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Am still reading The Rent Collector by Camron Wright. Oh my. This book has so many layers: (1) the young, impoverished couple and their infant son who live, literally, in a dump in Cambodia and about the precarious structure, if you can even call it that, that comprises their “house” in the midst and perched on top of trash; (2) the woman who collects the rent (hence the title and yes, people have to PAY to live there); (3) the young son’s chronic illness; (4) how they make a living out of collecting and selling trash; and (4) the life saving grace and wisdom imparted by characters in the book as the young mother begins to learn to read. If you decide to read this book, please don’t stop at about page 15-20, thinking you just don’t know if you want to read about this. Please continue. It’s so worth it. Have a highlighter pen in your hand because you’ll find so many quotes you will want to remember. Believe it or not, there is also quite a bit in this about literature.

Recently finished C.J. Box’s book The Disappeared (A Joe Pickett Novel). I just love Box’s novels. They take place in present day semi-wild west, and chronicle the fish and game warden, Joe Pickett, as he unravels another crime in his territory. A woman has disappeared, and the governor has asked him to figure it out. He does, but the tale meanders through multiple layers of intriguing story. His books are riveting. Men and women enjoy his books – so if you have a fellow in your life or family that would enjoy an intriguing book (this is not espionage) then gift him one of Box’s books.

Also finished Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. About a dysfunctional family, through and through. I picked this up from amazon from someone who read the book, named “McReader,” and she says: “Set in the 70s, the story follows a Chinese American blended family in Ohio. When Lydia [the daughter] is found floating in the lake, her family is forced to analyze what put her there. Was it pressure from her family to succeed? Was it pressure to fit in? Was it a crime of passion or convenience? I was spellbound reading the last half of this book. I loved each flawed family member, especially Hannah,. While the story went where I hoped it would go, I was not disappointed at all with the progression. It was also quite insightful on the prejudices that society had about Chinese Americans still during that timeframe and how careful parents have to be to put their dreams onto their children.” Such a good book and definitely worth reading. Would be a good book club read. You’ll be hearing more from this author. Am currently reading her next novel, Little Fires Everywhere.

The Boston Girl: A Novel by Anita Diamant. A very, very intriguing book. The book is written from the voice of a Jewish grandmother as she tells her granddaughter the saga of her life starting about 1910, who struggles with her own individuality, with her domineering mother who never says a kind word to her. It’s certainly a coming-of-age story as she grows up, finds a job, makes friends, joins a literary girls club, moves out, but still suffers under her mother’s thumb and tongue. She becomes a reporter on a local newspaper, which opens her eyes to more of the world than she ever knew. She finally meets the right man (of course!) and she shares the stories about her life, and her friends and family members as she grows up, giving some sage advice along the way. Part of the time she’s talking to herself – to her young self  (really wanting to tell young Addie to keep on, forgive herself for her perceived transgressions, to live life, and experience the world).

One of the best books I’ve read in a long time – Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. Rivers is a prodigious writer of Christian fiction, and I’d never read anything by her until now. As I write this, I’ve already read this, another one (below) and just purchased the Kindle trilogy called Mark of the Lion (Vol 1-3) that I haven’t yet started. (Two of my friends have said the trilogy is her best.) Redeeming Love details the fictional story of a godly man, Michael Hosea, forging his way in the era of the Gold Rush. He’s “driven” to rescue a beautiful prostitute who lives and works her trade in a nearby town. The entire book is about the story, the rescue, and it parallels a bit of scripture about Hosea who rescues a prostitute names Gomer. You get into the heads of both Hosea and the prostitute, named Angel. We read this for one of my book groups. A great read.

As soon as I finished the above book I promptly visited my church library and found a whole shelf of Rivers’ books, and grabbed one called The Atonement Child. This book takes place in the 1980s or 90s, about a young college student who is raped. She was engaged to be married, was a stellar student. The book chronicles what happens to her when she discovers she is pregnant from the rape. Every possible thing goes wrong in her life. I don’t want to spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it, but I couldn’t put it down. I ended up spending a good part of a day plowing through it. You hear her inner voice (I’m guessing this is a common thread in Rivers’ books) from a Christian perspective. Lots of meaty issues to discuss in a book club if your group would be interested and willing to talk about rape, abortion, adoption and the thorny issues surrounding all of those things, but with a Christian bent, for sure.

