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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, on August 3rd, 2013.

strawberry_rhubarb_cobbler_orange

Without question, I’m begging you to make this. While rhubarb is still in season (barely) get yourself some, and gather some nice juicy strawberries and prepare this relatively simple cobbler that will make you and your guests swoon.

This recipe all started when our daughter Sara called to say she had some rhubarb one of her customers had given her, and since we were having a family get-together at her house in San Diego with dear friends who were visiting us from Philadelphia, she wanted to use it. Some of the group went sailing on our boat (which lives in San Diego) in the afternoon, then we high-tailed it to her house in time for dinner.

She’d never cooked rhubarb before. We live about 70 miles apart so we collaborated on who would do what – she did most of the dinner – I brought sangak bread and made this dessert. I found some rhubarb in one of our stores so brought additional – she said she didn’t have a lot. And, before we left home I mixed up the dry ingredients for the biscuits you see above. Once there I asked Sara for her rhubarb and she promptly pulled out 3 bunches of baby red chard. I laughed and told her no, that’s not rhubarb! She laughed. She had never even HAD chard before, she thought. It was very limp looking (she hadn’t wrapped it in a plastic bag) so I don’t even know that it will be edible.

straw_rhub_collageAnyway, good thing I’d brought about 8 stalks of rhubarb. I cut up all the fruit, added the sugar, tapioca and orange zest and let it sit for about 20 minutes (lower picture above). I spread it out to all the corners (I made a 1 1/2 sized recipe, so I used a 9×13 Pyrex dish, which was perfectly sized. Then I mixed up the dry ingredients, added the butter and cut that in, then added the milk and egg, mixed, plopped the biscuits all over the top (upper photo above). Baked for 35 minutes. Done! We let it rest about 45 minutes or so before we enjoyed it (immensely) with vanilla ice cream on the side.

The recipe came from Simply Recipes, Elise Bauer’s blog. She explained that this recipe was revised and revised until she got it, finally, just right. I agree. It’s marvelous.

What’s GOOD: oh my goodness, was this ever fantastic! Next time I’m at the grocery store I’m looking for any remaining rhubarb. Strawberries are still in, so I know I’ll find those. The biscuit/cobbler is tender and tasty. Loved it with vanilla ice cream. Altogether wonderful.
What’s NOT: absolutely nothing whatsoever. Worth making.

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Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler

Recipe By: Many thanks to Elise at Simply Recipes blog
Serving Size: 6

FRUIT:
4 1/2 cups rhubarb — cut into 1-inch pieces. Trim outside stringy layer of large rhubarb stalks make sure to trim away and discard any of the leaves which are poisonous; trim ends.
1 1/2 cups strawberries — stemmed and sliced
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons tapioca
1 teaspoon grated orange peel
COBBLER:
2 tablespoon sugar
1 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup milk
1 egg — lightly beaten

Notes: when I made it I ended up with more strawberries than rhubarb. I think this recipe is forgiving in that way – try to use the proportions above, but if not, just make sure you have the right amount (volume) of fruit. If you use less rhubarb, reduce the sugar some.
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. In a bowl, mix the rhubarb and the strawberries with the sugar, tapioca, and orange zest. Let sit to macerate for 30 minutes to an hour.
3. In a medium bowl, combine 2 Tablespoons of sugar, the flour, baking powder and salt. Cut the butter in with a fork or pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the milk and egg until just moistened.
4. Pour fruit into a 2-quart casserole dish. Drop the batter on the fruit. Bake in a 350°F oven for 35 minutes until cobbler crust is golden brown.
5. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream (optional).
Per Serving: 285 Calories; 9g Fat (28.9% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 47g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 57mg Cholesterol; 310mg Sodium.

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