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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 Cookies, on January 17th, 2014.


Every year when my wheat-allergic cousin comes to visit I try to find a few new recipes to try. Things that he’d like while he’s here, but also a couple that he might enjoy making at home. And if I were to tell you these cookies are every bit as good as peanut butter chocolate chip cookies made WITH flour, would you believe me? Well, you should, because I’m going to be making these just for myself cuz they’re that good!

After making them (actually Gary made them while I sort-of supervised) I took one to try. Oh my goodness. They were absolutely fantastic. And I mean really fantastic! They have a very light crumb – as you’ll see from the recipe below – they have nothing but smooth peanut butter, brown sugar, soda, salt, an egg and vanilla. Oh, and the chocolate chips. How easy can that be? The recipe makes a very short texture – I mean buttery, crumbly (and there isn’t any butter in it except the smooth peanut butter) cookie. Rich, though. And with such great flavor.

You cannot use high-end peanut butter in these – we bought regular plain-old JIF, the smooth version. Apparently folks at King Arthur Flour have tried this with the Laura Scudder’s, for instance, and it just doesn’t work (too dry and crumbly for some reason). So do seek out JIF (not low fat, not low sugar, and not crunchy). The dough is very easy to mix up and the chocolate chips added in at the last. The recipe below makes just 18 cookies. When I make them I’m going to double the recipe. Gary took all the cookies home with him (he and I each ate 2, so he took home 14). Therefore, I’m going to need to make them sometime soon.

What’s GOOD: they’re fabulous. As long as you like peanut butter; and chocolate chips, then you’ll love these cookies. The fact that they’re GF is nearly beside the point.

What’s NOT: not a thing that I can think of.

printer-friendly Cute PDF

Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click link to open in MC)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Flourless Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Cookies

Recipe By: King Arthur Flour
Serving Size: 18

1 cup smooth peanut butter
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 pinch salt
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup chocolate chips — or mini chips

1. Preheat your oven to 350°F.
2. Beat the peanut butter, sugar, baking soda, and salt at medium speed of your mixer, until well-blended.
3. Add the egg and vanilla, and blend on low-medium speed until incorporated.
4. Stir in the chocolate chips.
5. Scoop the dough by the tablespoonful onto a parchment-lined baking sheet (a tablespoon cookie scoop is best for this job) and push the top of the dough to flatten just slightly.
6. Bake the cookies for 8 to 10 minutes. Remove them from the oven, and cool right on the pan. The tops should be slightly crinkled and you will want to remove them from the oven BEFORE they begin to brown on the edges.
Per Serving: 142 Calories; 9g Fat (55.7% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 13g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 12mg Cholesterol; 116mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on January 17th, 2014:

    These are indeed wonderful! I have made them many times. I mailed packages of them to my son when he was in Iraq and Afghanistan. They ship very well. (I was surprised to learn that there was no problem shipping chocolate chip cookies to Iraq–the chocolate survived just fine.) And I did use crunchy JIF, and it worked great. I prefer them chewy, and it’s possible to get that result by underbaking them a bit. Eventually, they lose the chewiness, but either way, they are very peanutty and delicious!

    I’m glad to know you CAN use crunchy, because I would probably prefer them that way. Thanks for the info . . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on July 28th, 2015:

    Correction: I’m sorry–I was mistaken; the flourless chocolate chip cookie recipe I used was not the one on KAF. It’s from It actually calls for super chunky peanut butter, and there are slight differences in the other ingredients. The most important one is probably that it calls for a full cup of brown sugar. It still calls for one large egg, but the baking soda is one teaspoon, the vanilla one half teaspoon, and the chocolate chips a full cup (they call for miniature semi-sweet). Baking time called for is about twelve minutes, but the doneness criteria would be the same–you wouldn’t want them to brown on the edges–so it would probably depend on your oven. Donna

    I’ll have to try the other one. My cousin will be coming down for Christmas, so I’ll be ready to make them by then. Thanks for the suggestion. . . carolyn t

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