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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.

Scroll down to the bottom to view my Blogroll

Posted in Appetizers, on December 22nd, 2012.

brie_en_croute

Baking Brie in a pastry crust is anything but new – except that this one is made with dried cherries and pecans (or you can use hazelnuts if you like them) and honey. It’s quite easy to make, everything considered, and after baking, it needs to sit out for about 30-40 minutes before you cut into it, so you can bake it before your party and have it come out of the oven half an hour before people arrive.

A few days ago I mentioned that I had a cooking class at my home. There are any number of recipes on my blog from classes with Tarla (just do a search for Tarla and they’ll all come up). Here’s another one – an easy one and very, very festive. Perfect for the holidays. Make this at home up to the point of baking, and take it to someone else’s home and bake it there. It’s just that it MUST sit for 30-40 minutes – if you cut into it sooner the cheese will just ooze out completely. You don’t want that! So just plan ahead.

brie_en_croute_wholeThe puff pastry you buy ready made (I wouldn’t wish anyone to try to make the stuff – much, much too labor intensive). The Brie you buy in a round and cut off the top crust, then place it on top of the puff pastry. The dried cherries, nuts and honey are mixed together and spread on top of the Brie. Then you fold the edges up over the Brie, brush it with an egg wash, then prick it in a few places to allow the steam to escape, and bake for about 20 minutes. Cool on a rack for the requisite 30-40 minutes, then move to a platter and serve with crackers. If you want, serve this with small plates. Lots of folks won’t want crackers with this – Tarla served it with some – but I preferred just having the Brie and the crust alone. Your choice, of course! You’ll want to eat it up right away – once you cut into it, it cools very fast and it’s not so delicious once it’s at room temp. The best thing would be to cut little wedges and serve them to people right then and there.

What’s good: how easy it is to make – as long as you have all the ingredients – puff pastry thawed, the right size 8-ounce round Brie (our Costco carries them), the dried cherries and nuts. I’m assuming you have honey and an egg for the wash. It’s a very pretty presentation. I love Brie, so it was a no-brainer that I’d like it. The honey adds a different touch. That I liked. Next time I’ll make it with hazelnuts.
What’s not: nothing really – this stuff is good, albeit high in fat & calories!

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Brie en Croute with Dried Cherries, Pecans and Honey

Recipe By: Tarla Fallgatter, cooking instructor and caterer
Serving Size: 8

8 ounces puff pastry (one sheet)
8 ounces Brie — round wheel, top rind removed
2 tablespoons dried cherries
1/4 cup pecans — (or hazelnuts) toasted, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons honey
1 medium egg — beaten with 1 T. water
Crackers to serve along side (if desired)

1. Preheat oven to 400°. Cover the cherries with very hot tap water and let sit for 2 minutes. Drain and dry cherries on paper towels.
2. On a lightly floured surface, roll the puff pastry to a 14-inch square. Place Brie (with the top rind removed) on top of pastry.
3. In a small bowl mix together the cherries, nuts and honey. Scoop out on top of the Brie.
4. Gently gather the opposite coners of the puff pastry on top of the Brie and make a little “package,” gently pressing the pastry together at the seams.
5. Brush the top with the egg glaze, then poke a few slits in the top with a sharp knife (to allow steam to escape).
6. Bake Brie for about 20 minutes, or until the pastry crust is a golden brown. Remove from oven and remove Brie to a rack.
7. Allow Brie to sit for 30-40 minutes before cutting into it. If you cut it earlier the cheese will melt out of the crust. Serve immediately with crackers, if desired.
Per Serving: 306 Calories; 22g Fat (62.7% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 55mg Cholesterol; 258mg Sodium.

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