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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 aging 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, wealthy women) 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.

I’ve written up an entire blog post about this book. (It hasn’t been posted yet, but will soon.) 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 Siena (and also San Gimignano) as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

 

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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