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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 Breads, Desserts, on March 16th, 2010.

My friend Linda, who came up to visit last week, was telling me all about Tyler Florence, and about how much she enjoys his cookbooks (I bought her one for Christmas), his Food Network programs, and his recipes. Naturally, I had to go check him out. It’s not like I didn’t know who he was – I did – or that I’d never watched his show – I had – but somehow I’d never tried any of his recipes. So, I’ve started to Tivo his programs now, and I’m subscribed to his blog (through his website). And in the process I came across this chocolate banana bread recipe.

At a local restaurant we go to now and then, they offer a tart that always rocks my boat – it’s a very small pastry shell filled with chocolate pudding, with sliced bananas on top, then some whipped cream on top of that, with more bananas. It’s been a year or two since I’ve had one of them, so I thought maybe this chocolate banana bread would sort-of satisfy that flavor need.

The bread is quite easy to make – you just have to have some very ripe bananas. I think Tyler mentions it in his blog piece – gotta have ultra-ripe bananas or it just doesn’t have the flavor he knows it can have. The bread calls for both cocoa – I used Penzey’s natural (which is extra dark), not Dutch processed, which weakens the flavor –  and semisweet chocolate (I used some Ghiradelli chocolate chips I had in the stash). Otherwise, the bread is typical (butter, flour, baking powder, sugar, eggs). It requires little mixing once you get everything all together and it’s baked for a little under an hour. I should have rapped the pan once on the counter (see the air bubbles in the top half of the bread in the photo above), but otherwise it was easy to remove and slice. The taste is really good – I mean really, really good. Very chocolate-y and moderately high on banana flavor too. I like it very much and would definitely make it again.

Chocolate Banana Bread

Recipe By: Tyler Florence (on his website)
Serving Size: 12

NOTES: You won’t need to butter the pan if you use a nonstick bread pan. The bread develops deep cracks during the baking process, but it does flatten some once it cools.

1/2 cup unsalted butter — (1 stick) softened, plus more for the pan
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate — melted
2 large eggs
3 whole bananas — ripe
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan. Mix together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. In another bowl, cream the butter until lightened, then beat in the chocolate, eggs, bananas, and vanilla. Stir in the dry ingredients just until combined and no streaks of flour are visible; do not overbeat.
2. Pour the batter into the loaf pan. Drop the pan on the counter from about 2-3 inches above it (to pop any air bubbles in the batter) and bake until a toothpick stuck into the center of the bread comes out almost clean, 50 to 60 minutes. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for at least 15 minutes before unmolding.
Per Serving: 286 Calories; 14g Fat (42.2% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 39g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 56mg Cholesterol; 233mg Sodium.
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A year ago: Corned Beef Dinner
Two years ago: Fumi Chinese Chicken Salad

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