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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 Appetizers, on December 11th, 2015.

cranberry_jalapeno_salsa_appetizer

Are you ready for December entertaining? If you’d like to make a really tasty, cranberry-seasonal appetizer that’s SUPER EASY, try this cranberry salsa that has a bit of kick from jalapeno. Absolutely super.

For Thanksgiving, every year, I make my cranberry relish. It’s a raw relish, and I remember my mother making something similar one year when I was probably a teenager. I took her recipe (cranberries, oranges, sugar) and made a few additions (ground ginger and apple) and that’s been my go-to cranberry relish ever since. Now when I found THIS appetizer recipe, back in 2008, it sounded so similar to that regular raw cranberry relish, but it’s an appetizer. And it has jalapeno chile in it. And cumin. Oh, and cilantro. It’s such an unlikely combination, but it sure does work.

If you’re having a smaller crowd, make half the recipe below – I used the full 12 ounces of cranberries – and I have quite a lot of this.

What’s the best part – how EASY it is to make. First whiz up a medium jalapeno (more if you like spicy) and a couple of green onions – they need to be finely minced. Then add in the fresh cranberries, sugar, cilantro and ground cumin. Whiz that up for 15+ seconds, pulsing, maybe scraping down the sides at least once, and it’s DONE. Scoop out into a container and refrigerate it for at least a few hours, preferably overnight – which gives the sugar a chance to dissolve and the flavors to come together. If you like spice (heat) add 2 jalapenos. When I tasted it – when I made it – I thought whoa – this is going to be too hot, but when it’s spread on a cracker with cream cheese, it totally mellows out the heat. Next time I will be adding more jalapeno to it.

At least 2 hours before you’re ready to serve this take out the 8-ounce block of cream cheese and let it sit out in its package, to soften. Yes, it will be fine – and it will be soft and spreadable when that time is  up. Put it out on a serving plate and nicely spread the salsa on top and add crackers or tortilla chips and you’re done. I happened to have some of Trader Joe’s pumpkin raisin cracker/toasts which were just super with this.

What’s GOOD: everything about this is good – easy, quick, and extremely tasty. I couple of days after I made this and served it, I had it for lunch. That was my lunch – crackers, cheese (protein) and fruit, albeit with sugar added in. I’ll definitely be making this again and again.

What’s NOT: I can’t think of anything that isn’t great about this appetizer. Make it, okay?

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 14/15 file (click link to open)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Cranberry Salsa with Cream Cheese

Recipe By: Adapted very slightly from Cookbook Junkies (blog)
Serving Size: 10

12 ounces fresh cranberries
3/4 cup sugar
1 medium jalapeno chile pepper — chopped (use more if you enjoy the heat)
2 tbsp cilantro
1 tsp ground cumin
2 green onions — chopped
8 ounces cream cheese
A cilantro leaf or two for garnish
Tortilla chips, crackers or petite toasts for serving

NOTE: make the cranberry salsa the day before, if possible, or at least 6-8 hours ahead so the sugar has time to dissolve and the flavors to meld. If you like spicy food, add more jalapeno. Some recipes call for 2 of them. If you taste the mixture you may think it’s spicy with just one jalapeno, but once you add cream cheese to the bite, you’ll hardly notice the heat from the jalapeno.
1. Allow cream cheese block to sit out at room temp (in the package) for a full 2 hours to soften.
2. SALSA: In a food processor add the jalapeno and green onions first, and whiz those up first so they’re very small. Then add all of the ingredients, except the cream cheese and blend until it’s finely minced, but so the cranberries still have just a little bit of form.
2. You can buy whipped cream cheese, or whip it yourself, or just use fully softened cream cheese and place on the plate.
3. Pour the salsa over the cream cheese and serve with tortilla chips, crackers, or petite toasts.
Per Serving: 157 Calories; 8g Fat (44.6% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 25mg Cholesterol; 69mg Sodium.

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