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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 Desserts, on May 27th, 2009.

butterscotch pud

It occurred to me to stop yesterday as I was driving to my friend Norma’s house (to deliver 6 of these little babies) to take a photo of a stop sign, or a red light. Something startling to make you, my readers, stop everything and make this recipe. In lieu of that, I hope the photo above will make you salivate. It should, because once you’ve tasted this divine pudding, you may never have any other pudding. Bar none. Ever.

The recipe came from Dorie Greenspan, from her book, Baking: From My  Home to Yours. And I think the bloggers out there who call themselves TWD (Tuesdays with Dorie, where the entire group makes a single recipe from this very cookbook each week) made this a month or so ago. I read countless blogs about a butterscotch pudding, so I just assume it was Dorie’s recipe. Nothing, though, prepared me for the sublime taste of this pudding. What’s in it? Milk, some cream, butter, brown sugar, some regular sugar, vanilla, egg yolks, cornstarch and . . AND . . . single malt scotch. That’s the best part. And believe it or not, there’s less than a tablespoon of Scotch in the entire recipe, but it permeates everything. Every, single, solitary, bite. Oh, my.

It just so happens that many years ago, my DH and I did learn to enjoy single malt Scotch. We were in Scotland, staying at a lovely inn, and before dinner we visited a pub, where the bartender suggested we both try about 4 or 5 single malts. He poured about a tablespoon into each glass, had us taste each of them, and decide which one we liked best. He didn’t charge us for the tastings, which was very nice! My husband chose one of the more peat-y ones. I chose Dalwhinnie, a smooth honeyed elixir of a single malt. At Heathrow en route home I stopped into the duty-free and bought a bottle of Dalwhinnie. I’ve had it ever since. There is about a cup left in the bottle, and it’s been at least 20 years. But, my readers, there will be less and less because it’s gonna get used up making this pudding. Soon.

butterscotch-pud-ramekinsDave and I had two of the little ramekins after dinner last night. Dave said, uhm, can I have another one? No, you can’t, the rest are going to Norma & Mike. Oh darn, he said. But, then, maybe you could make another batch tomorrow? Maybe? It wasn’t that hard, was it, he asked? Well, it’s not exactly like stirring up a boxed pudding mix, that’s for sure, and there were more steps in this version than in many, many puddings. But now that I’ve done it once, it wouldn’t be so hard to repeat it. And, I DO have the Dalwhinnie.
printer-friendly PDF

Real Butterscotch Pudding

Recipe: Baking: From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan
Servings: 6

1/2 cup brown sugar — lightly packed
3 tablespoons water
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup whole milk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter — cut into 4 pieces, at room temp
2 teaspoons vanilla extract — use the real thing
2 tablespoons single malt scotch whiskey
2/3 cup heavy cream — whip up for topping on each ramekin

1. Getting ready: have six 4-6 ounce ramekins ready (to hold about 1/2 to 3/4 cup each).
2. Put the brown sugar and water in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, put the pan over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Stirring and lowering the heat if necessary, boil for 2 minutes. Add 1 1/2 cups milk and 1/2 cup cream and bring to a boil – don’t worry if, as it’s heating, the mixture curdles.
3. While the milk is heating, put the cornstarch and salt into a food processor and whir to blend. Turn them out onto a piece of waxed paper, put the sugar and egg yolks into the processor and blend for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the remaining 1/4 cup milk and pulse just to mix, then add the dry ingredients and pulse a few times to blend.
4. With the machine running, very slowly, pour in the hot liquid. Process for a few seconds, then pour everything back into the saucepan. Whisk without stopping over medium heat – making sure to get into the edges of the pan – until the pudding thickens and a couple of bubbles burble up to the surface and pop (about 2 minutes). You don’t want the pudding to boil, but you do want it to thicken, so lower the heat, if necessary.
5. Scrape the pudding back into the food processor (if there’s a scorched spot, avoid it as you scrape) and pulse a couple of times. Add the butter, vanilla and Scotch and pulse until everything is evenly blended.
6. Pour the pudding into the ramekins. If you don’t want a skin to form, press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of each pudding to create an airtight seal. Refrigerate the puddings for at least 4 hours.
Per Serving: 389 Calories; 28g Fat (65.6% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 28g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 195mg Cholesterol; 151mg Sodium.

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