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Am still reading The Rent Collector by Camron Wright. Oh my. This book has so many layers: (1) the young, impoverished couple and their infant son who live, literally, in a dump in Cambodia and about the precarious structure, if you can even call it that, that comprises their “house” in the midst and perched on top of trash; (2) the woman who collects the rent (hence the title and yes, people have to PAY to live there); (3) the young son’s chronic illness; (4) how they make a living out of collecting and selling trash; and (4) the life saving grace and wisdom imparted by characters in the book as the young mother begins to learn to read. If you decide to read this book, please don’t stop at about page 15-20, thinking you just don’t know if you want to read about this. Please continue. It’s so worth it. Have a highlighter pen in your hand because you’ll find so many quotes you will want to remember. Believe it or not, there is also quite a bit in this about literature.

Recently finished C.J. Box’s book The Disappeared (A Joe Pickett Novel). I just love Box’s novels. They take place in present day semi-wild west, and chronicle the fish and game warden, Joe Pickett, as he unravels another crime in his territory. A woman has disappeared, and the governor has asked him to figure it out. He does, but the tale meanders through multiple layers of intriguing story. His books are riveting. Men and women enjoy his books – so if you have a fellow in your life or family that would enjoy an intriguing book (this is not espionage) then gift him one of Box’s books.

Also finished Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. About a dysfunctional family, through and through. I picked this up from amazon from someone who read the book, named “McReader,” and she says: “Set in the 70s, the story follows a Chinese American blended family in Ohio. When Lydia [the daughter] is found floating in the lake, her family is forced to analyze what put her there. Was it pressure from her family to succeed? Was it pressure to fit in? Was it a crime of passion or convenience? I was spellbound reading the last half of this book. I loved each flawed family member, especially Hannah,. While the story went where I hoped it would go, I was not disappointed at all with the progression. It was also quite insightful on the prejudices that society had about Chinese Americans still during that timeframe and how careful parents have to be to put their dreams onto their children.” Such a good book and definitely worth reading. Would be a good book club read. You’ll be hearing more from this author. Am currently reading her next novel, Little Fires Everywhere.

The Boston Girl: A Novel by Anita Diamant. A very, very intriguing book. The book is written from the voice of a Jewish grandmother as she tells her granddaughter the saga of her life starting about 1910, who struggles with her own individuality, with her domineering mother who never says a kind word to her. It’s certainly a coming-of-age story as she grows up, finds a job, makes friends, joins a literary girls club, moves out, but still suffers under her mother’s thumb and tongue. She becomes a reporter on a local newspaper, which opens her eyes to more of the world than she ever knew. She finally meets the right man (of course!) and she shares the stories about her life, and her friends and family members as she grows up, giving some sage advice along the way. Part of the time she’s talking to herself – to her young self  (really wanting to tell young Addie to keep on, forgive herself for her perceived transgressions, to live life, and experience the world).

One of the best books I’ve read in a long time – Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. Rivers is a prodigious writer of Christian fiction, and I’d never read anything by her until now. As I write this, I’ve already read this, another one (below) and just purchased the Kindle trilogy called Mark of the Lion (Vol 1-3) that I haven’t yet started. (Two of my friends have said the trilogy is her best.) Redeeming Love details the fictional story of a godly man, Michael Hosea, forging his way in the era of the Gold Rush. He’s “driven” to rescue a beautiful prostitute who lives and works her trade in a nearby town. The entire book is about the story, the rescue, and it parallels a bit of scripture about Hosea who rescues a prostitute names Gomer. You get into the heads of both Hosea and the prostitute, named Angel. We read this for one of my book groups. A great read.

As soon as I finished the above book I promptly visited my church library and found a whole shelf of Rivers’ books, and grabbed one called The Atonement Child. This book takes place in the 1980s or 90s, about a young college student who is raped. She was engaged to be married, was a stellar student. The book chronicles what happens to her when she discovers she is pregnant from the rape. Every possible thing goes wrong in her life. I don’t want to spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it, but I couldn’t put it down. I ended up spending a good part of a day plowing through it. You hear her inner voice (I’m guessing this is a common thread in Rivers’ books) from a Christian perspective. Lots of meaty issues to discuss in a book club if your group would be interested and willing to talk about rape, abortion, adoption and the thorny issues surrounding all of those things, but with a Christian bent, for sure.

