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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 8th, 2017.

choc_biscotti_

Why, oh why, did I wait so long to try these easy biscotti? They are just wonderful, and maybe even more so if they’re allowed to mellow for a few days. These must be easiest biscotti I’ve ever made.

Farmgirl Susan’s blog was one of the first ones I started following when I began reading blogs back in about 2004. I just loved reading her story about how she and her (then) husband wanted to move from California, got as far as Missouri, their car broke down, and the story starts from there. She shed the husband, found her hunky husband Joe, and has been writing and blogging from the backcountry ever since. She grows a lot of her own produce, barters all kinds of things with neighbors, and doesn’t get to grocery shop very often because they’re a loooong way from a town or city.

choc_biscotti_uprightSusan posted this recipe years ago. And I’m just plain embarrassed to say it’s been sitting in my to-try MasterCook file for years. YEARS! Too bad, cuz these are going to make a more frequent appearance in my house in the future. I rescued one biscotti (I tasted one when I made them) from the bag as I distributed most of them to friends and that one got dunked into my morning latte. OH-SO-GOOD!. Trust me on this one.

choc_biscotti_2nd_bakeSometimes biscotti is a bit persnickety. At least I’ve found them so. You bake them in a flat log the first time around, then you have to cut them into those unique and very recognizable angled flats, and bake them again to get them extra crispy. Often, in my experience, cutting the once-baked logs is problematical – you often break off ends, etc. These, however, were cinchy easy and the knife just cut perfectly. Susan mastered this recipe to a T. The only addition I might make would be nuts, or chocolate chips. But they’re pretty darned perfect just the way they are. Thank you, Susan, for a really great recipe!

What’s GOOD: how easy they are to make. Flavor is fabulous. They keep well. They satisfy a chocoholic’s cravings, they’re relatively low in calorie. Altogether wonderful cookie. Do try them.

What’s NOT: I can’t think of a single thing I didn’t like about these. They’ll be making a regular appearance in coming months.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Farmgirl Susan’s Easy Chocolate Biscotti

Recipe By: Farmgirl Fare blog, 2005
Serving Size: 36

2/3 cup semisweet chocolate — (4 ounces) or dark chocolate chips (or chopped chocolate)
1/2 cup butter
2 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour — and up to 1/4 cup more if needed
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder — (Susan cautions – make sure it’s fresh)
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg white — beaten, for glaze (optional)
1 teaspoon espresso powder — (optional) or more, added into dry ingredients

1. Heat the oven to 350°. Melt the butter and chocolate together (I put them in a Pyrex measuring cup and microwave them) and set aside.
2. With an electric hand mixer, beat the eggs and sugar until lightened, about two minutes.
3. Add the vanilla and chocolate mixture.
4. Mix in the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt (and espresso powder, if using) just until combined. You should have a soft, but not sticky, dough. Add the extra 1/4 cup of flour if dough is too sticky.
5. Divide the dough in half. On a lightly floured surface, form each half into a log that is 3½ inches by 9 inches. Place the logs on a heavy duty baking sheet and brush with egg white if desired. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the tops are set. Update: some readers have said their loaves sliced better when cooked a little less than 25 minutes, so I’ve changed the directions accordingly.
6. Reduce the oven to 275°. Let the logs cool as long as you can (the cooler they are, the easier to cut), and then slice into 1/2-inch thick slices (I use a large serrated knife and push it through the loaves rather than ‘sawing’ the slices). Arrange the slices on baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, carefully turn the slices over, and bake for another 20 minutes.
7. Cool on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container or freeze.
Per Serving: 89 Calories; 4g Fat (37.7% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 13g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 19mg Cholesterol; 111mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on March 8th, 2017:

    I want to bake these right now! I think I’ll put some macadamia nuts in them. I find that misting the loaves with water a few minutes before cutting them makes them easier to slice cleanly. I believe the idea came from the King Arthur Flour website. I use a bread knife and do use a sawing motion–will try the straight down push next time. Do you have any hints for cleanly slicing ice box cookie dough? If it has any nuts or other chunks, it’s almost impossible, and although you can push them back together, they are never as pretty.

    These biscotti were the easiest I’ve ever made. This will be my go-to recipe from now on, and yes, nuts in them should be good. Chop them up, however. No, I don’t have any great ideas for chilled cookie dough – sorry. . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on March 8th, 2017:

    About an hour and a half after reading this post, I’m munching on one of the best biscotti I’ve ever had. Commercial chocolate biscotti tend to be hard and tough, but these have a deep, rich, chocolate flavor and still retain a delicate, crumbly, crunchy texture–exactly what I’m looking for in biscotti. I misted the loaves with water when I took them out and was able to slice them easily using both the straight cut down with my chef’s knife and the gentle sawing motion with my Wusthof bread knife. I did chop the macadamia nuts, but they are hard to chop because of their shape, and some pieces remained fairly large. Predictably, they did make slicing a little more difficult, but the slices only broke where a large piece of nut weakened the structure. I actually had a few break when I turned them during the second baking, but they taste just as good! I’d try harder to chop them a bit smaller next time, but I don’t like them too small, either–I want the tooth-feel when I bite down on them. It’s a trade-off, and I find it worth a little breakage. These are amazing, and the recipe is going into my small binder of treasured favorites.
    Thank you for posting this again–I might have missed out on them if you hadn’t.

  3. hddonna

    said on March 8th, 2017:

    Oops. I guess you didn’t post them “again”–the original post was in the Farmgirl blog. So thank you for getting around to trying them and sharing the recipe with us!

  4. hddonna

    said on March 15th, 2017:

    Forgot to mention that I substituted a cup of white whole wheat flour for a cup of the all-purpose. The dough seemed really wet, so I added the extra quarter cup of flour, but that made it a little stiff. I was able to mold it by flattening it on the baking sheet and got normal-looking biscotti anyway, but next time I’d let it rest a while before adding extra flour, especially if using whole wheat as I did. The whole wheat wasn’t noticeable in the finished cookies. Next time I’m going with all whole wheat. You gave yours away, Carolyn—afraid I didn’t follow your example. Am enjoying a few every day, but they do keep exceptionally well, and I am making them last!

    Well, guess what? I made them again a week later, and stuck them all in the freezer. That keeps me from eating these too fast because they are hard as rocks straight out of the 0° freezer. Not to worry – I’ll get my share of them!! . . . carolyn t

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