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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 February 16th, 2015.

thin_pancakes_lemon_pwd_sugar

If you already know all about (thin) Swedish pancakes, then this recipe will be nothing new. You have to LIKE thin pancakes, though. Just so you know . . .

The other morning I got up at my usual time, did my usual thing of making a latte, sitting down at the computer to read email and to check the comments here on my blog. I began reading some other blogs I follow and time slipped away. I realized that I’d forgotten to defrost my usual single sausage link I eat most mornings for my breakfast (with some yogurt, blueberries and walnuts on the side). What sounded good was pancakes. But not those big, puffy types. I’ve never been fond of thick pancakes. Thin pancakes are my cup of tea, always have been.

Back in the day – my younger years – I kept a sourdough starter, baked lots of my own bread, and found other uses for the sourdough batter. I often made sourdough pancakes, and I preferred them thin and dollar-sized. I recently threw away the starter I had begun a couple of years ago because since my DH passed away it had languished in the back of the bottom shelf of the refrigerator, unused.

What sounded good was trying a recipe I’d saved some years back, a Marion Cunningham one for yeast waffles. But I didn’t want to dig out the waffle iron – seemed so silly to do that for one little bitty waffle. Then I realized that batter would make thicker pancakes. Nope, didn’t want that. So I started searching for a recipe for thin pancakes. Found a great one that required buttermilk. Nope. None in the refrigerator. Another that required an overnight stay in the frig. Nope, no time for that. So I searched on the ‘net for thin pancake recipes. I ended up combining a couple of recipes and whipped up these Swedish pancakes. Super thin. Not difficult to make, but I did dirty-up a bunch of bowls and dishes in the process.

Do you own a crepe pan? I used to, but didn’t use it enough to keep it, so gave that away years ago. But I had out a 12-inch nonstick skillet I used the night before to cook a big batch of Brussels sprouts. It was perfect. I scaled the recipe to serve 2, which meant just one egg. So now I have two more pancakes for tomorrow’s breakfast.

There’s nothing special about the batter, other than it’s thin. You actually mix milk with a bit of water, an egg, a pinch of salt, and flour. Butter also. Cinchy easy, really. It’s a recipe children could make easily enough. The only tricky thing is picking up the pan to allow the drippy, thin batter to spread out in the pan. If you just pour and cook, these will be thicker (still thin, but thicker than you want here) than traditional Swedish pancakes.

For the first pancake I slid a little bit of unsalted butter around in the pan to moisten it, then poured in a couple tablespoons of batter, picked up that big sucker of a pan and rolled it in every direction to spread out the wet batter. (If you do this with children, you might want to do that part.) The pan’s got to be hot enough to cook, so the pan is pretty hot (medium-high). It takes about 30 seconds or so for it to begin to brown – just barely – then you slide a spatula under and flip it over for another 30 seconds. Done. Do put these out on a warmed plate or stick them in a low oven – they cool quickly. Finish cooking the pancakes. Meanwhile have ready the powdered sugar and a wedge or two of lemon.

Fold the pancakes in half at least – you can also roll them up (you could even put some yogurt and berries inside. These pancakes, by themselves, are not sweet – there’s just a tiny bit of sugar in them. As I ate these (which tasted wonderful, certainly satisfying my desire for a pancake) I dipped each bite into a tiny amount of yogurt.

What’s GOOD: loved the texture – thin and just a tiny bit chewy, but they’re also extremely tender too. It must be the egg that gives it that consistency. Loved the little dusting of powdered sugar and combining each bite with a little bit of the sweetened Greek yogurt. Altogether delicious.

What’s NOT: really nothing – dirties up a bunch of dishes, cups, measuring cups, bowl, whisk, bowl or pan to melt the butter, etc. Most of it went in the dishwasher, however. I’d definitely make these again.

printer-friendly CutePDF

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Thin Pancakes with Lemon and Powdered Sugar

Serving Size: 4

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 pinch salt
1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup milk
1/4 cup water
4 tablespoons unsalted butter — melted (divided use)
Lemon wedges and powdered sugar to serve on top

1. Sift the flour, salt and granulated sugar into a bowl (with a pouring spout if you have one). Sifting assures there won’t be any lumps of flour. Make a well in the center and add eggs. Gently whisk a little flour into the egg, then gradually add the milk mixture and 2 tablespoons of the melted butter, whisking in with the flour. The batter should be the consistency of half and half. Don’t over mix the batter.
2. Heat a crepe pan (or a very large nonstick skillet) over high heat. Grease the pan with some of the remaining butter. Pour about 2 tablespoons batter into the pan, quuickly tilting and rolling the pan from side to side to get an even coating of batter. Cook for 30 seconds, then use a spatula to flip the pancake. Cook the pancake for a further 30 seconds until pale golden and crisp at edges, then tip onto a plate.
3. Repeat with the remaining melted butter and batter, stacking pancakes on top of one another as you go. With a nonstick pan you may not need any additional butter.
4. To serve, sprinkle the warm pancakes with some powdered sugar and squeeze a little bit lemon juice over each one. Serve with some sweetened yogurt and berries on the side, if desired. If you make more than you can eat, separate them with waxed paper and store in a ziploc plastic bag. Reheat for 10-15 seconds in the microwave, one at a time, and garnish as above. They taste every bit as good as left overs as they do right out of the pan.
Per Serving: 296 Calories; 16g Fat (49.8% calories from fat); 8g Protein; 28g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 145mg Cholesterol; 101mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on February 16th, 2015:

    Similar to our pancakes here in England – I just make Yorkshire pudding batter, milk, flour, eggs and when cooked drizzled in lemon juice and sprinkled with caster sugar. I am looking forward to mine tomorrow.

    Ah, I didn’t realize the proportions were the same as for Yorkshire pudding! Maybe I’ll try that next time I make this (which isn’t often). . . carolyn t

  2. Madonna

    said on February 20th, 2015:

    These sound like crêpes to me. I love Marion Cunningham. Check out http://chezbonnefemme.com/recipes/crepes-the-master-recipe/ Make more and put them between wax paper and freeze. You can reheat them in your nonstick pan and they are delish. I think the secret is the water. I keep them for breakfast, but they are a great dessert for unexpected company. I make half plain and the other half chocolate that are good with a scoop of chocolate ice cream.

    p.s. It takes a long time to learn to be by yourself, but you owe it to yourself to nurture yourself.

    M.

    Thank you, Madonna. I enjoy analyzing the chemistry of food sometimes – so the water, huh? I’ll have to investigate that. . . carolyn t

  3. hddonna

    said on February 21st, 2015:

    This post made me hungry for thin pancakes–my favorite growing up. My mom always made thin German pancakes, maybe twice as thick as crepes. We ate them with sugar and lemon, too. They had crispy edges, which were extra yummy. My almost-4-year-old grandson came to stay for a couple of days, and he loves to cook, so after reading this, I decided to teach him how to make crepes. He loved them! (He did the measuring and mixing, and I did the cooking, of course). We did them Thursday morning, and he wanted to do it again this morning. He had his with cinnamon sugar, but I went for sugar and lemon! (I’ve used the recipe from Everyday Cooking with Jacques Pepin for over 30 years, so opted to go with that, but yours is quite similar.)

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