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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 February 4th, 2014.


Why is it called Fifty-Year Apple Cake, you wonder? Because it’s a very old-old apple recipe. Not, as I thought, that it has something to do with heirloom apples. And the photo above doesn’t exactly show you that this cake is mostly apples, cloaked in a small amount of batter that merely binds the apples together. Well, there’s the crumb topping added on top, too. But still, it’s mostly apples.

When we were having a big group at our house one recent evening, I wanted a delicious mid-winter kind of dessert. We are in a Bible study group that’s ongoing, reading the whole Bible in a year (our whole church), but synopsized in a book called The Story, NIV: The Bible as One Continuing Story of God and His People. We get into the most interesting discussions in this group. There are 12 of us if everyone makes it, and we’ve been meeting weekly since late September with a break for Christmas. We enjoy each other. We’re all members of our church, but some of us didn’t know one another. It’s been a very pleasant bonding experience. And I’ve enjoyed having an excuse to bake since I don’t want lots of left overs hanging around for me to snack on.

Anyway, we’ve been hosting it at our house up until now and I’ve served dessert each time. A couple of times someone else helped out. Last week I scanned through my to-try recipes and decided on this one. I will tell you that I erred in the making of this recipe, but it actually didn’t make any difference. It was only now, days later as I’m writing this – and beginning this post that I went online and tried to learn more about the original recipe. That’s when I learned who Emily Luchetti is (a pastry chef in San Francisco). That’s when I realized that the recipe I had put into my MasterCook file was Cheryl Sternman Rule’s riff on the cake. If I’d gone back to her blog post and read it again before I started, I’d have realized it, but I was in a hurry and didn’t. Anyway, I got a little confused about the crumb topping. In actuality, the original recipe didn’t HAVE a crumb topping. That was Cheryl’s addition, among other things. She also took out the walnuts and raisins, switched out some brown sugar for white, and added a whole lot more apples. All of those things are good, and it made for a delicious cake nevertheless. One I’d make again, no question! But I’d be wary of the mistake I made – adding some of the topping to the dry ingredients, which didn’t have any negative effects; it just isn’t necessary, that’s all.

apple_cake_mound_cakepanAt left is a photo of the apple/cake batter before it’s spread out in the pan.

What I did find online is a video of Emily Luchetti making the original of this cake – if you’re interested  – you do have to sign up (free, but you know at some point they’re going to start charging for viewing the videos). The video of Emily will start playing, then it will stop and you have to sign up in order to see the rest of it. If they begin bugging me via email, I’ll just unsubscribe. I don’t know about you, but I get about 30 or more advertising emails a day – all websites I’ve signed up for for some reason and they send me something every day or two, 365 days a year. Some I like to get, but they send things way too often. Annoying.

buttery_crumb_mixtureEmily’s cake didn’t have any brown sugar in it, and half as much apples, so it was a bit more cakey, I’d say, than the recipe you’ll find below. I kind of liked this version, though it’s not true to the original. You’ll find many recipes for a Fifty-Year Apple Cake online (from some heirloom cookbooks, for instance). Even Emily says it’s probably more like 75 or 100 years old since it’s been around so long. She suggests you use a juicy apple (not a Pippin or Granny Smith, which she reserves only for pies). Cheryl used Fuji because it’s what she had. You can also use Gala or Braeburn or Pink Lady. Cheryl didn’t peel the apples at all, just cored and chopped. I mostly peeled mine. The addition (or substitution) of brown sugar gives the cake a much more caramely flavor. One that I liked.

batter_spread_cakepanAt left is the batter all spread out in the pan. In making it, the apples are chopped and you make the cake batter using vegetable oil as the fat in it, add the topping and bake it in a 9×13 parchment lined baking pan. Once cooled, you cut it into squares and serve with powdered sugar, crème fraiche (Emily’s recommendation because she thinks the cake needs something a little tart on it rather than something sweet), sweetened whipped cream or ice cream.

There below right you can see the cake with the topping on it – ready to bake.

apple_cake_ready_to_bakeWhat’s GOOD: a great showcase for good, juicy apples. The cake is dark from the brown sugar and cinnamon (the only spice). It’s a moist and tender cake, worth making. The crumb topping gives it some crunch. Really delicious in every way. Yes, I’d definitely make it again.

What’s NOT: can’t think of anything I didn’t like.

printer-friendly CutePDF

Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click on link to open in MC)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Emily Luchetti’s Fifty-Year Apple Cake (a riff on)

Recipe By: A Passion for Desserts by Emily Luchetti, adapted by Cheryl Sternman Rule at 5 Second Rule
Serving Size: 20 small servings

2 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar — (packed)
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 pounds Fuji apples — (about 4) or other variety, peels on, chopped (5-6 cups chopped apple)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup cold (or even frozen) crumb topping from below
Powdered sugar — for sifting over the top
1/2 cup chopped walnuts — (in the original recipe, as well as raisins) optional
CHERYL’S CRUMB TOPPING (you’ll use 1 cup of this for the above cake):
1 cup dark brown sugar — packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 cup unsalted butter — melted and warm
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Notes: The nutrition info on this recipe is incorrect as you do not use all of the crumb topping to make the cake. Next time I make it, I’ll be adding chopped walnuts, probably about 1/2 cup. You could also add raisins.
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease the sides and corners of a 9×13-inch rectangular cake pan and line the bottom with parchment.
2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, two sugars, cinnamon, and oil. Fold in the apples. In a separate bowl, sift the flour, baking soda, and salt. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet, folding and mixing until all the white, floury bits are completely incorporated. The batter will be extremely thick. Continue stirring until you can’t see any white flour crumbs.
3. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and use a small offset spatula to work it into the corners. Sprinkle with 1 cups of the crumb topping (see below).
4. Bake in the center of the oven for 45 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean, or until it reaches 210°F on an instant-read thermometer. For neat slices, let cool completely. If desired, sift over a little powdered sugar, but go easy — the cake’s plenty sweet. Or, serve with vanilla ice cream or softly whipped cream sweetened with sugar and vanilla.
5. Cutting it with a metal bench scraper makes better squares. After 24 hours, store any leftover cake in the refrigerator.
6. CRUMB TOPPING: In a medium bowl, stir together both sugars, the salt, and cinnamon. Add the melted butter and whisk until combined. Fold in the flour until it is absorbed and set the mixture aside. (Freeze what remains and use on any other kind of fruit-based cake or cobbler.) Makes about 3 1/2 cups.
Per Serving (inaccurate because it includes all of the topping and you only use 1 cup of it): 405 Calories; 17g Fat (37.7% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 60g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 46mg Cholesterol; 302mg Sodium.

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  1. Melynda@OurSundayCafe

    said on February 4th, 2014:

    We ate that cake (without the topping, although I won’t anymore!) often in my childhood household. Mom called it “Raw Apple Cake” and it had a simple sprinkle on top of cinnamon sugar. I still make that same cake today, the recipe is a true classic and delicious, the topping can only make it company worthy.

    Yes, I have a recipe for a raw apple cake too. This one has more apples, I think. Loved the cinnamon in it. Altogether delicious, I thought . . . carolyn t

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