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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, Brunch, on May 25th, 2011.


Exactly how or why I looked up this recipe, I don’t know. It was recent, so I don’t remember whether it was written up on somebody else’s blog or what. But anyway, the title of the recipe was what intrigued me. A cake just for a brunch. Okay. And bananas too. I was recollecting a good banana cake my mother used to make (and I can’t find her recipe for it). This recipe was uploaded to in 2007.

I did change the recipe just a little bit – I added more cinnamon – well, I rounded the 1 1/2 teaspoons quantity, and I added some freshly grated nutmeg and some ground ginger. Hence it’s now a banana spice cake. It’s not a very high (thick) cake. It’s certainly sweet enough to be a regular cake-cake, and next time I might reduce the sugar in the batter to about a rounded 1/2 cup. But that’s really up to you. I’d say it’s quite low fat (14 grams for a serving, and the servings are large, really large). But my DH will only eat a bite of two of it since it’s loaded with carbs (42 grams) what with the sugar and bananas. Next time I make this I might add half yogurt and half milk since yogurt adds nice moisture to breads and cakes.

When it was warm out of the oven, I did have a small square of it. Oh was it good. Not quite as good the next day when I had a little smidgen (the remainder has gone into packages in the freezer). The cake had a really tender crumb when it was warm – more tender than I’d think anything made with Bisquick could be, actually. Now, I’m not telling you this is the greatest thing I’ve ever made, but if you need an excuse to bake something with some over-ripe bananas, this will fill the bill. It’s very easy to put together – really it is. The topping is easy to make too (don’t eliminate it because you’ll like the crunchy texture). The person who uploaded the recipe mentioned that when her bananas get too ripe, she sticks them whole into the freezer. When she wants to make this cake, she pulls out the blackened bananas, defrosts them in the microwave and they’re just right for the 1 1/2 cups of banana needed. I used 3 1/2 bananas to get 1 1/2 cups. One recipe for this suggested 4. Probably best to measure it!

printer-friendly PDF for Banana Brunch Spice Cake

Banana Brunch Spice Cake

Recipe By: from’s website, 2007
Serving Size: 12 (maybe more like 15)

2 1/2 cups biscuit mix — (Bisquick)
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg — freshly grated
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 1/2 cup bananas — ripe, mashed (about 4 med.)
3/4 cup milk
1 egg
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup chopped walnuts — (or pecans)
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter — melted

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 9×13″ baking pan with butter.
2. Combine Bisquick, 3/4 cup brown sugar and spices. Add banana, milk, egg and oil; mix well. Spread into prepared pan. Combine nuts, 1/4 cup brown sugar and butter; sprinkle evenly over batter.
3. Bake about 30 minutes or until golden brown. Will keep for 2 days at room temp.
Per Serving: 308 Calories; 14g Fat (40.8% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 42g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 25mg Cholesterol; 359mg Sodium.

A year ago: Pancetta Crisps
Two years ago: Grilled Skirt Steak with Quesadillas

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