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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 Cookies, on December 22nd, 2007.

choc kiss treasures

Oh, this cookie recipe is a keeper. It’s from a cooking class I took with Tarla Fallgatter. I don’t know where she got the recipe – I didn’t find it on the internet, so perhaps it’s a family favorite of hers. They’re not difficult – but there are a few steps: chilling the dough, rolling into balls and coating with hazelnuts, making depressions in the dough balls, then the chocolate kiss or nonpareil pressed into the hot, just-baked cookie, then letting the tray cool before you remove them from the baking sheet. But they’re really, really GOOD.

You must know by now that I like chocolate. This cookie satisfies fully in that department. Tarla said when she makes these for children, she always uses chocolate kisses (Hershey’s) but for adults, she uses the nonpareils. This batch pictured was done with the latter, half of them with the white up, others down. When you press the candy onto the hot cookie, it slightly melts the chocolate so it sticks to the cookie top. But of course! Add this to your cookie list.
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Chocolate Kiss Treasures

Recipe: Tarla Fallgatter
Servings: 30

4 ounces unsalted butter
2/3 cup sugar
1 whole egg yolk
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour
1/3 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 whole egg white — lightly beaten
1/2 cup hazelnuts — finely chopped
30 whole Hershey kisses — or nonpareils

1. Beat together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add yolk, milk and vanilla and beat in.
2. Mix flour, cocoa and salt together and add just until combined. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill until firm, about 30 minutes.
3. Preheat oven to 350.
4. Roll scant tablespoons of dough into balls, then coat with egg white, letting excess drip off and roll in nuts to coat.
5. Arrange balls as coated, 1 1/2 inches apart on greased baking sheets. Press thumb into center of balls to flatten, leaving a depression. Bake in batches in middle of oven until puffed slightly but centers are still soft, 10-12 minutes. Remove from oven and immediately press Kiss (or nonpareil) into the center of each. Let cool 5 minutes, then transfer to racks to cool.
Per Serving: 107 Calories; 6g Fat (53.0% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 11g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 17mg Cholesterol; 26mg Sodium.

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