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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 Brunch, on August 3rd, 2007.

pineapple_french_toast

Whenever the family (our kids and the grandkids and/or other relatives) come to visit over the holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter), I try to have something in mind for breakfast on the holiday morning. Some kind of a breakfast casserole, so I don’t have to become a short order cook for all the varied appetites. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a variety of brunch casseroles in my repertoire, and this is another one that competes for first place.

The original recipe for this came from Gourmet Magazine some years back. I adapted the recipe just a little – I couldn’t find brioche or challah bread the first time I made this, and King’s Hawaiian bread was available. If you don’t have that where you live, it’s just a very soft, eggy and SWEET bread. It’s too sweet for sandwiches. But it makes great toast. And it’s probably wickedly bad for you because it’s made with white flour and contains a fair amount of sugar. But it makes wonderful French Toast – by this recipe or any other.

But, because Hawaiian bread IS so sweet, I knew I needed to reduce the sugar. So if you use different kinds of bread, you’ll want to adjust the sugar accordingly.

The pineapple, just the crushed, canned type, is what makes this different. There isn’t all that much in it, so you really can’t SEE the pineapple much – but you can taste it. You can serve this with syrup if you choose, but it’s already so sweet and flavorful – and moist – it doesn’t really need anything. Maybe some fresh fruit, fresh juice, hot steaming coffee and you’re done. As with many of my brunch recipes, I get all the ingredients ready the night before so it’s very easy to make this the morning of.
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Pineapple Upside-Down French Toast

Recipe Adapted from Gourmet Magazine
Servings: 4
COOK’S NOTES: The original recipe didn’t use any low-fat ingredients, so I adapted it some. You can cut down even more on the butter if you wish, and can use all egg substitute if you would prefer. The original called for challah or brioche bread, but since I couldn’t find any of that I used Hawaiian bread. It’s quite sweet and rich, so that’s why the sugar has been reduced by half. If you’re going to prepare this for breakfast and don’t have much time, just get all the ingredients ready the night before, including mixing up the milk, eggs, etc. It doesn’t take long to put it together.

1/4 cup unsalted butter — (1/2 stick)
1/4 cup brown sugar — firmly packed
3/4 cup crushed pineapple — pack & drain well
1 whole egg
1/4 cup egg substitute
1 1/2 cups 2% low-fat milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 slices egg bread — or Hawaiian bread

1. Preheat oven to 400. In a saucepan melt butter over moderate heat and stir in sugar and pineapple, stirring until sugar is dissolved.
2. In a shallow bowl whisk together eggs, milk and salt.
3. In a baking dish, 9 x 13 inches, spread pineapple mixture evenly over bottom. Dip bread slices into milk mixture in batches and arrange in one layer on top of pineapple mixture. If you have spaces in the pan, just mush the bread a little to squeeze in some more slices. It’s fairly easy to mix up a little more egg/milk mixture to make the dish feed more people.
4. Bake French Toast in middle of oven for 20-25 minutes, or until bread is golden brown. Cool in pan for one minute and serve.
Per Serving: 424 Calories; 20g Fat (41.7% calories from fat); 12g Protein; 50g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 122mg Cholesterol; 527mg Sodium.

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