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Recently finished reading 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.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant. Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the angry father is a wealthy and influential man in the area. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

 

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.

emily_luchettis_50_year_apple_cake

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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