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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, easy, on June 26th, 2010.

Do you believe me when I tell you that something is cinchy easy? Hope so – this is one of them. It’s been years ago that Phillis Carey made something nearly the same as what I made here. So I’ve used mostly her recipe with the addition of vanilla ice cream. And when I made them the other night for our big dinner here at our house for 9 people, I didn’t use the Grand Marnier because the group was mostly tee-totallers. Here’s what you need to have on hand to serve 4:

1. vanilla ice cream
2. about a pint of fresh berries (your choice: blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries)
3. whipping cream (plus powdered sugar and vanilla)
4. vanilla meringue cookies (from Trader Joe’s, or?)
5. and Grand Marnier, if you want to use it

In Phillis’ original recipe she soaked the berries in a little bit of sugar and the Grand Marnier for an hour or so. And she crumbled up the meringue cookies in a little baggie ahead of time (I didn’t do that part). In the serving bowls above I scooped in a few blueberries first (I had more blueberries than blackberries), then I added the scoop of vanilla ice cream. Then I crumbled in the cookies (about one per bowl), added the sweetened and vanilla-added whipped cream, more fruit, a bit more meringue cookies, and lastly one more dollop of whipped cream on the top. Then I sprinkled the top with the crumbs of the meringue cookies. And you serve it immediately. Before the ice cream completely melts. What makes this dessert is the crispy, crunchy meringues – great texture. I particularly liked the ice cold ice cream as an added texture too.

Trader Joe’s does sell chocolate meringue cookies too, and I’ve thought about making this same dessert with them and chocolate ice cream, and mostly raspberries (chocolate and raspberries have a natural affinity – think black forest). Maybe marinating the raspberries with Chambord. And the whipped cream maybe lightly laced with a bit of cocoa powder. And possibly drizzled with a tiny bit of Hershey’s syrup on top? I might even sprinkle it with some almonds too. Doesn’t that sound good?  May have to try that sooner rather than later.

Anyway, the recipe is so simple to make. You could make your own meringue cookies, but why? Trader Joe’s makes good ones. You could also substitute other delicious summer fruit instead of berries, but the berries are the best! And they look the prettiest too. Try this!
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Mixed Berry Meringue Parfaits

Recipe By: Adapted from a recipe by Phyllis Carey, cookbook author
Serving Size: 4
NOTES: This is the kind of dessert you can almost always have on hand – if you have whipping cream, frozen berries in the freezer, and the meringue cookies on the shelf. It’s very easy to assemble, although you must do it at the last minute. If you’re serving a crowd, ask somebody else to help you do it. The berries may not need additional sugar – use your own discretion. You can also serve it without the ice cream, but I like the mixture of berries, cream and cold, with the crunchy from the cookies. I think the calorie count on this is way too high – probably because the program can’t determine the sizes very well – like scoops of ice cream.

16 ounces berries — mixed, Trader Joe’s frozen or fresh
5 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons Grand Marnier
6 whole meringue cookies — crumbled, Trader Joe’s
1 cup heavy cream — whipped
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
4 scoops vanilla ice cream — (use small scoops)

1. If desired, a few hours before your dinner, toss the frozen or fresh berries with sugar and Grand Marnier. Allow the berries to thaw at room temperature for about 30 minutes, then refrigerate.
2. Crumble the meringue cookies and put in a plastic bag, so they won’t absorb any moisture, until you’re ready to serve.
3. Whip the cream, adding the additional 2 T. of sugar and vanilla.
4. In tall parfait glasses layer the berries, one scoop of vanilla ice cream, meringue cookie crumbs and whipped cream in 2-3 layers, depending on the height of the glasses. Sprinkle the remaining meringue cookie crumbs on top with any additional fruit.

Two years ago: Roasted Balsamic Strawberry Ice Cream
Three years ago: Cha Cha Cha Jerk Chicken

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