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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 January 25th, 2008.

blue chip choc chip cookie
I must admit that when I read this recipe the first time, I thought “it’s just another variation on chocolate chip cookies.” Why fool with a good thing, my mind said. I’ve relied on the good-old Tollhouse (Nestle’s) recipe, and never been unhappy with it. But the further I read into Smitten Kitchen’s blog, the more I became convinced I’d best try this recipe. When you read the list of ingredients you definitely will think this is not all that different. Yes, more chips. And more nuts. But really, what’s that mean but just a more densely populated cookie? But then you read the details, and you find out that there really are some differences:

1. You must start with cold butter

2. The nuts are toasted

3. The nuts are chopped finely so they almost disappear in the cookie

4. The cookies are baked differently – on parchment in a 300 degree F. oven for a long time

And are they a radical change? Well, maybe radical is too strong a word. Are they different? Yes. The texture is different – they’re nicely crumbly and crisp. There is definitely something different about the nuts – besides the fact that there are a LOT of nuts (and chips) in these cookies. But having toasted the walnuts makes a huge difference. I used my food processor to chop the nuts, and did just as the recipe indicates – lots of the nuts were crumbs, but there were some pea-sized pieces in there too. Nothing larger, though. To say that I loved these is putting it mildly. These may be my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe from henceforth. Smitten’s recipe came from David Liebovitz’s book, The Great Book of Chocolate. I made no alterations to this recipe. My hat’s off to Deb for passing on Liebovitz’s recipe to all of us chocolate chip cookie fans.

Cook’s Notes: Having read some of Smitten’s comments – a couple of people had problems with them – I got everything prepped before I started mixing the cookies. The problems others had, I believe, might have been caused by the butter not being thoroughly chilled when they started making the cookies. Or, it could have been the type of butter used. So, my oven was hot. The dry ingredients were combined. The eggs and vanilla were standing by. The cookie sheets were ready. I chopped up the butter into the 1/2 inch cubes then put them back in the refrigerator while I did all the other prep work. Once I began to mix the cookies they took little more than a minute or two to be ready for plopping onto the parchment-lined cookie sheets. They took longer to bake – the recipe indicates 18 minutes. Mine took about 22, and my oven runs hot, so was surprised. I also have decided these cookies are better when they’re fresh. They don’t seem to have the same magical taste once they’ve been frozen. Don’t know how that can be, but it is. Would welcome anyone else’s opinion about it.
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“Blue Chip” Chocolate Chip Cookies

Original Recipe: The Great Book of Chocolate by David Lebovitz
Source: Deb at the Smitten Kitchen Blog
Servings: 20
NOTES: Make sure the butter is cold. Make sure walnuts are very finely chopped – with some pieces as large as a pea, but with some almost a powder.

1/2 cup granulated sugar — (100 grams)
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar — (120 grams)
8 tablespoons unsalted butter — (115 grams) cold, cut in 1/2 inch pieces
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour — (175 grams)
1/4 teaspoon salt — or 1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips — (200 grams)
1 cup walnuts — or pecans, (130 grams) toasted and VERY finely chopped

1. Adjust the oven rack to the top third of the oven and preheat to 300F (150C). Line three baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Beat the sugars and butters together until smooth. Mix in the egg, vanilla, and baking soda.
3. Stir together the flour and salt, then mix them into the batter. Mix in the chocolate chips and nuts.
4. Scoop the cookie dough into 2 tablespoon balls and place 8 balls, spaced 4 inches (10cm) apart, on each of the baking sheets.
5. Bake for 18 minutes, or until pale golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.
6. Store at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 3 days. (I always freeze my cookies)
Per Serving: 212 Calories; 12g Fat (49.3% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 25g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 23mg Cholesterol; 66mg Sodium.

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