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen. It’s kind of amazing how many and varied plot lines can be created from events of WWII. This is another one, about a current day woman who finds papers in the attic, after her father’s death, with references to “the child.” She never knew her father could have had another child – could she have a step-sibling somewhere? Her father she knew, had been shot down over Italy, but he never talked much about it. But of course, she must go to Italy to find out about this “child.” The book flips back and forth from this daughter on the search, to her father during the war, all of it taking place in a very small town in Tuscany. It’s about the varied people she meets who want her to go away and not dredge up anything about the war years (are they hiding something, you question), about how much she loves the landscape, and some of the people. And about the intense love affair between the injured pilot and a caring woman of the village. Very charming story. I could almost smell the flowers, taste the olives, hear the bees flitting, and loved the prose about the simple meals that were described. I really enjoyed the book. Perhaps not enough meat for a book club read, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy reading it nonetheless.

Leaving Blythe River: A Novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde. Almost a page turner. When one uses the phrase “coming of age,” it usually means (I think) love and loss/boyfriend/girlfriend, and in this case it’s somewhat that way. When Ethan, a 17-year old boy and his mother come home unexpectedly to find dad and his young secretary in a compromising position, all hell breaks loose. Separation happens instantly and just as his father moves out, his mother has to go take care of her aging mother. Ethan’s too young to be left in the NYC apartment alone, so Mom sends son to the father who is escaping from the world in Wyoming, living in a primitive A-frame house, and continuing his daily 20+ mile running journeys. Ethan and his father are barely speaking. They live in the middle of nowhere. Ethan feels betrayed by his father in every possible way, and somewhat by his mother for forcing him to live with his father for a temporary period. Then his father doesn’t return one day from his run. The authorities do a cursory search, but they are under the impression the dad wants to “get lost” on purpose. Ethan, although he thinks he doesn’t care, really does. What happens next is best left to you reading this book. Very interesting people (kind of loners) enter the picture and off they go to search. So worth reading.

The Girl With No Name by Diney Costelhoe. What a good book. Perhaps you’ve read before about the huge numbers of German refugee children who were sent to England before Hitler closed down any exits. This is a novel about one particular young girl, who is devastated when her mother puts her on one of the boats. She ends up in London, in an orphanage kind of place, and is eventually placed with a childless couple. She speaks no English. They speak no German, but they manage soon enough. Lisa (who eventually becomes Charlotte) is so homesick. She’s bullied at school, because most people and children don’t want any Germans there. A boy steps up to protect her, and as she grows up, she’s attracted to him. She shouldn’t be – he’s also German and from her own home town. He’s not a good match for her. You live with her through the blitz during all those war years and during one attack, she’s badly injured and loses her memory (and no ID on her). Through a series of mishaps she ends up in a village far from London, with a spinster woman who does eventually come to love her very much – they name her Charlotte and Charlotte she becomes. She goes to school there, still longing, though, for her mother and brother and her London foster family too. Then when she’s 16 she returns to London to help at the orphanage where she was originally placed and tries to find her foster parents. The story goes on from there, with the boy/man who “wants” her, the bad boy, and a good boy/man she befriends in the village in the country. Eventually she regains her memory. SUCH a good read.

The Girl with Seven Names by Hyanseo Lee. If you, like me, know little about North Korea and how it came to be what it is today, you’ve got to read this book. It’s a memoir written by a young woman who escaped from North Korea about 9 years ago. Her journey – and I mean JOURNEY – is harrowing, frightening, amazing, heart-rendering all at the same time. She chronicles the lives of the Kims (Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il to current Kim Jong Un), shares the strict propaganda that surrounds every North Korean citizen, the poverty and hunger, as well as the underground black market for food and goods. It took her awhile to get from North Korea, to China and eventually to South Korea, where she currently lives. She’s well educated and speaks English quite well. She was invited to be a speaker at a TED talk – you know about those, right? TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a media organization which posts talks online for free distribution, under the slogan “ideas worth spreading.” I listen to them as  podcasts now and then. Always very educational, if sometimes over my head when it gets very technical. She works diligently for human rights now, doing her best to help other North Koreans escape. You owe it to yourself to read this book.

