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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 Cookbooks, on January 15th, 2012.


It was just last month that I read an article in our local newspaper, written by Judy Bart Kancigor, about this book. [As an aside, I have one of Kancigor’s recipes here on my blog already – one of my favorites, a Layered Hummus & Eggplant appetizer.] Hardly before I’d finished reading the newspaper article, I went to my amazon account and added the book to my wish list. Thank you, Sara, for buying it for me for Christmas!

This book, Recipes Remembered: A Celebration of Survival is a treasure; there just are no other words for it. I’m not Jewish, and I don’t necessarily cook Jewish food as such, but I am always intrigued about the stories behind ethnic dishes. One of Kancigor’s mantras is “you don’t have to be Jewish to cook Jewish.” Yes! Until now, I’ve never owned a Jewish cookbook. Now I do, and I’m glad of it. Not only because of the history contained within the book, but because I’m grateful in some small way – happy – humbled – to honor all those souls who didn’t survive the Holocaust.

So, what’s this book all about? The writer (editor and writer), June Feiss Hersch, interviewed countless families in the process of compiling the stories and recipes in this cookbook.  Earlier, she approached the Director of the Museum of Jewish Heritage (in New York City), with the germ of an idea, to publish a cookbook of stories and associated recipes from Holocaust survivors. An aside: all the proceeds from the book go to the museum. It’s already into its 4th printing.

The recipes cover a broad Eastern European geography (ethnic and physical) including Poland, Austria, Greece, Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Russia and the Ukraine. And at the back is a lengthy list of Yiddish words, pages I referred to often, since I didn’t know the meaning of words like schmuts (dirt), cholent (a sacred stew prepared on Friday, baked overnight in a community bakery oven, to be eaten on Saturday), shtikel (morsel); and bashert (fated). I loved learning some of these new words (aside from other Yiddish words I did know: schlep, maven, nosh, kibbitz, mentsh, and shul).

As I write this, I’ve only read about half the book – I’m not even through reading the chapter on Poland (obviously there are more Polish recipes than those from other countries). But I’m awed by the stories. The true stories of survival, about the Crystal Night (when over 1,000 synagogues were burned to the ground and over 7,000 Jewish business destroyed), about people who hid in cupboards, cellars, forests, barns and other places to avoid the ghettos and concentration camps. But it’s also stories about people who did survive concentration camps (mostly ones who were interned there later in the war) or work camps. About those few who had skills the Nazis needed and wanted so they were fed better than some. About how prisoners hid food for others. About how they kept their spirits alive. About how they survived. About meeting other survivors, about first loves, marriages, boat trips to Israel, or America or Canada. About the yearning to live and thrive. About how some survivors would never – ever – talk about their wartime experiences – or shared them only at the end of their lives. And about how these proud Jewish people honor their loved ones by preparing the family recipes regularly.

Each country chapter contains numerous stories  (told from the actual survivor or a spouse or grown child) along with a photo or two about the family. About where they were from, their years of trying to escape, and managing to survive either in the dense forests with virtually no food, or in the concentration camps. And, thankfully, about their liberation and emigration somewhere else. Then, following that is a recipe, or two. Most of them are the actual recipes from the Holocaust survivor, or a descendant; a few are creations or re-creations from celebrated Jewish chefs (like Faye Levy, Mark Bittman, Daniel Boulud, Gale Gand, Ina Garten, Jonathan Waxman, Joan Nathan, Sara Moulton, and others).

In my copy, several recipes have been yellow-stickied already, and this week you’ll read about the first one I made from this book – a braised red cabbage and apple dish. Nothing fancy, but oh, so very delicious. Next I plan to make a Chocolate Chip Cake, and a Citrus Rice Pudding. Then maybe I’ll try one of the cholent recipes in the book. I’m intrigued about a 24-hour, slow-roasted stew.

Obviously, I highly recommend this book. If you enjoy reading stories, then a recipe to go along with it, you’ll be mesmerized by the book, as I’ve been.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on January 15th, 2012:

    I think I would become too ‘caught up’ in the stories to be able to enjoy the book – I can’t watch anything about either of the two world wars without getting over-wrought. But, if you share recipes only, I might be able to cope.

    I probably won’t go into detail about the stories with any recipes I share on the blog – except a link to buy the book if people want to. There is an element of angst as I read the stories, particularly those survivors who lost everyone in their family. Those are particularly poignant and sad. And yet, so many younger people just don’t understand what happened during WWII, particularly for the Jews, that I just can’t NOT write about it some. Stay tuned . . .carolyn t

  2. Gloria

    said on January 15th, 2012:

    Thanks for sharing Carolyn. Sounds interesting and I look forward to seeing the recipes you post from the book.

    You’ll see one in a couple of days. It’s a winner I’ll be making again and again. Haven’t decided what will be next on the list. I wish I had more energy to be trying new recipes with 3 meals a day, but I don’t. We eat the same-old breakfast nearly every day of the week. My DH doesn’t often eat lunch, so I usually have a bit of leftovers. Dinner is the experiment. So, stay tuned. . . carolyn t

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