smooth. Whisk in the vanilla and the flour mixture, mixing until the batter is smooth. Using a rubber spatula, fold in 1 cup of the walnuts and 6 ounces of the dark chocolate chunks.
5. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread it evenly with a spatula. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup of walnuts and 3 ounces of chocolate chunks over the top of the batter. Bake the brownies for 40-50 minutes, or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies comes out with a few moist crumbs clinging to it.
6. Invert the brownies onto a large plate or cutting board. Remove the pan and carefully peel off the foil. Invert again onto a smooth cutting surface and cut into 24 bars. Cool the brownies in the pan and set on a wire rack. When the brownies are completely cool, cover the pan of brownies with plastic wrap and let them set at room temperature for at least 6 hours, or overnight. Will keep in a covered container for about 5 days.
Per Serving: 295 Calories; 18g Fat (49.8% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 35g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 38mg Cholesterol; 43mg Sodium.

A year ago: Chocolate Chip Cookies – Silver Moon Bakery (a real favorite)
Two years ago: Cornflake Crusted Halibut with Aioli Sauce
Three  years ago: Shrimp Bacon Veggie Chowder

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  1. Priscilla Davis

    said on January 22nd, 2016:

    So glad you posted this recipe! I have a battered and falling apart copy of the original 1989 Chocolatier magazine buried somewhere in a box (waiting for me to find a way to preserve it somehow), and when I couldn’t put my hands on it quickly I thought, “Why not check online…?” I haven’t made these brownies for years but remember them vividly. Perfect dessert for this weekend. Thank you!

    You’re so very welcome. Isn’t the internet just wonderful?? I’m amazed what I can find online nowdays! Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. . . carolyn t

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