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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 21st, 2016.

rhubarb_cake_square_springform

Oh, gosh. I’m getting so stuck in a rut – I love these kinds of cakes or cobblers, or crisps. This one’s actually just a “cake” but it has some of the rhubarb stalks embedded in the top and the cake fluffs up around them a bit. Absolutely delicious.

Not everyone is a fan of rhubarb. I am. My mother used to make stewed rhubarb frequently (she grew it in the backyard of the home where I grew up) as my mom and dad were big fans of rhubarb. Sometimes my mom would make a rhubarb pie (no strawberries, just the straight fruit), which was also really good. I have several rhubarb recipes here on my blog: Rhubarb Crisp, Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler, a Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake, and Fern’s Rhubarb Cake. All stellar recipes, and this one is now added to the list. It’s a good one. A really good one. It might be my favorite to date.

raw_rhubarbWhat intrigued me about the recipe (from Bon Appetit, in 2015) was the ribs of rhubarb that decorate the top of the cake. How different, I thought. And, yes, it IS different in that aspect. Some of the stalks become the decoration and all the rest of the rhubarb (more than half of it) gets chopped up to mix into the cake batter. But there’s also a couple of other different things about this recipe – there’s ground almonds mixed into the batter (and I’m embarrassed to say that I forgot that step but it seemed to make no-never-mind to the result!) – and you dust the greased springform pan with sugar, which gives the outside edges a lovely, sweet crust/crunch. I just loved that part of this.

rhubarb_cake_ready2bakeNot having weighed the rhubarb, I just guessed I had a little over a pound, so I was generous with the sugar I sprinkled on the top, just before it popped into the oven. The cake batter is relatively standard, though it has some yogurt in it, and you do need to whip the butter and sugar mixture for a looooooong time (thank goodness for stand mixers). The chopped up rhubarb is stirred into the batter just before pouring it into the greased and sugared baking pan. DO grease the pan – even a nonstick – because you want the sugar to stick to the sides. The long stalks are then placed on top (don’t push them in – not necessary – as the cake will rise around them a little bit, the sugar sprinkled on top and into the oven it goes. The recipe indicates 70-80 minutes. rhubarb_cake_cutMine took 80, and I took it out when the interior reached 205°F on an instant read thermometer.

Because of my error in forgetting the ground almonds, I whipped cream and added almond extract to it. In any case, the cake was nicely cooked through (though moist). My friends Sue and Lynn were visiting from Colorado and I served it after dinner one night (3 servings) and took the remaining to a dinner party another night with ample to serve 5 people. With some left over. The 2nd time I served it with vanilla ice cream. Sue’s the author of the Fern’s Rhubarb Cake already on my blog.

What’s GOOD: loved the flavor, texture, the crunchy sugar on the outside edges (if you have one of those crazy, weird cake pans that gives you outside edges on two sides, this would be perfect for that pan). Since I love rhubarb, it was a no-brainer that I’d likely enjoy this. I thought it was a LOVELY cake, and ever so pretty besides. I’d definitely make this again.

What’s NOT: nothing, really. Only thing I could mention is that when you serve it, do bring knives to the table because you can’t cut through the top rhubarb stalk very easily with a fork. If you try and don’t succeed cutting it, your bite will include the entire stalk of rhubarb on your bite.

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

Rhubarb-Almond Cake

Recipe By: Bon Appetit, April, 2015
Serving Size: 9-10

1 cup unsalted butter — room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan
3/4 cup sugar — plus more for pan
1 pound rhubarb — trimmed
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup blanched almonds
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/4 cup Greek yogurt, full-fat — or sour cream
3 tablespoons sugar — for sprinkling on top
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream for serving

NOTE: It might feel like you’re beating the batter for a long time, but that’s what gives this cake an airy lift. Stay with it! One 11×8″ tart pan or a 9″-diameter springform pan is needed. [I used a 9″ square springform pan and you’ll have at least 9-12 servings.]
1. Preheat oven to 350°. Butter pan and sprinkle with sugar, tapping out excess. Slice about 8-10 stalks to fit inside your preferred pan shape. Don’t use extra-large stalks for the decorative top, but do use the redder ones as they’re especially attractive on the finished cake. Chop remaining rhubarb into 1/2″ pieces. Pulse flour, almonds, baking powder, and salt in a food processor until almonds are finely ground (texture should be sandy).
2. Place butter and sugar in bowl of a stand mixer, preferably. Add vanilla extract. Beat on high speed, until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating to blend first egg before adding second. Beat until mixture is pale and fluffy, about 4 minutes. (So a total of 8+ minutes.)
3. Reduce speed to low and gradually add dry ingredients, followed by yogurt. Beat, scraping down the sides of bowl as needed, just to combine (batter will be thick). Fold in chopped rhubarb and scrape batter into prepared pan. Smooth batter and arrange reserved rhubarb over top; sprinkle with remaining 3 tablespoons sugar.
4. Place pan on a large rimmed baking sheet (to catch any rogue juices) and bake, rotating once, until cake is golden brown and rhubarb on top is soft and beginning to brown, 70–80 minutes. Test the internal temp in the center of the pan, toward the end of the baking time and remove when it reaches 205°F. Transfer to a wire rack and let cake cool before removing from pan.
5. Do ahead: Cake can be baked 3 days ahead. Keep tightly wrapped at room temperature. Serve with whipped cream (possibly flavored with almond extract) or vanilla ice cream. Serve with knives to cut through the top rhubarb stalks.
Per Serving: 429 Calories; 29g Fat (58.8% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 39g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 105mg Cholesterol; 236mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on September 25th, 2016:

    I love rhubarb, as a child I used to stick it into sugar and crunch it, made a lovely contrast.

    I’ve heard others mention eating it that way. . . . Carolyn T

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