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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 Brunch, on January 3rd, 2015.

mascarpone_pear_french_toast

My photo isn’t very indicative of the deliciousness of this dish – sorry about that.  The pears are sensational. Is this rich? Yup! Worth it? Yup! The mixture is kind of drippy with the sauce, hence it was served in a bowl.

Diane Phillips, in the cooking class, used red pears for this brunch dish, her favorite type. You do have to use ripe pears – using mediocre or under-developed pears would just make this ho-hum. I don’t know if Trader Joe’s in your area offered Harry & David pears last month, but they did in my neck of the woods. Delish. They’d be wonderful in this. But they weren’t red pears. Diane called this “roasted” in both the French toast part and the sauce part. I kind of think that’s a misnomer. To me, “roasted” means oven-roasted. More likely this should be called sautéed  pears, not roasted ones. But oh well, it’s just a brunch dish, so we’ll go with both.

First you prepare a cinnamon butter (butter, sugar and cinnamon) and set that aside. Then you create the egg and milk mixture (which contains pear nectar) and the bread is dipped into it and put into a 9×13 baking dish. Another mixture is made composed of mascarpone, more pear nectar and sugar – that gets spread over the top of the French toast. Another layer of bread, then it’s spread with the soft cinnamon butter. You refrigerate it at that point – overnight if possible, remove to bring to room temp, then bake until it’s golden brown and bubbling.

In between time, you make the pear sauce – butter, brown sugar, chopped pears, some Amaretto (or almond extract) and spices. When the French toast is served,  you cut it into squares and pour some of the pear sauce on top – hence the bowl for serving – you may choose to serve on a plate, but some of that pear sauce is going to gravitate to the low spot on your plate. Just so you know . . .

What’s GOOD: absolutely the pear aspect of this. You don’t taste the mascarpone – it doesn’t have a whole lot of flavor in and of itself, but you sure do notice the winter spices and the pears are just lovely. Tasty. Scrumptious. Comfort food at its best. And it can be made 3 days ahead and baked at the last minute. So plan ahead if possible.

What’s NOT: really nothing, other than there is some level of preparation to this. It’s not like dipping bread in egg and milk, frying it and serving with maple syrup. This is more complicated in every aspect. Of course, I say it’s worth it. This isn’t a throw-together kind of dish.

printer-friendly CutePDF

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Mascarpone & Pear Stuffed French Toast with Pear Sauce

Recipe By: Diane Phillips, cooking instructor and author
Serving Size: 10

CINNAMON BUTTER:
12 tablespoons unsalted butter — softened
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
FRENCH TOAST:
8 tablespoons cinnamon butter (above)
8 large eggs
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup pear nectar
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 pound white bread — like Pepperidge Farms, or Hawaiian sweet bread (sliced)
2 cups mascarpone cheese
1/4 cup pear nectar
1/4 cup brown sugar — packed
SPICED PEAR SAUCE:
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 pinch ground cloves
2/3 cup brown sugar — firmly packed
6 large red pears — peeled, cored, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup Amaretto — or 1 teaspoon almond extract

1. BUTTER: Cream mixture together and refrigerate up to a week ahead.
2. FRENCH TOAST: Melt cinnamon butter and brush the inside of a 9×13 baking dish with some of it.
3. In a shallow mixing bowl beat together the eggs, cream, pear nectar and nutmeg. Dip 6 slices of the bread into the egg mixture and lay slices into the dish, wedging the pieces to fit, or tearing some. If your baking dish is smaller, you may only get 4 slices in the dish. (You can make 3 or even 4 layers if need be, but divide up the mascarpone mixture; start and end with bread slices.)
4. In another bowl cream together the mascarpone, pear nectar and sugar. Spread this mixture over the egg battered bread in the pan.
5. Dip the remaining slices into the egg batter and place over the mascarpone in the dish. Pour any remaining batter (if it will fit) into the dish. Refrigerate, covered for at least 4 hours.
6. DO AHEAD: Cover the French toast and refrigerate for up to 3 days (yes, really).
7. Preheat oven to 350°F. Remove the baking dish from the refrigerator at least 45 minutes before baking. Bake the dish until golden brown and bubbling, about 30-45 minutes. Remove from the oven, allow to rest for 10 minutes before cutting into squares and serving with pear sauce and remaining cinnamon butter.
8. PEAR SAUCE: In a large skillet melt the butter, then add cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger and sugar, stirring until sugar melts. Add the pears and cook for 20 minutes, until the liquid in the pan evaporates and the pears are soft. Add the Amaretto or extract and cook another 15 minutes. DO AHEAD: Cool sauce completely and refrigerate up to 3 days ahead.
9. Serve the sauce warm over the French Toast. Can also go on pancakes, waffles or English muffins.
Per Serving: 761 Calories; 53g Fat (61.9% calories from fat); 11g Protein; 62g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 312mg Cholesterol; 336mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on January 3rd, 2015:

    MMMMM! This looks marvelous. I think I’d have to work on ways to cut the fat if I were to make it, but it looks do-able. The casserole would be great for a company brunch, but I think the pear sauce alone on regular French toast would make for a lovely treat, too. Or–you mentioned waffles…might have to change my menu tomorrow!

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