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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 July 22nd, 2014.

anise_cake_coyote_cafe

Knowing some of you as I do, I’m venturing a guess that many most of you will look at that picture, read the word anise, and just decide nope, it’s not for you. You’d be making a big mistake. You’re going to miss out on a really wonderful taste treat. Curiously, I don’t like licorice. Period. I don’t eat the candy, nor the liqueurs made from it. Yuck. But this cake, oh yes, I love it.

Back in 2007 (a couple of months after I started writing this blog, and my photos were awful, I must tell you!) I posted this recipe. Most of you weren’t reading my blog back then. It was a baby blog, you could say, and I didn’t have all that many readers. Still today I have no idea whether people download recipes or not (I know how many people look at my blog, but downloading the pdf, or the MasterCook files, I don’t know).  This is a recipe I’ve been making for well over 20 years. And not all that often, but when I do make it, it’s always a hit. I had a group of women friends over for a potluck lunch and at the last minute (well, 9:30 for an noon lunch) I decided to whip up this cake. It took about 45 minutes of preparation, then the rest was easy (baking and cooling time).

The original recipe came from Mark Miller’s cookbook Coyote Cafe: Foods from the Great Southwest, Recipes from Coyote Café. Back in the early 80s I was quite enamored with southwestern food (still am, but Mexican food has to stand in since southwestern restaurants have basically been and gone) and on a trip to Santa Fe on a food tour, I ate at Miller’s restaurant. I was smitten. With his cookbook in hand, I have prepared some of the recipes from it, but the standout by far is this cake.

Anise Seed Tip:

When you toast anise, it absolutely mellows out the flavor. There is nothing pungent or strong about the flavor once it’s toasted/roasted. You’ll be amazed. Considering that there’s 4 tablespoons of anise in this cake!

Over the years I’ve changed it some – it’s still resembles his recipe – with eggs, butter, anise seed, sugar, vanilla, flour, etc. But I lightened it up (the texture mostly) a little bit many years ago. I reduced the amount of butter, and I separated the eggs to whip the whites to texturally lighten the cake from a heavy pound cake to just a “cake.” It’s still made in a tube pan, and baked for a little longer.

Let’s talk about anise seed a little bit. You know already that it is part of the licorice family – in some countries anise and fennel go by the same name. They certainly are similar. They’re both very aromatic. stovetop_spice_toaster_pan_mesh_lid_closed

In this recipe, the anise seeds have to be toasted. I have a cute little stovetop spice toaster thing. I bought it years ago and have no recollection where. Might have been in an Indian market, since Indian cuisine uses a lot of toasted spices. It’s about 8 inches long, and the metal pan is little more than paper thin, but that means the spices toast in a jiffy. The mesh lid clips down so when hot spices begin to dance and/or pop, they stovetop_spice_toaster_lid_opendon’t go flying.  Once the pan heats up you absolutely have to be right there at the stove gently shaking the pan – otherwise the spices would burn. It’s a miraculous little thing and when I use it I’m ever so glad I have it. But you can use any old pan – just watch it carefully so the spices don’t burn. Generally it takes 2-4 minutes to toast spices over a medium to medium high heat. As soon as they’re done, however, tip the contents out onto a plate so they don’t continue to toast. With my little toaster, I just set it onto the cold granite countertop, and move it about 3 times, shaking it as I move it and the spices stop toasting.

anise_cake_batterThe cake batter is fairly standard. But it sure looks different because of the finely ground toasted anise seed in it – it makes a lovely taupe color as you can see in the photo at right. I’d just folded in the whipped egg whites when I took that picture. The batter is relatively thick, and you do need to fold those whipped egg whites until you can’t see any streaks. Then it’s scooped into the tube pan, leveled slightly and baked. The original recipe said it baked in 50-60 minutes. Mine takes longer, from 60-80 minutes, depending on your oven. I used my instant read thermometer and baked it until I got a reading of about 200° in several places.

anise_cake_wholeIt cools in the pan for awhile (an hour), then you can remove the outer part of the tube pan. Even though the pan is greased and flour-dusted, I always run a knife around the edge (mine is old – it’s not a nonstick – I think tube pans – mostly designed for making angel food cake aren’t ever supposed to be nonstick). Once the outer rim is removed, then I run a knife underneath the cake and around the center tube and usually the cake will come out of the tube onto your outstretched hand and forearm. Then gently place it onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

I think this is best with nothing but vanilla ice cream or whipped cream – you want the anise flavor to shine through. If you add fruit or syrups or anything, it will just dampen the anise flavor.

