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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, on May 26th, 2010.

Most of you have probably never heard of sangak. It’s a bread. A wonderfully fragrant, thin stretchy sesame-topped bread. At a local market here, called Wholesome Choice, they carry a variety of ethnic foods, provide a full meat department, including helal, plus an indoor hot deli with ethnic foods from about 4-5 different cuisines.

Last week I stopped at Wholesome Choice in Irvine and while I shopped for produce, my DH waited in the hot bread line to buy a strip of sangak (also written sagnak sometimes). It’s an Iranian bread, cooked in a hot stone oven, and it’s popular in their culture. Sangak is/was the staple food of the Persian army. It’s soft, chewy, light, holey, stretchy, spongy and moist all at the same time. I absolutely love this stuff. The pieces are about 12-14 inches wide and probably 3-4 feet long. Maybe longer. A family of 4 would easily devour the entire thing.

When we buy it, it’s brought absolutely blistering hot right from the stone oven on a dowel and flopped over onto a piece of lightweight brown butcher paper. It’s loosely folded up and placed in your grocery cart. And I defy you to not have some as you browse the shelves or stand in the check-out line.

That night our longtime friend Joe came to visit and stay overnight with us. Instead of going out to eat (my choice), by popular demand, I brought out some leftovers and we made dinner with sangak, some Sabra brand hummus with lemon, grilled red bell peppers I had on hand, with some Feta, basil, olive oil and balsamic. We also had a little bit of leftover grilled Italian sausage. It was a heavenly light dinner. We ate all but about 6 inches of the sangak bread. I haven’t tried this technique yet (but was informed this works), but if you have leftover sangak, tear or cut it into pieces, layer it between waxed paper, seal in plastic and freeze it. When defrosted (eat it within a day or two) reheat it in a skillet or on the grill for just a brief time.

A year ago: Mini-Mocha Choc Chip Cookies
Two years ago: Field Greens with Fire Roasted Poblanos
Three years ago: Sausage Pinwheels

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  1. Pat Wilson

    said on September 30th, 2016:

    Thank you for your email recipes and narratives. I enjoy your writing and information on cooking interesting food.

    best

    Thank you Pat! I’m glad my written meanderings are entertaining! . . . Carolyn T

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