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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 aging 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, wealthy women) 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.

I’ve written up an entire blog post about this book. (It hasn’t been posted yet, but will soon.) It may be one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a memoir by Pat Conroy (an author I’ve long admired). He died a year or so ago – sad, that. In order to get the most out of My Reading Life, I recommend you BUY THE HARDBACK. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s an autobiography of sorts, but not really. He never wrote one, I don’t think, and I doubt he would ever have written one as he likely didn’t believe anyone would want to read about his (sad) life. In this memoir, he chronicles the books (and the people who recommended them) that influenced his life. Starting at his mother’s knees and continuing through influential teachers and mentors and friends. One of my book clubs read it, and I devoured it, cover to cover, with little plastic flags inserted all the way through to re-read some of the prose. Pat Conroy was a fabulous writer – he studied words from a young age and used them widely and wisely throughout his writing, but better than most authors would. He adored his mother, and hated (with venom) his aviator military father who physically abused everyone in the family, including his mother. They all took it like stoic Buddhas. I’m going to have to read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel because of reading this book. I’ve never read it. Conroy says that book’s first page is the best first page of any book he ever read in his life. Wow. And maybe my book group is going to re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Vintage Classics) too because of the chapter on that book. We might have to assign that to a 2-month or longer read. If you have friends or family who are avid readers, this would make a great gift, this book, My Reading Life. If YOU are a reader, it needs to be on your bookshelf, but in hardback, so you can go back to it and re-read his stories. It’s a series of essays, each one about a sub-section of his life. A must-have and a must-read.

Also read The Towers of Tuscany by Carol Cram. It was a bargain book through amazon or bookbub (e-book). Back in the Middle Ages women were forbidden to be artists. Their only place was in the home, caring for children and sewing and cooking. But the heroine in this book was taught to paint by her widowed artist-father (in secret, of course). When her father suddenly dies, all hell breaks loose and she must fend for herself. Much of the book takes place in Siena (and also San Gimignano) as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

 

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 June 6th, 2017.

raspberry_gratin

Hmm. That serving doesn’t exactly convey the deliciousness of this dessert. Do scroll down to see the 2nd photo of this heavenly dessert.

This was the dessert I served at the wine and food pairing awhile back. Because I’d had to make a quick trip to the Bay Area to attend a memorial service for a dear friend, I flew home on Saturday evening and knew I’d have next to no time the following day to be making a fancy dessert. I looked through what I had in my recipe file that was super-easy and this dessert just jumped off my computer screen at me, begging me, make me, make me. Smitten Kitchen made this dessert and she raved about it. RAVED! Now I see why!

I’m just going to say – this dessert is most likely the simplest dessert I’ve ever made in my entire life, except scooping ice cream and chocolate sauce into a bowl. And I cannot say enough wonderful things about it. Sublime? Unctuous? Oh, gosh, just make this, okay?

Here’s how it’s done:

1. Preheat your oven to broil

2. Mix fresh raspberries with sour cream (gently) and pour into a flat gratin dish

3. Press dark brown sugar through a sieve onto the top of the mixture

4. Broil for a few minutes until the brown sugar has melted and begun to caramelize – and eat immediatelyspoonsful_rasp_gratin

I would probably have served it in small bowls (you don’t need big servings of this – it’s rich and sweet) but we had paper plates to serve this since there were many of us . . . It needs no embellishment (i.e., no whipped cream or anything). Ideally serve this with coffee or with an after-dinner wine (port, sauternes, Madeira, etc.). We discussed this, that it might be lovely with quartered strawberries instead of raspberries, or even blueberries. Blackberries ought to be fine with it too. Or a mixture of them. The fruit and sour cream mixture gets warm only – not hot – though the sugar layer DOES get hot. By the time you scoop servings out and deliver it to people, it should be sufficiently cool to eat.

I’ll be making this again and again during prime berry season.

What’s GOOD: how unbelievably easy it is to make, first and foremost. But the flavor is just so smooth and unctuous. There’s just no other word for it.  And the little bit of crunch (think crème brulee) on top add really delicious texture to it. Rich? Yes. Satisfying? Yes. Worth making? Absolutely yes.

What’s NOT: it does need to be made at the last minute, but truly it takes about 2-3 minutes to make it. Get out the dish, the berries, the sour cream and the brown sugar (and the sieve) and have them at-the-ready and you’ll have dessert in no time. For my party I bought 2 large clamshell boxes of raspberries (I think they were $4.99 each), 2 tubs of sour cream and it served 16 with about 2 servings left over. I did small servings, though.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Raspberry Brown Sugar Gratin [Russian Gratin with Raspberries]

Recipe By: Adapted from Jeremiah Tower’s New American Classics via Regina Schrambling, but on Smitten Kitchen’s blog
Serving Size: 12

4 cups fresh raspberries — or any berries
4 cups sour cream — or creme fraiche
2 cups dark brown sugar

NOTES : There are a lot of ways you can play around with this – flavoring the sour cream with lemon, vanilla, cinnamon or almond; using a mix of berries, etc. – but it is flawless the way it is. Want to fancy it up for fancy people? Make it in individual ramekins or tiny gratin dishes. Swap thick, full-fat Greek-style yogurt swapped for sour cream and serve it at a brunch.
1. Preheat broiler.
2. Gently fold raspberries and sour cream together in a shallow 1-quart dish. Press the brown sugar through a sieve or mesh colander so that it sprinkles evenly over the dish. (don’t use a sifter, it doesn’t work.)
3. Run the dish under the broiler until the sugar just starts to caramelize. Eat at once. Keeping: The leftovers are equally delicious, even suitable for a splurge breakfast.
Per Serving: 323 Calories; 16g Fat (44.0% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 44g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 34mg Cholesterol; 55mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on June 11th, 2017:

    Just waiting for raspberries to go on sale to try this! I think it would be good with apricots, too.

    Well, you could try it with apricots, but I think it’s best with berries. Just my first thought, though. . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on June 12th, 2017:

    I certainly intend to try it first with raspberries. I’ve had something similar with apricots, but with sweet cream and white sugar. and I think this treatment would be even better–I’ll let you know what I think if I ever get around to trying it that way.

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