What’s GOOD: to me, the anise flavor is just off the charts. When I served this to my group of lady friends they – to a person – raved. And I mean RAVED. The cake isn’t hard to make at all. Do use anise that’s not too old, or it won’t have good flavor. Am sure my jar is at least a year old, but it hadn’t been opened, so I knew it was good. Freeze the left overs, if you have any. It’s best eaten the day it’s made if at all possible.

What’s NOT: well, if you don’t like anise, I’m sorry! But remember, I don’t like licorice and I just adore this cake. You might be a convert to this type of anise flavor.

printer-friendly CutePDF

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Anise Pound Cake a la Coyote Cafe

Recipe By: Adapted some from Mark Miller’s cookbook, Coyote Cafe
Serving Size: 16

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
14 ounces unsalted butter — softened
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 tablespoons anise seed — roasted, ground
5 large eggs — separated
2/3 cup sour cream — (I used a mix of sour cream and Greek yogurt)

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan. Sift together flour and salt, then set aside. To toast the anise seeds, use an iron skillet, or pan with a heavy bottom, if possible. Heat the pan (dry) to medium-high. Add the seeds, and either shake or stir with a spatula until the seeds begin to brown. If they begin to smoke, the heat may be too high – be careful and don’t burn them. You want them to be just past golden brown – but not burned. This will take 2-3 minutes, maybe 4, depending on the heat level. Immediately tip the seeds out onto a big plate (to stop the toasting altogether).
2. Cream the butter with sugar, vanilla and toasted, finely ground anise seed until light, 5-7 minutes. In another bowl, whip the egg whites until they reach stiff peaks and set aside. To the caek batter add the egg yolks, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Then add dry ingredients alternately with the sour cream. Scrape the bowl well and mix until blended. Then, using a spatula fold in the egg whites until mixed in and no streaks of white are visible. (This is a bit difficult because the batter is thick.)
3. Pour or scoop into prepared pan and bake for approximately 60-75 minutes, until the cake is golden brown and springs back to the touch. If using an instant read thermometer, bake until cake reaches 200°, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool on a rack for about 45 minutes, then run a knife around the outside of the pan and around the center, then remove the outer part of the tube pan. Holding onto the top of the tube, slide a knife all along bottom (between the cake and the bottom of the cake, turning the cake as you go. Unmold the cake onto your outstretched hand, then quickly, but gently, turn it back over onto the cooling rack. Can serve warm.
4. Serve in small slices with vanilla ice cream, or with fresh, sliced summer fruit (peaches, strawberries, other berries) and whipped cream. You’ll have the more predominant anise flavor if you serve it plain with ice cream or whipped cream.
Per Serving: 411 Calories; 24g Fat (52.2% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 45g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 125mg Cholesterol; 155mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on July 23rd, 2014:

    Carolyn, this looks intriguing. I love anise in biscotti, springerle, and anise drop cookies, so I’m sure I’d love this cake. And it’s a flavor I’ve never encountered in a cake. It would be a nice change to accompany summer peaches.

    Peaches would work – just don’t put other flavors in with it – maybe some vanilla, or just plain sliced would be lovely, I think. . . carolyn t

  2. Thalia @ butter and brioche

    said on July 23rd, 2014:

    i’ve never made a pound cake before.. definitely something i need to try. love the anise flavour too!

    It really is worth making and everyone is surprised that the anise isn’t more pronounced. You know it’s anise, but it’s not overpowering at all. . . carolyn t

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