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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 July 16th, 2011.


Oh, do I love rhubarb. As I was growing up, my mother used to have a rhubarb patch in our back yard. She’d never let me go cut any of it, though, since the leaves are poisonous. My mom and dad liked stewed rhubarb. Period. Although once in awhile my mother would make a rhubarb pie, perhaps for guests. I rarely make anything with rhubarb because my DH knows that rhubarb requires a lot of sugar to make it palatable. Therefore, he avoids it most of the time and I never make it because of that.

Picnik collageBut when were visiting our friends Sue and Lynn, and I asked to help with dinner, she handed me the printout for this one afternoon and I made it according to her recipe. Dave said yes, he’d have some. He loved it. I loved it. Sue and Lynn loved it, of course.

This recipe is quite simple – it comes from One of dozens of such recipes, but this one’s a winner, I think.

You mix up a crumble of oatmeal, flour, sugar, and some melted butter, etc. and half of it goes in the bottom of a glass baking dish. Then the fresh chunked rhubarb goes in on top of it. That’s what you can see in the top photo at left with the cornstarch-based clear sauce that’s poured over the top. The remaining crumbs are sprinkled on top.

Into the oven it goes for about an hour. Or longer if the top doesn’t quite brown sufficiently. You do want it to be a golden brown when it comes out of the oven. The baked version is in the lower photo.

During the baking the sauce and the rhubarb marry and create a lovely loose fruit mixture and the crumbs on top add a delicious crunch.

Serve it with vanilla ice cream or pour over some half and half. Whichever suits you! Thanks, Sue, for a great recipe.

What I liked about it: the flavor, the texture of the topping. Not too sweet. Not too sour. Just right, as the saying goes. Also easy!

What I didn’t like: absolutely nothing.

printer-friendly PDF

Rhubarb Crisp

Recipe By: From my friend, Susan L. (from
Serving Size: 7

1 cup flour
3/4 cup oatmeal
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup butter — melted (1 cube)
1 cup water
4 cups rhubarb — in 1/2″ chunks
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch

1. In a bowl mix flour, oatmeal, brown sugar, cinnamon and melted butter. Place half of the mixture in the bottom of a 9×9 glass baking dish
2. Add raw rhubarb on top.
3. Combine in a pan the water, vanilla, sugar and cornstarch. Cook over low heat until the mixture thickens. Pour over rhubarb and top with remaining crumb mixture.
4. Bake at 350° for 50-60 minutes (or longer) until crust is brown. Serve with vanilla ice cream or half and half poured over it.
5. You may substitute 2 cups of strawberries for 2 cups of rhubarb – if so, use 1 more T. of cornstarch.
Per Serving: 429 Calories; 14g Fat (28.8% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 74g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 35mg Cholesterol; 147mg Sodium.

A year ago: Caribbean Rice
Two years ago: Corn – everything you ever wanted to know about it
Three years ago: Peaches and Nectarines – everything you ever wanted to know about them
Four years ago: The BEST Bean Salad (a Paul Prudhomme recipe, very low calorie and VERY good)

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