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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 Desserts, on November 1st, 2011.

pumpkin_spice_gingerbread_trifle

Yesterday I posted the recipe for the gingerbread cake I used in this dessert. I’d made it a couple of days ahead of time since the recipe indicated it would keep for several days sitting at room temp. I like those kinds of recipes! My friend Cherrie was having a luncheon and I offered to bring something. Since she doesn’t much like making desserts, that’s what she asked for. She gave me an idea about the menu, and even suggested something pumpkin would fit well. Sure thing, I said!

I could have made pumpkin pie, but we’ll have our fill of that in a few weeks, so I wanted to make something a bit more interesting than that. Then I came upon Paula Deen’s recipe for this trifle. It was relatively easy to make and sounded wonderful. But then, I’m a real sucker when it comes to anything pumpkin. Am sure I’ve mentioned here before than pumpkin pie is my very favorite pie anytime.

Soooo, here’s what I did. Paula’s recipe called for two boxes of gingerbread mix. I could have gone that route, but I hoped maybe I’d have some leftover gingerbread if I made my own. But that was the dilemma. My last foray into gingerbread left me disappointed. But I turned to Cook’s Illustrated, and used their recipe. It was/is a real winner.

birds_dessert_powderPaula’s recipe calls for using boxed, cooked vanilla pudding. I’m not much of a fan of those boxes, at least not Jell-O brand, but I had some Bird’s Dessert Powder on my shelf. That’s it there on the right. It’s a British product, but you can find it here in the U.S. in some major grocery stores (in the international section). I always keep it on hand, as I think their powder (mix) makes a very good tasting custard pudding.

So I made up a mixture of the Bird’s (about 2 1/2 cups worth), and mixed in the spice (cardamom) and pumpkin pie filling. That was the pudding layer, although with the pumpkin mixed in, it didn’t really jell-up like a pudding – that was fine since you want it to be loose so it’ll soak into the gingerbread a bit. Then I used Cool-Whip. The recipe called for 12 ounces, but I think they may not make that size anymore, so I used a full 16 ounces in the trifle you see pictured at top.

Paula’s recipe called for added brown sugar, but I thought it was sweet enough without it, so I did alter her recipe some. You layer the gingerbread, pumpkin custard, and the Cool-Whip. Save some of the Cool-Whip for the top, then JUST before serving I sprinkled the top (and each serving if it came from down deep in the bowl) with some crushed-up ginger snaps. They added a really nice crunch to the dessert.

What I liked: how easy the dessert is to put together – as long as you have everything ready and at hand. Make the gingerbread ahead. Make the custard/pumpkin mixture ahead, then it’s a snap to layer everything. Delicious. Soft, comforting food. Love the crunch on the top from the gingersnaps.

What I didn’t like: About the only thing I’d change is I might try it with real whipped cream. In that case you’d need to make it and serve it within an hour or so. Whipped cream, the real stuff, doesn’t hold up for days on end.

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Pumpkin Gingerbread Trifle

Recipe By: Adapted from Paula Deen, Food Network
Serving Size: 10
NOTES: For the pudding layer I used Bird’s Dessert Powder (a mix) from Britain. You can find it at some grocery stores that have an international section. Bird’s makes the best close-to-ready-made cook and serve custard pudding. The crumbled gingersnaps are a real nice addition – it gives this soft cake-and-pudding mixture some good texture. Add it at the end – just before serving. If added earlier, they will get soft. As you serve the trifle some of the servings from the bottom won’t have any of the gingersnap topping, so leave some to sprinkle on those portions. You want every serving to have some of the gingersnaps.

28 ounces gingerbread mix — (2 14-oz packages)
2 1/2 cups Bird’s Dessert Mix — cook and serve (see Notes)
30 ounces pumpkin pie filling — (not pumpkin puree)
1/3 teaspoon ground cardamom — or ground cinnamon
16 ounces Cool Whip®
1/2 cup gingersnaps — crushed, optional garnish

1. Bake the gingerbread according to the package directions; cool completely. Or, make your own gingerbread. Or buy ready-made gingerbread. You’ll need about 5 cups of crumbled gingerbread (that’s a guess).
2. Meanwhile, prepare the custard and set aside to cool. Stir in the pumpkin pie filling and cardamom to the pudding. Refrigerate until ready to assembly trifle.
3. Crumble in bite-sized pieces 1/3 of gingerbread into the bottom of a large, pretty bowl. Press it down slightly. Pour 1/2 of the pudding mixture over the gingerbread, then add a layer of Cool Whip, spreading out to the edges as neatly as possible. Repeat with the remaining gingerbread, pudding, and whipped topping. Then add another layer of gingerbread, and cover top with whipped topping.
4. Sprinkle top with crushed gingersnaps, if desired. Can be served immediately, or refrigerate overnight. Trifle can be layered in a punch bowl or any other kind of bowl. Add gingersnap crumbs to servings that come from deep in the bowl since they won’t have any.
Per Serving: 685 Calories; 23g Fat (30.0% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 112g Carbohydrate; 9g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 787mg Sodium.

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  1. bamacurl

    said on November 5th, 2011:

    I have used this recipe many times and I love that I can make a little bit of it each day, then put it all together for the big day. Like you, I make my own gingerbread. I also make the pudding (think banana pudding – no bananas – add pumpkin) and make my own whipped cream. And I love adding the gingersnaps on top for a little something crunchy! Thanks for reminding me of this yummy recipe!

    You know, I thought as I ate it that day, that there really wasn’t much of a change because of refrigerating it for 24 hours, so that way I COULD make it an hour or two ahead, and use fresh whipped cream (rather than yucky Cool-Whip, which I don’t like much). Thanks for the recommendations! . . . carolyn t

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