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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 Essays, on August 13th, 2017.

Image result for apples

 

For the last year or so I’ve subscribed to Reader’s Digest. They have some really interesting articles in each issue, and this little 2-page article was so fascinating I thought I’d share the salient facts. The article brought much of its facts from a book: The American Plate: A Culinary History in 100 Bites, by Libby O’Connell but the article was written by someone at NPR and was heard there in 2016.

It’s an article about the lineage of the apple pie (which must be one of the 100 bites):

1. CRUST: As we know it now, it started in Britain where they made airtight pastry shells called “coffyns,” filled with savory ingredients. We refined the pastry by using some German techniques (think strudel) and began using up imperfect fruit to fill the pastry, where those imperfections didn’t show. (Ingenuity, I’d say!)

2. APPLES: The only native apple here in the U.S. is a crabapple. We don’t see those very often (at least I don’t where I live). Apples (generic) came from Kahzakhstan. The fruit migrated west, then the Romans crossed a sour apple with a sweet apple, and many hundreds of years elapsed before Johnny Appleseed Chapman brought those to America and planted them all over. (Thank goodness!)

3. WHEAT: Archeologists have found ancient wheat that dates to at least 9000 years ago – from Iran, Iraq and much of the Middle East. Eventually it wended its way into Europe, and here to the New World, but the crops failed. It wasn’t until later that Russian immigrants brought a more hardy wheat variety (Turkey Red, it was called) to America, which worked (our climate must have been similar to the part of Russia where it grew – who knew?)

4. FAT: Lard was likely the original fat (from pig ancestors in Asia), then Christopher Columbus brought pigs (for their meat and fat) and cattle (think dairy products) to America. (Good thing!)

5. CINNAMON & SUGAR: Did you know that sugar originally comes from Indonesia, China and Papua New Guinea? Yup. And cinnamon originates from an evergreen tree native to Sri Lanka.  The other spices we use in apple pie include nutmeg and cloves, which came from Banda Island in Indonesia. Magellan helped spread those ‘round the world when he brought back 50 tons of the precious spices on a trip he made in 1522. (Imagine that – we just take it for granted that we have the spices in our pantries!)

6. THE PIE: According to researchers, the earliest apple pie recipe dates from the 1300s, but it didn’t hit the “big time” here in North America until the 1600s. John T. Edge wrote in his book Apple Pie: An American Story that both Union and Confederate soldiers collected apples on their marches and forays, and commandeered local hearths to make them into (probably, my guess) hand pies (turnovers) they could carry with them.  In 1902 the New York Times said pie had become “the American synonym for prosperity.” During WWII, a catchphrase spread that the soldiers were fighting for “mom and apple pie.”

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Here on my blog, there is one recipe for apple pie, from my friend Debbie. It’s a crumb top one, and it’s super wonderful. Even the pie crust is easy, which is made with vegetable oil.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on August 13th, 2017:

    Your friend’s pie is what we would simply call Apple Crumble but I don’t think we usually have a pastry base to it.

    You post was interesting though I had to look up NPR!

    Oh, yes, well, NPR (National Public Radio) is an acronym we all use here in the U.S. of A. You likely have something similar but different title perhaps. And yes, Debbie’s pie is an apple crumb pie(with a bottom crust). It’s making my mouth water! . . . carolyn t

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