Subscribe

Get updates sent to you for free by RSS, or by email:

Archives

Currently Reading


– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

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 Desserts, on October 31st, 2011.

classic_gingerbread_cake

Oh, I’m in love with this new recipe. I knew I wasn’t very happy with my last batch of gingerbread. That was probably 3-4 years ago, and I’d not made it since because that last time the cake was just too firm and dry. I think I bought some from Whole Foods a couple of years ago because somebody told me theirs was really delicious. And yes, it was, but I knew I could figure out how to make it better. Indeed!

All I had to do was go to my trusty Cook’s Illustrated site. I have an online membership, so I can look up their recipes anytime. It’s an annual fee, though, so I try to use it frequently, to make it pay for itself! As usual, when the chefs at Cook’s Illustrated put their heads together, they figure out how to make the problems go away. Here’s what they had to say on the header notes about this recipe:

Ground ginger, grated fresh ginger, cinnamon, and ground pepper ensured our gingerbread recipe tasted like ginger. Dark stout, heated to minimize its booziness, added a bittersweet flavor to our gingerbread, and replacing butter with vegetable oil allowed the ginger flavor to shine. To keep our gingerbread recipe from sinking in the middle, we incorporated the baking soda with the wet ingredients and roughed up some of the batter to strengthen the flour, giving our gingerbread a more sturdy texture while maintaining its moistness.

Now, around our house, we don’t even keep beer on hand, let alone Guinness stout! So my DH went to the store for me and ended up buying one honkin’ bottle of stout, about half of which got thrown out. But, oh well. I don’t like the stuff, and neither does he. There isn’t anything all that unusual about the recipe other than the combining of ingredients in a certain order AND the gentle rapping of the batter on the counter (to burst air bubbles in the batter) before baking. All of the steps created a wonderful cake. The pilgrims would be proud!

Actually, I made this cake to use the gingerbread in a trifle – a pumpkin gingerbread trifle. That recipe will be up tomorrow. It was fantastic, I must say.

What I liked: the texture (soft and tender); the taste (spicy with a bit of heat); the height (higher than some); the staying power (kept for about 5 days sitting on the counter, sealed up in a plastic bag). And the fact that there was no sinking in the middle. None!

What I didn’t like: gosh, nothing. I’ll be making this recipe again. And again.

printer-friendly PDF
MasterCook 5+ import file – click to run MC or right click to import file

Classic Gingerbread

Recipe By: Cook’s Illustrated website
Serving Size: 10
NOTES: This cake packs potent, yet well-balanced, fragrant, spicy heat. If you are particularly sensitive to spice, you can decrease the amount of dried ginger to 1 tablespoon. Guinness is the test kitchen’s favorite brand of stout. Avoid opening the oven door until the minimum baking time has elapsed. If your cake pan has thin walls, you might want to wrap it with pre-made cake strips or make your own from cheesecloth and foil. This extra insulation will help ensure that the edges of the cake don’t overbake. Serve the gingerbread plain or with lightly sweetened whipped cream. Leftovers can be wrapped in plastic wrap and stored at room temperature for 2 days.

3/4 cup Guinness stout
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2/3 cup mild molasses
3/4 cup light brown sugar — (5 1/4 ounces) packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar — (1 3/4 ounces)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour — (7 1/2 ounces) plus extra for dusting pan
2 tablespoons ground ginger — (or less if you’re sensitive to the heat)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon black pepper — finely ground
2 large eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon fresh ginger — finely grated

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 8-inch square baking pan.
2. Bring stout to boil in medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and stir in baking soda (mixture will foam vigorously). When foaming subsides, stir in molasses, brown sugar, and granulated sugar until dissolved; set mixture aside. Whisk flour, ground ginger, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and pepper together in large bowl; set aside.
3. Transfer stout mixture to large bowl. Whisk in eggs, oil, and grated ginger until combined. Whisk wet mixture into flour mixture in thirds, stirring vigorously until completely smooth after each addition.
4. Transfer batter to prepared pan and gently tap pan against counter 3 or 4 times to dislodge any large air bubbles. Bake until top of cake is just firm to touch and toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, 35 to 45 minutes. Cool cake in pan on wire rack, about 11/2 hours. Cut into squares and serve warm or at room temperature.
Per Serving: 270 Calories; 9g Fat (28.0% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 46g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 42mg Cholesterol; 231mg Sodium.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Get Recipes by Email, Free!

Leave Your Comment