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen. It’s kind of amazing how many and varied plot lines can be created from events of WWII. This is another one, about a current day woman who finds papers in the attic, after her father’s death, with references to “the child.” She never knew her father could have had another child – could she have a step-sibling somewhere? Her father she knew, had been shot down over Italy, but he never talked much about it. But of course, she must go to Italy to find out about this “child.” The book flips back and forth from this daughter on the search, to her father during the war, all of it taking place in a very small town in Tuscany. It’s about the varied people she meets who want her to go away and not dredge up anything about the war years (are they hiding something, you question), about how much she loves the landscape, and some of the people. And about the intense love affair between the injured pilot and a caring woman of the village. Very charming story. I could almost smell the flowers, taste the olives, hear the bees flitting, and loved the prose about the simple meals that were described. I really enjoyed the book. Perhaps not enough meat for a book club read, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy reading it nonetheless.

Leaving Blythe River: A Novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde. Almost a page turner. When one uses the phrase “coming of age,” it usually means (I think) love and loss/boyfriend/girlfriend, and in this case it’s somewhat that way. When Ethan, a 17-year old boy and his mother come home unexpectedly to find dad and his young secretary in a compromising position, all hell breaks loose. Separation happens instantly and just as his father moves out, his mother has to go take care of her aging mother. Ethan’s too young to be left in the NYC apartment alone, so Mom sends son to the father who is escaping from the world in Wyoming, living in a primitive A-frame house, and continuing his daily 20+ mile running journeys. Ethan and his father are barely speaking. They live in the middle of nowhere. Ethan feels betrayed by his father in every possible way, and somewhat by his mother for forcing him to live with his father for a temporary period. Then his father doesn’t return one day from his run. The authorities do a cursory search, but they are under the impression the dad wants to “get lost” on purpose. Ethan, although he thinks he doesn’t care, really does. What happens next is best left to you reading this book. Very interesting people (kind of loners) enter the picture and off they go to search. So worth reading.

The Girl With No Name by Diney Costelhoe. What a good book. Perhaps you’ve read before about the huge numbers of German refugee children who were sent to England before Hitler closed down any exits. This is a novel about one particular young girl, who is devastated when her mother puts her on one of the boats. She ends up in London, in an orphanage kind of place, and is eventually placed with a childless couple. She speaks no English. They speak no German, but they manage soon enough. Lisa (who eventually becomes Charlotte) is so homesick. She’s bullied at school, because most people and children don’t want any Germans there. A boy steps up to protect her, and as she grows up, she’s attracted to him. She shouldn’t be – he’s also German and from her own home town. He’s not a good match for her. You live with her through the blitz during all those war years and during one attack, she’s badly injured and loses her memory (and no ID on her). Through a series of mishaps she ends up in a village far from London, with a spinster woman who does eventually come to love her very much – they name her Charlotte and Charlotte she becomes. She goes to school there, still longing, though, for her mother and brother and her London foster family too. Then when she’s 16 she returns to London to help at the orphanage where she was originally placed and tries to find her foster parents. The story goes on from there, with the boy/man who “wants” her, the bad boy, and a good boy/man she befriends in the village in the country. Eventually she regains her memory. SUCH a good read.

The Girl with Seven Names by Hyanseo Lee. If you, like me, know little about North Korea and how it came to be what it is today, you’ve got to read this book. It’s a memoir written by a young woman who escaped from North Korea about 9 years ago. Her journey – and I mean JOURNEY – is harrowing, frightening, amazing, heart-rendering all at the same time. She chronicles the lives of the Kims (Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il to current Kim Jong Un), shares the strict propaganda that surrounds every North Korean citizen, the poverty and hunger, as well as the underground black market for food and goods. It took her awhile to get from North Korea, to China and eventually to South Korea, where she currently lives. She’s well educated and speaks English quite well. She was invited to be a speaker at a TED talk – you know about those, right? TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a media organization which posts talks online for free distribution, under the slogan “ideas worth spreading.” I listen to them as  podcasts now and then. Always very educational, if sometimes over my head when it gets very technical. She works diligently for human rights now, doing her best to help other North Koreans escape. You owe it to yourself to read this book.

Also just finished reading The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian. Another WOW book. I’ve always liked the author – many years ago I read his book, Midwives and really liked it. Don’t confuse this book with the one I recently read, The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas that I reviewed recently. I think we read it in one of my book groups. He’s a brilliant writer, and this one has a lot of characters and twists. It’s a novel, but based on a lot of truth regarding the Armenian genocide. Most of the book takes place in Aleppo, Syria with some good Samaritan folk trying to help rescue people (mostly children) following the forced long marches the Turks made prodding the Turkish Armenians to exit their country. But it also jumps to near present day as a family member is trying to piece together obscure parts of her grandparents’ former lives there. She uncovers some hidden truths (many survivors of the genocide never-ever-ever wanted to talk about it) and a bit more about her Armenian heritage. A riveting book – I could hardly put it down. Lots to discuss for a book club read. I simply must read more of Bohjalian’s books (he’s written many).

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.

 

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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