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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.

Scroll down to the bottom to view my Blogroll

Posted in Breads, on August 15th, 2008.

fresh strawberry coffee cake

The blog called What Did You Eat was not one that I happened to follow. Apparently I’d never come across it. But Sher died suddenly, last month, from a heart attack. I read about her death on several other websites . . . from other bloggers who had an online/email friendship with her. Sher’s husband posted a last note, informing everyone about his wife’s death, and thanking people for the friendship shown to her. She was young – well, certainly not of an age when she should have died. Lots of bloggers around the world have done their own tribute to Sher by preparing some of her recipes. They did it on a specific day a few weeks ago. On one of those blogs I read about this coffeecake that she had posted – actually it was another blogger’s recipe, Butta Buns.

The coffeecake sounded perfect for summer. And, the Bible Study guys were coming to our house and I needed a treat for them. This recipe was sitting, front and center, on my cookbook/recipe stand. My DH kindly offered to go buy fresh strawberries for me, and I whipped it up the night before. The coffeecake is delicately flavored. Even though it has cinnamon in it, it’s subdued and I couldn’t even tell it was there. The fellows enjoyed it very much. I halved the recipe, made it in a 9×9 pan and baked it for 30 minutes. Came out perfectly. My question always: would I make it again? Yes, I might. But I might not. Maybe during the height of strawberry season. I might add just a tiny bit more cinnamon, and I’d add some to the topping (or maybe a touch of nutmeg) as well. The recipe said it served 12. I got 9 portions from the 9×9 pan, so it likely could serve 18.
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Strawberry Coffeecake

Recipe: From Sher at “What Did You Eat” blog (blogger now deceased)
Servings: 12

1 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
½ cup butter
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup milk
2 whole eggs
1/4 cup butter — melted
3 cups strawberries — sliced

1. TOPPING: Sift the sugar and flour together in a large bowl. Place the butter in the center of the bowl and sprinkle a little of the sugar and flour mixture over it. Place all 10 fingers on the stick and start crumbling it by making cat-kneading gestures with your fingers so the butter turns into little pea sized bits. Keep crumbling until the stick is completely whittled down.
2. Keep the bowl of crumbles in the frig until you’re ready for it.
3. COFFEECAKE: Sift the first four ingredients together in a bowl and set aside
4. Whisk the milk, eggs, vanilla, and melted butter together in a bowl. Add the mix of wet ingredients to the bowl of dry ingredients. Beat together with a handheld mixer until well incorporated.
5. Pour into a pre-greased 9×13 pan. Arrange the sliced strawberries on top of the batter. Sprinkle with the crumble topping.
6. Bake at 350F for 35-45 minutes.
Per Serving (I think this will serve more like 18, but this is the analysis based on 12 servings): 352 Calories; 13g Fat (34.0% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 53g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 69mg Cholesterol; 561mg Sodium.

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