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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 May 20th, 2010.

With friends coming over for a Scrabble-fest, I needed a morning kind of bread. I had mis-filed this recipe in the “bread” section. It was only after I’d gathered all the ingredients together that I read – oh, this is actually a dessert, even though it says corn bread. But, well, maybe it would be okay anyway, I hoped. And yes, it was! Clearly, it is a dessert – it’s sweet (although it’s certainly not as sweet as I’d anticipated) and crunchy from the cornmeal. It was very easy to make.

I’d read the recipe over on FoodGal’s blog last year. It’s from Sherry Yard’s cookbook Desserts by the Yard: From Brooklyn to Beverly Hills: Recipes from the Sweetest Life Ever (she of Spago pastry chef fame). Food Gal absolutely raved about this recipe, calling it a star, and billed it as an academy-award winning corn bread [dessert]. With those words, I knew I had to try it sometime. Making the bread/cake itself was fairly ordinary (although there is more sugar than in a bread, of course). Once out of the oven, though, the cake is brushed with a honey-water-butter mixture that sinks into the holes you’ve made all over the top of the cake. You can barely see in the photo above the honey mixture as it sunk part-way down. I topped it with some powdered sugar; just because. I didn’t want my guests to be confused this was a bread. Results? It was very good. And I liked it because it wasn’t as sweet as some corn cakes could have been!
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Honey-Glazed Spago Corn Bread (Cake)

Recipe By: From “Desserts By the Yard” by Sherry Yard, via Foodgal blog 7/09
Serving Size: 12

CAKE:
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cake flour
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 large eggs — at room temperature
3 ounces unsalted butter — (3/4 stick)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup milk
1/2 cup buttermilk
GLAZE:
3 ounces unsalted butter — (3/4 stick)
1/4 cup honey
1/3 cup water

1. Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9-by13-inch baking pan with aluminum foil and spray foil with baker’s spray.
2. Sift together cornmeal, all-purpose flour, cake flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt 2 times. Set aside.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs. Melt butter and immediately whisk into eggs in a slow stream. Whisk in oil, milk, and buttermilk. Whisk in dry ingredients just until combined.
4. Scrape batter into the pan and bake for 30 minutes. Rotate pan from front to back and continue to bake for 10 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
5. To make the glaze: While corn bread is baking, melt butter in a medium saucepan. Add honey and water, and whisk until blended.
6. When corn bread is done, remove from oven and poke holes all over the bread, about 1/2 inch apart, with a toothpick. Brush with the glaze and allow to cool.
Per Serving: 372 Calories; 20g Fat (48.4% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 43g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 105mg Cholesterol; 557mg Sodium.

A year ago: Stewed Eggplant and Tomatoes
Two years ago: Almond Pound Cake with Limoncello
Three years ago: Mister Charlie (casserole)

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  1. Carolyn Jung

    said on April 20th, 2011:

    Glad you loved this recipe as much as I did. The powdered sugar is an inspired touch, too. You remind me that I need to make another batch of this soon to satisfy my craving. 😉

    Yes, indeed, we liked them a lot. Thanks for visiting my blog . . . carolyn t

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