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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 aging 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, wealthy women) 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.

I’ve written up an entire blog post about this book. (It hasn’t been posted yet, but will soon.) It may be one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a memoir by Pat Conroy (an author I’ve long admired). He died a year or so ago – sad, that. In order to get the most out of My Reading Life, I recommend you BUY THE HARDBACK. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s an autobiography of sorts, but not really. He never wrote one, I don’t think, and I doubt he would ever have written one as he likely didn’t believe anyone would want to read about his (sad) life. In this memoir, he chronicles the books (and the people who recommended them) that influenced his life. Starting at his mother’s knees and continuing through influential teachers and mentors and friends. One of my book clubs read it, and I devoured it, cover to cover, with little plastic flags inserted all the way through to re-read some of the prose. Pat Conroy was a fabulous writer – he studied words from a young age and used them widely and wisely throughout his writing, but better than most authors would. He adored his mother, and hated (with venom) his aviator military father who physically abused everyone in the family, including his mother. They all took it like stoic Buddhas. I’m going to have to read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel because of reading this book. I’ve never read it. Conroy says that book’s first page is the best first page of any book he ever read in his life. Wow. And maybe my book group is going to re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Vintage Classics) too because of the chapter on that book. We might have to assign that to a 2-month or longer read. If you have friends or family who are avid readers, this would make a great gift, this book, My Reading Life. If YOU are a reader, it needs to be on your bookshelf, but in hardback, so you can go back to it and re-read his stories. It’s a series of essays, each one about a sub-section of his life. A must-have and a must-read.

Also read The Towers of Tuscany by Carol Cram. It was a bargain book through amazon or bookbub (e-book). Back in the Middle Ages women were forbidden to be artists. Their only place was in the home, caring for children and sewing and cooking. But the heroine in this book was taught to paint by her widowed artist-father (in secret, of course). When her father suddenly dies, all hell breaks loose and she must fend for herself. Much of the book takes place in Siena (and also San Gimignano) as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

 

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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