Also just finished reading The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian. Another WOW book. I’ve always liked the author – many years ago I read his book, Midwives and really liked it. Don’t confuse this book with the one I recently read, The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas that I reviewed recently. I think we read it in one of my book groups. He’s a brilliant writer, and this one has a lot of characters and twists. It’s a novel, but based on a lot of truth regarding the Armenian genocide. Most of the book takes place in Aleppo, Syria with some good Samaritan folk trying to help rescue people (mostly children) following the forced long marches the Turks made prodding the Turkish Armenians to exit their country. But it also jumps to near present day as a family member is trying to piece together obscure parts of her grandparents’ former lives there. She uncovers some hidden truths (many survivors of the genocide never-ever-ever wanted to talk about it) and a bit more about her Armenian heritage. A riveting book – I could hardly put it down. Lots to discuss for a book club read. I simply must read more of Bohjalian’s books (he’s written many).

The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke. All I can say is “wow.” In a general sense, this book is based on the premise of The Pilot’s Wife. But this one has some totally different twists and turns. A young wife is met at the door by police, informing her that her husband has died in an auto accident. Then she finds out he died in Hawaii – not Kansas, where she thought he was, on business. Then she finds out there was a woman in the car. Then she meets the fiance of the woman passenger and the two of them embark on a fact-finding mission in Hawaii to discover the truth. Well, I’m just sayin’ . . . the plot thickens. And thickens. And thickens clear up to the last few pages. Hang onto your seat. A really, really good, suspenseful read.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. What a WONDERFUL book. It opens up a shameful part of America’s past, but one you might not have heard about before this. In the late 1800s thousands of Chinese workers were brought to the West Coast to help with a variety of construction projects and a myriad of other things where laborers were needed. Many settled, married and made a new life for themselves. But suddenly the white population didn’t want them here anymore and they summarily ordered them ALL out of our country. This book chronicles a young Chinese girl, who was on a ship that was supposed to take her family to China, but the ship’s captain decided en route to dump them all overboard, to drown. The girl’s father knew it was going to happen and in order to save her, he threw his daughter off the ship as they were passing Orcas Island (in the San Juan Islands west of Seattle). She was saved. The book switches from that time to current time as a woman is rebuilding her family’s home on Orcas and finds a beautifully embroidered silk Chinese robe sleeve hidden under a stair step. The book is about that sordid past and the young girl’s descendents, and about the woman who is rebuilding. Stunner of a novel. Good for a book club read, I think. It has a reader’s guide at the back with good questions for book groups.

How It All Began: A Novel by 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.

 

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 February 26th, 2013.

prize_winning_banana_bread_loaf

Oh gosh, you’re going to love this bread. Or cake. Or cake made in a bread pan, masquerading as a loaf bread. Whatever it is, it’s marvelous. Easy. And better than any banana bread I’ve ever made, and I thought I had a really great one!

My radar wasn’t fixed – I mean tuned in – to making banana bread. Hadn’t even thought about it. Until I got an email from a new friend, Jerianne. A friend I’ve made as a result of my blog. This new friend lives about 25 miles from me, but we met for lunch several weeks ago. She’d found my blog somehow – I don’t recall if she told me how she happened to find it, and she started reading and she emailed me about getting together. We really enjoyed talking.  We have many common interests besides food. We are of a somewhat similar age. She loves to cook. We talked all about my blog, how and why, and we talked food for it seemed like hours. We’ve agreed to get together again sometime soon. She’s a Christian too, and she said a lovely prayer over our lunch.

Here’s a photo of Jerianne and me (J’s on the right) the day she took me to lunch (thank you again, Jerianne!). jerianneA week or so went by and Jerianne sent me an email with this recipe attached, telling me that I really, really needed to try this banana bread. She thought it was one of the best she’d ever made. Well, and it was called a prize-winning one, so why wouldn’t it be special? When I saw bananas, some very ripe ones, at the market, they called out to me and I made this bread. Oh my. Yes, yes, yes!

The recipe is in several places on the internet, and attributed to a county fair winner in 1981. It contains the standard stuff for a banana bread, with an addition of sour cream. I had light sour cream in my refrigerator, and it worked just fine. The bread prize_winning_banana_bread_slicesalso contains a lot of bananas – to get 1 1/2 cups I needed 4 medium sized ones. If you have really large bananas, probably 3 would be enough to measure 1 1/2 cups. My advice: measure!

