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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 Beverages, on November 30th, 2012.

alton_browns_grape_juice_cocktail

Last week, before Thanksgiving, I turned on the Food Network and watched a little of  the 3-hour Thanksgiving show, whatever it was called, with about 7-8 of the Network show’s stars. Pioneer Woman mentioned it on her blog, so I recorded it and watched about 15 minutes of it. I actually wasn’t all that intrigued. Not necessarily because of the stars themselves, but with the silliness of the way they were not acting in the beginning. It was too ad lib, and it says to me that the Food Network chefs/stars don’t know how to do that. Seemed to me like it was mostly the stars teasing one another, with a few suggestions thrown in now and then about turkey hints or side dishes, etc.

I did stick with it long enough, though, to watch Alton Brown make this cocktail. I went online to find it – nothing there that day anyway – so I had to go back on my recorded show to scribble down notes about it. Alton didn’t even give it a name, so I’ve made one up. He explained that in his house he needs to serve a “cocktail” that can do double duty – for adults and children, so he came up with this drink that can be mixed with sparkling wine (I used Prosecco) or with club soda. The young ‘uns in our household weren’t all that excited about it – I think it was the color (kind of brown) rather than the taste, but that’s just my take.

You start with a quart of grape juice. A disclaimer here – I bought light grape juice – and I’m sure it was a mistake. To make a syrup you need the sugar. So buy the real sugar-loaded type. He said to add an 8-inch sprig of fresh rosemary and a 3-inch piece of crystallized ginger. I didn’t have the right kind of ginger, so I used fresh ginger – about 4 inches worth. I cut it up into large chunks (don’t do small as it needs to be strained out later). You bring that mixture to a boil and reduce it by half. It might help if you did this in the microwave, actually, in a big glass measuring cup so you could see how much it’s reduced. I did it on the stovetop and had a hard time measuring the darned thing – it almost burned at the end! Strain out the herbs and ginger. Then add a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, and continue reducing it again by half. Cool and chill. You should end up with about 1 cup of syrup. That would make about 16 servings if you used a tablespoon per person.

To make the cocktail, pour about a tablespoon of the syrup into a glass and add either sparkling wine or prosecco. Or the club soda for a non-alcoholic version. You may want to test the proportions. We started with using less than a tablespoon and found that adding more provided a much better flavor.

Just be sure to not boil down the juice too low – because then it will begin to taste like raisins, not grapes. It was different. Almost unusual. I liked it, but only if it was mixed in the right proportion. And I didn’t measure it, otherwise I would tell you exactly. It’s definitely grape juice – so if you’re not a grape juice fan, you might want to give this a pass. Will I make it again? Uhm. Maybe. Maybe not. It wasn’t a wow, but then it was supposed to be something we could use for both the kids and adults. It did fit that bill.

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