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Just finished The Letter by Kathyrn Hughes. It’s a very intricate tale. At first it’s about Tina, a battered wife [at which point I paused and wondered if I wanted to read any further, but I’m glad I did]. She tries to get the courage to leave her husband. Then enters the letter she finds in a suit pocket in the thrift shop where she volunteers. It’s old – sealed and stamped, but never mailed. Then you learn about Crissie, decades earlier, a young pregnant girl who is sent off to Ireland to a distant relative by her father, then to a rigid (meaning horrible) convent [the book takes place mostly in Manchester, England and in rural Ireland]. The letter is addressed to her. Jump forward decades and William, the adopted child Crissie gave up, tries to find his birth mother. William meets Tina in Ireland [a serendipitous moment] as she’s trying to find the woman to whom the letter is addressed. This book is the #2 best seller on Amazon at the moment. It’s a riveting tale and I really enjoyed it.

Read Grace Unshakled, by Irene Huising. From Amazon’s page, it says: “In the year 2025, 17-year-old Grace Duncan finds herself in shackles because of her faith in Christ. An obedient daughter and stellar student, doing time in jail was never on her mental radar, despite the changes in religious laws [this takes place here in the United States] over the past few years. Through twists and turns in circumstances, Grace and a small band of Christians in Newport Beach, California begin a journey to discover what it means to follow Christ with unwavering faith in the midst of increasing persecution. Facing the potential loss of all her hopes and dreams, would Christ be enough?” We read this for one of my book clubs, and it’s a scary thought about what it could mean if we take God out of our country. The author is a friend of a friend and she attended our book club meeting to share about how she came to write this book. I don’t often share my faith here on my website, but this book made me stop and think about the direction our government is going, removing more and more our ability to worship God. Or to worship in any religion. Will this book ever make waves in the book world? Probably not. My copy may be a pre-edited version, as it contained numerous typos and formatting errors. But they didn’t detract from the subject, just the cosmetics. The book doesn’t come to a resolution; in fact it leaves you hanging, as some books do. It was intentional (obviously), but left me wondering about the “end of the story.”

Also just finished reading The Muralist: A Novel by Shapiro. It tells the story of a young woman, an artist, who was part of the U.S.’s WPA mural project from the 1930s-40s (she is fiction, the WPA is not). As with so many artists, even today, they live in abject poverty through much of their lives. This woman, though, had family in France, desperately trying to escape before Hitler’s henchmen rousted them into concentration camps. The story, a bit of a mystery but not of the mystery-genre, is about Alizée Benoit, this young painter, who slightly captivates Eleanor Roosevelt’s help. It also skips into current time when the painter’s great-niece uncovers paintings she believes were painted by her aunt. The painter had disappeared into thin air in 1940, and her relative tries desperately to find out what happened to her. It’s a really good story including such Abstract Expressionist painters as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner well-woven into the narrative. It keeps you guessing right up to the end. A good read. The author also wrote The Art Forger: A Novel a few years ago.

Read 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) – 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 Margaret of York (a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine),  who was 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 first!

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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