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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 Veggies/sides, on September 2nd, 2017.

bacon_hasselback_potatoes

I’ve been slow to get on the Hasselback Potato bandwagon. Now I’m definitely on the train! Gosh were these fun and tasty!

My granddaughter Sabrina was visiting with me (before she flew back to So Carolina to return for her sophomore year at Clemson University). She loves to cook (we also do art together – I worked on a Zentangle design, and she used acrylics to paint a sunset/landscape), so we worked in the kitchen together and she helped me slip the bacon in between the slices, and she made some squash for us for our dinner. We also had some of that Chili-Rubbed Salmon I made a few weeks ago, that was so good. These potatoes were a great side dish for the salmon.

These little beauties, these potatoes, are on the small side, but I THINK they’re better if they’re smaller. I suppose you could do a big potato using this method, but the smaller ones are just so CUTE! These were a Yukon Gold type and about 3” long. I had figured she and I would each eat two of them, but no, we just had one. They’re rich. And decadent. But the bacon – oh gosh, the bacon – they “make” this dish, IMHO.

hasselback_cutsFirst, you cut the potatoes – use two wooden style spoon handles, one on either side of the potato, so when you make the cut, you don’t cut all the way through. That, of course, is the whole thing about Hasselbacks – the little thin cuts. So the photo at left you can see the cutting. About 1/16” or 1/8 inch. At right you can see the two spoons on either side so you don’t slice all the way through.

hasselback_with_spoonsIt’s actually pretty easy to do. I used the back of my left hand to hold the spoons in place and used my fingers to anchor the potato. Requires a bit of dexterity, I suppose. If you have a kitchen helper, have them hold the spoons. Then, the next step is to partially cook the potatoes. Bring a pot of water to a boil and slip these already cut potatoes in it for FOUR MINUTES only. Remove boiling_hasselback_potatoesand set aside to let them cool.

Meanwhile, you will have used a few slices of thick-sliced bacon and frozen them on a flat surface (a pan), then slipped them into the freezer so they stay super cold/frozen. You know, fat doesn’t actually freeze clear through, but it’s good enough. Then you put the little slips of frozen freeezing_bacon_chipsbacon into the slices, pushing them down gently. You don’t want to “break” the potato’s back so it’s important that you slide the bacon in carefully.

Then you melt some butter and slather some on the potatoes with a brush and into an oven they go. Now I veered off a little bit from the original recipe I found (at Food Network) because it said cook the potatoes at 350° for 2 HOURS. I didn’t have 2 hours of time to devote to that, so I cranked the oven up to 400° and baked them for 6_hasselback_bacon_potatoesabout 35 minutes. They certainly weren’t as dark-brown-crispy looking as the originals were, but they were cooked through. The bacon was brown. They came out of the oven, I then brushed more melted butter (with green onions and garlic) on top and stuck them back in the oven for about 10 minutes. Perfectly done. I”ll be making these again for sure!

What’s GOOD: these were so fun, different. Very tasty – of course, the butter helps a lot. A lot of the butter oozed out onto the baking sheet, unfortunately. See all the fat on the Silpat lined pan above. But the bacon slowly oozed into the potatoes too, so they had plenty of fat to make it delicious. For me, the bacon was the star of the dish, but also loved the soft consistency of the potatoes too.

What’s NOT: only that they take a bit of work to get them ready to go. But not difficult, and if you have anyone to help, it’ll get done in no time.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Bacon Hasselback Potatoes

Recipe By: Food Network Kitchens
Serving Size: 6

2 slices thick-sliced bacon — each cut crosswise into 9 pieces
Kosher salt
6 medium Yukon gold potatoes — peeled
1/2 stick unsalted butter
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 whole green onion — finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
1/2 clove garlic — finely chopped

NOTE: Use more bacon in each potato if you don’t mind the calories & fat.
1. Lay the bacon pieces on a baking sheet and freeze until hard, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
2. Using a sharp knife, make crosswise cuts in each potato, about 1/8 inch apart, stopping about 1/4 inch from the bottom.
3. Add the potatoes to the boiling water and cook 4 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and carefully transfer to a baking sheet; let cool slightly. Pat the potatoes dry, then insert 3 pieces of the frozen bacon into the cuts of each potato, spacing the bacon evenly and letting it poke out of the top. Melt a few tablespoons of butter and brush generously over the potatoes and in the cuts. Reserve any excess butter for basting. Season the potatoes with salt and pepper.
4. Transfer the potatoes to the oven and bake until the outsides are browned and crisp, about 2 hours, basting halfway through with the reserved melted butter. (Note: I increased the temp to 400° and baked them about 35 minutes – they won’t be as brown and crispy as doing them for 2 hours, but they’re cooked through.)
5. When the potatoes are almost done, melt the remaining butter and mix with the scallions, parsley and garlic. Spoon over the potatoes and roast 5-10 more minutes. Transfer to a platter and season with salt and pepper.
Per Serving: 163 Calories; 10g Fat (53.9% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 15g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 24mg Cholesterol; 74mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on September 2nd, 2017:

    My word, I haven’t thought about these since I left Sweden in 1970! There, large potatoes were used, and they were not par-boiled before going into the oven but they were very delicious. Another favourite Swedish potato dish that I enjoy is Jansen’s Temptation which includes small fish but usually outside Sweden Anchovies are used.

    Wow, those sound really different. Can’t get fresh anchovies here however. . . Carolyn t

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