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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, Miscellaneous, on April 1st, 2012.

lemon_curd_ATK

Have you made lemon curd before? I’ve made it oodles of times, but not since last March. I wrote it up here on my blog then. I read a description of lemon curd in the America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook – they called some versions teeth-achingly sweet. Gosh, yes. That’s what mine was in 2011. The folks at ATK decided to fix it, and yes, they did. This is my new go-to lemon curd recipe. I didn’t enhance the photo at all – it’s all the egg yolks that give it that deep golden color.

I’d offered to take lemon curd to a friend’s home for a St. Patrick’s Day book group meeting. Each year the hostess and her wonderful husband make an Irish repast for our group. And mid-way through our book meeting they also serve multiple desserts. They make raisin scones too, and it’s for the scones that I usually offer to make lemon curd.

Remembering that last year’s version was too sweet, I pulled out cookbook after cookbook and compared the recipes. Some had nearly double the amount of sugar per lemon juice quantity of others. Whoa! No wonder I was overwhelmed with the sweetness! I should have just gone to my well-used The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook. Every recipe turns out superbly from that cookbook. With copious lemons on our Meyer trees, it came together in a hurry. I really liked the addition of a few tablespoons of heavy cream at the end. It just smooths it out, somehow. I chose not to strain it (to remove the bits of lemon zest and any eggy things). I chilled it in a bowl over ice and gave it to the hostess. But not without a couple of teaspoons to taste, of course! It’ll be my forever favorite, I suspect.

What I liked: it’s easy. Delicious. Just the right amount of sugar to lemon ratio. It will keep for several weeks too, if it were to last that long. I gave all of it to my friend, so there isn’t any left over here at my house! Guess I’ll just have to make it again. I scaled down the recipe to use 4 egg yolks and 1 whole egg, FYI.

What I didn’t like: nothing at all. Perfection.

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MasterCook 5+ import file – right click to save file, run MC, then File|Import

Lemon Curd (America’s Test Kitchen)

Recipe: America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook
Serving Size: 12 (maybe a lot more)
NOTES: This really takes no time to make and it’s SO much better than the store-bought type. I also like this recipe because it’s not teeth-achingly sweet. It’s “just right.”

7 large egg yolks
2 large eggs
1 cup sugar — + 2 tablespoons
2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup lemon zest
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter — cut in 1/2 inch pieces
3 tablespoons heavy cream

1. Whisk the egg yolks, whole eggs and sugar together until just combined. Whisk in the lemon juice, zest and salt.
2. Transfer the mixture to a medium nonreactive saucepan, add butter, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the curd thickens to a thin sauce-like consistency, about 5 minutes.
3. Strain the curd immediately through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean nonreactive bowl and stir in the cream. Cool and chill completely.
Per Serving (probably high as I think this will serve more than 12 scones!): 163 Calories; 9g Fat (48.8% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 18g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 175mg Cholesterol; 37mg Sodium.

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  1. Janet

    said on April 4th, 2012:

    I’ve been making a similar lemon curd for the last few years. I’ve never put cream in it though. My recipe calls for 4 whole eggs and 4 extra egg yolks. Otherwise it is the same. Yummy stuff.

    Well, I’d never put cream in it either, but it did kind of mellow it just a little bit and loosened the thickness of the curd. I liked it . . . carolyn t

  2. rima

    said on April 5th, 2015:

    Excellent recipe, great website. Wonderful job. I made it twice, once I folded in to the cool curd two stiffly beaten whites and 1/12 cups lightly sweetened whipped cream. Yum

    Yes, indeed, it’s great stuff! . . . carolyn t

  3. cindy reams

    said on January 14th, 2016:

    dreamy!!

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