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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 aging 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, wealthy women) 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.

I’ve written up an entire blog post about this book. (It hasn’t been posted yet, but will soon.) It may be one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a memoir by Pat Conroy (an author I’ve long admired). He died a year or so ago – sad, that. In order to get the most out of My Reading Life, I recommend you BUY THE HARDBACK. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s an autobiography of sorts, but not really. He never wrote one, I don’t think, and I doubt he would ever have written one as he likely didn’t believe anyone would want to read about his (sad) life. In this memoir, he chronicles the books (and the people who recommended them) that influenced his life. Starting at his mother’s knees and continuing through influential teachers and mentors and friends. One of my book clubs read it, and I devoured it, cover to cover, with little plastic flags inserted all the way through to re-read some of the prose. Pat Conroy was a fabulous writer – he studied words from a young age and used them widely and wisely throughout his writing, but better than most authors would. He adored his mother, and hated (with venom) his aviator military father who physically abused everyone in the family, including his mother. They all took it like stoic Buddhas. I’m going to have to read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel because of reading this book. I’ve never read it. Conroy says that book’s first page is the best first page of any book he ever read in his life. Wow. And maybe my book group is going to re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Vintage Classics) too because of the chapter on that book. We might have to assign that to a 2-month or longer read. If you have friends or family who are avid readers, this would make a great gift, this book, My Reading Life. If YOU are a reader, it needs to be on your bookshelf, but in hardback, so you can go back to it and re-read his stories. It’s a series of essays, each one about a sub-section of his life. A must-have and a must-read.

Also read The Towers of Tuscany by Carol Cram. It was a bargain book through amazon or bookbub (e-book). Back in the Middle Ages women were forbidden to be artists. Their only place was in the home, caring for children and sewing and cooking. But the heroine in this book was taught to paint by her widowed artist-father (in secret, of course). When her father suddenly dies, all hell breaks loose and she must fend for herself. Much of the book takes place in Siena (and also San Gimignano) as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

 

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 March 14th, 2009.

hazelnut-cc-cookies

A dear friend of mine is going through a tough patch right now with her health, and because of medication she’s taking, her appetite is about zilch, and the only thing that sounds good to eat, and that she nearly CAN eat, is chocolate chip cookies. With nuts. Soft chocolate chip cookies with nuts to be exact.

I’m faced with a dilemma – I prefer crispy cookies, so anytime my friend wants cookies, she has had to dunk them in coffee to make them palatable. I figured that needs to change. I CAN make cookies that are softer. And since I’m giving her ALL of the cookies (except for the one or two my DH and I ate just after baking them) I needn’t worry that my crispy-cookie-craving will be troubled! We still have cookies in the freezer from the last batch of my favorite One Bowl Thin & Buttery CC cookies from a couple of weeks ago.

These cookies came from a Rick Malgieri cookbook called Chocolate. But I read about them at Jennifer’s blog, Bake or Break. Hazelnuts are definitely on my radar, and with the addition of Frangelico (I used rum just because I didn’t have any Frangelico), a delish combo was made. Jennifer said that the cookies had a crispy edge, but were softer and mounded in the middle. Perfect.

Definitely easy to make, these came together in no time flat. I heated the cube and a half of butter in the microwave for about 15 seconds to get it to perfect soft mixing consistency. I forgot to toast the hazelnuts, but hey, they tasted just great anyway. I used dark rum (more flavor), and enjoyed the little zing it gave the batter. The rum is very, very subtle, so you needn’t worry that it will taste like alcohol.
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Hazelnut Chocolate Chip Cookies

Recipe: Nick Malgieri’s cookbook, Chocolate, via Bake or Break blog
Servings: 40

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter — softened
1 cup light brown sugar
1 tablespoon dark rum — or Frangelico
1 whole egg
1 whole egg yolk
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup hazelnuts — toasted, coarsely chopped
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 375.
2. Beat the softened butter and brown sugar, then add and beat in the rum or Frangelico, egg and egg yolk.
3. Mix together the flour, baking soda and salt and stir into the butter and sugar mixture. Blend in hazelnuts and chocolate chips.
4. Drop batter (about a tablespoon each) onto a Silpat or parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 12 minutes (or up to 15, depending on your oven). Cool completely on baking pan (about 5 minutes), then remove and continue baking.
Per Serving: 130 Calories; 8g Fat (56.0% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 13g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 20mg Cholesterol; 63mg Sodium.

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