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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 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
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* 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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