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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 Breads, on July 8th, 2017.

hot_biscuits_flaky

As I’m writing this, looking at the photo, my mouth is watering. Wishing I could just have one of those, right this minute.

I can’t take much of any credit for these – I was at my daughter Sara’s house, and she decided on the spur of the moment, to make some biscuits. I think it was for breakfast. Sara loves to bake, and her two teenagers love it, whatever their mom makes. Sabrina is home for the summer now, from her first year at Clemson University. She loved school, the campus, the college environment (she’s pre-vet), but OH, did she miss her mom’s cooking and baking. Sara sent her a “care” package now and then, chock full of baked goodies.

Anyway, Sara remembered that she’d made these before and had used a Southern Living recipe she’d found online. Sure enough, we found it and the biscuits got mixed, flattened, rolled, and flattened, cut and baked in no time.

frozen_grated_butterWhat’s unusual about these was that you grated the unsalted butter on a box grater – but from a FROZEN state. Here’s the photo I took of the mound of grated butter. THAT’s the secret to this recipe, I’m certain! Buttermilk also adds a lovely lightness to biscuits.

The biscuits actually get more mixing – actually rolling, followed by folding, then rolling and folding again. That’s done a few times, which helps create all those multiple layers you see in the top photo. Sara just cut them into squares and into the oven they went and were done. As that frozen butter melted, it created the lovely pockets of air that give these biscuits the lightest of textures.

These biscuits were just sublime. Especially with a pat of butter and some preserves on top.

Yum!

biscuits_and_sausage_breakfast

What’s GOOD: everything about these biscuits is good – tender, rich, of course flaky, tasty. I want one right now! They’re easy to mix up and prep for cutting. Do try this recipe – it’s a winner.

What’s NOT: nothing whatsoever. A perfect Southern biscuit, for sure.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Buttermilk Biscuits (Southern Living)

Recipe By: Southern Living Magazine
Serving Size: 12+

1/2 cup butter — (1 stick), frozen
2 1/2 cups self-rising flour — *See Note
1 cup chilled buttermilk Parchment paper
2 tablespoons butter — melted

NOTE: If you don’t have self-rising flour use this formula: For each 1 cup all purpose flour add 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/2 tsp. salt. I always use just a tad less salt.
1. Preheat oven to 475°. Grate frozen butter using large holes of a box grater. Toss together grated butter and flour in a medium bowl. Chill 10 minutes.
2. Make a well in center of mixture. Add buttermilk, and stir 15 times. Dough will be sticky. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Lightly sprinkle flour over top of dough. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll dough into a 3/4-inch-thick rectangle (about 9 x 5 inches). Fold dough in half so short ends meet. Repeat rolling and folding process 4 more times.
3. Roll dough to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut with a 2 1/2-inch floured round cutter (OR: cut the rectangle into squares 2″, using all the dough, so it doesn’t require reshaping the scraps), reshaping scraps and flouring as needed.
4. Place dough rounds on a parchment paper-lined jelly-roll pan. Bake at 475° for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Brush with melted butter. Serve immediately.
5. For Pillowy Dinner Rolls: Cut in 1/2 cup cold shortening instead of cold butter. You’ll get a soft biscuit that stays tender, even when cool. Plus, shortening has a neutral flavor that will complement anything on your dinner plate.
6. For Sweet Shortcakes: Add 2 Tbsp. sugar to the flour, and replace buttermilk with heavy cream. The sugar lends the biscuits a subtle sweetness, and the extra fat in heavy cream gives them a crumbly texture like shortbread. They’re the perfect base for shortcake desserts.
7. For Crunchy-Bottomed Biscuits: Warm a cast-iron skillet in the oven, and spread a bit of butter in the skillet before adding the biscuits. The bottoms will end up crunchy and golden brown and provide a sturdy base that holds up to a smothering of sausage gravy.
8. For Pickle Biscuits: Stir 4 Tbsp. drained dill pickle relish into buttermilk before adding to flour mixture. Split baked biscuits, and top with ham and mustard for the World’s Best Ham Sandwich!
Per Serving: 185 Calories; 10g Fat (48.8% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 27mg Cholesterol; 450mg Sodium.

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