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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 Appetizers, on October 2nd, 2009.

cheese ball whole

Cheese Ball. Brings back memories for me of nearly every celebratory party of the 1960’s. Nearly every cook made a cheese ball. They went out of fashion, for sure. But they’re actually quite good, and it took going to a cooking class with Cathy Thomas (the food editor of our local  newspaper, the Orange County Register), to try an updated version.

I was all over this cheese ball with a hint of curry powder in it. The sharp cheddar plays a minor role here, although you do know there’s a sharper cheese in it. But it’s the toppings that set this apart. The mango chutney, the toasted coconut (unsweetened), toasted pecans, green onions and dried cranberries. No 1960 cheese ball ever had that kind of stuff on it. Cathy served this cheese ball with water crackers, but the star accompaniment is slices of apple. That’s a marriage made in heaven.

And, did I tell you this recipe is EASY? Really. The cheese ball itself is made in the food processor (cream cheese, sharp cheddar and curry powder). And you form it into a disk shape (mine was more round there in the picture, I’d advise making a flatter type, so more of the toppings will stay on the top). It’s chilled for awhile. Then you make the toppings – I toasted the pecans and the unsweetened coconut together, although the coconut will toast faster, so it might be better to do them separately.

cheese ball cut You chop up some green onions (including the green tops) and dried cranberries (I chopped them because sometimes they’re really big and maybe people don’t want so much of them in one bite). Once you take the cheese ball out of the refrigerator (about 30 minutes before you want to serve it), spoon on the mango chutney. All the toppings kind of adhere to the sticky chutney, so be generous with it. The pecans and coconut go on first, then the green onions and cranberries last. Sit back and wait to hear raves from people about it. I thought I’d have plenty of leftovers when I served it last week to some friends. Well, they ate 3/4 of it, so when I served the remainder I packed on some more toppings. It was barely enough. I’ll be making this again and again. Our friends are going to get tired of it, I’ll be serving it so often. Does that tell you you need to MAKE THIS? Hope so.
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Bombay Cheese Ball

Recipe: From a cooking class with Cathy Thomas,
Food Editor, Orange County Register
Servings: 8 (maybe)

8 ounces cream cheese — room temp, cut into pieces
4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese — room temp, grated
1/4 teaspoon curry powder — or more to taste
1/2 cup mango chutney — or more if preferred (chopped, if pieces are large)
2 tablespoons coconut — unsweeted, flaked, toasted
1/4 cup toasted pecans — chopped
1 tablespoon green onions — finely minced, including green tops
1 1/2 tablespoons dried cranberries — chopped

1. Combine cream cheese, grated cheddar and curry powder in food processor fitted with metal blade. Puree until smooth. Shape cheese into a ball (it’s be soft) or flatter disk shape. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 3-4 hours. Can be made a few days in advance.
2. Unwrap cheese ball and place in the center of a serving platter. Sprinkle all the garnishes on top, starting with the chutney (so the other things will stick to it), and ending with the dried cranberries. Serve with apple wedges and water crackers.
Per Serving: 200 Calories; 15g Fat (67.0% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 11g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 46mg Cholesterol; 176mg Sodium.

Two years ago: Southern Peach Cobbler

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  1. Jeannie Wolff

    said on September 15th, 2012:

    Hi Carolyn…this cheese ball sounds awesome! Can’t wsit to make it. Since I’ve never bought chutney wanted to know what brand you use. Just discovered your sight and really love it, especially your ‘favs’…… Thanks!!

    Hi Jeannie- if I’m inspired I make my own, but the recipe called for bottled mango chutney. Most large markets carry at least one type. I’m on a trip right now and can’t go to my frig to see what I have. Major Greys? Something like that. . . . Carolyn t

  2. Jeannie Wolff

    said on September 21st, 2012:

    Hi Carolyn, man, is this stuff good! I made it last night and had a little,and it was good, but today it is much better. I noticed the chutney dried out a little so, the next time I make it I’ll really load it on. Have you ever tried or considered a different chutney? And, you’re right, it’s MUCH better with apple slices. I used Granny Smiths since that’s what I had. You?

    Hi Jeannie – I don’t remember for sure, but I think I used a red apple type. Am so glad you liked it! . . . Carolyn t

  3. Debbie McDonald

    said on December 14th, 2012:

    Hi Carolyn,

    I had this cheese ball today made by your friend and mine, Susan. It is delicious and so different from the standard cheese ball. I love reading and trying your recipes and your site is part of my daily blog reading.

    Thank you, Debbie. Yes, Sue is a dear friend – you’re lucky to have her living near you now! And thanks for reading my blog so regularly! . . .carolyn t

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