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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 April 19th, 2012.

rhubarb_cake

A tender, tender cake with rhubarb. Full of brown sugar flavor, nuts and just overall deliciousness!

OMGosh. Trust me when I tell you you HAVE to make this cake. It’s rhubarb season, folks. Go buy some right now and make this asap. The recipe came out of the book I told you about a few days ago, Bonny Wolf’s Talking with My Mouth Full: Crab Cakes, Bundt Cakes, and Other Kitchen Stories. I’d told you I was going to bake her mother’s cake-mix style chocolate pistachio bundt cake first. I lied. When I went grocery shopping the other day I spotted rhubarb. Beautiful, pristine stalks that just begged to be bought. I did. I bought. I mixed. I made.

The cake itself was very, very easy to make. This one is not a cake-mix type – just simple ingredients – butter, brown sugar (hence that darker crumb to the cake), an egg (just one), some cream, flour and stuff like that. Then you fold in 1 1/4 cups of chopped up rhubarb and pour it into a 9×9 pan. The topping just “makes it.” A combo of sugar, softened butter, cinnamon and walnuts – sprinkled over the top and it’s baked for 45 minutes. Mine was done in about 41 minutes (I tested the interior of the cake with my Thermapen instant thermometer), when it reached 210°.

A few hours later I cut squares. Oops, I lied again. I cut one square. My DH didn’t want any. He’s not crazy about rhubarb (he says) and it did have quite a bit of sugar in it. I used some Splenda in the topping, but I have never tried the Splenda brown sugar mix (guess I should), so I needed to use the real stuff in the cake. But, when I put the first bite into my mouth I let out a resoundingly loud “mmmm.” He came walking over to me and I gave him a bite of mine. He too went “mmmm.” Then he said “wow.” I said “wow.” I was sorely tempted to cut another slice, but I resisted. This could be made as a coffeecake, I think – but it’s certainly a lovely dessert. I didn’t put anything on it (like ice cream or whipped cream) as it doesn’t need it at all. As I’m writing this it’s about 11 am and my DH said, after we returned from a bunch of food shopping, that he blood sugar felt low. I offered him a little piece of the cake and he scarfed it up in a matter of a minute. And pronounced it “delicious.”

What I liked: the extremely tender and moist crumb of the cake – soft and silky; loved the nutty and cinnamon laden topping. The rhubarb is a low-profile undercurrent. I might even add more rhubarb next time. The cake is certainly sweet enough it could handle more, I think. This is a keeper. It’s going onto my favorites list, if that’s any indication of how much I loved it. I’m so glad I read Bonny Wolf’s book and copied out this one.

What I didn’t like: absolutely nothing!

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MasterCook 5+ import file – right click to save file, run MC, then File|Import

Fern’s Rhubarb Cake

Recipe By: Talking with Your Mouth Full, by Bonny Wolf, 2006
Serving Size: 9

CAKE:
1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 large egg
1 cup cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 pinch salt — (more if using unsalted butter)
2 cups flour — (USE SCANT MEASURE)
1 1/2 cups rhubarb — finely diced
TOPPING:
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup walnuts — chopped (or pecans)

1. Preheat oven to 350°
2. Butter a 9×9 baking pan.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer cream the butter and sugar. Add the egg, cream and vanilla and mix. Add baking soda, salt and flour, then blend thoroughly. Stir in the rhubarb.
4. Pour batter into baking pan.
5. Mix the topping ingredients together and sprinkle over the cake. Bake for 45 minutes (or to 210° using an instant read thermometer). Cool on a rack.
Per Serving: 469 Calories; 24g Fat (45.6% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 59g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 81mg Cholesterol; 313mg Sodium.

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