It was all mixed up in my stand mixer and poured into a GREASED loaf pan. I had a bit too much for my loaf pan (fill the pan about 3/4 full), so I had to pour some of the batter into a smaller one (which I gave as a gift to our friend Joe who stayed with us the other night – Yvette, did you like it?). Likely you could scale down this recipe by about 1/5 and have just the right amount. It’s pretty hard to do that with standard measurements, but it could be done.

Then, you sprinkle raw sugar (turbinado) on the top of the raw batter – it adds a lovely crispy top. Don’t not do that step as you’ll be forever changed about adding that to any loaf breads. Loved it. The baking times varied a bit – some said 45 minutes, some an hour. I know loaf breads needed to bake until they reach about 205°, and it took about 55 minutes to do that. The bread MUST stay in the pan for a little while. Why? It’s a very, VERY tender bread/cake, and it could easily stick. If you want to be sure about this, put buttered parchment paper on the bottom of the bread pan. The large pan came out perfectly, but the little one was a little harder – it left a little bit stuck to the bottom.

After about 20 minutes I gently shook both pans to make sure the breads were loose and very carefully rolled the pan over onto my other hand and forearm, then quickly but gently placed it on a cooling rack. Be extra careful doing that – I very nearly broke the loaf in half. When I tell you it’s tender, it’s really, really tender, okay? Allow it to cool completely before slicing. Jerianne, thank you SO much for sharing this recipe with me! It’s a real winner.

What’s good: every single, solitary thing about this is wonderful. A definite do again bread.
What’s not: nothing whatsoever. What a lovely gift it would make, too.

printer-friendly PDF (created using CutePDF Writer, not Adobe)
MasterCook5+ import file – right click to save file (and remember where you put it), run MC, then File|Import

* Exported from MasterCook *

Prize Winning Banana Bread

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from a 1981 county fair winner, found at grouprecipes.com
Serving Size: 18

1/2 cup butter — softened
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups bananas — mashed ripe (I used 4 ripened bananas)
1/2 cup sour cream — (I used light sour cream)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup walnuts — chopped
turbinado (raw) sugar for top of batter

Note: To be safe, line the bottom of the loaf pans with buttered parchment paper – for sure you’ll have no difficulty getting the bread out. Remove paper once you have removed the breads from the pans.
1. With a mixer combine butter, oil, sugars and eggs until smooth.
2. Add mashed bananas, sour cream and vanilla, stirring together well.
3. Mix in flour, baking soda and salt, stirring until it is blended. Do not over mix. Add walnuts if you’re using them and stir until combined.
4. Pour into a well-greased standard large loaf pan to about 3/4 full. It may require a second smaller pan, or use 2-3 smaller pans.
5. Sprinkle turbinado/raw sugar generously over top of batter, using your hand to gently pat some of it into the batter.
6. Bake at 325° F – large loaf pan will require about 1 hour, smaller loaves about 45 minutes or until the center of the loaf reaches 205° on an instant read thermometer.
7. Allow bread to cool in pans for about 20 minutes, then run a sharp knife around the edges, tap the pan on the counter several times or gently shake it to loosen it, (you’re trying to loosen the bread from the bottom of the pan), then invert pan over a wire rack and let the bread fall onto the rack to finish cooling completely.
8. Variations and Suggestions: Add any of the following – miniature chocolate chips, toffee bits, shredded coconut, chopped pecans or macadamia nuts.
9. Try toasting the banana bread – spread hot toasted bread with butter and even add a sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar and some slices of banana, or top with a combination of honey and peanut butter, or spread hot toasted bread with some Nutella…the possibilities are endless!
10. Use slices of banana bread to make your French toast. Just dust the finished product with some powdered sugar, or a little powdered sugar glaze, or spread on some Nutella, and maple syrup is good on it, too.
Per Serving: 253 Calories; 13g Fat (45.9% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 31g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 40mg Cholesterol; 195mg Sodium.

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  1. Mary Ann

    said on November 11th, 2013:

    I live in South Florida & grow several varieties of banana trees so I have made A LOT of banana bread over the years. Recently, I was looking for a super moist recipe and came across this one. I have to tell you, this is BY FAR the BEST banana bread I have EVER tasted! I doubled the recipe & made two, large loaves. I froze one for some day when I want something indulgent and don’t have time to make it – now I’m even more happy I made that second loaf!

