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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 July 30th, 2009.

cherry compote 3

These probably look just like the bowl of cherries I showed you a couple of days ago. But they’re NOT. Well, same cherries, but cooked. Same set-up (background, still left “up” in my mini kitchen studio area, but different bowl. I know, they don’t look cooked, do they? They’re not stewed for very long, but oh do they have flavor, big time.

cherries macerating 1 In Russ Parsons’ book, How to Pick a Peach, he mentions a simple recipe of his. This one. It’s just pitted fresh cherries, mixed with some sugar (pictured left at the macerating stage), then with some red wine, some spices, briefly simmered on the stove, a splash of balsamic vinegar added and you’re done.

Good for spooning over vanilla ice cream. Because they still had some shape to them I decided to cut them in half. They also didn’t have much juice left to them, but that’s the way Parsons makes them. I’d prefer some juice to it, so you might add a bit more red wine and sugar to it. The flavor is elegant. Deep. Complex (especially with the balsamic added at the end). Really good – true cherry flavor. With backbone. I made these a couple of days ago, and once they’d rested in the refrigerator, they’d softened up a lot more than the photo at top indicates – you can see them better below with the ice cream. Soft cherries, the way they ought to be on top of ice cream.

bing cherry compote with ice cream 1I did end up adding just a bit more red wine to the compote during the cooking stage than the recipe indicates, but OH, is this ever piquant. I’ll be making this again. And again. But only when Bings are in season.
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Fresh Bing Cherry Compote

Recipe: adapted from Russ Parsons’ “How to Pick a Peach”
Servings: 4

1 1/3 pounds cherries — fresh, Bing
1/4 cup sugar
1 whole clove
1 whole allspice berry
1 stick cinnamon — 1 1/2 inches long
1/4 cup red wine [I added more]
1 1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

1. Pit the cherries. You want to have 1 pound of pitted cherries.
2. In a bowl combine the cherries and sugar. Stir and set aside for about 30-45 minutes.
3. Add 1/4 cup of red wine, stir and set aside for 15 minutes.
4. Pour the mixture into a flat, wide skillet (just large enough to hold the cherries in a single layer). Combine in a cheesecloth bag the cinnamon stick, clove and allspice. Tie together and place it into the pan with the cherries.
5. Bring the cherries to a boil and simmer at a fairly high heat for about 10 minutes, while the juices begin the thicken. The cherries will still be in one piece.
6. Remove from heat and add the balsamic vinegar to the mixture. Cool, chill, and serve over vanilla ice cream.
Per Serving: 143 Calories; 1g Fat (7.1% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 33g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 17mg Sodium.

A year ago: Irish Cream Brownies
Two years ago: Normandy Apricot Custard

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  1. Debbie

    said on August 2nd, 2009:

    What type of red wine did you use for this recipe? The bing cherries were on sale at the store today so I bought a bag so I could fix this yummy looking compote.

    I think it was pinot noir – it was whatever we had open at the time – but I’m fairly certain it was pinot. BUT, any regular red wine would be fine. Even a chianti would work, but would be more acidic. If you used a sweeter red wine, I wouldn’t add as much sugar, but most red wines are in the low to moderate sweetness. A more fruity red would work the best. Even a zinfandel. A cab. Any of the above. . . you’ll be SO glad you’ve made this. Let me know what you think of it. . . Carolyn T

  2. Debbie

    said on August 11th, 2009:

    I made the compote a couple of nights ago with a cab. The cherries are delicious & I’ve enjoyed eating them with yogurt & granola for breakfast. Thanks for the recipe!

    Cherries aren’t visible at our markets anymore. Sob! I’ll have to wait until next summer to make this again, unless I do it with frozen cherries. Glad you liked it! . . . carolyn t

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