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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 10th, 2014.

tres_leches_cake_slice

If you’ve never had Tres Leches (in Spanish that means 3 milks) cake, you’re really missing something. And I’m just going to say that this one, made from a Nestle boxed mix, is just about as good as any homemade version I’ve ever had. And since it IS a boxed mix, that means it’s super easy. It also means I’m going to go get another box so I can have it on the shelf. (Although, you won’t want to keep sweetened condensed milk – which is in the box – on your pantry shelf for more than a few months as it thickens and darkens.)

My thought was that Tres Leches Cake was Mexican in origin, but when I searched on wikipedia, I found out that it actually may originate from Europe. However, it became popular in Central tres_leches_kitAmerica in the early 1900s (probably when canned milk and sweetened condensed milk proliferated and apparently Carnation and/or other brands included a recipe on the label and since it was distributed throughout Central and South America it became a national dessert in several countries). See the article if you’d like.

Essentially it’s a butter-rich cake (the mix is enough for a 9-inch round cake pan – and do NOT make it in an 8-inch pan – it will never fit) that’s baked, and once it’s cooled for a few minutes you poke jillions of holes all over the cake and pour over it a mixture of sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk and straight milk (some recipes call fortres_leches_cake_inpan heavy cream but the mix suggests whole milk which was plenty rich enough). The milk mixture is not thick, really, and it just fills in all the little holes throughout the cake. It does not sink to the bottom. There at right you can see the cake after it was baked and just after I poured the milk mixture all over it. It sat out on my counter for about 30 minutes while the cake cooled, then into the refrigerator it went. Within about an hour or so every bit of the milk had been absorbed in the cake. Ideally it’s refrigerated for about 4 hours. This is a cake you can NOT leave out on your kitchen counter overnight – all that milk would spoil.

In the photo above left you can see the mix – although the bag with the cake mix I’d already emptied into my mixing bowl. This one is made by Nestle and I found it at my regular supermarket. It contains the cake mix bag, the sweetened condensed milk can (on the left) and a can of evaporated milk (on the right). I also caution you to not use a 9-inch pan that’s shallow. It may fit in a standard 9-inch cake pan, but I happen to have a deeper 9-inch one that was perfect. The cake did shrink some once baked and all the milk mixture did fit in the pan.tres_leches_slice_close

What I want you to notice is that in the photo above, on the plate toward the back of the cake slice you can see just a little bit of the milk/cream. The entire cake is just saturated with the milk, but it doesn’t ooze all over. Just a tiny bit. We had whipped cream with it.

Some recipes you’ll find online have a frosting on top. For me that would be over the top – this cake is very rich and to put frosting on it (unless it was just a whipped cream mixture) would make it too sweet and heavy for me. If you don’t like cake mixes, just do a search for Tres Leches Cake and you’ll find dozens of them to make from scratch. I’ll definitely make this again. I think kids would love this cake.

What’s GOOD: I really, really liked this. Because it’s so moist. It’s also rich and sweet too. It was EASY, which I liked a lot too. Very suitable for guests. For me, the cake has sort-of the texture of bread pudding, but it’s not weight-heavy like bread pudding is. Fabulous.

What’s NOT: I don’t want to know how many calories each slice contains. Just don’t tell me, okay?

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  1. Melynda

    said on May 10th, 2014:

    Years ago I attended a wedding where the wedding cake was tres leches cake. And since wedding cake can often times be dry, this was not. You are right, creamy, sweet and wonderful.

  2. Jennifer

    said on May 26th, 2017:

    The best Tres Leches ever are served in Nicaraguan restaurants (there are plenty throughout South Florida and California). Nicaraguan tres leches is considered the most authentic and original version. While Mexican tres leches is supposed to be an alternative version to the original. Personally, I didn’t like the tres leches that I’ve tried in Mexican restaurants. The Nestle La Lechera tes leches cake kit was amazing. Too bad they have discontinued it.

    I agree about the Nestle cake mix – it was really good. As a matter of fact I’m going to be making the cake today, from a recipe I have posted here on my blog – http://tastingspoons.com/archives/13370 – it’s the real thing. My grandson asked for it, so of course, Grandma will make it! . . . carolyn t

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