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Just finished 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 Breads, Desserts, on February 28th, 2016.


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
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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