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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 August 24th, 2009.

plum cobbler strip

Oh my goodness gracious, was this ever good. Confession time here: I don’t know if I’ve ever made a plum cobbler. But this recipe may be the first, last and the only recipe I’ll ever use. I’d done a google search for plum recipes, went to the first result from and when I saw this title, well, that was all it took. I had about 8 really large California plums that needed to be eaten or used somehow. The recipe calls for 2 1/2 pounds – that was exactly what I had. If you have small plums, you’d best weigh them to make sure you have sufficient. This recipe could surely be halved easily enough, although half an egg is a bit of a problem!

The pitted and quartered plums are mixed in a bowl with some brown sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon and lemon juice (I used lime, cuz that’s what I had). You pour them out into a baking dish (shallow, not deep). A few little bits of butter are dotted on the top. Then you mix in the processor some sugar (I used half Splenda), flour, baking powder, salt and almonds; then you add one egg and mix that. The mixture is gently sprinkled over the top of the plums. Gently pull a few of the plum quarters up, so a few of the ends are peeking through the streusel. A few more almonds are added to the top and the dish is baked for 45 minutes. Here’s what it looked like fresh out of the oven:

plum cobbler baked So, the prep probably took about 15 minutes max, baking was 45, and we were able to have a little scoop of it about 20 minutes later, with a little glug of heavy cream poured around it. Highly recommended!
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Plum and Almond Cobbler (Easy)

Servings: 8

1/2 cup light brown sugar — firmly packed
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 1/2 lb plums — pitted, quartered
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter — cut into bits
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sliced almonds
1 large egg — lightly beaten

1. In a bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, cornstarch and cinnamon. Add the plums, lemon juice and butter. Toss the mixture thoroughly and spoon into a shallow 3-quart baking dish.
2. Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C).
3. In a food processor, pulse together the granulated sugar, all-purpose flour, baking powder, salt, and ½ cup of the sliced almonds until the almonds are finely ground.
4. Add the egg and pulse until blended.
5. Spoon the flour mixture over the plum mixture, bringing some plum wedges up for presentation.
6. Sprinkle the remaining ¼ cup of almonds over the cobbler.
7. Bake in the middle of oven for 45 minutes, or until golden and bubbling. Allow to cool on rack. Serve warm.
Per Serving: 370 Calories; 12g Fat (26.8% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 65g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 34mg Cholesterol; 209mg Sodium.

A year ago: Tomato Salad with Goat Cheese
Two years ago: Asparagus with Chile Butter

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  1. Kathleen Heckathorn

    said on August 24th, 2009:

    Carolyn, You have to go see the movie Julie and Julia if you haven’t already. Made me think of you. And me!

    Hi Kathleen – yes, Dave and I went to see it. I thought it was just fabulous. Dave even shed a tear at the end, along with me. Seeing them prepare food (they did make real food during the movie making) was fun. Some food bloggers have said that seeing it the 2nd time was even better – they picked up on many more things than the 1st time around. Hope it comes out in DVD soon. .. . carolyn t

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