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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, Desserts, on December 2nd, 2008.

banana bread or banana cake

If you did a search on the internet for banana bread you’d likely come up with hundreds, if not thousands, of possibilities. And mine isn’t anything that unusual. But it is different in one proportion (more bananas than any recipe I’ve ever read). I devised the recipe myself one year about 20 or so ago, when I had a huge bunch of bananas that were about to expire. I consulted several cookbooks for recipes, and finally decided to improvise. This was the result, and I’ve been making it this way ever since. This version is very light in texture – not dense like banana breads can be. If you happen to make it in a cake pan you can call it cake and serve it with a side of vanilla ice cream, or some whipped cream. You can substitute light sour cream. You can use a bit less sugar. You can add nuts (walnuts or pecans) if you’d like. You can also toss in some chocolate chips too. You can increase the ingredients just a little bit and make this in a bundt pan and also call it a cake (and serve it with a drizzle of heavy cream as I did with the leftovers pictured above). Or make it in a large bread pan plus a small one and just call it banana bread. And if you happened to be out of vanilla like we were the other night, substitute almond extract with no problem. Just be sure to use overly ripe bananas. And did you know that you can put whole bananas in the freezer and they’ll keep for a few weeks. Just defrost slightly (not fully) and cut them open. The resulting flesh will be very soft, but it will still taste just fine in this baked bread/cake. Just don’t wait months to use them as eventually they’ll degrade and the flesh will be almost liquid.
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Banana Bread

Recipe: A Carolyn original
Servings: 16

1 cup sugar
6 tablespoons butter
2 whole eggs
3/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 1/2 whole bananas — mashed
1 tablespoon lemon juice

1. Cream sugar and butter together, then add eggs, sour cream and vanilla. Into a separate bowl sift flour, baking powder, soda, and salt. Combine in another bowl the mashed bananas and lemon juice.
2. Preheat oven to 350. Into the sugar/butter mixtures alternately add the bananas and flour. Don’t overmix. Pour into well-greased loaf pans (1 large and 1 small, or several small ones) and bake 50 minutes (small loaves) or 1 hour (large pans). Test with a toothpick. Cool in pans before removing. If making slightly larger in bundt form, bake for 50-55 minutes.
Per Serving: 222 Calories; 8g Fat (30.0% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 36g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 43mg Cholesterol; 335mg Sodium.

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  1. Kiara

    said on December 3rd, 2008:

    I love bananas, so this recipes looks perfect for me.
    Thanks 🙂 Another thing you can do with frozen bananas is mix them with low-fat yogurt and make your own ice cream.

    You know, I’ve made banana gelato before, but haven’t made it with yogurt. Will have to try that. Thanks for the idea. . . Carolyn T

  2. Debbie McDonald

    said on December 17th, 2013:

    Hi Carolyn,

    I have tried so many banana bread recipes and they were just so-so. I had 5 ripe bananas and decided to try your recipe. It is the best! I used half vanilla and half almond extract and then put some raw sugar on top. It made 8 small loaves and then in the larger loaf I put some butterscotch morsels. Butterscotch and banana go very well together. Thank you for a great recipe.

    Ah, I’m so glad! It IS a great recipe – I agree! I’ll have to try some of your variations as they sound like great enhancements! . . . carolyn t

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