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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 May 4th, 2007.

Chapter 1 of the gelato story: After having made several trips to Italy in the last 10 years, I’ve come to be a real aficionado of gelato. And although I’ve had it here at home, it never seems to taste as good as it does there. Is it the air? Is it the fact that I’m on vacation? Is it just the romance of Italy? Or, more likely, I believe, milk in Italy is just different than ours, with a higher butterfat content, and the milk tastes different because of what the cows eat. I just picture all those Italian cows munching away on REAL grass and stuff, rather than the manufactured crap and exaggerated hormones American dairies feed their milkers in order to produce the highest possible amount of milk output. I’d love to be able to bring a half gallon of Italian milk home with me from some trip to Italy and see if there was a difference. Not likely with the TSA vigilant at the screening stations and us with 5-ounce limits of anything.

Chapter 2 of the gelato story: A few years ago when our friends Yvette & Joe were coming up to visit from San Diego, Yvette said she’d bring dessert. And, oh my goodness, was it wonderful. She frequents a little gelato store on India Street (Little Italy) near downtown San Diego. Called Caffe Vera, it’s run by a ubiquitous Italian man from the old country. His shop is small, his business brisk, and his gelato par excellence. Yvette brought her favorite, banana gelato, which we enjoyed after our wonderful dinner. We’ve been back several times to bring home a batch, although the banana flavor must be ordered in advance because he ripens the bananas for several days. I also made roasted banana ice cream a few days ago, but right now we’re talking about Lemon Velvet since it was my first, successful ice cream conquest.

One of the reasons gelato is different is that it’s made mostly with milk (whole milk), not cream as our traditional ice cream contains. So, theoretically, it’s a little healthier for us than ice cream. But any nutritionist would probably question my logic there. But anyway, I love making ice cream that doesn’t require making a custard (it’s traditional here in the U.S. – a sauce made with egg yolks and cream simmered until thickened, then cooled and chilled before freezing). So when this Lemon Velvet recipe appeared in the Los Angeles Times some years ago, I clipped it out in a flash because it contains more milk than anything else. The Velvet Turtle restaurant chain was widely known in Southern California for many years, and this recipe was a regular on their dessert menu. The original recipe is printed below. Normally I substitute the evaporated milk and the regular milk with Trader Joe’s fat-free half and half. And I usually add some heavy cream instead of the half and half called for.

So, now, we finally get the segue for what the photo is all about. Are you getting really bored wondering when I’m ever going to get to the recipe? Just a little more explanation. About 3 years ago when Dave asked me what I’d like for Christmas I said “a Cuisinart ICE-50BC Supreme Ice Cream Maker.” Now these dream machines aren’t cheap (photo from Amazon.com). At the time they were only available at Williams-Sonoma. So, with great anticipation I began making some different kinds of ice cream and gelato every few weeks. This is one of our favorites. Okay, now you get the recipe:
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Lemon Velvet Ice Cream

Recipe: Adapted from the Velvet Turtle, and
printed in the Los Angeles Times
Servings: 10
NOTES: This is a really smooth ice cream, and with our home-grown Meyer lemons, the perfect complement to their sweetness. This may be the best ice cream I’ve ever made in my machine. Because I like to enjoy this all year around, I freeze the lemon juice (with zest included) in 1-cup containers. Then in December when I want a little lemon pucker, it’s no trouble to prepare this. If you use other varieties of lemons the mixture may need additional sugar, so taste it and adjust as needed.

1 3/4 cups sugar
lemon zest from 2-3 lemons
1 cup fresh lemon juice
2 cups half & half
1-12 1/2-ounce can evaporated milk (I use fat-free half and half)
1 1/2 cups full-fat milk (I use fat-free half and half)
1 dash salt

1. Remove the zest from some of the lemons with a microplane grater, if possible. Combine with the fresh squeezed juice in a blender. Blend well. If you don’t have a microplane for the zest, blend this for awhile so none of the zest appears in big chunks. Pour into a large bowl with the other ingredients. Stir well to dissolve sugar. Taste for sweetness or tartness and adjust. If time permits, refrigerate.
2. Follow ice cream freezer directions and freeze in one or two batches, as needed. Scoop into a freezer container and freeze for at least one hour before serving.
Per Serving: 338 Calories; 18g Fat (47.2% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 43g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 65mg Cholesterol; 93mg Sodium.

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  1. Erika

    said on May 6th, 2007:

    What a wonderful post Carolyn! It makes me want to hop a plane and go track down some real gelato. I really need to make more homemade ice cream, although now I’m thinking I need your ice cream maker.

    Found your blog through my technorati links, btw. I’m excited to see where your blogging takes you! I’ll link to yours next time I’m updating. 🙂

  2. Erika

    said on May 6th, 2007:

    I forgot to mention…you should enter this as a yellow food for Livestrong day. You can check out the details here:

    http://winosandfoodies.typepad.com/my_weblog/2007/04/a_taste_of_yell.html

  3. Ashlee and Bill

    said on January 6th, 2008:

    I’m so glad you found my lemon sour cream pie, because now I get to try your lemon Gelato! I too LOVE lemons and have already saved many of your recipes! Thanks!

  4. Elizabeth

    said on February 15th, 2011:

    Delicious!

    So glad you enjoyed it! . . . carolyn t

  5. Elizabeth

    said on February 15th, 2011:

    Forgot to add, I also used meyer lemons and reduced the sugar to 1 1/2 cups and thought it was sweet enough. Thanks!

    Oh good, glad to know! I do love that stuff! . . . carolyn t

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