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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 1st, 2016.

choc_buttermilk_cinn_cake

Oh my goodness, this was so delicious. The tenderest cake you can imagine, with a simple boiled frosting that’s spread on the hot cake, right out of the oven.

Having been invited to a fairly large backyard barbecue get-together, my friend Cherrie asked me to bring dessert. Knowing they were expecting close to 40 people, I knew I needed to make something to serve a lot of people (although, others brought dessert too). I’d wavered between making a lemon bundt cake, or a butterscotch poke cake, or a rum cake, but finally settled on this one. A recipe I’d never made before, but it had gotten raves (according to my notes) on some website. I have no idea where it came from.

What I will tell you, though, is that you need to have a pan that’s not all that common in most kitchens – it’s a 10×15 pan, rimmed. I think mine is 1 1/2” high on the sides. If  you do a Google search for 10×15 jelly roll pan, you’ll find numerous sources for that size. It’s bigger than a quarter sheet pan, and it’s larger than a 9×13 also. I do have a number of recipes for this particular pan (not  jelly roll cakes!) and am glad I have it. Most of these pans don’t have very high sides, but this cake does need at least a 1” side or it would overflow.

choc_buttermilk_cinn_cake_inpanAnyway, It’s a very regular cake – this one made with cocoa (I used Hershey’s dark, a favorite), oil, eggs, butter, buttermilk (which gives it that oh-so tender crumb) and a fairly healthy dose of ground cinnamon. While the cake is baking – toward the end of the 20-minute cooking time I mixed up the frosting (on the stovetop) – it also uses cocoa, a little bit of whipping cream, butter, powdered sugar and nuts. It’s very easy to make – there isn’t anything fussy about it. It’s not a liquid, but it’s not really stiff, either. There is JUST enough of the frosting to delicately spread (use an offset spatula if you have one) the frosting over the top of the hot cake. I suggest putting a bunch of little dollops of the frosting all over the cake so it’s easier to spread it out. Getting out to the corners is the hardest, if you can call it “hard.” You can add the nuts to the frosting (I did, so they’d definitely stay put) or you can sprinkle the nuts on top after spreading the frosting and just press them into the frosting a bit). I used walnuts, but pecans are an optional nut.

Having made this, I THINK this is a riff on a Texas sheet cake. I’ve never made one of those, but I suspect that’s what this is, but with the buttermilk it makes it so tender.

Well, rather than go on and on about it – just move to the next paragraph and read the results!

What’s GOOD: The cake got raves. Absolutely raves. Me included. Some friends from San Diego who were invited to the party came to stay with me – they had to sample the cake before we even left my house! SO, I did too. It’s a fabulous cake – very chocolaty, very tender, but cut into lots of small bar-shapes, each piece was about 2-3 bites at most. I’m sorry there weren’t leftovers to bring home. I’d love-me one of those right now! The cinnamon is very THERE – if you don’t like cinnamon, just leave it out, or reduce it significantly in both cake and frosting. I loved the cinnamon flavor – such a complement to the chocolate.

What’s NOT: nary a thing except you’ll have sticky chocolate frosting fingers unless you eat it with a fork! This recipe is a keeper, for sure.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Cinnamon Chocolate Cake

Recipe By: Am not sure the origin of my recipe – but it’s available online at Taste of Home
Serving Size: 30

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup butter — cubed
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa — [I used Hershey’s dark]
2 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
FROSTING:
1/2 cup butter — cubed
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup walnuts — or pecans finely chopped

NOTES: You can triple this recipe and make it in two large-large 11x17x1 pans, but increase baking time by 5-7 minutes.
1. In a mixing bowl, combine the first four ingredients. In a saucepan, combine the water, oil, butter and cocoa; bring just to a boil over medium heat. Pour over dry ingredients; mix well. Add eggs, buttermilk, vanilla and baking soda; mix well. Pour into a greased 15-in. x 10-in. x 1-in. baking pan.
2. Bake at 375° for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Place on a wire rack.
3. Meanwhile, during the last 10 minutes of baking, prepare FROSTING: combine the butter, cream, cocoa and cinnamon in a saucepan. Cook and stir over medium heat until butter is melted and mixture is heated through. Remove from the heat; beat in sugar and vanilla until smooth. Stir in walnuts. Carefully and gently scoop about 6 big dollops of the frosting on the cake, then using an offset spatula, spread over warm cake, all the way out to the corners. If the frosting is hot, it will spread easily enough. Cool completely. Yield: 24-30 small bar-shaped servings. Note: You may also sprinkle the nuts on top after spreading the frosting – your choice.
Per Serving: 263 Calories; 14g Fat (45.9% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 33g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 34mg Cholesterol; 134mg Sodium.

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  1. Leslie Christon

    said on September 2nd, 2016:

    On your recommendation, I read Plainsong by Kent Haruf, and then the two related books, Eventide and Benediction. Talk about plucking your heartstrings! Well worth the read, thank you for bringing these to my attention! Not very often do I find both excellent recipes as well as book selections I know I’ll enjoy. I love your posts, and have passed them on to friends and family. Thank you so much.

    Warm regards,
    Leslie

    How very sweet of you, Leslie. Thank you for telling me. I do wonder, sometimes, whether anybody actually reads my blog since I have very few people who ever leave comments. So I doubly appreciate your kind words, and glad you enjoyed Haruf’s books. Just heard about a book today called “Evergreen.” Don’t know anything about it, except that it brought tears at the end. . . .carolyn t

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