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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 July 25th, 2007.

buttermilk scones
If you’re a connoisseur of scones, as I am, then you already know that there are about as many variations on the scone theme as flowers in the universe. I became a scone lover about 20 years ago. They popped up on the food scene, I guess, because of the proliferation of “afternoon tea” in various places. My friend Cherrie and I liked trying different afternoon tea locations as often as we thought we could fit it in, maybe every 2-3 months. We went on Saturdays because we both worked full time back then. But then scones became part of the coffee bar circuit too – Starbuck’s, Peet’s. Wherever you went for morning coffee, they all had scones. Dry scones. Not very tasty scones in my book. I usually left disappointed.

But in the intervening years, Cherrie and I have tried about 15 or more tea places within easy driving distance of our homes. We enjoy the whole event – from the tea itself (usually Earl Gray) to the tea sandwiches, the scones, jam, clotted cream (not whipped cream, mind you) and little tasty sweets. We enjoyed the whole package so much that she and I took a “Tea Tour” in England one year and had a ball. It was a 10 or 12 day trip with Penelope Carlavato, a proper English lady who lived in Southern California and led tours in England every year. There were about 12 of us on the trip and we had afternoon tea 5 times in 10 days, I believe. After that, I didn’t have an afternoon tea for at least a year! On that trip we sampled scones of all varieties. British scones are drier than mine. Thicker too, I think.

Recipe Tip:

This is one of my favorite recipes – a “signature” dish if I had such a thing.

But I’m spoiled. I like my own scones too much. It’s so easy to make your own and get just the kind of texture you want in your own home made ones. I’ve made them for Christmas morning – I get all the ingredients gathered up the night before and can whip them out in a hurry in the morning. I don’t make them often – they’re a special occasion treat for me. The last time I had afternoon tea was in Paris, a year ago May, when I was there alone (DH couldn’t go because of a leg injury) and friends I was meeting invited me to join them at Mariage Freres for lunch. Very special indeed.

Once a year a group of girlfriends of mine (we’ve been meeting for breakfast about every other week for the last 30 years) get together to celebrate a Christmas breakfast. We move from house to house, year to year. We exchange gifts, talk about our children, our grandchildren, and what we’re doing for the holidays. Once I started making these, though, they’ve become a regular on the menu, at whoever’s home we’re meeting. I take the ingredients and make them there.

My scones are more like rich Southern biscuits – American Southern Biscuits. They’re buttery, with layers of tender dough. These are not on the dry theme at all. If that’s what you prefer, you won’t like this version one bit. Stop right here. But if you like rich and buttery, then these are for you. I got the recipe from a Canadian friend of mine (my former business partner), who got it from a Canadian friend of hers, who got it from Canadian Living magazine in 1991. Since I tried these the very first time they’ve been my one and only scone. Hope you enjoy them. The original recipe called for currants. I didn’t have any, so began using golden raisins. Other than that, I usually fix the recipe exactly as shown.

Follow the directions to a T, except where noted that you can. These don’t keep well – if you don’t eat them right away, cool and freeze immediately. You can also substitute different dried fruit, or make them plain. I’ve shared this recipe with many of my friends over the years. Hope you enjoy them as much as I do. Try with a bit of clotted cream and jam. They hardly need butter, but I always serve it anyway.
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Buttermilk Scones with Golden Raisins

Recipe: Adapted from Canadian Living Magazine, June 1991
Servings: 10
NOTES: Variations are easy with this recipe. Sometimes I substitute 1/2 cup of rolled oats for 1/2 cup of flour. Or, if you prefer, substitute other dried fruits: currants, dried cherries, cranberries, blueberries, or apricots. You could also add about 1 cup of shredded cheese (omit sugar and currants). Do NOT substitute any margarine in this recipe. These scones are a rich, buttery biscuit type, not dry, as some people prefer them. I particularly like scones using buttermilk as it makes a very tender crust.

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter — cold, cubed
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 cup buttermilk
1 whole egg — lightly beaten
2 tsp lemon rind — finely grated

1. Preheat oven to 425. In a large bowl stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, soda and salt. Using pastry blender, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in raisins and lemon rind.
2. Add buttermilk to mixture all at one time, stirring with fork to make soft, sticky dough. With very lightly floured hands, press dough into ball and on a lightly floured board knead gently 10 times (NO MORE!). Gently pat dough into 3/4 inch thick round. Using a floured biscuit cutter, cut out rounds (about 1-1/2 inches across) and place on ungreased baking sheet. Gather up scraps and form into more biscuit shapes.
3. Brush tops of scones with beaten egg and bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove to racks or serve immediately. Or, allow to cool and place in plastic bags and freeze. These scones stale quickly, so don’t allow them to sit out for more than a few hours. Reheat in microwave, if necessary, for 15-20 seconds each.
4. Hints: When mixing ingredients, stir in liquid only until combined; overworking the dough makes it tough. Knead dough gently and pat out scraps only once to yield flaky results. Instead of throwing out the scraps, press them together into “cook’s scones” – the not-so-perfect ones that YOU get to eat! Also, if you use a different brand of flour, you may find the scones will be too dry, so alter recipe accordingly. The dough needs to be fairly sticky. Most of the time I eliminate the egg wash.
Per Serving: 236 Calories; 10g Fat (38.5% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 32g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 47mg Cholesterol; 419mg Sodium.

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  1. Sonia Checchia

    said on February 27th, 2017:

    I just found your blog and was drawn in IMMEDIATELY. A search for Ina Garten’s Coq au Vin recipe led me to you, and then I quickly found that we have tried a lot of the same recipes over the years. You have instantly become an authoritative source for my recipe searches. Thank you! Made these scones last night, with yellow raisins and orange zest. Big hit with me, toddler, and hubby. I used a small scoop (1.5 inch), and they baked in the time it took me to warm up 5 oz of formula for little baby! Talk about fast. Thank you! Love your writing style, and love how you outline “how to make a recipe” before you provide the recipe itself. Very helpful.

    Well, thank you for finding and enjoying my blog! I adore those scones. Really and truly. They are my go-to scones whenever I make them. . . carolyn t

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