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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 Miscellaneous, on October 11th, 2016.

mango_chutney

What rich color! Perfect side for some grilled steak, chicken, or pork. Or as a little condiment on a sandwich. Or, spread some on top of cream cheese for a nice appetizer with crackers.

Awhile back we had a family get-together and daughter Sara brought this chutney. She left some of it with me and I’ve enjoyed it with grilled chicken and some grilled pork chops.

Back decades ago I first read about Major Grey’s mango chutney. I was in the stage of my early experimental cooking and tried making chicken curry, as I recall, and with no recipe for chutney (or even a thought of making it myself) I bought a jar of it. My recollection is that it was very expensive! Too bad I didn’t try to make it. Presumably the Joy of Cooking contains a recipe for it (I haven’t looked). Here’s what Wikipedia says about it:

Major Grey’s Chutney is a type of chutney, reputedly created by a 19th-century British Army officer of the same name who, though likely apocryphal, presumably lived in British India. Its characteristic ingredients are mango, raisins, vinegar, lime juice, onion, tamarind extract (occasionally), sweetening and spices.

I think one of my grandmothers used to make chutney, and I must not have had a great memory of it – it probably had sticky dates and/or some candied fruit in it (yuk in my book). My grandmothers made numerous types of pickles that appeared on the dinner table (I wasn’t much into pickles in those days), and both of my grandmothers made some kind of piccalilli (mixed veggies in a slightly sweet brine). I wasn’t much into cauliflower back then, either, which was a major component of that condiment.

mango_chutney_with_steakBut chutney is a wonderful side dish. See photo at left nestled next to a nice piece of grilled ribeye steak. It’s s omething you can make a week ahead of time, and if you’re so inclined, this recipe gives instructions for canning it. Sara doesn’t can, and we ate a ton of this chutney that night, so don’t know that she had a lot left over. The recipe came from Simply Recipes. It’s very straight forward. First, you bring sugar and vinegar to a boil. While that’s happening, cut and prep the fruit, onion, and measure out the other ingredients. They’re all added to the liquid and cooked down (simmered) for about an hour until it’s thickened. At that point, can it for 15 minutes, or put in clean, sealed containers or jars and store in the refrigerator for several weeks. Actually, I have nothing fewer than 10 chutneys or marmalade sides on my blog. Go HERE if you want to view them.

What’s GOOD: Love this stuff. It’s sweet and only slightly savory from the onion. It’s not like jam, exactly, but it’s a close cousin. The crystallized ginger adds a nice little touch to it, and the raisins too. Altogether good. Make it ahead. Serve it with grilled meat.

What’s NOT: can’t think of anything. Try it; you’ll like it.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Homemade Mango Chutney

Recipe By: From Simply Recipes (blog)
Serving Size: 12 (probably more than that)

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
3 cups mangos — peeled and cut in 3/4-inch pieces
1/2 cup onion — chopped
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/8 cup crystallized ginger — finely chopped
1/2 garlic clove — minced
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds — whole
1/8 teaspoon red chili flakes

1. Combine sugar and vinegar in a 6 quart pot; bring to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves.
2. Add remaining ingredients and simmer, uncovered, until syrupy and slightly thickened, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Stir occasionally during cooking. It will be thicker once it cools. If it gets too thick, thin with just a little bit of water.
3. Optional preparation: place in sealed jars in the refrigerator – it should keep for several weeks. Or, to can, pour into clean, hot jars leaving 1/2-inch head space; close jars. Process in a water bath 15 minutes.
Per Serving: 113 Calories; trace Fat (1.4% calories from fat); trace Protein; 29g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 3mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on October 11th, 2016:

    Have been meaning to try making this for years. I have a humongous jar from the international grocery to use up, but once that’s gone, I’ll know where to go for a recipe.

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on October 12th, 2016:

    I am not vry fond of chutneys but I looked up British recipes for that and the Picalilli to see how they differed, you can see the results here:

    https://www.rivercottage.net/recipes/pams-piccalilli No brine involved here.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/mangochutney_1319

    Mangoes I eat raw, I dislike the sweetness of them when cooked.

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