    I’m so glad, Mary Ann. It is a really great recipe. All the credit goes to my friend who forwarded it to me. . . carolyn t

  2. Charlotte Moore

    said on December 9th, 2013:

    I made 6 small loaves and 6 muffins from this recipe. I just took the muffins from the oven. They smell so good. I read the recipe wrong and added 1/2 cup oil. I did cut the sugar to 3/4 cups. Oops!! I also did not notice to sprinkle the sugar on top. Oh well!!

    I just ate a hot muffin. WOW!!! It was so light and airy. I am not even real fond of banana bread but wanted to use up some bananas. VERY GOOD!!!

    Well, it sounds like even with the little mistakes, they turned out well. I’m glad. It’s a good recipe; i agree! . . . carolyn t

  3. Jordasche Kingston

    said on December 25th, 2013:

    My problem with banana bread is it is always too dry. Not this version! Just pulled out of the oven 20 minutes ago, and had a slice with butter. Wow!!! So delicious! And not dry! Thank you so much for sharing.

    You’re so welcome. It’s a great recipe; I agree . . . carolyn t

  4. Cindy

    said on January 28th, 2014:

    Excellent banana bread, very moist and great flavor! Will make my regular recipe from now on!

    Great! So glad you liked it as much as we did! . . .carolyn t

  5. Keekle

    said on July 7th, 2014:

    Added chocolate chips and get so many compliments! Even the 20 somethings said it was better than their aunt’s! Thank you and your friend for sharing!

    So glad you liked it. It’s my go-to from here on out! . . .carolyn t

  6. Shari

    said on December 22nd, 2014:

    Been looking for that moist delious muffin recipie for my banana bear pan…over sized muffins.
    Banana bread … for years iv’e used the same recipe and altered to my liking, but felt I needed a freash start…I currently have mini muffins with nuts and chips per my daughters request. A small loaf and a full loaf all out of one mix…I thought I lost track of flour, so I added another 1/2 cup…it must have been right. Batter looked softer than I was expecting. since i just made a litte more batter. We had to mix it up a little…my muffins look amazing! I see a taster is needed…Sammie ~ the true test, kids never lie well…hum shes back for more! Doent love the nuts, but dad will! Wow super buttery moist and a little golden crispness. Loafs look very moist too. I love that you included the temp to read makes it easy not to second guess if its done yet!
    Great recipe…. Thanks for sharing
    Shari

    You’re very welcome. Glad it made a big impression on your family. I made this a couple of months ago and was wowed myself – it’s so moist and delicious. . . carolyn t

  7. Elsa

    said on July 27th, 2015:

    I am making this recipe again tonight, this is by far the best banana nut bread recipe. I have tried several banana nut bread recipes, and this one for sure is the BEST, I love it, I shared some with my friends and they totally loved it as well. Thank you SO MUCH for sharing this delicious recipe, I will search no further for any more banana nut bread recipes, this is a keeper……

    So glad you liked it as much as I did. I can’t take credit for it – a friend sent it to me, and she found it online, I believe. My mouth is watering as I type – guess it’s time to make this again! . . . carolyn t

  8. Linda

    said on February 7th, 2016:

    I have tried many recipes for banana nut bread, never 100 percent pleased. I tried this recipe, and I love it. Gave our neighbor Robert four large slices to share. He ate every bite in one sitting!! It is delicious and so moist. Thank you for this recipe. It is a keeper!!

    I’m so glad you liked it. It IS a keeper of a recipe! . . . carolyn t

  9. Stacy

    said on September 6th, 2016:

    I’m not sure what I did wrong but the center collapsed and it was undercooked in the middle. I made one large loaf pan and baked it for one hour. The parts that were cooked were absolutely delicious.

    Oh no, Stacy. I’m so sorry! Was the center puffed up when you took it out of the oven, or already deflated? Probably the larger pan wasn’t quite cooked through – it could be the temp in your oven, I suppose. Next time use an instant read thermometer (baked things should be about 195-205F in the center). I’ve begun to rely on my instant read thermometer whenever I bake as it’s so much more reliable than the toothpick test. I hope you’ll try it again; it’s such a good banana bread! I haven’t made it in awhile – maybe I need to, although since this recipe came from a prize-winner, I’m not thinking there’s anything wrong with the recipe. The other culprit COULD be your baking powder – I’ve only had it happen once when a can was past its prime and just wouldn’t do its job. Thanks for letting me know. . . carolyn t

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