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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 Breads, on October 18th, 2008.

wednesday breakfast scones from Anne Hughes Cafe

I’m not sure I ever thought I’d find a scone recipe that I liked as much as my own Buttermilk Scones with Golden Raisins. I’ve made them for years, and have been so happy with the recipe, I’ve never wanted to change. Then we stayed in Portland, Oregon for a couple of nights, at the Rose Cottage B&B just outside the city. The owner, Sally, served us just the lightest, most flavorful scones. The proportions of things are very similar to my tried-and-true recipe, but these have more flour in them – mine are more like very rich, flaky round biscuits. Sally’s were light, perfectly crumbly, huge and served in wedges. And, incidentally, if you’re ever up Portland way, I highly recommend Sally’s Rose Cottage as an ideal close-by location. She’s not in downtown, but it’s easy driving distance. She’ll serve you a breakfast that is enough to feed a small infantry, but it’s worth every single delicious-laden calorie.

Sally was kind enough to share the recipe for the scones with me. She said it was printed in the Portland Oregonian newspaper in 2004, and she raved about the chef, Anne Hughes, who created them. I believe she said the café that Hughes used to own is no longer in business. But Sally was happy she had THIS recipe from her café. Sally follows the recipe to the letter with the following exceptions: she mixes it by hand with a pastry blender AND she freezes the butter – she cuts the butter up in small chunks and puts that in the freezer so they’re all ready to go when she decides to make a batch (as a B&B owner, obviously she makes the scones quite frequently), then uses the pastry blender to cut it up a bit more (from a frozen state). She said you definitely don’t want to mix it so much that you can’t see the butter flakes. If the chunks are a bit larger (like little flat pieces the size of your little finger) they’ll be perfect for the flakiest results. These have a hint of lemon peel in them, and you briefly knead the dough just to pull it together, roll it out, sprinkle some of the zest on top, fold it over, then slice the pastry into wedges before baking on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Sally also adds fruit (like fresh Oregon blueberries) to the dough sometimes. I made my batch in the food processor (per the Oregonian recipe) and they seemed wonderful to me, but perhaps doing them by hand would produce even more flaky and flavorful scones. I also didn’t have frozen butter either, but I do like these enough that I might try those techniques next time I make them. I made them for my hubby’s Bible Study group the other day. They were gobbled up in short order.
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Wednesday Breakfast Scones

Recipe: Anne Hughes, of Anne Hughes Kitchen Table Cafe, Portland, OR
Servings: 8-10

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon sugar — to sprinkle on top
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter — cold, cut into small cubes
1 cup buttermilk
3 teaspoons lemon zest — from about 2 lemons
1 tablespoon heavy cream

1. Preheat oven to 400. Set aside an ungreased baking sheet (lined with parchment).
2. In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, add the flour, baking powder, soda, 1/3 cup sugar and salt. Process with 6-8 one second pulses.. Remove the cover and evenly distribute the butter over the dry ingredients. Cover and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal with a few slightly larger butter lumps (about 16-20 one second pulses).
3. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl. Add the buttermilk and half the lemon zest; use a wooden spoon to stir until mixture begins to form a dough, about 30 seconds.
4..Transfer the dough to a floured surface and divide into two equal balls. Use a rolling pin to lightly roll each half into a circle about 7 inches in diameter. Sprinkle the remaining lemon zest over both circles and use the rolling pin to lightly press the zest into the dough, then fold each circle in half (making a half circle), then cut each into 4 wedges.
5. Place the wedges on the prepared baking sheet.
6. If desired, glaze the scones by brushing tops with the heavy cream and sprinkling with the remaining one T. of sugar.
7. Bake until the scone tops are golden brown, about 18-23 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes to firm up. Serve warm if possible.
Per Serving (assuming you make 8 very large scones): 382 Calories; 19g Fat (43.8% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 48g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 50mg Cholesterol; 498mg Sodium.

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  1. Anne Hughes

    said on September 5th, 2011:

    Dear Caroline,

    I chanced on your post about my Wednesday Breakfast Scones and was delighted to see that you enjoyed them and passed it on to your followers.

    Your blog brought back fond memories of the guest house, the Wednesday Breakfasts and the Kitchen Table.

    I am now somewhat retired, though I do organizing work for various clients, and I even make up a batch of those scones once in a while.

    Thanks again for the mention.

    Best regards,

    Anne Hughes

    Thanks for the memories!

    How very sweet of you to send a comment. And yes, indeed, we enjoyed those scones very much. I don’t make scones very often anymore either – except when we have guests. Yours are really special, though! . . . carolyn t

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