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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 Veggies/sides, on May 9th, 2011.

summer_squash_casserole_ritz_crackers

Goodness me, was this ever good. The day after I made it a friend came to visit who’d watched me put it together (but who wasn’t invited to the dinner – mean, huh?) and asked to taste it. Not only did she love it, but after dishing up a few bites for her, I just licked the spoon clean and it was even delicious cold out of the refrigerator!

summer_squash_raw_slicesThe recipe has an interesting story behind it. Amanda Hesser, who compiled the 1000+ recipes of  previously published ones into the new monstrous cookbook published last year from the New York Times, The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century, wrote this as the headnote to the recipe:

Warning to food snobs: the following recipe contains Ritz crackers.

As much as the Times food writers and editors (myself included) like to think we’re covering the nation’s foodways, it’s a bit of a lie. We are and have been preponderantly New Yorkers, smitten with the new and the best on our little island, and we have sometimes ignored – or even turned up our noses at – the way most Americans are cooking.

Julia Reed, who wrote regularly for the Magazine in the early 2000s, was one of the few who had the guts to run recipes involving jarred mayonnaise and iceberg lettuce. In this casserole – and I mean casserole in the American pile-in-the-ingredients sense, not the French – a moist squash puree is held together with grated cheddar and Ritz cracker crumbs. It’s the kind of dish that probably won a cooking contest or two, and it will win you plenty of compliments. Whether or not you reveal the secret ingredient [the Ritz crackers] is up to you.

With that kind of write-up, I decided it needed to be tried. And since one of our guests was recovering from surgery and barely starting to eat anything except soft foods, I thought this would be a perfect one to try. It does use squash puree to start with, so it’s almost a soft food to begin with.

summer_squash_casserole_wholeBut, with all the different things in it – like red and green bell pepper, onion, garlic, jalapeno, cheddar, eggs, cream, sugar, salt and cayenne – plus the fresh bread crumbs on the top – it makes it a company-worthy dish for sure. The recipe is available at the New York Times website. It was published in 2002.

It’s a cinchy dish to make – and if you didn’t put the bread crumbs on the top until later, you could easily prepare this ahead of time, which I should have done. But the recipe didn’t indicate  you could, so for my first time through I stuck to the recipe exactly.

What can I tell you except that the flavors are just dynamite. You can’t taste the Ritz crackers, of course, but it does give the squash part a delicious texture, somehow. I don’t know the how of it, just that it is. There is just the right amount of heat (with one jalapeno and some cayenne added). I left the jalapeno out of one part of it so our grandson would have some, but he didn’t like it period even so. But he was the only person at the table who didn’t. Trust me on this one, okay?

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Summer-Squash Casserole

Recipe By: From The Essential New York Times Cookbook, 2010
Serving Size: 10
NOTES: This may seem like it’s over-the-top in fat and calories – well, I suppose it is – and you may scoff at using Ritz crackers. But taste this and you’ll be a convert.

2 pounds yellow squash
7 tablespoons butter
1 large onion — chopped
1 large clove garlic — chopped
1/2 red bell pepper — chopped
1/2 green bell pepper — chopped
1 medium jalapeño pepper — seeded and chopped
4 slices white bread — toasted
24 Ritz crackers — crumbed in food processor
1/2 pound sharp cheddar cheese — grated
4 large eggs — beaten
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Butter a 2 1/2-quart baking dish. Cut the squash into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Cook in boiling, salted water until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain. Purée in a food processor.
2. Melt 6 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and peppers and cook until just tender. Meanwhile, crumb the toast in a food processor, melt remaining butter and toss together.
3. Mix the squash purée, cracker crumbs and cheese. Stir in the eggs, cream, sugar and seasonings. Blend well. Pour into the baking dish. Top with bread crumbs and bake until browned, about 40 minutes.
Per Serving: 326 Calories; 25g Fat (67.0% calories from fat); 11g Protein; 17g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 147mg Cholesterol; 585mg Sodium.

Two years ago: Strawberry Mango Margarita
Three years ago: Trout Fillets
Four years ago: Creamy Cold Pea Soup

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