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Just finished 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 want that kind of book – you may not want to read this one.

Also finished Julian Fellowes’s Belgravia. You know Julian Fellowes, the producer and writer of Downton Abbey? He lends his mind to a story about a family or two from the similar time period as Downton, who live in London. There’s some amount of intrigue, romance, observations from within the halls of wealthy Londoners and moderately well off tradesmen and their families. There’s affairs, shady business dealings, an illegitimate child, the comings and goings of the “downstairs” staff too, etc. The characters were well done – I had no trouble keeping all of the people identified. The story is somewhat predictable, but it was interesting clear up to the end.

The Letter by Kathyrn Hughes. It’s a very intricate tale. At first it’s about Tina, a battered wife [at which point I paused and wondered if I wanted to read any further, but I’m glad I did]. She tries to get the courage to leave her husband. Then enters the letter she finds in a suit pocket in the thrift shop where she volunteers. It’s old – sealed and stamped, but never mailed. Then you learn about Crissie, decades earlier, a young pregnant girl who is sent off to Ireland to a distant relative by her father, then to a rigid (meaning horrible) convent [the book takes place mostly in Manchester, England and in rural Ireland]. The letter is addressed to her. Jump forward decades and William, the adopted child Crissie gave up, tries to find his birth mother. William meets Tina in Ireland [a serendipitous moment] as she’s trying to find the woman to whom the letter is addressed. This book is the #2 best seller on Amazon at the moment. It’s a riveting tale and I really enjoyed it.

The Muralist: A Novel by Shapiro. It tells the story of a young woman, an artist, who was part of the U.S.’s WPA mural project from the 1930s-40s (she is fiction, the WPA is not). As with so many artists, even today, they live in abject poverty through much of their lives. This woman, though, had family in France, desperately trying to escape before Hitler’s henchmen rousted them into concentration camps. The story, a bit of a mystery but not of the mystery-genre, is about Alizée Benoit, this young painter, who slightly captivates Eleanor Roosevelt’s help. It also skips into current time when the painter’s great-niece uncovers paintings she believes were painted by her aunt. The painter had disappeared into thin air in 1940, and her relative tries desperately to find out what happened to her. It’s a really good story including such Abstract Expressionist painters as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner well-woven into the narrative. It keeps you guessing right up to the end. A good read. The author also wrote The Art Forger: A Novel a few years ago.

Also recently read News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. 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 required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a free-lance job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her family was killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of an old (wild) west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many. Just read this one first!

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, Desserts, on February 28th, 2016.

coconut_lemon_teacake1

Oh, what a lovely slice of deliciousness. Coconut flavor in the bread and on the top, and lemon caramel drizzled over the top. This one’s really, really good!

One of my book clubs came to my house awhile back, and not only did I review a book (The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry: A Novel by Rachel Joyce), but I also needed to prepare some mid-morning food for everyone who came. We had a really interesting discussion about this book. It’s one of my favorite books I’ve read in the last couple of years and I think this book “experience” was enhanced by a group discussion.

I made coffee, had fresh fruit, some Biscoff cookies, this bread, and also some chocolate/banana small cake bites too. I’ll write up the cake recipe too – soon. When everyone left, I packaged up everything and put it in a big ziploc bag in the freezer for my Scrabble group that came to my house a couple of weeks later. But I’ll tell you – I had a hard time staying out of that bag during the ensuing weeks because I wanted some of this bread.

The recipe – I read about it on Orangette, but it comes from a book titled Lemons by Alison Roman (not available at amazon). I’ll need to frequent some used book stores to see if I can find it. You can buy it from the publisher for $14, (which seems pricey for a 48 page cookbook), so I’d like to find a used copy if I can do so. I have a couple of lemon cookbooks, but if this recipe is any representation of what’s contained in that cookbook, then I need to own it!

teacake_sliced_coconut_lemonThe recipe is just slightly different than most tea bread recipes, in that it uses coconut oil (melted). And it does have a coconut topping that’s baked along with the bread. Then you make a lemon juice mixture to go on top. Here’s where my cooking went off the track (in a good way). I set the lemon juice and sugar in a small saucepan on the stove, then walked 10 feet away and began working on something here at my computer. I lost track of time, and the aroma of lemon juice/sugar didn’t seem to alert me that I needed to get back to it. When I finally smelled it, I dashed over to the stove and discovered that the mixture had turned to a light brown caramel. I didn’t want to make another batch, so I just used it anyway – I used a spoon to drizzle the lemon-caramel over the top of the finished bread. It was a delightful change/mistake that I’ll probably do the next time I make it, so I’ve included it in my recipe below. It gave it a lovely crunch, in addition to the unsweetened coconut flakes that were also slightly crunchy.

What’s GOOD: the coconut and lemon flavors are prominent (which I liked). There isn’t much of anything made with lemon that I don’t like, but this tea cake is particularly good, and I want to bake it again, because I didn’t have enough of it the first time around.

What’s NOT: not a single thing. Worth making for sure.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 14/15 file (click on link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Coconut-Lemon Tea Cake with Caramel Drizzle

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Lemons, by Alison Roman but I read about it at Orangette blog
Serving Size: 9

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1 cup sugar — divided
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
3/4 cup Greek yogurt, full-fat — or 2% yogurt, or sour cream
1/2 cup coconut oil — melted
2 large eggs
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
CARAMEL DRIZZLE:
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a (9×5 approximately) loaf pan lightly with cooking spray or butter, and line it with parchment paper. Grease that too (with difficulty). If you have a nonstick pan, this step may not be necessary.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, and kosher salt.
3. In a large bowl, rub 1 cup of the sugar with the lemon zest until the sugar is fragrant and yellow and smells like you just rubbed a lemon in there. Whisk in the yogurt, melted coconut oil, and eggs. Add the flour mixture, and stir just to blend.
4. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and smooth the top. Sprinkle coconut flakes over the surface, and bake until the top of the cake is golden brown, the edges pull away from the side of the pan, and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 50 to 55 minutes. (I found that the coconut flakes were browning before the cake was done, so tent the cake loosely with foil after about 45 minutes.)
5. During the last 10 minutes or so the cake is baking, combine the lemon juice and remaining ¼ cup of sugar in a small saucepan, and bring it to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved. Then continue simmering until the mixture has turned golden brown (caramel), but don’t let it burn. Remove cake from oven, and leaving it in the cakepan, drizzle this mixture over the top of the teacake with a spoon, keeping all of it on top (not down the sides). Allow cake to cool completely before removing the cake and serving. Cut pieces a bit thicker than normal as the topping is crunchy and you’ll tear it as you slice. Hold your hand across the top (at the top of both sides) as you slice between two fingers (carefully) each piece so each slices stay whole.
Per Serving: 328 Calories; 15g Fat (40.4% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 45g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 55mg Cholesterol; 291mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on February 28th, 2016:

    Two of my favourite flavours in that cake!

  2. hddonna

    said on February 28th, 2016:

    The idea of a coconut lemon loaf didn’t grab me until you described your serendipitous mistake. A caramelized lemon drizzle! Wow! Sounds like it would be a perfect tea-time treat.

    Well, yes, that mistake (sort of) did make for an altogether different flavor on the topping. I’ll be making it again sometime. . . carolyn t

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