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I’m going to write up an entire blog post about this book. It may be one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a memoir by Pat Conroy (an author I’ve long admired). He died a year or so ago – sad, that. In order to get the most out of My Reading Life, I recommend you BUY THE HARDBACK. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s an autobiography of sorts, but not really. He never wrote one, I don’t think, and I doubt he would ever have written one as he likely didn’t believe anyone would want to read about his (sad) life. In this memoir, he chronicles the books (and the people who recommended them) that influenced his life. Starting at his mother’s knees and continuing through influential teachers and mentors and friends. One of my book clubs read it, and I devoured it, cover to cover, with little plastic flags inserted all the way through to re-read some of the prose. Pat Conroy was a fabulous writer – he studied words from a young age and used them widely and wisely throughout his writing, but better than most authors would. He adored his mother, and hated (with venom) his aviator military father who physically abused everyone in the family, including his mother. They all took it like stoic Buddhas. I’m going to have to read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel because of reading this book. I’ve never read it. Conroy says that book’s first page is the best first page of any book he ever read in his life. Wow. And maybe my book group is going to re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Vintage Classics) too because of the chapter on that book. We might have to assign that to a 2-month or longer read. If you have friends or family who are avid readers, this would make a great gift, this book, My Reading Life. If YOU are a reader, it needs to be on your bookshelf, but in hardback, so you can go back to it and re-read his stories. It’s a series of essays, each one about a sub-section of his life. A must-have and a must-read.

Also read The Towers of Tuscany by Carol Cram. It was a bargain book through amazon or bookbub (e-book). Back in the Middle Ages women were forbidden to be artists. Their only place was in the home, caring for children and sewing and cooking. But the heroine in this book was taught to paint by her widowed artist-father (in secret, of course). When her father suddenly dies, all hell breaks loose and she must fend for herself. Much of the book takes place in Florence as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

Also finished The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: A Novel by Gabrielle Zevin. It popped up on a list I subscribe to and was available for $1.13 as an e-book. As it begins, you’re hearing from A.J., a grieving widower who owns a bookstore on an obscure island off the East Coast. He’s angry, rude and every other negative adjective you can imagine. A book rep comes to visit and he’s awful to her, yet she perseveres and manages to sell him a few books. You get to know his friends (a friendship with him is full of sharp points) and one day an abandoned toddler is found in his bookshop. In between the story line about A.J., the book rep, the little girl and others, you will learn all about A.J.’s book tastes. If you’re an avid reader, you’ll really enjoy that part. It’s a charming book; loved it.

Also read a quirky book, Goodbye, Vitamin: A Novel by Rachel Khong. She’s a new writer (newly published, I guess I should say) and this story is about Ruth, a 30+ something, trying to readjust to life without her fiance, who’s dumped her. She goes back home to help with the care of her father, who has Alzheimer’s. Written in a diary style, it jumps all over about her life, her mother, the funny, poignant things her father says on good days, and the nutty stuff he does on not-so-good days, her ex-, and her very quirky friends, too. Then a woman flits through who had had an affair with her father –  you get to observe all the angst from the mom about that. Mostly it’s about her father, as he’s relatively “together” early in the book, but then he disintegrates. Reading that part isn’t fun, although the author is able to lean some humor into it. I’m not sure I recommend the book exactly – I read it through – and felt sad. It doesn’t tie up loose ends – if you need that kind of book – you may not want to read this one.

 

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 Cookies, on December 13th, 2008.

choc-alond-saltine-toffee

Oh, these cookies. Oh, my. Well, they’re almost more like candy than cookies because of the caramel layer in them. The toffee. When I saw this recipe calling for saltines in it, as I am wont to do, with something unusual in it, I had to try it. You might not think this sounds good, but it’s a perfect match. You find that you LIKE the little bit of salt from the saltines. To me, the saltines “make” this. It’s really quite easy – different than making traditional cookies for sure. We made these on Wednesday, and I’m finding myself reaching for just one more little piece of this. It’s particularly delicious with a cup of coffee.

saltine-toffee-deconstructedPicture right: one of the saltine toffee shards turned on its edge so you can see the layers.

First you put down a layer of saltines in a rimmed baking sheet (with parchent or silpat – mandatory to get them out of the pan). Then you make the caramel toffee – just sugar, butter and a tad of corn syrup, until it reaches 300 degrees F, at which point it’s turns to a beautiful honey color. That gets scooped or poured (carefully, as it’s really hot) over the saltines. Meanwhile you’ll already have the chopped up chocolate standing by. After cooling the caramel layer for 3 minutes, you sprinkle the chocolate pieces all over. In minutes the chocolate has melted and it’s spread over the toffee with an offset spatula (if you have one). Then the sliced (toasted) almonds are sprinkled on top of the soft chocolate. Press them in slightly so they’ll adhere to the chocolate. Freeze 15 minutes, carefully tip the sheet out of the pan, upright it, then break it into narrow shards. Done. You should really try these. They’re a winner-recipe in my book. It came from Food & Wine.
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Chocolate-Almond Saltine Toffee

Recipe: Nicole Plue at Food & Wine
Servings: about 30 pieces

1/2 cups sliced almonds (6 ounces)
Approximately 60 saltine crackers (not low-sodium)
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 sticks unsalted butter — 3/4 pound
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 pound bittersweet chocolate — chopped into 1/2-inch pieces

1. Preheat the oven to 350°, spread the almonds on a baking sheet and toast for about 6 minutes, until golden.
2. Line a 12-by-17-inch rimmed baking sheet with a silicone mat or lightly buttered parchment paper. Arrange the saltine crackers on the baking sheet in a single layer, patching any holes with cracker bits; slight gaps are okay.
3. In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, butter and corn syrup and cook over low heat until the sugar is melted. Brush the side of the pan with a moistened pastry brush to wash down any sugar crystals. Cook the syrup over moderate heat without stirring until it starts to brown around the edge, about 5 minutes. Insert a candy thermometer into the syrup and simmer, stirring with a wooden spoon, until honey-colored caramel forms and the temperature reaches 300°, about 6 minutes longer.
4. Slowly and carefully pour the caramel over the crackers, being sure to cover most of them evenly. Using an offset spatula, spread the caramel to cover any gaps. Let cool for 3 minutes, then sprinkle the chopped chocolate evenly on top. Let stand until the chocolate is melted, about 3 minutes, then spread the chocolate evenly over the toffee. Spread the almonds evenly over the chocolate. Freeze the toffee until set, about 15 minutes. Invert the toffee onto a work surface and peel off the mat or paper. Invert again, break into large shards and serve.
NOTES: The chocolate-almond saltine toffee can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks in an airtight container.

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