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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 17th, 2016.

aunt_dollys_lemon_boxmix_cake_whole

Surely there are countless other recipes – similar to this one – that abound on the ‘net – or have been passed from one person to another. Likely this one is much like the others, but it’s gosh-darned good!

It’s been awhile back and my friend Gloria gave me this recipe, from her beloved Aunt Dolly. Sometimes Gloria and I exchange recipes – this time she had jotted down a recipe on a 3×5 card and handed it to me. I remember she said, “oh, this is my Aunt Dolly’s recipe, so I left her name on it.”

aunt_dollys_lemon_boxmix_cake_cut

Anyway, this is one of those box mix cakes that uses lemon Jell-O. Did I have any? Nope! Had to make a trip to the store for that. But I had lemons (my favorite Meyer tree is still producing, and has another 10-12 on its branches), which are a necessity here. The cake mix and dry Jell-o are mixed up with eggs, water and canola oil. Into a greased bundt cake pan it goes and bakes for about 40-45 minutes.

kailey_making_lemoncakeMy grandson’s girlfriend Mary’s daughter Kailey made the cake with me. She’d never made one before, but she was swimming in the pool when it was time to take it out of the oven, so I did that part. During the last 2-3 minutes the cake was in the oven, I mixed up the drizzle (powdered sugar lemon zest and juice) and it’s slathered onto the HOT fork-poked cake. Perhaps that’s a bit different? Not sure, but the drizzle soaks right down into the cake. Once cool it’s unmolded and it’s ready to serve. We had vanilla ice cream with it. Thank you, Kailey, for helping me with the cake!

What’s GOOD: this cake is SO tender. I know that’s what I loved about it when I had it before. Plus, I love lemon juice in most anything. You can’t tell from the photo, but the drizzle soaks into the cake about 1/3 of the way, and maybe a little bit on the outside too, so those bites with the drizzle are particularly lemony. It took no time at all to mix it up.

What’s NOT: really nothing unless you’re averse to cake mixes. With a big meal to put on the table for my family, I needed to do something really easy for one part of the meal. This cake was it.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Aunt Dolly’s Lemon Cake Mix Cake

Serving Size: 12

1 package yellow cake mix — (not with pudding in it)
3 ounces Jell-O gelatin — lemon flavored
4 large eggs
3/4 cup cold water
3/4 cup canola oil
DRIZZLE:
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
Zest and juice of 2 lemons

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a large bundt cake pan.
2. Combine cake ingredients in a mixing bowl and using an electric mixer, mix well for at least 5 minutes.
3. Pour batter into prepared pan and place cake in the middle of the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes, or until you can see the cake pull away from the sides and/or a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
4. Meanwhile, during the last 5 minutes or so of baking, prepare the DRIZZLE: in a small bowl combine the powdered sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice until you have a thick, yet fluid mixture. Use a fork to poke holes (carefully) all over the cake (still in the pan). The cake will absorb it all. Allow to cool, then unmold the cake onto a platter.
5. Cut slices and serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
Per Serving: 415 Calories; 20g Fat (43.4% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 55g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 72mg Cholesterol; 333mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on September 22nd, 2016:

    I don’t think we get anything like Jello over here, at least I have never noticed it. When I do a drizzle cake, the juice, zest and sugar are gently heated in a pan and poured over the hot, punctured cake. When it cools, it makes a slight crunch on the top of the cake.

    I like the picture of Kailey being busy.

    Seriously, no Jell-O? It’s flavored (and sugared) gelatin. You probably knew what it was when you lived here? And yes, the drizzle is just like you mentioned. . . carolyn t

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