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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 Breads, Brunch, on February 1st, 2008.


As a card-carrying chocoholic, I will attest, these little numbers are too darned good. I ate a whole one plus a little piece of another just after baking. And it took all my will power to stay out of them. My advice: either don’t make them at all, or put the leftovers – immediately – into the freezer.

I was putting away recipe clippings the other day, and needed something to fix for DH’s Bible study group, and this recipe went into the “try immediately” stack. They came together easily, although I did dirty-up many a bowl getting them ready. I mixed up the dry ingredients the night before. I watched a demo on TV just the other day of a chef mixing in cold butter to flour. You do it by hand, just smashing the little pieces of butter and making those pieces smaller and smaller by sifting the mixture through your hands and pressing. It was fun, actually. Made a bit of a mess of my hands, but so what? Then you add the liquid ingredients (heavy cream and egg yolk), before kneading slightly into a big blob and pressing it out for cutting. I brushed the tops with heavy cream instead of milk, and I sprinkled the tops with just a tad of white sugar too. Were these good? Oh my yes. The recipe is from an issue of Bon Appetit in 2006, I believe, and is credited to The Balmoral Hotel near Edinburgh, Scotland, The Bollinger Bar at Palm Court.

Here are the scones before baking, brushed with cream and sprinkled with granulated sugar.
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Chocolate Scones

Recipe: The Bollinger Bar at Palm Court, Balmoral Hotel, Scotland
Servings: 18
Serving Ideas: Serve with raspberry jam and clotted cream.

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter — chilled, cut up into 1/2 inch cubes
1 1/4 cups heavy cream — chilled [I had to add about 1 T. more]
1 egg yolk
Milk — to brush tops, as needed

1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
2. Combine flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, cocoa powder in a large mixing bowl. Using a pastry blender, cut in butter until a coarse meal is formed. Or, use your hands to press the butter pieces smaller and smaller until it’s a coarse meal.
3. Whisk together the egg yolk and cream in a small bowl, then stir into the flour mixture just enough to blend (do not overmix). Dump dough onto a lightly floured surface, dust your hands lightly with flour and knead dough gently 5 times, just to bring the dough together. Gently press dough into a thick round, then use a 2 1/2″ round biscuit cutter to cut out scones. Gather scraps, reform your dough circle and cut remaining scones out.
4. Bake on large baking sheet lined with parchment and brush lightly with a bit of milk. Bake until puffy and dry around the edges, about 18 minutes.
5. Cool on racks slightly.
Per Serving: 196 Calories; 12g Fat (53.5% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 21g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 48mg Cholesterol; 122mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on February 1st, 2008:

    I think I’d better pass on those if they are addictive.

    Are you able, Carolyn, to tell me what the difference is between one of your bicuits and one of our scones? For the life of me I have been unable to tell, for a lot of years!

  2. Carolyn T

    said on February 1st, 2008:

    Certainly there is some international culinary confusion about the words biscuit and scone. Here in the U.S. biscuits are a savory bread you’d serve with an entree. I think a scone is a scone wherever it’s served. But in Britain (and maybe in Australia too) when you say biscuit, it’s what we call a cookie. So in those places, you’d have a cup of coffee and a biscuit (a cookie).

    My favorite rich biscuit is very similar to a scone (side by side the ingredients are almost identical) but the biscuit has no sugar in it or fruit, while the scone is sweetened. Does that help?

  3. Toffeeapple

    said on February 2nd, 2008:

    Yes, thank you, it does help. I seldomn think of a scone as being sweet, always preferring savoury things to eat so that might be where my confusion started. My first American bicuit was eaten in North Carolina, with chicken gravy. I enjoyed it very much! That is also where I had grits for the first time (actually, it was in Charleston so I think that is SC. They were so delicious, creamy and buttery, yum…

  4. Kristen

    said on February 3rd, 2008:

    Oh my… those do look addictive!

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