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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, Miscellaneous, on September 10th, 2013.

chocolate_syrup

Oh, chocolate syrup, where have you been all my life? I cannot believe that since I started cooking when I was 20, to now when I’m in my 70s, that I’ve never thought to MAKE chocolate syrup. But of course, home made syrup would be better than the Hershey’s plastic squeeze bottle. Ha. By a long shot!

And it’s so EASY! It’s nothing more than water, sugar, powdered cocoa (unsweetened, Dutch process), salt and vanilla. You do have to cook it – but hey, it takes less than 10 minutes to make, start to finish, including going to get the ingredients. So you’ll have no excuse for not trying it.

I will tell you, however, that I buy a specialty cocoa, Penzey’s, their half pound bag. Their cocoa is really chocolaty, dark and doesn’t lump. I only use it in special things I make – where I’m sure the taste will come through in the finished baked good. I also use Hershey’s Special Dark when I can find it, but I’m all out of it at the moment.

The recipe came from Gourmet, back in 2003, according to epicurious. I looked at several recipes before I tried this one. Why this one? Because one commenter said she’s tried lots and lots of syrup recipes and once she tried this one, she’s never looked back. That was all the convincing I needed. Another commenter said this syrup is addictive – when you realize that it’s nearly fat-free – it’s not like eating chocolate candy, but you get the taste of full chocolate – she’d even sneak in the refrigerator now and then for a spoonful.

In a couple of days I’ll post a recipe for a bundt cake that I made with this chocolate syrup, then you’ll know why I went to the trouble of making the syrup myself. Once you dissolve (boil) the sugar and water, you add the cocoa and use a whisk to mix it in. The cocoa wants to clump, so using a whisk is necessary. I actually used one of those bounce-up-and-down whisks for this, to make sure there weren’t any little pockets of cocoa. It simmers for 3 minutes, while you whisk, and it’s done. It thickens up more when it cools. With my spatula in hand, once I poured all the syrup in the jar you see at top, I carefully scraped every last smidgen into my mouth. <grin>

So far I haven’t tried it ON anything, but if I do so before this post goes up, I’ll come back in and edit this part. What I tasted on the spoon was sensational. That ultra-dark chocolate taste I was looking for.

What’s GOOD: how EASY it is to make. I’ll never go back to Hershey’s squeeze bottle. Taste is fantastic; of course, the quality of the cocoa powder will determine how great the chocolate flavor is. Worth seeking out some good stuff.

What’s NOT: gosh, nothing.

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Chocolate Syrup

Recipe By: Gourmet Mag, Feb. 2003
Serving Size: 16

1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder — preferably Dutch-process
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

Serving Ideas: This syrup is delicious over ice cream or as a base for an intense hot chocolate (heat 1 cup milk with 1/3 cup syrup).
1. Bring water and sugar to a boil, whisking until sugar is dissolved.
2. Whisk in cocoa and salt and simmer, whisking, until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and add vanilla, then cool (syrup will continue to thicken as it cools). Makes about 1 cup.
Per Serving: 33 Calories; trace Fat (11.0% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 8g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 35mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on September 13th, 2013:

    I had to research ‘Dutch process’ then look at my pack of Green & Black’s to see that it is subjected to ‘Dutching’. The things I learn on the WWW! Thank you Carolyn.
    You’ll be SO glad you’ve tried this. I just absolutely guarantee it! . . . carolyn t

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