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Just finished reading How It All Began: A Novelby 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 (she arrived after the birth, actually). 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 father is a wealthy man in the area who carries a lot of clout. 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.

On my recent road trip, I visited one of my local libraries and borrowed 5 books on tape. We listened to 3 of them. I’m a big fan of Craig Johnson, the author of a series of mysteries taking place in Wyoming, and a TV series on Netflix called Longmire. This book, A Serpent’s Tooth: A Longmire Mystery was really complex. Hard to explain, but it’s about graft and greed and oil. Worth reading, for sure. Also read Stone Kiss by Faye Kellerman, another complex mystery about Lt Decker, an LA cop who journeys to NYC to help out his family when a murder occurs. Lots of violence in this one.  Not particularly a fav book, I’d venture. Then read Leaving Time: A Novel by Jodi Picoult. I’ve read most of her books – always very riveting. In this book, you’ll learn a whole lot about elephants since the protagonist in it is a young girl whose mother disappeared when she was quite young. Her parents ran an elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire. In the ensuing years, Jenna has tried to find clues as to her mother’s whereabouts because she just cannot believe her mother would have up and abandoned her. There are a whole cast of characters (her mother, her father, employees at the sanctuary, a cop or two, and a psychic). All play fairly prominent roles. Fascinating book – I really liked it, almost as much for the education about the behavior of elephants as about the mystery. A great read.

Also on the trip, I read a book (on Kindle) for one of my book clubs, The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin. It’s about the relationship between Truman Capote and his “swans,” a group of middle-aged high society ladies, and specifically Beth Paley. I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not. Truman Capote was not a nice man, although the whole novel (vs. non-fiction, which this is not) is conjured from speculation about the years Truman was kind of adopted by the group of women. He cared about all of them (most were married/divorced, and wealthy) but in the end he betrays them all by writing a novella about their secrets, their marriages, their affairs (theirs or their spouses, information they’d all shared with him, thinking he could be trusted with their innermost secrets). It was scandalous, and yes, all that part is true. I finished the book, but almost felt like I’d read a “dirty book.” There is no graphic detail in this book – it’s just what Capote did to destroy these women, supposedly his dear, darling “swans.” He was the villain in the book, and in his old age . . . well, I won’t spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it.

 

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 Breads, Brunch, Desserts, on December 31st, 2014.

Umbrian Apple Cake with Creme Anglaise made with apple cider

Diane Phillips, the cooking instructor who made this, is Italian. And this is her grandmother’s recipe, one that she has made hundreds and hundreds of times over her lifetime. It’s a beautiful cake – almost more like a coffeecake than a dessert cake – but it could be either one. It was scrumptious.

At the cooking class, Diane says her mother is probably rolling over in her grave because she serves this occasionally with a crème Anglaise. The cake is a firmer style – notice it has some bigger holes in it – this isn’t a super-tender kind of cake, but kind of like the difference between white bread and corn bread. They’re just different. The flavors were wonderful, and if I’d felt I could have, I’d have licked the plate of the crème that still clung to it. Someone in our cooking class did just that. My mother would have rolled over in her grave if she’d seen me do that!

In the photo at top you can’t quite see that the apple slices are placed in a decorative pattern, cored-edge down into the batter. Makes for a very pretty look when it’s done. The recipe calls for 5 Golden Delicious apples. Two of them are peeled, cored and diced into the batter itself. The other 3 apples are peeled, cored and sliced, and go into the pattern on the top.

The crème Anglaise starts off with apple juice. But after watching Diane make this, I decided that when I make this myself, I’ll use apple juice concentrate – why go through the process of reducing apple juice when you can use concentrate? The cake can be made 2 days ahead (covered, unrefrigerated). The sauce can be made up to 4 days ahead and can be frozen for up to a month.

