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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 October 1st, 2009.

woodford pudding closeup

Oh my goodness gracious. Why, oh why, oh why, did I not make this recipe before now. I’ve had the recipe for years. Eons. It was published in the Los Angeles Times Food Section (probably in the 1980’s). Each year back then, for several, the Times did a review of the previous years’ recipes and chose the top 10. So that meant they cooked and baked a whole lot of things in January and February, and narrowed it down to 10. I do believe that that particular year THIS recipe won top billing. So I always knew I’d get around to trying it eventually. What a mistake to have waited 20+ years!

So what kept me from making it? Probably because it’s kind of an innocuous recipe. An odd kind of pudding with jam in it, and a butterscotch sauce. I didn’t have a photograph of it, so didn’t really know what to expect. Fortunately I have a 12×7 inch Pyrex dish (exactly what’s called for here). Blackberry jam I didn’t have, so I sent my DH out to find some. He had some difficulty finding seedless (that was my decision to use seedless; the recipe doesn’t specify). He bought sugar-free, which was fine. The pudding was plenty sweet. And that meant my DH could have a normal serving of it. The sauce is VERY sweet, so don’t use much of it on the pudding/cake.

After doing some sleuthing on the internet I discovered that Woodford Pudding is a Southern dish. One website from Louisville, Kentucky had a 1903 version of the recipe in that typical spare teacup measuring recipe language used back then. Here’s what it said:

  • Woodford Pudding – Take 3 eggs, 1 teacup of granulated sugar, ½ teacup of butter,  ½ teacup of flour, 1 teacup jam or preserves, 3 teaspoons of sour milk, 1 teaspoon soda, cinnamon and nutmeg to taste. Mix well together, and stir in the beaten whites and the sour milk, with soda dissolved in it. Bake in pudding dish.

Isn’t that a hoot? I have a few recipes from my grandmother using those kinds of measurements. Have we come a long way, or what? I also learned at another website that one year when Queen Elizabeth and entourage visited the Kentucky Derby, the Derby’s Executive Chef prepared Woodford Pudding. His version contained some bourbon and was served with a bourbon sauce. So, you could probably adapt this to jam flavors of your choice, and include some other flavorings as well. I made it true to the recipes of bygone eras. Actually the history of this pudding is interesting too:

  • The dessert received its name from Woodford County, Kentucky near Lexington. Bluegrass cooks have been making Woodford Pudding for [more than] . . . a century. The recipe first appeared in the publication Housekeeping in the Bluegrass in 1875. Woodford Pudding is a spongy pudding spiced with cinnamon and similar to an English jam pudding.

Ah, jam pudding. So its origin is probably English or Scottish (you know, there were a lot of Scots who emigrated to the Kentucky and Tennessee hills, way back when). So, back to the pudding. Is it a pudding, really? It’s hard to say. It bakes up more like a cake, but yet it’s very, VERY moist and soft. Spongy sort of.  To me it’s more in-between a cake and pudding. The blackberry flavor shines through with every bite. If you make it ahead, just reheat it gently in the oven before serving, as it’s supposed to be served warm. The butterscotch sauce is just barely drizzled over it (don’t overpower it). My friend Cherrie brought some home made sour cream ice cream (recipe to come) which was a perfect foil to the sweet pudding and sauce. I didn’t begin to use up all the sauce, and I have no idea what I’ll do with the remainder. Any ideas? Well anyway, you’ve GOT to make this recipe. It’s simple, truly. Some recipes I read include 1/2 tsp. of nutmeg with the cinnamon, and another included ground cloves. Next time I make this I’ll add the nutmeg for sure. Whatever you do, you’ll be glad you did try it.
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Woodford Pudding with Butterscotch Sauce

Recipe: From a Los Angeles Times article in the 1980’s.
Servings: 10

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar — [I used half Splenda]
3 large eggs — lightly beaten
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup sour milk — or buttermilk
1 cup seedless blackberry jam — [I used sugar-free]
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup boiling water
1 dash salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. PUDDING: Cream butter with sugar until light. Add eggs and beat well. Sift flour with cinnamon. Dissolve soda in sour milk and mix with flour mixture. Beat into sugar/egg mixture. Blend in jam. Turn into greased 12×7 baking dish. Bake at 325 for 40-45 minutes. Cut in squares and serve warm with Butterscotch Sauce. And vanilla ice cream if you have it.
2. SAUCE: Mix brown sugar with flour in a heavy saucepan. Pour in boiling water and add salt. Cook and stir about 8 minutes. If mixture seems too thick, add a touch more boiling water. Remove from heat and stir in butter, cream and vanilla. Blend and keep warm until ready to serve. Makes about 2 cups.
Per Serving (assumes you eat all the sauce, which you definitely will not): 496 Calories; 17g Fat (29.5% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 86g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 105mg Cholesterol; 216mg Sodium.

Two years ago: Cabbage Patch Stew (a real family favorite, in between a soup and a stew, made with ground beef or ground turkey)

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