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Just finished a stunning book, 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 (don’t confuse this book with the one I recently read and is reviewed below) and really liked it. 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 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.

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 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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