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Just finished reading 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, easy, on May 3rd, 2013.

rhubarb_upside_down_cake_whole

Love rhubarb, like I do? You’ll want to try this biscuit-style upside down cake that’s as easy as can be to make. You’ll just need fresh rhubarb and everything else is likely in your pantry.

My latest issue of Saveur Magazine arrived recently and I read it cover-to-cover. An article about rhubarb captured my interest, though, when I saw some of the photos. With rhubarb in season, I decided to make this recipe first. They explained that this method of making an upside down cake is rhubarb_cookingmore reminiscent of an apple tarte tatin since you cook the juicy rhubarb in a cast iron skillet as you would with a tarte tatin (photo at left), then add the biscuit batter on top (see photo at right below) and bake it. As soon as you take it out of the oven you place a plate on top of the iron skillet and very carefully and quickly turn it upside down and plot, it all comes out as you see above. rhubarb_cake_before_bakingI used hot pads and was very quick about turning it over. There wasn’t any liquid to spill out, fortunately, or it could burn you. It’s all absorbed by the biscuit batter.

We ate it warm, which is the best way, I think. And since the cake part is more biscuit than it is cake, it’s most likely best eaten the day it’s made. I ended up with left rhubarb_upside_down_cake_sliceovers which I portioned out into 3” wedges, wrapped in plastic, then in foil. If I find out it’s not good defrosted I’ll add a note here later.

Do serve it with ice cream or whipped cream, as the mixture needs something to cut the sweet of the rhubarb and moisten the biscuit cake. It’s not overly dry – that isn’t what I mean – but left more than a day, I’d think it might. Biscuits don’t keep well.

rhubarb_upside_down_cake_whole_wide

What’s GOOD: the rhubarb, for sure. But then, I love rhubarb in most of its guises. The cake wasn’t my favorite part, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t good. It was. It was a light dessert, I thought, although the calorie count doesn’t indicate so. Very tasty and a lovely presentation.

What’s NOT: really nothing except that you probably should eat this up the day you bake it.

printer-friendly PDF – created using Cute PDF Writer, not Adobe
MasterCook 5+ import file – right click to save file (and remember where, run MC, File|Import

* Exported from MasterCook *

Rhubarb Upside Down Cake

Recipe By: Saveur Magazine, Apr. 2013
Serving Size: 9

RHUBARB:
3/4 pound rhubarb — trimmed and cut into 1 ½” pieces on an angle
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter — plus 6 tbsp. cut into ½” cubes and chilled
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
BISCUIT CAKE:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter — chilled, cut in 1/2″ cubes
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/3 cup milk
2 large eggs
Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream — for serving (optional)

1. Heat oven to 375°. Combine rhubarb, 1 cup sugar, 4 tbsp. butter, lemon juice, vanilla, and salt in a 9″ cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until sugar is melted and rhubarb is tender and slightly caramelized, 8-10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, whisk together remaining sugar and salt, plus flour and baking powder in a bowl. Add remaining butter and the shortening and, using your fingers, rub into flour mixture to form coarse pea-size pieces. Add milk and eggs and stir until a soft, sticky dough forms.Using your hands, lightly flatten pieces of the sticky dough and place on top of the rhubarb. Fill in spaces as needed – it does not have to be completely smooth or covered – just do the best you can. If you want, smooth top with a nonstick spatula.
3. Bake until the crust is golden and cooked through, about 30 minutes. Remove skillet from oven; place a large flat serving platter on top of the skillet and invert very carefully and quickly. If a few pieces of rhubarb stick to the pan, use a spoon to fill in any spaces on the top. Serve warm or at room temperature with ice cream or whipped cream, if you like.
Per Serving: 503 Calories; 26g Fat (46.2% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 62g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 83mg Cholesterol; 237mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on May 3rd, 2013:

    I adore Rhubarb and used to eat it raw, as a child, dipped in sugar. I can still recall the delight at the first taste of Spring.

    Biscuit is like Scone here, I must remember that.

    I thought when the Brits say “biscuit” they mean cookie? Not so? I know muffin means like a “English muffin” to us – once I was walking around Harrod’s Food Halls and in the pastry dept. saw “American Muffins” on the tags. I laughed! . . . carolyn T

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on May 5th, 2013:

    Yes, our biscuits are your cookies; your biscuits are our scones. English muffins are not pastries, but bread. See link.

    http://britishfood.about.com/od/recipeindex/r/englishmuffins.htm

    And finally – your muffins are our Fairy Cakes. Confusing, isn’t it?

    Ah yes, I should have said English muffins are a bread – they are, of course! Years ago I used to make them from scratch with sourdough. So good. But I’d not heard of Fairy Cakes? Interesting. . . carolyn t

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