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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 August 9th, 2017.

danish_dream_cake

An easy cake to make with a kind of caramel coconut and brown sugar topping.

A couple of weeks ago I hosted one of my book groups here at my home. In this particular book group, the hostess chooses the book herself and leads the review of it. I had several books in mind, but then my friend Janet showed me a book she was given on a recent trip to Denmark, It’s called The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well. (By the way, hygge is pronounced hoo-ga.) Janet’s son Eric lives in Copenhagen and married a Danish woman, a physician. He speaks fluent Danish (he works for a Danish world relief organization) and he gave the book to his mom, and pointed out a photo of himself in the book (he’s friends with the author). I was enchanted with the book.

Image result for danish book of hyggeDid you know that the Danes are the happiest people on earth? So researchers say. This little book, a kind of handbook of sorts, tells you how and why that’s so. As an example, the first chapter is about candles. So, for my book group, I decided to veer away from reading a novel (our usual format), and have them read this book and so we could talk about the ideas in it, and to make some Danish goodies. I knew I’d be making Almond Puff (recipe up soon), but I wanted something else to serve along with fresh fruit, as we discussed all the different things that make the Danes so happy. And I invited my friend Janet to come to the meeting and share some of her experiences as they have visited their son and his family over the last decade or so.

In case you’re as enchanted with the book as I was, I just want you to know that the American edition (link above) is an slight alteration to the U.K. edition which contains dozens and dozens of photographs. I was sad to see that my copy didn’t have the photos. It’s in color with illustrations, but doesn’t contain the photos. Janet brought her copy and passed it around so everyone could see.

So, this Dream Cake. I found the recipe online (there are dozens of them). You make a very ordinary yellow cake batter and pour it into a 10×14 glass baking dish, bake the cake, and just before taking it out of the oven you make the hot butter/brown sugar/coconut topping that is poured over the top. It hardens as it cools (to a kind of chewy caramel consistency), then you cut it into squares and serve it. It’s REALLY good. Easy to make, and might even be a kind of Snacking Cake, except that in Denmark, this is like their “national” cake. Everyone makes it. It’s in all the bakeries and you can find it everywhere, apparently. They serve this to guests, and it’s also a staple in every Danish kitchen.

What’s GOOD: it’s a simple dessert to make, and the topping is the thing that puts it over the top – makes it so very good, chewy, sweet. Altogether good. It freezes well, too, though I wouldn’t do it for a long time. I made this a couple of weeks before I had the event at my home, then very slightly heated it in the oven before serving.

What’s NOT: it’s a little bit hard to cut – I finally used a sharp-edge spatula to cut through the caramel. Once I got the first piece out it wasn’t quite so difficult. You might try a sharp knife – that might work better.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Danish Dream Cake (DROMMEKAGE)

Recipe By: Nordic Food Living (website)
Serving Size: 16

CAKE:
9 ounces AP flour
9 ounces sugar
2 ounces unsalted butter
3 large eggs
3/4 cup milk
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla sugar — or vanilla (liquid)
TOPPING:
4 1/2 ounces unsalted butter
1/4 cup milk
7 ounces light brown sugar
3 1/2 ounces coconut flakes — unsweetened

1. CAKE: Whisk eggs and sugar until light and fluffy.
2. Melt butter in a saucepan, then add milk to the butter. Add to the bowl of eggs and sugar. Add liquid vanilla, if using.
3. In a separate bowl mix the AP flour, vanilla sugar (if using) and baking powder. Mix with a whisk, then add it to the egg mixture and whisk to a smooth batter.
4. Preheat oven to 400°F. Grease a 10×14″ glass baking dish with butter (or line it with parchment).
5. Pour the cake batter into the dish and smooth it out to the corners. Bake for about 20 minutes.
6. TOPPING: About 5 minutes before the cake is done, melt butter in a saucepan. Add milk and brown sugar and let it boil for about a minute.
7. Add coconut flakes and mix well.
8. Remove cake from oven and pour topping mixture evenly over the cake, using a knife to spread it evenly.
9. RETURN TO OVEN and bake another 10 minutes. Remove and allow to cool. Cut into squares to serve.
Per Serving: 302 Calories; 13g Fat (37.9% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 44g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 67mg Cholesterol; 104mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on August 9th, 2017:

    I think I would simply make the topping and snack on that!

    Do you want me to get the UK version of the book for you? I would be happy to do that.

    Oh, Toni! You are so sweet to offer. My friend Janet has assured me she’s going to get the UK version (probably from her son) so she told me not to try to get it for myself that she’d “take care of it.”

    And yes, you could make just the topping. But I loved the cake too! . . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on August 10th, 2017:

    Looks very similar to a cake my mom used to make, called Lazy Daisy Cake. Used to love it as a kid. Bet this one would go over well with the grandkids and my coconut loving son-in-law–maybe I’ll make it for them next weekend when they come to view the eclipse.

    Oh, how fun, Donna! It could be the same cake – I haven’t compared the recipe. Maybe you can do that when you make it? .. . carolyn t

  3. hddonna

    said on August 12th, 2017:

    Willdo.

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