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Just finished reading The German Girl: A Novel by Correa. It chronicles the story of a wealthy German Jewish family in Berlin, as the Nazis arrive and make life a living hell. The family is lucky (I guess you could say this) to be allowed to purchase passage on the M.S. St. Louis, a passenger liner, to take them to “the Americas.” The destination is actually Cuba. The story is told from two voices – the teenage daughter in this story, and from a current-day distant family member who is trying to learn about her ancestry. Of the 900+ passengers on the ship, only a few were allowed to disembark since the Cuban President decided he needed more money to accept them. Most families had no money left, as the Reich had taken nearly all of their assets. The daughter and her very eccentric mother were allowed to stay in Cuba.  The remaining passengers are rejected by the U.S. too, and eventually return to Europe, where most of the Jews end up dying in concentration camps. The story goes back and forth from the 1939 journey to current day as the link between the two women is slowly revealed. I had a tough time sometimes, tracking the people in this book, but the story was very riveting. It’s based on facts about the ship (see Wikipedia link above if you’re interested). A shameful chapter in history.

Recently finished reading a magnificent historical novel. Not new. Philippa Gregory has been a favorite author of mine for a couple of decades. You may remember her most famous book, The Other Boleyn Girl, published some years ago. I thought that was a really great book. I’ve read other books by Gregory, but most recently I read The King’s Curse (The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels). The time period is the 1450s to 1541, mostly under the rule of King Henry VIII, the infamous womanizer and wife/Queen-killer. The man who cursed Rome/the Pope because he wanted his first marriage annulled because Queen Catherine couldn’t produce a living male heir. And subsequently made himself the head of the church in England in order to do so. It was a Catholic country at the time. This story (it’s fiction, but woven with intricate historical detail) is from the voice of a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine, Margaret of York, later titled Countess of Salisbury, but a Plantagenet in her own right (which is key to the later events in the book). Certainly I’ve read other novels over the years that dealt with Henry VIII, but not with this much breadth of info. What a wicked, sinful man he was. And did I say tyrant. Wow.  I could hardly put it down, through its nearly 600 pages. In the author’s notes at the end, she shares relatively recent medical info that suggests Henry probably suffered from a rare problem, Kell positive blood type, which can cause miscarriages, stillbirths and infant deaths IF the mother has the more common Kell negative blood type. And that in his later years, he may have had McLeod syndrome, a disease only found in Kell positive individuals. Around the age of 40 it causes physical degeneration and personality changes resulting in paranoia, depression and irrational behavior. All of those King Henry VIII had in spades. If you read the book, you might read the author’s notes (at the end) before reading the book. If you like historical fiction (I love any book about English history) you’ll just love this one. It’s interesting, though, as I think about the many books I’ve read covering this era in English history, that each book presented its hero/heroine as the most innocent and worthy individual vying for the crown of England. I remember thinking Anne Boleyn was dealt with so badly during her life (and certainly her beheading), and yet reading this book, I completely reversed my opinion. Anne Boleyn was called a wh–e by most people during the years she shared Henry’s bed. The “curse” from the title pertains to Henry’s inability or the curse on the Tudors, that caused him to fail in producing a male heir. In any case, none of Henry’s wives should have died for it – likely it was all Henry’s fault anyway. Just read this one, okay?

Also recently read News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a free-lance job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her family was killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of an old (wild) west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many. Just read this one, too!

Winter Journey by Diane Armstrong. Have you ever read about forensic dentistry? I sure had not, so I found it fascinating reading. It’s a debut novel for the author, and what a story. Halina, an Australian, with Polish roots, specializes in this obscure profession as a forensic dentist, and is asked to go to Poland, to help identify bone (and tooth) fragments, to put to rest a sad event in the story of this small town, when many, many people (Jews) were murdered. Was it the Nazis? Or was it the local townspeople who disliked the Jews. What a tangled web of intrigue, including Halina’s own mysterious past. I really enjoyed the read. The author does a great job of developing the characters (which I always like). This is no light read if you consider the subject matter, although it IS a novel (but based on fact). Nor is it a spy thriller – it’s more just an historical novel with lots of interesting people throughout. There’s a romance thrown in too, and a whole lot of angst about the discoveries found in the mass grave. But, the subject expanded my knowledge about forensics.

The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr. I just LOVED this book. I’ve never been much of a fan of Caravaggio’s paintings, although I’ve seen plenty of them (many are extremely large) in museums around the world. His paintings were dark, often with dark subjects. But as with many of the old masters, occasionally some obscure work surfaces, perhaps credited to another artist, even, that turns out to be one done by “the” master. In this case, Caravaggio. Although this book is written as a novel (with dialogue, etc.) it’s historical through and through. It begins with two young women art scholars, in Italy, who are asked to do a research project. One thing leads to another, and to another. All true.  If you enjoy books about art – I learned some things about the paint and the canvases of the time – you’ll be intrigued as I was.

