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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 Cookies, on March 3rd, 2017.

butterscotch_walnut_meringue_bars

You might think that all I eat is baked goods. A friend who looked at my blog recently thought that, but then, she didn’t delve very deeply into my posts. I probably have more desserts and cookies than any of the other categories. I just enjoy baking a lot. I have no cookies in my house at the moment.

Needing some cookies and things for an event recently, I looked at some newer recipes I’d added to my to-try list. This recipe came from Peabody, at SweetReciPEAS. She raved about them, so that was a good enough excuse to bake them for my event. They’re two layers – a brown sugar and butter base (with flour and egg), then you press walnuts into that layer; then you mix up the brown sugar meringue mixture and spread it on top. Bake. See? Easy. She used bourbon in the base and in the meringue topping too  (though you can use vanilla instead). Truly, I couldn’t taste the bourbon, but perhaps if they’d been omitted, they’d have been less flavorful – won’t know unless I try them side by side. Out of the entire 9×13 pan batch, I ate one and either served them at my event or gave them away to friends. I thought they might not keep all that long anyway.

They’re delicious. A bit of crunch from the bottom layer and a light crunch from the meringue. Plus the walnuts in there too. The meringue doesn’t exactly stick very well to the base, so be careful as you cut them up. Perhaps a whipped up raw egg in between might solve that problem, if you’re inclined to try it.

What’s GOOD: the flavor and crunch. They’re sweet – very sweet. If I make them again I’ll cut down on the sugar in both layers by just a tetch, but everyone I served them to raved about them. They almost have the sweetness of candy, but they’re definitely NOT candy. You could cut larger pieces, serve with whipped cream as a dessert portion. I made bars and got about 18 or so from the pan. Very different – the meringue has a golden hue – almost like taupe, from the brown sugar. Kind of different. Not everyone recognized that it was a meringue top.

What’s NOT: really, nothing. These are delicious. Easy to make.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Butterscotch Walnut Meringue Bars

Recipe By: SweetReciPEAS, 2017
Serving Size: 18

BASE:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 Pinch salt
1 cup light brown sugar — firmly packed
1/2 cup cold butter — cut into pieces
2 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons bourbon — or vanilla
TOPPING:
2 egg whites
1 cup brown sugar — firmly packed
1 tablespoon bourbon
1 1/2 cups walnuts — chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. 2. Spray a 9-x-13-inch baking pan with baking spray. Set aside.
2. BASE: Add the flour, baking powder, salt & brown sugar in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pulse until the ingredients come together. Add the butter and process until the butter is the size of small peas. Add the egg yolk and bourbon and pulse until the mixture as the consistency of sandy clumps. Pat mixture into the pan and level off by pressing with a small offset spatula or spoon.
3. Top with walnuts. Push them into the dough. The dough is crumbly so it will need to be patted down again.
4. MERINGUE: Using a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment beat egg whites until they hold a peak when whisk is lifted. Add the brown sugar and beat at the highest speed about 4 minutes. Add the bourbon and beat for another minute. Spread the meringue over the walnut layer. The meringue does stick to the dough, sort of – the dough is sandy, so it’s not easy to spread. Just do you best you can. Bake 25 minutes or until tester inserted into pan comes out clean.
5. Let cool to room temperature and cut into squares.
Per Serving: 221 Calories; 12g Fat (47.2% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 25g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 37mg Cholesterol; 114mg Sodium.

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  1. James McGrath Morris

    said on March 3rd, 2017:

    Not only do I want to make these butterscotch bars but I want to extend thanks for the kind words you wrote about my book. It’s an honor to think your book club read it.
    James McGrath Morris

    Gosh, thank you so much for stopping by my blog! Our book group DID enjoy reading your book, and I’ll never forget Ethel Payne and her life long struggles. Not just her personal ones, but the stories she wrote. Hope you enjoy the meringue bars too. . .. carolyn t

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