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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 April 22nd, 2017.

Oh my goodness, is this cake just off the charts. And it has a story (not mine – on food52).

A couple of weeks ago I was reading a post at food52, and this carrot cake story was just so sweet. About Mary Catherine Tee’s grandmother “Mom Mom’s” 3-layer carrot cake. And how the grandchildren made the cake for her in her last days, when she was suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s, confined to a nursing home. And about the smile it brought to her face. It was such an unusual story, I had to send the post to my friend Linda T (many recipes here on my blog are from her recipe files), who has been making a more traditional 9×13 carrot cake for decades. That recipe is here on my blog too. Hers had been my go-to recipe for as long as I’ve had it; at least 30 years. Until now. Until this cake. neva_tees_carrot_cake_whole

Recently, Linda, my friend Cherrie, another mutual friend Yvette and I met for lunch in Carlsbad. At a very hot new restaurant called Campfire. Quite a place – lots of grilled items, fabulous breads, sandwiches, unusual sauces or spreads on bread, or something different on most everything on the menu. It was close to Yvette’s birthday, and yvettes_birthday_cakebecause Linda and I had talked a lot about this cake, she made it and brought it to the restaurant (they didn’t charge us for the use of extra plates). Carrot cake happens to be Yvette’s husband Joe’s favorite, Cherrie’s husband Bud’s favorite, and was my DH’s favorite as well. Linda let us split up the remaining cake between us, to take home. What a treat. The birthday girl in the photo at right with the cake in the shade in front of her.

What’s different about this cake? It’s lighter in texture – MUCH lighter. Hard to believe since it contains so much shredded carrot, but it IS. It’s a more tender cake – I guess that’s what I mean when I say “lighter.” It still has some cream cheese in the frosting, but it’s not a thick frosting (that part I really liked). It uses pecans – but in the frosting. The ONLY thing I’d try next time, is to add some pineapple into the frosting. Crushed (canned) pineapple that had been squeezed completely dry and squeezed in paper towels too – so it wouldn’t dilute the frosting with any liquid. I haven’t tried this – so I can’t make any promises about it, but I think it would be a lovely enhancement to the cake. At least I’d try it. I’d use an 8-ounce can, drained well, then squeezed dry as mentioned.

What’s GOOD: I think this cake is fantastic. Not that I make 3-layer cakes often – and I didn’t make this one, but since my friend Linda has now made it twice, and was planning to make it again the same week, I’d say it’s been truly tested well. Do read my notes about possibly adding crushed pineapple to the frosting. Linda did not frost the outside of the cake – it was supposed to be enough, but Linda just thought it would be better to leave the frosting off the sides. I’d definitely do it that way again too.

What’s NOT: only that you have to make/bake 3 layers. Not hard, really. A bit time consuming. But, you’ll hear raves. I just know it.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Neva Tee’s Carrot Cake

Recipe By: Food52: Neva Tee (from her granddaughter, Mary Catherine Tee)
Serving Size: 12

2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil — (such as Crisco)
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla — divided
2 cups self-rising flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3 cups grated carrots
3 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 stick butter — room temperature
1 cup chopped pecans
8 ounces cream cheese — room temperature
8 ounces canned pineapple, drained (optional) to add to frosting; see NOTE in directions

NOTE: Although not in the original recipe, I would try adding 8 ounces of canned crushed pineapple to the frosting. BUT, thoroughly drain the pineapple and blot dry with paper towels before adding to the frosting mixture.
1. Line 3 round 8-inch cake pans with parchment paper and heat the oven to 350*F.
2. Add sugar, oil, eggs, and 1 teaspoon vanilla to a bowl. Beat well.
3. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and cinnamon. Add slowly to the sugar/oil mixture, stirring to incorporate. Fold in the carrots. Divide among 3 prepared pans.
4. Bake for 30 minutes. Once cake passes the toothpick test, remove from oven and cool on wire racks.
5. For the filling/frosting, use an electric mixer to mix the confectioners’ sugar, butter, remaining 1 teaspoon vanilla, and cream cheese on medium-high speed until smooth. Turn off mixer. Add chopped pecans and mix on medium-low speed until nuts are incorporated. Refrain from eating all of it with a spoon. Spread between layers (may do sides too, though it will be a thin layer) and top of cake once the cake has cooled completely.
NOTES: My friend Linda doesn’t own 8-inch cake pans; only 9″ ones. She made this in the 9″ pans and it turned out just fine – probably a few minutes less baking time.
Per Serving: 740 Calories; 41g Fat (49.0% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 90g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 112mg Cholesterol; 538mg Sodium.

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