What’s GOOD: the sauce was divine. It’s rich, but makes a nice moisturizer for the cake, which is just slightly on the dry side (good dry, though). It could also be served with whipped cream (easier). The cake has very nice flavor from the apples. Diane served this as part of a brunch, but it could be a dessert too.

What’s NOT: the sauce takes a bit of time to make, but hey, you can do it ahead, so do that!

printer-friendly CutePDF

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Umbrian Apple Cake with Cider Creme Anglaise

Recipe By: Diane Phillips, cooking instructor and author
Serving Size: 12

CAKE:
1 cup unsalted butter — softened (can use mild, fruity olive oil if preferred)
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon Amaretto
1 teaspoon vanilla paste — or extract
4 large eggs
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 medium Golden Delicious apples — peeled, cored, cut in 1/2″ slices
1/4 cup unsalted butter — melted
3 tablespoons sugar
CIDER CREME ANGLAISE:
2 cups apple juice — or cider
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon vanilla paste
5 large egg yolks

NOTES: To keep apples from turning brown while you make the batter, pour Sprite over them, to cover. Drain and pat dry before proceeding with the recipe.
1. CAKE: Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat the inside of a 10-inch springform pan with nonstick spray (not Pam).
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
3. Add the zest, Amaretto and vanilla paste. Beat until blended.
4. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.
5. Add flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt, blending until smooth.
6. Cut 2 of the apples into very small dice and fold them into the batter. Transfer to prepared pan and smooth the top.
7. Arrange the cut apples, core side down (in other words, don’t lay them flat but push them into the batter on the edges) on top of the batter in circles over the entire surface (in the shape of a sun). The apples should be close together. Brush the apples and batter with the melted butter.
8. Generously sprinkle the apples and batter with the 3 tablespoons of sugar.
9. Bake the cake for 50-60 minutes, until the cake pulls away from the side of the pan, and the cake is golden brown. A skewer inserted into the center should come out clean.
10. Cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes, remove the sides of the springform pan and cool completely. Dust top with powdered sugar if desired. The cake will keep, covered, at room temperature, for 24 hours.
11. CREME ANGLAISE: In a 2-quart saucepan, heat the cider and 1/2 cup of sugar. Bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes, until reduced to 1 cup. Cool the cider completely.
12. In a 2-quart saucepan heat the cream, sugar, cornstarch, vanilla and egg yolks over medium heat, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes.
13. Continue stirring over medium heat until the mixture thickens and just begins to simmer. Immediately remove from heat and strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. Add 1/2 cup of the reduced cider to the bowl, cover and refrigerate, stirring occasionally, until well chilled, about 2 hours. Sauce may be served warm or cold. Use any left over sauce in salad dressings, or as a drizzle over ice cream.
DO-AHEAD: The Creme can be refrigerated for up to 4 days, or frozen for a month.
Per Serving (you’ll use just half the sauce): 596 Calories; 34g Fat (51.5% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 66g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 252mg Cholesterol; 255mg Sodium.

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  1. Christine Myers

    said on December 31st, 2014:

    Hi Carolyn – I happened to scan thru the web and find your blog. You are talent writer and enjoy all your articles in your blog. I love to cook so I have been scanning all the old blog thru Aug 2014 and more to go.

    I have a question on the above recipes – what size pan do you use.
    Thanks

    Christine (Sugar Land, Texas)

    Hi Christine – happy to have you looking over my blog. As for the pan – it notes this in item #1 in the directions – a 10-inch springform pan. I panicked when I read your comment thinking I’d left it out – I have been known to omit some little nugget of important information now and then. I don’t have anyone to proofread my recipes, so it does happen! Hope you enjoy the recipe, and glad to have you as a reader. I’ve been blogging for 7 1/2 years – looooong time. . . carolyn t

  2. Christine Myers

    said on January 3rd, 2015:

    Hi Carolyn – Oops I goofed – I think sometimes I tried too hard and can’t find it LOL.

    Thanks for the wonderful recipes and all your wonderful posts. Will try it and give you feedback.

    Thanks Christine

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