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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 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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