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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 June 1st, 2010.

At yet another cooking class last week, when Tarla Fallgatter was making this streusel cake, it sounded familiar. Like maybe she’d made this for a previous class, perhaps. When I got home I checked my recipe software and sure enough, she had made this before, but with slightly different fruit. The one from 2007 used mostly peaches. This one was mostly apricots and plums. But the cake is the same. The streusel is the same. And it’s very good. Altogether good. Also quite easy too. It was served warm with a nice scoop of vanilla ice cream. I think everyone at the class did everything possible except lick the plate. This is going on my favorites list, if it’s not already there.

There’s a cake batter. There’s a streusel mixture that’s made in a food processor. And there’s chopped up fresh fruit (mostly stone fruit, or you can use whatever fruit you’d like in this case). You add half the fruit TO the cake batter, spread it in a 9×9 (or something close to that size) pan, then sprinkle the top with the remaining fruit, then add the streusel. Bake. Easy. Quick. And extra tasty. Tarla happened to use plums, which are in season at the moment. And I used them too. She used apricots too (I didn’t). We both used raspberries and blackberries too. Do make the preponderance of the fruit stone fruit. She also said you could add lemon zest to the batter. And if you like nuts in this kind of dish, substitute about 2 T. of nuts for 2 T. of the flour in the streusel mixture. The dish full will serve a lot of people, actually, as you serve relatively small portions. Do note that it’s more fruit than it is cake. I like that part, and there’s only 1 1/3 cups of sugar in the whole thing. The recipe says it’ll serve 10; I think it’s more like 12, but with smaller portions. Use a large spoon to scoop a serving onto a plate, then add the ice cream on the side. Then dig in.

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Apricot-Plum-Raspberry Streusel Cake

Recipe By: From a Tarla Fallgatter cooking class, 2010
Serving Size: 10
NOTES: If you like nuts, substitute some of the flour in the streusel for chopped nuts. This can be made with any stone fruit and different berries. Whatever is available in season.

1/3 cup all-purpose flour — minus one tablespoon
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 pinch salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter — cut in small pieces, chilled
1 1/3 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter — softened
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
3 large eggs
1/4 pound apricots — cut in 1/2 inch pieces
1/4 pound plums — cut in 1/2 inch pieces
1/4 pound raspberries
2 1/2 cups vanilla ice cream

1. Position rack in lower third of oven and preheat to 375. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan, or an oval pan of a similar size. (Make sure there is sufficient room in the dish for all the cake and fruit – you don’t want it to overflow in the oven.) Butter the pan.
2. STREUSEL: In a food processor combine flour, sugar, cinnamon and salt. Add cold butter and pulse in until the butter pieces resemble small peas. Set aside.
3. CAKE: Mix the flour, baking powder and salt together. Beat butter and sugar in a food processor until creamy. Add vanilla and almond extracts. Add eggs, one at a time. Add flour and pulse just to combine. Gently fold in HALF of each of the three fruits into the batter and spread batter into the prepared pan. Distribute the remaining fruit evenly on top.
4. Sprinkle streusel over the fruit and bake until the cake springs back in the center when lightly pressed, about 45-55 minutes. Let cake cool in its pan on a rack. Serve warm with ice cream.
Per Serving: 443 Calories; 24g Fat (47.7% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 53g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 128mg Cholesterol; 244mg Sodium.

A year ago: Oven Fried Chicken
Two years ago: Frosty Strawberry Squares

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