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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 Vegetarian, Veggies/sides, on December 28th, 2014.

scalloped potato, spinach and corn casserole

Just plain yummy side dish casserole. The Gruyere cheese is what makes it, so don’t skimp by using something else. Use the imported cheese, the real stuff. You can substitute other cheeses, but I think the Gruyere is perfect.

Need a casserole to go with just about any kind of protein? It would be great with steak, pork chops, chicken, even a sturdy, full-flavored fish. Or, you could even eat this as a vegetarian entrée. It’s just SO delicious. As I mentioned above, the Gruyere cheese (it’s a very unique Swiss cheese) is, to me, what makes this dish over the top. It’s not low in calorie, however, since it contains heavy cream and full-fat milk. The potatoes bring enough starch to the dish that it all sticks together beautifully.

spinach_layerThe potatoes, sliced just perfectly at 1/4 inch thick (it helps if you have a slicer to do this) are simmered in the cream and milk until they’re nearly done. Meanwhile you make the corn and spinach mixture which gets layered in between 2 layers of the potatoes. See photo below at left with just one layer of potatoes and the layer of spinach and corn.


Another layer of potatoes goes on top, see photo at right, then you add lots of cheese on top, bake for 25 minutes covered with foil, then 10-15 more without the foil and you’re ready to go. You can also make this the day before, bring to room temp and bake in a low oven to reheat. This recipe is a keeper. From the cooking class recently with Diane Phillips.

My cousin Gary just about made this whole thing for me – we took this to a Christmas Eve dinner at my son’s home. Every last bite – and I mean ever bite, was slicked clean. Had many, many compliments on the dish.

What’s GOOD: every morsel – the cheese, the potatoes, the spinach. Everything.
What’s NOT: it does take a bit of time to put it together – make a big batch so you can have left overs.

printer-friendly CutePDF
Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click on link to open recipe in MC)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Potato, Corn and Spinach Gratin

Recipe By: Diane Phillips, cooking instructor and author
Serving Size: 8

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium shallot — finely chopped
2 cups white corn — fresh or frozen, defrosted
1 pound spinach — washed, spun dry
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 medium Yukon Gold potatoes — peeled, cut 1/4 inch slices
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
More salt and pepper to taste
2/3 cup Gruyere cheese — shredded
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat the inside of a 9×13 baking dish with nonstick cooking spray (do not use Pam).
2. In a (very) large skillet, heat butter and saute shallot for a minute, doing it slowly to bloom the flavor, until the shallot is soft. Add corn and saute for 2 minutes. Add spinach and saute until it’s all wilted.
3. In another large skillet with sides, heat the milk and cream over medium meat. Add potatoes and cook for 6-7 minutes, or until the potatoes are just barely tender (they will continue to cook during the baking process). Season with salt and pepper and pour HALF of the potatoes into the baking dish.
4. Spread all of the spinach and corn mixture over the top of the potatoes, spreading evenly, then add the remaining potatoes and milky sauce. Spread potatoes evenly, then sprinkle all the cheese on top. (MAKE AHEAD: you can cool the gratin at this point, cover and chill for up to 2 days. Bring to room temp before proceeding.)
5. Bake the gratin for 25 minutes, covered with foil, uncover and continue baking for another 10-15 minutes, until the cheese are golden brown and the gratin is bubbling. Allow to rest for at least 10 minutes before serving.
NOTES: If you’d rather make this in individual ramekins, prepare the same, but bake covered with foil for 10-15 minutes, then uncover for just 5 minutes.
Per Serving: 379 Calories; 27g Fat (63.2% calories from fat); 12g Protein; 24g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 93mg Cholesterol; 218mg Sodium.

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  1. janet

    said on December 28th, 2014:

    Gosh that looks yummy! Diane has some excellent recipes.

    Indeed she does! My family just couldn’t get enough of this. Obviously I didn’t make enough! . . . carolyn t

  2. Kit Schindell

    said on December 28th, 2014:

    Belated Christmas greetings! This looks wonderful. I can’t wait to make it. Do you think it would freeze well so we could eat half and have the other half later?

    I doubt it would freeze well. Potatoes don’t freeze well, in my opinion. They tend to fall apart. BUT, I just went onto the net and found a post about it on
    That would mean freezing the casserole (adapting this recipe to their method) before you bake it because you cook the potatoes until they’re nearly done in the milk/cream. So, I’d do that much, add cheese, chill, then freeze. Defrost fully, then bake. Try it and let me know!
    . . . carolyn t

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