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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 Brunch, on September 1st, 2011.

corn_bacon_cheddar_strata

Oh my goodness. I can’t wait to tell you about this brunch dish. It was SO good. Rockin’ with lots of flavor – from the bacon and the corn (fresh off the cob). Well, and the sharp cheddar too. I have a whole bunch of recipes to share with all of you, but you’re just going to have to wait until I can write up the recipes for each and every one of them, process all the photos, and write the stories.

I’ve had this recipe in my to-try file for awhile – it’s one from Diane Phillips (whose nickname is the “Diva of Do-Ahead”). Her claim to fame is, as her nickname implies, make-ahead dishes for every kind of celebration meal. Our recent multiple-family-birthday brunch was the perfect occasion. Corn is in season still. Bacon makes everything good. And I had a hunk of good Tillamook sharp cheddar. And eggs, and milk and sourdough bread, and butter, and green onions, dry mustard and hot sauce. Because of schedules, we needed to eat a fairly early brunch (10:30) so I really needed to make something ahead. Bingo! strata_cut

Sourdough bread was sliced about 1/2 inch thick, corn and green onions were sautéed lightly, bacon was cooked, crisped and crumbled, eggs and milk were combined with the salt, dry mustard and hot sauce, and the hunk of cheese was grated. I did change one little thing in the recipe – I spooned all the corn in the middle rather than half of it on top. I found all the corn mixed in with the milk/egg mixture a bit hard to handle. So there at left you can see the cut casserole . . . there are two layers of bread, two layers of cheese and the milk/egg mixture poured twice. An the corn in the middle. I covered it in plastic wrap and it chilled overnight. An hour out at room temperature was all it needed, before going into a 350 oven for 45 minutes. We let it sit for about 10 minutes before serving.

I noticed that the top bread pieces were a bit crispy – I thought, “oh, no,” but I needn’t have worried – everybody loved the crispy toasty bread parts, me included. Be sure to use a large 9×13 pan as it will fill it nearly to the top. Not the custardy part – just the bread and cheese part. You can also make these in individual  (large) ramekins if you want, everything is made the same, but just bake for 15-20 minutes instead of the 30-40 minutes for the big pan. Actually I baked it for 45 minutes to get the top just golden brown. The interior of the strata isn’t solid in custard – know that – it just barely holds everything together. I think all the egg and milk mixture was pretty-much soaked up in the lower layer of bread.

What I liked: well, everybody except the 10 year old loved it, but he’s a finicky eater anyway. The 4-year old loved it, the 13-year old loved it and all the adults loved it. The textures were so good – the cheddar was perfect. The fresh, sweet corn was, well, fresh and sweet. I bought applewood bacon, which was delish. Loved it all.

What I didn’t like: maybe I’d cut down a bit on the amount of corn – no one could quite contain the volume of corn on their plates and it wasn’t set up in custard, so it spread out. Tasted fine, but I think I could reduce the amount by about 1/3. Otherwise, I’d make it as the recipe suggests!

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Corn, Bacon and Cheddar Strata

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Diane Phillip’s book, Happy Holidays (she’s the Diva of Do-Ahead).
Serving Size: 10
Serving Ideas: I served this with a big green salad, fresh fruit, and some grilled pineapple.
NOTES: This can also be made in individual ramekins – prepare as noted, but bake for about 15-20 minutes only, or until golden brown on top.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 cups fresh corn kernels — cut from the cob
4 whole green onions — chopped, including some of the green
8 large eggs
2 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dry mustard
About 6 shakes of Tabasco, or 1/2 to 1 tsp sriracha sauce
1 pound white bread — loaf, cut in 1/2 inch slices
4 tablespoons butter — to spread on the bread
12 ounces bacon — cooked and chopped
3 cups cheddar cheese — white, sharp, shredded

1. Coat the inside of a 9×13 ceramic dish with butter or cooking spray.
2. In a large saute pan, heat the 2 T. butter and saute corn and green onions for 2-3 minutes. Set aside.
3. In another large bowl (one that pours would be good!) whisk up the eggs, then add the milk, salt and dry mustard. Add hot sauce and combine. Stir in the corn and set aside.
4. Arrange a layer of sliced bread in the pan, wedging in smaller pieces to completely cover the bottom. Melt the remaining butter and brush on the bread. Sprinkle with half the bacon and half the cheese. Pour half of the egg/milk/corn mixture on top. (You can spoon all the corn into this middle layer if desired, but don’t pour on all the egg mixture.)
5. Arrange the remaining bread on top, brush with the remaining melted butter and pour the remaining egg mixture on top, pouring it all over the top of the bread. Press the bread down so all the surfaces of the bread have soaked into the egg/milk mixture. Sprinkle on the remaining bacon and cheese. Cover and chill for at least 8 hours. At this point you may refrigerate it for up to 4 days.
6. When ready to bake, remove casserole from refrigerator and allow to sit out for 45 minutes. Preheat oven to 350. Bake casserole uncovered for 30-40 minutes, or until it is puffed and golden.
7. To freeze: if you prefer, you can go ahead and bake the casserole, but just for 23 minutes, cool to room temp, cover well, freeze for up to a month. When ready to serve, defrost in the refrigerator, covered, then bake for 15-20 minutes at 350, until warmed through. May be served warm or at room temperature.
Per Serving: 650 Calories; 43g Fat (58.8% calories from fat); 31g Protein; 36g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 260mg Cholesterol; 1341mg Sodium.

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  1. Mary at Deep South Dish

    said on September 1st, 2011:

    Gracious that sounds fantastic Carolyn!!! Thank you so much for coming back by to comment on the Mississippi Comeback Sauce. I can’t wait to see your analysis of the difference between it and ketchup/mayo/pepper sauce – not that there is anything wrong with the other of course. I’ve added your site to my reader but let me know when you post!

    I will let you know when I post it, Mary. We’re leaving on a trip later this month, and it won’t post (probably) until after we return from that trip. So, it’ll be awhile. Thanks for letting me write it up . . carolyn t

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