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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 Veggies/sides, on January 30th, 2008.

mashedpotatoesmascarpone
Ah. Mashed potatoes. With some little puddles of melted butter. What’s there not to like, I ask you?

When I was planning the menu for the dinner I did the other night, I wanted something to go with the pork chops and apple cider sauce. Something that would also be a vehicle for the sauce. I could have made plain rice (which I admit, sounded the best), but somehow the cider sauce didn’t sound good with brown rice. I rarely make white rice anymore. I actually don’t make mashed potatoes much either. Last time was Thanksgiving dinner. But, after pondering my menu, I decided mashed potatoes were the best fit. But not just plain mashed potatoes. Once I consulted my recipe collection I knew the mashed potatoes with mascarpone was the right one. It has tons of chopped Italian parsley in it, and of course, an ample amount of mascarpone.

Probably most people think mascarpone is used mostly for desserts. And here in the U.S., I suppose it is. But after all, it’s just a cheese. Something like cream cheese, but made a bit differently. It has a consistency that’s in between sour cream and cream cheese, and it has a very creamy taste. The credit for this recipe goes to Tarla Fallgatter, a cooking instructor here in our part of the world.

You cook the potatoes with the green onions, which flavors the potatoes throughout. Then you mash them by hand (you want a few lumps) and add in the mascarpone, a bit of the water you cooked the potatoes in, and a mound of chopped Italian parsley. Season it, and you’re done. Making this recipe seemed like the right option since I could make this ahead. Once made, I plopped the whole batch into my crockpot and set it to low, then scooped it out into a serving bowl at the last minute. Delicious.
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Mashed Potatoes with Mascarpone

Recipe: Tarla Fallgatter, cooking instructor
Servings: 8
NOTES: Be sure to save a cup of the potato water when you drain the potato and green onion mixture. And be careful adding white pepper – it’s more potent than black pepper.

3 pounds Yukon gold potatoes — scrubbed
2 bunches green onions — coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups Mascarpone cheese — room temperature
1/4 cup Italian Parsley — chopped
Ground white pepper and salt — to taste
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1. Cut the potatoes into large chunks if they’re big. Cover with water in a large saucepan and add green onions. Add salt, cover and simmer for about 25 minutes.
2. Drain potatoes, reserving about 1 cup of the cooking water. Return potatoes to the pan and coarsely mash them with a potato masher, add cheese, parsley and some of the cooking liquid if they are too stiff. Add additional liquid to make the right consistency. Season to taste with salt and white pepper. Keep warm in a low oven until ready to serve.
Per Serving: 263 Calories; 13g Fat (43.9% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 31g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 37mg Cholesterol; 25mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on February 1st, 2008:

    You know, I’d be so happy to have just that on my plate. Mashed potato is heavenly isn’t it? What could be more soothing on a cold and windy February evening, especially with extra butter puddles…

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