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I’m going to write up an entire blog post about this book. It may be one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a memoir by Pat Conroy (an author I’ve long admired). He died a year or so ago – sad, that. In order to get the most out of My Reading Life, I recommend you BUY THE HARDBACK. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s an autobiography of sorts, but not really. He never wrote one, I don’t think, and I doubt he would ever have written one as he likely didn’t believe anyone would want to read about his (sad) life. In this memoir, he chronicles the books (and the people who recommended them) that influenced his life. Starting at his mother’s knees and continuing through influential teachers and mentors and friends. One of my book clubs read it, and I devoured it, cover to cover, with little plastic flags inserted all the way through to re-read some of the prose. Pat Conroy was a fabulous writer – he studied words from a young age and used them widely and wisely throughout his writing, but better than most authors would. He adored his mother, and hated (with venom) his aviator military father who physically abused everyone in the family, including his mother. They all took it like stoic Buddhas. I’m going to have to read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel because of reading this book. I’ve never read it. Conroy says that book’s first page is the best first page of any book he ever read in his life. Wow. And maybe my book group is going to re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Vintage Classics) too because of the chapter on that book. We might have to assign that to a 2-month or longer read. If you have friends or family who are avid readers, this would make a great gift, this book, My Reading Life. If YOU are a reader, it needs to be on your bookshelf, but in hardback, so you can go back to it and re-read his stories. It’s a series of essays, each one about a sub-section of his life. A must-have and a must-read.

Also read The Towers of Tuscany by Carol Cram. It was a bargain book through amazon or bookbub (e-book). Back in the Middle Ages women were forbidden to be artists. Their only place was in the home, caring for children and sewing and cooking. But the heroine in this book was taught to paint by her widowed artist-father (in secret, of course). When her father suddenly dies, all hell breaks loose and she must fend for herself. Much of the book takes place in Florence as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

Also finished The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: A Novel by Gabrielle Zevin. It popped up on a list I subscribe to and was available for $1.13 as an e-book. As it begins, you’re hearing from A.J., a grieving widower who owns a bookstore on an obscure island off the East Coast. He’s angry, rude and every other negative adjective you can imagine. A book rep comes to visit and he’s awful to her, yet she perseveres and manages to sell him a few books. You get to know his friends (a friendship with him is full of sharp points) and one day an abandoned toddler is found in his bookshop. In between the story line about A.J., the book rep, the little girl and others, you will learn all about A.J.’s book tastes. If you’re an avid reader, you’ll really enjoy that part. It’s a charming book; loved it.

Also read a quirky book, Goodbye, Vitamin: A Novel by Rachel Khong. She’s a new writer (newly published, I guess I should say) and this story is about Ruth, a 30+ something, trying to readjust to life without her fiance, who’s dumped her. She goes back home to help with the care of her father, who has Alzheimer’s. Written in a diary style, it jumps all over about her life, her mother, the funny, poignant things her father says on good days, and the nutty stuff he does on not-so-good days, her ex-, and her very quirky friends, too. Then a woman flits through who had had an affair with her father –  you get to observe all the angst from the mom about that. Mostly it’s about her father, as he’s relatively “together” early in the book, but then he disintegrates. Reading that part isn’t fun, although the author is able to lean some humor into it. I’m not sure I recommend the book exactly – I read it through – and felt sad. It doesn’t tie up loose ends – if you need that kind of book – you may not want to read this one.

 

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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