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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 September 6th, 2007.

 
My friend Linda T. is a very good cook. We always talk cooking and food and restaurants and all-things-entertaining as part of our conversation. She used to work for the Los Angeles Times (that’s how I knew her through the ad agency I co-owned; she was our outside rep).

Maybe one time I mentioned my tried-and-true carrot cake, and she mentioned hers. Then she brought it recently for a get-together. Oh my goodness, was it ever GOOD. Her recipe is better than mine. Maybe one of these days I need to put her recipe and my recipe side by side and compare them. Hers has considerably more pineapple in it than mine, but that just makes it more moist and delicious. I don’t know the origin of this cake, but I remember first having “carrot cake” in the late 1950’s, or no later than 1960. It was REAL popular back then. Linda, if you’re reading and want to comment on the origin of your recipe, that would be lovely. But, 50+ years later there has been no diminishment of carrot cake’s popularity. And it’s just as good as ever.

Low calorie it is NOT, unfortunately. Delicious it is, though, and I highly recommend you try it. It’s not made in the layer format, but in a 9×13 Pyrex dish. Easier. Just as good as a layer cake in my book. And yes it has a cream cheese frosting too. Nothing so different there, even the proportions, whatever. It’s just gosh-darned good. And not very many recipes serve 16. You want small portions of this and maybe you can stay out of the pan for seconds. If so, you have more discipline than I do.

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Carrot Cake

Recipe: Linda T’s recipe, my long-time friend
Servings: 16

CAKE:
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
4 large eggs
2 cups grated carrots
20 ounces crushed pineapple — drained
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts
FROSTING:
1/2 cup butter
8 ounces cream cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 pounds powdered sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Sift together the flour, baking powder, soda, salt and cinnamon into a large bowl. Add sugar, oil and eggs. Mix with a large spoon (do not beat), then add carrots, drained pineapple and walnuts.
2. Pour into a buttered and floured 9 x 13 glass pan, and bake for 1 hour, or until toothpick comes out clean.
3. Frosting: Cream butter, cheese and vanilla. Beat in sifted powdered sugar. If it’s too thick add a few drops of milk until it reaches spreading consistency.
4. Frost cake and refrigerate until ready to serve. Refrigerate this cake (because cream cheese could spoil).
Per Serving: 775 Calories; 39g Fat (44.5% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 103g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 84mg Cholesterol; 437mg Sodium.

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  1. Anonymous

    said on September 6th, 2007:

    Carolyn,
    This recipe is from my dear L.A. Times friend, Clyda Bernasconi. She gave it to me in 1972. I have made it ever since to rave reviews. I keep the ingredients on hand at all times just in case.
    Linda T

  2. Britt-Arnhild

    said on September 7th, 2007:

    Marta is in 6th grade now and is learning to cook and bake in school. Two weeks ago she made a carrot cake, and she has promised me to make it at home also 🙂

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