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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 October 18th, 2017.

pear_walnut_upside_down_cake

It’s pear season, you know. Don’t let it slip by without trying this. Although, if you use Bosc pears (recommended) you can generally find those year around.

Since I’m a fan of America’s Test Kitchen, it was a given that I would try this when they made this cake on a recent program. My mother used to make a pear pie, and I always loved it, and seems like I don’t use pears enough. Here’s a good occasion to do so.

pear_walnut_pears_onbottomReally, I don’t think there’s ever been a time when I haven’t loved whatever ATK recommended and I’ve since made. This cake is much like the old standby, pineapple upside-down cake, but using pears here, and walnuts in the cake batter. Use Bosc pears if you can get them – they bake up just perfectly in this cake. They’re placed in the prepared pan in a spoke-shaped pattern, and it does take exactly 2 1/2 pears to do it right, providing you’re using a 9” cake pan (with higher sides, not just a regular cake pan). Amazon carries one – USA Pan Bakeware Round Cake Pan, 9 inch, Nonstick & Quick Release Coating, Made in the USA from Aluminized Steel for $14.99. I didn’t  used to have a cake pan that size, but bought one many years ago and I use it often, so have felt I got my money’s worth from buying yet another kitchen item.

pear_walnut_bakedTo make the cake batter you first start with toasted walnuts in the food processor along with the flour, salt and B.P. and soda. That’s set aside, and eggs are added to the processor and pulsed a couple of minutes until they’re pale yellow. Then you add in melted butter and oil and lastly, the walnut/flour mixture. That’s poured over the pears and into the oven it goes for a bit over an hour. It needs to cool 15 minutes or so (you DO want the cake to invert properly), then carefully turn it over onto a wire rack to cool completely. See photo at right when the cake came out of the oven. Mine was still slightly warm when I served it – I think it needs some whipped cream – I forgot to take a photo of it with the cream added.

What’s GOOD: everything about this was good. The pears still retain some texture and they add a lovely flavor to the cake. It’s really pretty to serve. The servings are not overly large, and probably a good thing as the cake tastes rich. This recipe is a keeper.

What’s NOT: nothing other than a few extra steps in making the cake batter, but well worth it.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Pear-Walnut Upside-Down Cake

Recipe By: America’s Test Kitchen
Serving Size: 8

4 tablespoons unsalted butter — melted
1/2 cup dark brown sugar — packed (3 1/2 ounces)
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 whole Bosc pears — ripe but firm (8 ounces each)
CAKE:
1 cup walnuts — toasted
1/2 cup all-purpose flour — (2 1/2 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar — (7 ounces)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter — melted
1/4 cup vegetable oil

Notes: It is strongly recommended to baking this cake in a light-colored cake pan with sides that are at least 2 inches tall. If using a dark-colored pan, start checking for doneness at 1 hour, and note that the cake may dome in the center and the topping may become too sticky. Serve with creme fraiche, or lightly sweetened whipped cream.
1. TOPPING: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 300°F. Grease 9-inch round cake pan and line bottom with parchment paper. Pour melted butter over bottom of pan and swirl to evenly coat. Combine sugar, cornstarch, and salt in small bowl and sprinkle evenly over melted butter.
2. Peel, halve, and core pears. Set aside 1 pear half and reserve for other use. Cut remaining 5 pear halves into 4 wedges each. Arrange pears in circular pattern around cake pan with tapered ends pointing inward. Arrange two smallest pear wedges in center or cut the pieces to fit.
3. CAKE: Pulse walnuts, flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in food processor until walnuts are finely ground, 8 to 10 pulses. Transfer walnut mixture to bowl.
4. Process eggs and sugar in now-empty processor until very pale yellow, about 2 minutes. With processor running, add melted butter and oil in steady stream until incorporated. Add walnut mixture and pulse to combine, 4 to 5 pulses. Pour batter evenly over pears (some pear may show through; cake will bake up over the fruit).
5. Bake until center of cake is set and bounces back when gently pressed and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 1 hour 10 minutes to 1 1/4 hours, rotating pan after 40 minutes. Let cake cool in pan on wire rack for 15 minutes. Carefully run paring knife or offset spatula around sides of pan. Invert cake onto wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet; discard parchment. Let cake cool for about 2 hours. Transfer to serving platter, cut into wedges, and serve.
Per Serving: 501 Calories; 29g Fat (50.9% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 56g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 111mg Cholesterol; 235mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on October 18th, 2017:

    We don’t get those pears here but what we have been getting is rock hard ones which sit in the fruit bowl for a week whilst you wait for them to get soft, then bam, they are rotten before you taste one. Such a disappointment.

    Yes, we have the same problem here. Sorry you can’t get Bosc there – you know what they are? Brown skinned. Bigger than average pears. . . carolyn t

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on October 23rd, 2017:

    We seem to get only Conference and Comice here.

    I’ve never heard of Conference pears! Comice would work, though – they’d just be a bit mushy once they cook, I think. . . carolyn t

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