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Am just starting News of the World: A Novel by William Morris. 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 requires me to read it. It’s about an old man, during the early, old wild west times, who goes from town to town and people pay him money to read the newspaper to them. (Imagine, there WAS such a job.) By chance he’s asked to take a very young girl to Texas to reunite with her family. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby, raised by them, and she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!).

Just finished 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.

Recently finished reading 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.

Also just read Eye On the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press, by James, McGrath Morris. Each year my AAUW book club reads something related to Black History Month. This is a biography of a woman you’ve probably never heard of, Ethel Payne, and about her life-long journey in journalism, struggling to keep her head above water financially, but staying true to her purposes of telling the truth about the black stories and black racism of the day. Sometimes biographies aren’t all that riveting, but I found this one to be so, and I savored each new chapter. We had a really good discussion of the book, and the ups and downs of Payne’s life, especially during her years as a Washington reporter. You’ll not be sorry to have spent the time reading this book. It’s well-written, as well. I was thrilled when the author, Morris, left a message here on my blog, thanking me (and my group) for reading his book.

Also read H Is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald. This one has been on the best seller list. It’s a memoir about a woman who takes on a personal challenge of taming a wild hawk. Prior to reading this book, I knew next to nothing about the entire subject of hawking, or taming any of the big, wild birds. The book is equally about the writer’s inner journey. She’s a consummate writer, and every page was a joy of words, for me. My only problem is my own – I found it hard, the more time that went by, and the more time the writer spent trying to tame this bird, to scream out “let the bird go.” Perhaps it’s because I spent time in Africa in 2015, seeing animals in the wild, that I felt more for the bird than I did with the writer’s discontent with herself and the taming process. Little did I know what a hard job it is to tame a hawk. I actually didn’t finish the book. It was a book club read, and highly recommended by several of our members. And I ended up not being able to attend the meeting as I had a cold. So perhaps there is some great ending to it that would have made me feel better. I haven’t gone to the end to find out. I just had to stop reading it. But I’m not NOT recommending it. If nothing else, read it for Macdonald’s sublime proficiency with words.

Also read George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, by Brian Kilmeade and Dan Yaeger. Here’s what it says on amazon: When George Washington beat a hasty retreat from New York City in August 1776, many thought the American Revolution might soon be over. Instead, Washington rallied—thanks in large part to a little-known, top-secret group called the Culper Spy Ring. He realized that he couldn’t defeat the British with military might, so he recruited a sophisticated and deeply secretive intelligence network to infiltrate New York. I won’t exactly call this book a riveting read, but it was interesting. Relating facts that few people knew about, this Culper Spy Ring. It’s a little chunk of American history researched in depth by the authors. An interesting read.

Also read The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel by Nina George. If you’re an avid reader, you probably have the same kind of longing as I do for a quaint, independently owned bookstore right around the corner. So few exist anymore. This novel is about a very unusual book store, and book store owner. In Paris. On a boat/barge. It’s not a typical book store, and the writer takes you on a journey of discovery about (likely) her own lifetime of book reading. You’ll learn all about a variety of existing books and why they’re a good read. But it’s all cloaked in a story about this book store and the owner. And the customers. Very fun. I’m reviewing it for one of my book clubs next month.

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, on August 17th, 2007.

germ_choc_chip_cake_walnuts
Probably most of you have heard and/or made a German Chocolate Cake. You know the kind – two layers with a coconut brown sugar filling and frosting. A very popular cake back in the 70’s, as I recall. This ISN’T one of those cakes. And I don’t know the origin of this. I’ve never seen it in any of the cookbooks that come from the cake mix craze, either years ago and recently.

germ_choc_chip_cake_walnut_bakedsA family friend gave me this recipe way back then, but bears no resemblance either in taste or appearance to the typical layer cake. Although it IS made with a cake mix. This is baked in a 9×13 pan and requires little more than mixing up the cake mix box. Cake mixes were introduced to the world in the 1960’s or 70’s. What a boon they were to the home cook. And my recollection is that nearly every homemaker was baking all varieties of cakes from the mixes. Back then it was just the standard white, chocolate, German chocolate, and marble. Later came lemon and other mixes for brownies, angel food, etc. And later yet, the ones with pudding inside. So if you can find it, use a German Chocolate mix without any additions to it. Just the plain, regular stuff. But actually, the pudding inside works just fine too.

Back then, it took a year or two before cooks began to come up with variations on cake mixes – not even mixing them up like a cake, but using them as streusel on top of fruit, or combining different ones. And it was a year or two before they introduced the frosting in a can. I never liked that stuff – way too sweet for me and cloying.

So, when my mother’s friend Mary served the cake that day (there were four of us who had a Mah Jong group back then and each time we met, the hostess served lunch and dessert), I just went crazy for this cake. It was light and flavorful, but not overly rich. No frosting. But then I’m a nut when it comes to chocolate anyway. There were some chocolate chips in it and nuts. And this elusive sprinkle on the top. It was so simple – just some cinnamon and sugar.

In years following that, my former husband and I used to go camping in the Colorado mountains (we lived in Denver then) during the summer months. This cake was a staple in the camping or picnic category for me. My daughter Dana has always loved this cake, and she makes it herself now, but for many, many years, growing up, this was her most requested cake for her birthday.

This recipe came to the forefront of my mind this week because my friend Cherrie phoned me a couple of days ago and asked, since they’re going cabin camping this weekend, if I had a different recipe for garlic bread (I do, will post at a later date) and when she mentioned needing something for dessert my mind leaped to this cake. This cake is so EASY, and I’ve yet to have anyone not like it. You can serve it with vanilla ice cream, but it’s not necessary, really.
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German Chocolate Chip Cake (from a cake mix)

Recipe: From Mary Wilfert, a friend of my mother’s, about 1970.
Servings: 12
COOK’S NOTES: Cake mixes were new in the 1970’s, so almost every dessert was made with them. Once I had this cake, it became one of our family’s favorites. In fact, my daughter Dana usually requests this cake on her birthday. I have used regular chocolate cake mix if I didn’t have the German chocolate variety.

1 pkg German chocolate cake mix
12 oz chocolate chips
1/2 c walnuts — chopped, or pecans
4 tsp sugar
1 tsp cinnamon (and a dash or two of nutmeg too, if you’d like)

1. Heat oven to temperature indicated on package.
2. Prepare cake mix as specified on the box. Pour into a greased & floured 9 x 12 inch cake pan. Sprinkle the chocolate chips and nuts over the top of the batter. Then sprinkle cinnamon and sugar on top of that. Bake as directed on cake box and set on a wire rack to cool.
3. Cake will keep in a sealed cake tin for several days, if it lasts that long.
Per Serving: 289 Calories; 14g Fat (40.4% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 43g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 189mg Sodium.

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  1. Kristen

    said on August 20th, 2007:

    This is making my mouth water. I love cake. I love chocolate. I think I’ll have to make this very soon!

  2. Anonymous

    said on August 20th, 2007:

    This is the best cake EVER!!!! Thanks mom, for putting some of the oldies but goodies on your blog. Hope you all enjoy this cake as much as I did, (DO!)

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