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Recently finished reading The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke. All I can say is “wow.” In a general sense, this book is based on the premise of The Pilot’s Wife. But this one has some totally different twists and turns. A young wife is met at the door by police, informing her that her husband has died in an auto accident. Then she finds out he died in Hawaii – not Kansas, where she thought he was, on business. Then she finds out there was a woman in the car. Then she meets the fiance of the woman passenger and the two of them embark on a fact-finding mission in Hawaii to discover the truth. Well, I’m just sayin’ . . . the plot thickens. And thickens. And thickens clear up to the last few pages. Hang onto your seat. A really, really good, suspenseful read.

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 Novel by 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. 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 angry father is a wealthy and influential man in the area. 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.

 

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 Brunch, on August 3rd, 2007.

pineapple_french_toast

Whenever the family (our kids and the grandkids and/or other relatives) come to visit over the holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter), I try to have something in mind for breakfast on the holiday morning. Some kind of a breakfast casserole, so I don’t have to become a short order cook for all the varied appetites. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a variety of brunch casseroles in my repertoire, and this is another one that competes for first place.

The original recipe for this came from Gourmet Magazine some years back. I adapted the recipe just a little – I couldn’t find brioche or challah bread the first time I made this, and King’s Hawaiian bread was available. If you don’t have that where you live, it’s just a very soft, eggy and SWEET bread. It’s too sweet for sandwiches. But it makes great toast. And it’s probably wickedly bad for you because it’s made with white flour and contains a fair amount of sugar. But it makes wonderful French Toast – by this recipe or any other.

But, because Hawaiian bread IS so sweet, I knew I needed to reduce the sugar. So if you use different kinds of bread, you’ll want to adjust the sugar accordingly.

The pineapple, just the crushed, canned type, is what makes this different. There isn’t all that much in it, so you really can’t SEE the pineapple much – but you can taste it. You can serve this with syrup if you choose, but it’s already so sweet and flavorful – and moist – it doesn’t really need anything. Maybe some fresh fruit, fresh juice, hot steaming coffee and you’re done. As with many of my brunch recipes, I get all the ingredients ready the night before so it’s very easy to make this the morning of.
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Pineapple Upside-Down French Toast

Recipe Adapted from Gourmet Magazine
Servings: 4
COOK’S NOTES: The original recipe didn’t use any low-fat ingredients, so I adapted it some. You can cut down even more on the butter if you wish, and can use all egg substitute if you would prefer. The original called for challah or brioche bread, but since I couldn’t find any of that I used Hawaiian bread. It’s quite sweet and rich, so that’s why the sugar has been reduced by half. If you’re going to prepare this for breakfast and don’t have much time, just get all the ingredients ready the night before, including mixing up the milk, eggs, etc. It doesn’t take long to put it together.

1/4 cup unsalted butter — (1/2 stick)
1/4 cup brown sugar — firmly packed
3/4 cup crushed pineapple — pack & drain well
1 whole egg
1/4 cup egg substitute
1 1/2 cups 2% low-fat milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 slices egg bread — or Hawaiian bread

1. Preheat oven to 400. In a saucepan melt butter over moderate heat and stir in sugar and pineapple, stirring until sugar is dissolved.
2. In a shallow bowl whisk together eggs, milk and salt.
3. In a baking dish, 9 x 13 inches, spread pineapple mixture evenly over bottom. Dip bread slices into milk mixture in batches and arrange in one layer on top of pineapple mixture. If you have spaces in the pan, just mush the bread a little to squeeze in some more slices. It’s fairly easy to mix up a little more egg/milk mixture to make the dish feed more people.
4. Bake French Toast in middle of oven for 20-25 minutes, or until bread is golden brown. Cool in pan for one minute and serve.
Per Serving: 424 Calories; 20g Fat (41.7% calories from fat); 12g Protein; 50g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 122mg Cholesterol; 527mg Sodium.

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