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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, on June 13th, 2015.

berry_cobbler_sublime You know that phrase, OMGosh? Well, this is one of those. SO good. The biscuits, those lovely golden brown rounds you see there, are just beyond tender and tasty. Once you see what’s in them you’ll know why. And the berries? Well, I used mostly blackberries (fresh) and about 1/4  blueberries (also fresh). The only berry you can’t use for this is strawberries, just so you know.

About the only time I bake these days is when I know someone’s coming to visit, and that was the case here. I increased the recipe because I was expecting about 9 people, but then a few people couldn’t come at the last minute, so I had more than enough. I don’t know how well this will freeze – I have a smaller dish of this left over and will try freezing it. I’ll  put a paper towel on top of the biscuits (to absorb any of the ice crystals that form), then seal it with foil.

berry_cobbler_berriesBecause berries are certainly in season at the moment, I used mostly blackberries (so good) and a few blueberries.

There are two steps – one for the berries (tossed with sugar and a little bit of flour) and one for the biscuits (the usual, except that it uses heavy cream as the liquid/fat as well as butter).

The berries go into the baking dish and the biscuits are hand-formed (easy) and placed on top of the berries in about 1/2 inch thick rounds. It should go immediately into the oven so  the biscuits don’t have a chance to become sponges for any juices formed by the berries.

berry_cobbler_to_bakeInto a 375° oven it goes and bakes for about 35-40 minutes. That dish you see above is fairly big (it’s bigger than a regular pie pan/plate) and it took 40 minutes. The smaller one took exactly 35 minutes. The picture at right is the dish just before it went into the oven.

Originally this recipe came from Lindsey Shere’s cookbook, Chez Panisse Desserts, but I found the recipe, adapted somewhat she says, from Orangette blog. The only difference is the choice of berries. Molly Wizenberg used different ones, and as I mentioned, I used mostly blackberries with some blueberries. I’d guess that any combo of berries would work fine here. The recipe IS about the whole dish – the fruit and the biscuits – but I’ll just tell you, those biscuits on top are something else!

What’s GOOD: everything about this was scrumptious. I’ll definitely be going to this recipe if/when I ever make another berry cobbler. I don’t know if it would work with stone fruit – it might. My guests raved about it and so did I.

What’s NOT: nothing. As I said, it’s sublime.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Berry Cobbler

Recipe By: Adapted from Chez Panisse Desserts, by Lindsey R. Shere (recipe on Molly Wizenberg’s Orangette blog site)
Serving Size: 6

FRUIT:
4 1/2 cups berries — fresh or frozen [I used mostly fresh blackberries and some blueberries’
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour — or up to 1 1/2 T.
COBBLER-BISCUIT DOUGH:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
6 tablespoons unsalted butter — cold
3/4 cup heavy cream
Heavy cream to pour over the top when serving, or vanilla ice cream

NOTES from Molly: This cobbler keeps well at room temperature for about two days. (refrigerating it changes the texture of the topping). Rewarm it gently, if you want, before serving. The original version of this recipe calls for boysenberries, blueberries, and raspberries. Molly made it with roughly 3 cups of blueberries and 1½ cups of raspberries, and she loves the flavor that results. The only berries that don’t work so nicely here are strawberries. The texture gets weird: spongy and slimy. If you’re using frozen berries, she recommends thawing them at least partially, or else they take a little longer to cook.
1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
2. Toss the berries with the sugar and flour. Use the larger amount of flour if the berries are very juicy. Set aside.
3. In a medium bowl, combine the dry ingredients for the cobbler dough. Using your fingers or a pastry blender, cut in the butter until the mixture looks like coarse cornmeal. [I used my pastry blender for awhile, then used my fingers to break down the remaining little shards of butter.] Add the cream and mix lightly, until the dry ingredients are just moistened. [You can prepare the dry ingredients and butter up to a few days ahead, storing it in the refrigerator. The cream should not be added until you’re ready to bake.]
4. Put the berry mixture into a 1½-quart baking dish. With your hands, scoop up lumps of dough and form into rough patties, 2 to 2½ inches in diameter and about 1/2 inch thick. The dough may be a little sticky, so it helps to moisten my hands with a little water. Arrange the dough patties on top of the berries. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the topping is set and lightly browned and the berry juices bubble thickly around the edges of the dish.
5. Serve warm, with cream to pour over. This is best when still warm, but it’s also good at room temp. [Can also serve with vanilla ice cream.]
Per Serving: 412 Calories; 23g Fat (49.7% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 48g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 72mg Cholesterol; 331mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on June 13th, 2015:

    Cream biscuits are amazing! I like to use them for strawberry shortcake, and am sure they would make a heavenly cobbler! The summer fruits are finally coming in–hooray!

    I was telling my daughter, today, about this recipe, raving about it. It really was a delicious dessert, and I want to make it again before berries are mostly gone. I loved the blackberry version. . . carolyn t

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