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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 July 28th, 2007.


apple crispI would be ever so negligent if I didn’t post one of my favorite recipes, my mother’s Crisp Apple Pudding. I’ve been making this for as long as I’ve been cooking (that began in 1962). It was written out in my mother’s small recipe journal, something she began when SHE got married in the 1930’s, a recipe from her mother. And she passed this recipe on to me when I got married. My mother is gone now. Bless her heart. I loved her so much. But she lives on in this recipe for sure. I think of her every time I fix this.

Technique:

This recipe has something unique – after mixing up the crumbly topping and sprinkling it over the apples, you gently sprinkle cold water over the top. When baked the top is nice and crunchy tender.

I believe – but I’m not sure – that this recipe came from a vintage (probably 1930’s version) Betty Crocker Cookbook. Or maybe it was a Better Homes & Gardens. Did they publish cookbooks back in the 1930’s? I think one time in a used book store I saw a very old, stained copy of one of those books and glanced in it, and sure enough, it looked like this recipe. It has one very unique technique that I’ve not seen in any recipes I’ve studied. Even today. I did a search just now, and after looking at probably 40-50 apple crisp recipes, with variations of toppings (this one has no oatmeal or brown sugar in it), not a single one of them sprinkles the flour/sugar topping with water. That’s what gives this apple dessert its crispness, a different texture for sure. I love it – of course, it’s what I grew up having when my mother made this, so it’s what I think is the “right” kind of apple crisp. Note that this dessert has a whopping 5 grams of fat per serving.

apple crisp before bakingOne year either Bon Appetit or Gourmet did a very in-depth article about crisps, buckles, pandowdies and slumps. They are all similar, but not quite the same. And this technique was not in there, either. I even wrote a letter to the writer of that article about it. Never heard from her. Oh well. Her loss!

So, here is my mother’s recipe: Sliced apples, piled into a 8×8 Pyrex or metal baking dish, with a floury-egg-sugar based crumbly topping, dotted with a little butter, and sprinkled with cinnamon and a bit more sugar. THEN, it’s sprinkled with water to give that topping an honest-to-goodness crust. Once baked the topping melds together into a crust, and rises a little bit since it has baking powder in it. Allow to cool about an hour, then serve with warm cream or whipped cream. Ice cream is okay too, but whipped cream is better, I think. I’ve cut down a little on the sugar – I think originally it called for 1 cup, so if you like it sweeter, go ahead and add the full amount. And I hate to say this, but in a pinch, this is marvelous for breakfast.
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Crisp Apple Pudding

Recipe: From an ancient Betty Crocker cookbook, I believe, but via my mother.
Servings: 6-8
NOTES: The preparation of this apple dish is a little different because of the water sprinkled over the top. It gives the pudding a wonderful crispy top. This travels well, although it’s best eaten the day it’s made. Can be served with whipped cream or Cool-Whip.

1 cup flour
7/8 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 whole egg — beaten
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons sugar
4 large apples — peeled and sliced

1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Spread sliced apples into an 8×8 pan. Sift together the flour, sugar and baking powder. Add the egg and mix well. Spread this mixture over the top of the apples, spreading as evenly as possible. Sprinkle the top with the spices and the 2 T. of sugar. Using your fingers or a small spoon, sprinkle water over the topping, sprinkling as evenly as possible. Dab the butter on top, in small pieces.
3. Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until top is brown. Allow to cool about an hour, or until it’s room temperature.
Per Serving: 309 Calories; 5g Fat (15.1% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 64g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 46mg Cholesterol; 133mg Sodium.

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  1. randi

    said on September 30th, 2007:

    Just pulled this recipe out of the oven and was puzzled why mine had a very different (dry) look than yours.

    Oooops, just realized I skipped the *dotting of the butter* step. I will have to try this again because it sounds so GOOD…especially the Apple Crisp PUDDING part!

  2. Carolyn T

    said on October 1st, 2007:

    Randi – hope you sprinkled the top with the water – that’s the most important step. Really this dish is more like a cobbler than a pudding. But that’s what Betty Crocker called it and who am I to change a name, I guess? Hope you enjoyed it anyway!
    Carolyn

  3. Amanda

    said on September 25th, 2008:

    Originally found this recipe on your old blog and followed the links to get here. I just made a recipe of the same name but a bit different and was search out similar ones. I have added a link to this recipe from my blog post 🙂

    Amanda – thanks very much. I do love that recipe. Now that apples are about come back for a new season, my mouth is watering to make it again. Thanks for stopping by and thanks for the link . . . Carolyn

  4. yvette

    said on January 23rd, 2010:

    I made this dessert last night for Joe and dinner guests.
    I served it warm, with vanilla ice cream.
    Everyone asked for seconds.
    We all voted that this should be a repeat dessert!

    I’m so glad it was a success, Yvette. It’s certainly a family favorite around our house! . . . carolyn

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