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 Desserts, easy, on May 3rd, 2013.

rhubarb_upside_down_cake_whole

Love rhubarb, like I do? You’ll want to try this biscuit-style upside down cake that’s as easy as can be to make. You’ll just need fresh rhubarb and everything else is likely in your pantry.

My latest issue of Saveur Magazine arrived recently and I read it cover-to-cover. An article about rhubarb captured my interest, though, when I saw some of the photos. With rhubarb in season, I decided to make this recipe first. They explained that this method of making an upside down cake is rhubarb_cookingmore reminiscent of an apple tarte tatin since you cook the juicy rhubarb in a cast iron skillet as you would with a tarte tatin (photo at left), then add the biscuit batter on top (see photo at right below) and bake it. As soon as you take it out of the oven you place a plate on top of the iron skillet and very carefully and quickly turn it upside down and plot, it all comes out as you see above. rhubarb_cake_before_bakingI used hot pads and was very quick about turning it over. There wasn’t any liquid to spill out, fortunately, or it could burn you. It’s all absorbed by the biscuit batter.

We ate it warm, which is the best way, I think. And since the cake part is more biscuit than it is cake, it’s most likely best eaten the day it’s made. I ended up with left rhubarb_upside_down_cake_sliceovers which I portioned out into 3” wedges, wrapped in plastic, then in foil. If I find out it’s not good defrosted I’ll add a note here later.

Do serve it with ice cream or whipped cream, as the mixture needs something to cut the sweet of the rhubarb and moisten the biscuit cake. It’s not overly dry – that isn’t what I mean – but left more than a day, I’d think it might. Biscuits don’t keep well.

rhubarb_upside_down_cake_whole_wide

What’s GOOD: the rhubarb, for sure. But then, I love rhubarb in most of its guises. The cake wasn’t my favorite part, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t good. It was. It was a light dessert, I thought, although the calorie count doesn’t indicate so. Very tasty and a lovely presentation.

What’s NOT: really nothing except that you probably should eat this up the day you bake it.

printer-friendly PDF – created using Cute PDF Writer, not Adobe
MasterCook 5+ import file – right click to save file (and remember where, run MC, File|Import

* Exported from MasterCook *

Rhubarb Upside Down Cake

Recipe By: Saveur Magazine, Apr. 2013
Serving Size: 9

RHUBARB:
3/4 pound rhubarb — trimmed and cut into 1 ½” pieces on an angle
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter — plus 6 tbsp. cut into ½” cubes and chilled
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
BISCUIT CAKE:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter — chilled, cut in 1/2″ cubes
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/3 cup milk
2 large eggs
Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream — for serving (optional)

1. Heat oven to 375°. Combine rhubarb, 1 cup sugar, 4 tbsp. butter, lemon juice, vanilla, and salt in a 9″ cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until sugar is melted and rhubarb is tender and slightly caramelized, 8-10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, whisk together remaining sugar and salt, plus flour and baking powder in a bowl. Add remaining butter and the shortening and, using your fingers, rub into flour mixture to form coarse pea-size pieces. Add milk and eggs and stir until a soft, sticky dough forms.Using your hands, lightly flatten pieces of the sticky dough and place on top of the rhubarb. Fill in spaces as needed – it does not have to be completely smooth or covered – just do the best you can. If you want, smooth top with a nonstick spatula.
3. Bake until the crust is golden and cooked through, about 30 minutes. Remove skillet from oven; place a large flat serving platter on top of the skillet and invert very carefully and quickly. If a few pieces of rhubarb stick to the pan, use a spoon to fill in any spaces on the top. Serve warm or at room temperature with ice cream or whipped cream, if you like.
Per Serving: 503 Calories; 26g Fat (46.2% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 62g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 83mg Cholesterol; 237mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on May 3rd, 2013:

    I adore Rhubarb and used to eat it raw, as a child, dipped in sugar. I can still recall the delight at the first taste of Spring.

    Biscuit is like Scone here, I must remember that.

    I thought when the Brits say “biscuit” they mean cookie? Not so? I know muffin means like a “English muffin” to us – once I was walking around Harrod’s Food Halls and in the pastry dept. saw “American Muffins” on the tags. I laughed! . . . carolyn T

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on May 5th, 2013:

    Yes, our biscuits are your cookies; your biscuits are our scones. English muffins are not pastries, but bread. See link.

    http://britishfood.about.com/od/recipeindex/r/englishmuffins.htm

    And finally – your muffins are our Fairy Cakes. Confusing, isn’t it?

    Ah yes, I should have said English muffins are a bread – they are, of course! Years ago I used to make them from scratch with sourdough. So good. But I’d not heard of Fairy Cakes? Interesting. . . carolyn t

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