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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 Miscellaneous, on July 26th, 2015.

nigel_slaters_plum_chutney

Plums are in season now – or maybe, lucky you, you have a plum tree? If so, here’s a new way to use plums and if you’re so inclined you can can it to keep for another season.

Shopping at Trader Joe’s, I spotted some plumcots, a hybrid fruit that’s more plum than apricot, and am not really sure what’s different about them (in tasting them I really couldn’t tell the difference with it and a straight plum). But I’d read this recipe for a plum chutney and decided I’d make it. As I write this, I’m going to entertain one night soon, about 12 people, and I wanted something to serve alongside some grilled meats. I’ve made this and will also make an old favorite, Escoffier’s Peppers for Cold Meats. I don’t think I’ve made those peppers for a couple of years and I love them.

plums_cut_upIt took over an hour to make this, but most of it is just simmering time. There’s about 15-20 minutes of prep time involved. It’s not difficult – just chopping the onions and plums mostly. The plums are the most gorgeous color, aren’t they? I love the color red. If you came to my house, you’d know how much I love red. It’s not in every room, but it’s in several!

The plums get cut up (the recipe said to halve them, but I wanted smaller pieces than that) and then you put it all together in a big, heavy-duty pot (don’t use something flimsy as you cook this, or it will burn). There, below is a photo of all the gorgeous stuff in the pot – the onions, raisins, sugar, dried chile flakes, mustard seeds, apple cider vinegar, malt vinegar (that’s different, huh?) and I added a little bit of dried thyme. Oh yes, and a stick of cinnamon too.

chutney_mixture

My eye strays immediately to the deep ruby red of those plums. Anyway, the mixture is brought to a boil and simmered for about an hour (without a lid) and it cooks down and cooks down until it’s the consistency of loose jam. Just keep it on low so it doesn’t burn. Listen for the sound of sizzling, meaning it’s too hot, or needs just a little bit of water added to it.

You may wish to can this as soon as it’s done – pour into sterilized jars and seal. But I knew I’d be using it soon, so I just allowed the pot to cool (that took awhile because the mixture was really hot) and poured it into refrigerator containers and it’s now safely stored in the refrigerator until I need it next week. You could freeze it as well, if that’s your fancy.

plum_chutney_with_chickenAnd there at left was my dinner – some left over chicken with a couple of dollops of the chutney on top.

The vinegar in the mix gives a definite savory edge to this chutney but it’s sweet too – guess that’s why it’s called hot and sweet. There are some red chile flakes in the mixture – I didn’t use many because I’m always wary of using too many, and you certainly can’t un-do it. Chutney almost always has some kind of acid in it, and usually some kind of fruit as well. So this is definitely a chutney, right?

I bought some nice goat cheese, and think I’ll serve the chutney on that as an appetizer. Should be lovely. I’ll also serve it as a relish with the grilled meat. I found the recipe online in several places. One suggestion was to make this ahead because it improves with age. Okay, I’ve done that.

What’s GOOD: love the sweet and sour aspect, though there isn’t much sour. Yet the acid definitely gives it a sweet/savory piquant taste. It’s great with some cold meat. Would be fabulous in a turkey sandwich, I think. Pork would lend itself well to this. Also on cream or soft cheese as an appetizer. Or just plain on a cracker.

What’s NOT: nothing that I can think of!

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Nigel Slater’s Hot and Sweet Plum Chutney

Recipe By: Nigel Slater’s Recipe from his cookbook, Ripe (I found it at The English Kitchen blog)
Serving Size: 20

1 2/3 pounds plums — (I used plumcots)
3/4 pound onions
3/4 cup raisins
1 1/4 cups muscovado sugar — (or brown sugar)
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes — crushed
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
5 1/2 ounces apple cider vinegar
5 1/2 ounces malt vinegar
1 teaspoon dried thyme — (my addition: optional)
a cinnamon stick broken in two

Notes: This gets better tasting as days go by. If you can do it, let it ripen for a couple of weeks. Perfect to serve with cold meats and cheeses.
1. Halve the plums, discarding the stones. Peel and roughly chop the onions. Put the fruit and the onions into a large heavy bottomed saucepan. Add the remaining ingredients.
2, Bring the mixture to the boil, then reduce the heat to low. Simmer on low heat, stirring occasionally, for about an hour. Taste for sweetness – may need more sugar, depending on the plums. (DO not forget to stir it occasionally as it may burn.)
3. Pour into hot and sterilized jam jars and seal. Or, allow to cool to room temperature, refrigerate and use within a few weeks.
Per Serving: 83 Calories; trace Fat (3.7% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 21g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 1mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on July 28th, 2015:

    I’m very fond of mango chutney, and I used to make and can a peach-lime chutney. This plum version looks marvelous–I’ll have to give it a try! (I love red, too–it’s my favorite color.)

    Oh, Donna, you and I are way too much alike. My favorite salsa is mango. The peach-lime sounds wonderful. Want to share the recipe? I might make it! And I’ll share it here if you would be amenable to that?. . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on July 30th, 2015:

    I would be delighted to share the recipe! It might take a while. I’ve got company this weekend (my son and his family from Washington), followed by another dulcimer festival, and I have to find the cookbook. Unless you happen to have the Farm Journal Canning and Freezing cookbook? It’s an old one, probably from the eighties. If I’m lucky, it will be on the basement bookshelf. If not, it might be in a box in one of two places. I’d be honored if you decided to blog about it. I’ll have a look for the book as soon as I can.

    Oh, sure, take your time. The recipe sounds wonderful! . . . carolyn t

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