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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 September 6th, 2011.


This recipe has been residing in my to-try file for a long time. Years, I think. And perhaps I read about them on somebody else’s blog, but my copied recipe doesn’t indicate. So, I went online to make sure this was still a viable recipe as printed. I’m trying to remember to do that as often as possible – especially for recipes I know are online. At Paula’s website the recipe was the same, but nobody seemed to have any beef with the baking powder.

On the Food Network site, though, there was a lot of discussion about these biscuits. When Paula first made them on air she used self-rising flour. In the translation from the demo on the show and the recipe printed online the producers or recipe writers went from self-rising flour to regular flour with baking powder and salt added. That’s when the dissention ensued. Lots of folks were successful making these. Other people weren’t. Some were ticked off that the recipe was changed. Some said the 4 tablespoons (yes, tablespoons, not teaspoons) of baking powder had to be wrong. The recipe (now, at least) says 4 teaspoons. Some complained they couldn’t taste the sweet potatoes (I couldn’t). Others complained the biscuits didn’t rise (mine did). Others thought they were hockey pucks (nope, not mine). Numerous cooks thought even 4 tsp of baking powder was too much. They thought it was a misprint. After reading every single comment online I went with the existing recipe, as written, and had not a single problem with it.

However, I did do a few things – I briefly heated the sweet potato in the microwave to bring it to room temp or maybe a bit warmer. I did sift the baking powder and salt in with the flour to make sure it was mixed properly. I also mixed the dough very gently. VERY gently. Biscuit dough doesn’t like to be “handled.” It wants the fat (butter, oil, whipping cream) to be added and just mixed in as little as possible. The more of that fat that stays intact, the more flaky the dough will be.

Actually I forgot to add the rosemary in the dough, so at the end I sprinkled it liberally all over the top of them, which worked out just fine. We ate them when they were just barely cooled to room temp, with a little bit of butter. We thought they were delicious. Tender and flaky. And truly, I’d never have known there was sweet potato in them. They don’t rise a lot, but they did rise some. I used the light colored – golden – yam or sweet potato, not the orange one. If I’d used the orange type the biscuits would have been much darker colored.

What I liked: they were easy to make; tender and flaky; a good use of some leftover sweet potato if you had some, especially right after Thanksgiving or Christmas. Do note that this is not a high-fat biscuit – only 5 grams per biscuit. Not like a lot of Paula’s recipes . . .

What I didn’t like: not a thing; enjoyed them very much.

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Paula Deen’s Sweet Potato Biscuits with Rosemary

Recipe By: Paula Deen, Food Network
Serving Size: 10

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sweet potato — cooked, mashed
1/4 cup unsalted butter — (1/2 stick) softened
2 tablespoons milk — 2-4 tablespoons, depending on your batch and the weather
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves — minced

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
2. Make sure the sweet potatoes are at room temp (heat in microwave very briefly, if needed).
3. Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. In a separate, large bowl, mix the sweet potatoes, rosemary, and butter. Add the flour mixture to the potato mixture and mix to make a soft dough. Then add milk a tablespoon at a time and continue to cut in. Mix just enough to get the dough to hold together.
4. Turn the dough out onto a floured board and press lightly until the outside of the dough looks smooth. Pat the dough out to 1/2-inch thick and cut with a biscuit cutter. Place the biscuits on a greased pan and coat tops with melted butter. Add some additional rosemary to tops, if desired.
5. Bake for about 15 minutes. (Watch your oven: If the biscuits are browning too fast, lower the temperature.)
Per Serving: 121 Calories; 5g Fat (36.2% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 17g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 13mg Cholesterol; 305mg Sodium.

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