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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 August 29th, 2015.

peach_blackberry_almond_crisp

If a CRISPY crisp is what you like, you’ll not be disappointed with this one. A layer of peaches and blackberries on the bottom and the topping (crispy, but no oatmeal) sprinkled liberally on the top and baked. Wonderful!

A few months ago I purchased another cookbook. I’m a sucker. I’d read that the book was so worth buying and very few of the recipes have shown up yet on the ‘net, so I decided to spring for it. Rustic Fruit Desserts: Crumbles, Buckles, Cobblers, Pandowdies, and More, written by Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson. I had a big crowd over for dinner recently – it was a cool evening (although ever-so humid what with this oddball weather we’re toppinghaving) and I even lit the outdoor fireplace for some of the younger dinner guests. Anyway, I bought a small flat of peaches (not nectarines) and we generally don’t find boysenberries at our markets, so I bought blackberries instead. Otherwise I followed the recipe.

Since I used peaches, I peeled them. I have a great Messermeister Pro Touch Swivel Peeler that works like a charm on soft fruit. The recipe calls for tossing the fruit with cornstarch and a dash of salt. I thought the fruit was sweet enough, so I eliminated the 1/2 cup tossed into the fruit. I’ve noted it in the recipe as optional.

The topping is easy to make – you combine everything (adding in the sliced toasted almonds later) in a food processor (or do by hand if preferred) and once out into a bowl you kind of manhandle the dough until it makes shards or clumps and that are sprinkled all over the fruit.

Down below  you’ll see photos of the Pyrex dish with just fruit, and then with the topping. I increased the recipe to feed more people, so ended up baking it in 2 different dishes. One of the suggestions was to bake this in flatter, wider dishes so the moisture from the fruit will do some evaporation and so the topping will have plenty of space to “crisp.” That’s what I did.

fruit_before_topping

crisp_ready2_bake

The crisp is baked for 55 minutes (the recipe says 45-55 and the tops weren’t quite brown enough so I baked it the full 55 minutes). Ideally, serve this warm – you can reheat it for 10 minutes at 325° if you make it earlier in the day. I served it with vanilla ice cream. But, when we had left overs, I served it at room temp 2 days later and it was just fine.

What’s GOOD: this recipe is a real keeper. I LOVED-LOVED the crispy topping – and especially because it contained no oatmeal. I’ve never been a fan of oatmeal crusted cobblers. So I really liked this topping which IS crunchy and tasty. Really liked the almonds in the mixture too (toasted prior to baking the crisp).  Altogether a delicious dessert, and it wasn’t all that much work to make. Peeling the peaches wasn’t a whole lot of fun, but the peeler makes it pretty quick work. Nectarines don’t require peeling, and peaches probably could have been left unpeeled. Your choice, I guess.

What’s NOT: The blackberries I used were huge, so their seeds were quite large (chewy). If I had anything to complain about it would be that – and that’s not the fault of the recipe, just the fruit selection. I’d choose younger blackberries, or substitute raspberries. That, however, was the only thing I could possible comment on. The dish was wonderful, worth making.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Nectarine, Boysenberry, and Almond Crisp

Recipe By: Rustic Fruit Desserts (cookbook)
Serving Size: 8

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter — cold, cut into 6 cubes
3/4 cup sliced almonds — toasted
1/2 cup granulated sugar (optional – if fruit is really sweet you can leave this out)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
6 whole nectarines — or peaches each cut into 10 to 12 slices (3 pounds prepped)
1 pint boysenberries — or blackberries
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
Optional for serving: ice cream or whipped cream

Cook’s notes: You will want to use a wide dish for this recipe so the filling can spread out in a shallow layer, which allows more water (from the fruit) to evaporate. Almonds are the first choice to complement the combination of nectarines and boysenberries, but walnuts or hazelnuts also work well.
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Butter a 3-quart baking dish (see cook’s notes).
2. Prepare topping: Mix flour, sugar, and salt together in a bowl. Add butter and toss until evenly coated. Using your fingertips or a pastry blender, cut in butter until mixture resembles crumbs. (Alternatively, you can put the dry ingredients in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse until crumbly, then transfer to a bowl and squeeze the mixture between your fingers to make crumbs.) Add the almonds and mix gently; try not to break the almond slices. Put the topping in the freezer while you prepare the fruit filling.
3. Prepare fruit filling: Rub the sugar, cornstarch, and salt together in a large bowl. Add nectarines and boysenberries, toss until evenly coated, then gently stir in the vanilla.
4. Pour the fruit into prepared baking dish and scatter topping over the fruit. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until topping is golden and fruit is bubbling. Cool for 30 minutes before serving, topped with ice cream or whipped cream, if desired. Wrapped in plastic wrap, the crisp will keep at room temperature for up to 3 days. Reheat in a 325-degree oven for 10 minutes before serving.
Per Serving: 452 Calories; 19g Fat (37.3% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 67g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 31mg Cholesterol; 388mg Sodium.

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  1. Bethier

    said on August 30th, 2015:

    Hi Carolyn,
    Yum! This looks like another winner! I’m not a fan of oatmeal in crisp toppings either–I think it
    should stay in cookies where it becomes a star!! I will definitely try this and like your idea
    of using raspberries with the peaches! I was wondering about apples–have not had much
    luck finding an apple crisp without the oats. . .
    Glad to hear Oliver is settling in–he is a cutie! Thank you again for sharing all your recipes
    and adventures–great writing and a wonderful spot to visit! ????

    Thank you for your kind words. You might try my Apple Pudding (see my favorites page). It has a crisp crust and no oats. It’s a family favorite. Was my mother’s recipe. I crave it now and then. Maybe it’s called Crisp Apple Pudding. . . carolyn t

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on September 1st, 2015:

    Isn’t that what we would call a ‘crumble’?

    Yes, this dessert could be called a crumble. There are a variety of words used to describe these kinds of homey, rustic desserts with fruit and some kind of topping. Crumble toppings don’t get as crisp, however, so it’s appropriate this one IS called a crisp, because it really is. . . carolyn t

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