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Am just starting News of the World: A Novel by William Morris. 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 requires me to read it. It’s about an old man, during the early, old wild west times, who goes from town to town and people pay him money to read the newspaper to them. (Imagine, there WAS such a job.) By chance he’s asked to take a very young girl to Texas to reunite with her family. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby, raised by them, and she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!).

Just finished Winter Journey by Diane Armstrong. Have you ever read about forensic dentistry? I sure had not, so I found it fascinating reading. It’s a debut novel for the author, and what a story. Halina, an Australian, with Polish roots, specializes in this obscure profession as a forensic dentist, and is asked to go to Poland, to help identify bone (and tooth) fragments, to put to rest a sad event in the story of this small town, when many, many people (Jews) were murdered. Was it the Nazis? Or was it the local townspeople who disliked the Jews. What a tangled web of intrigue, including Halina’s own mysterious past. I really enjoyed the read. The author does a great job of developing the characters (which I always like). This is no light read if you consider the subject matter, although it IS a novel (but based on fact). Nor is it a spy thriller – it’s more just an historical novel with lots of interesting people throughout. There’s a romance thrown in too, and a whole lot of angst about the discoveries found in the mass grave. But, the subject expanded my knowledge about forensics.

Recently finished reading The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr. I just LOVED this book. I’ve never been much of a fan of Caravaggio’s paintings, although I’ve seen plenty of them (many are extremely large) in museums around the world. His paintings were dark, often with dark subjects. But as with many of the old masters, occasionally some obscure work surfaces, perhaps credited to another artist, even, that turns out to be one done by “the” master. In this case, Caravaggio. Although this book is written as a novel (with dialogue, etc.) it’s historical through and through. It begins with two young women art scholars, in Italy, who are asked to do a research project. One thing leads to another, and to another. All true.  If you enjoy books about art – I learned some things about the paint and the canvases of the time – you’ll be intrigued as I was.

Also just read Eye On the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press, by James, McGrath Morris. Each year my AAUW book club reads something related to Black History Month. This is a biography of a woman you’ve probably never heard of, Ethel Payne, and about her life-long journey in journalism, struggling to keep her head above water financially, but staying true to her purposes of telling the truth about the black stories and black racism of the day. Sometimes biographies aren’t all that riveting, but I found this one to be so, and I savored each new chapter. We had a really good discussion of the book, and the ups and downs of Payne’s life, especially during her years as a Washington reporter. You’ll not be sorry to have spent the time reading this book. It’s well-written, as well. I was thrilled when the author, Morris, left a message here on my blog, thanking me (and my group) for reading his book.

Also read H Is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald. This one has been on the best seller list. It’s a memoir about a woman who takes on a personal challenge of taming a wild hawk. Prior to reading this book, I knew next to nothing about the entire subject of hawking, or taming any of the big, wild birds. The book is equally about the writer’s inner journey. She’s a consummate writer, and every page was a joy of words, for me. My only problem is my own – I found it hard, the more time that went by, and the more time the writer spent trying to tame this bird, to scream out “let the bird go.” Perhaps it’s because I spent time in Africa in 2015, seeing animals in the wild, that I felt more for the bird than I did with the writer’s discontent with herself and the taming process. Little did I know what a hard job it is to tame a hawk. I actually didn’t finish the book. It was a book club read, and highly recommended by several of our members. And I ended up not being able to attend the meeting as I had a cold. So perhaps there is some great ending to it that would have made me feel better. I haven’t gone to the end to find out. I just had to stop reading it. But I’m not NOT recommending it. If nothing else, read it for Macdonald’s sublime proficiency with words.

Also read George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, by Brian Kilmeade and Dan Yaeger. Here’s what it says on amazon: When George Washington beat a hasty retreat from New York City in August 1776, many thought the American Revolution might soon be over. Instead, Washington rallied—thanks in large part to a little-known, top-secret group called the Culper Spy Ring. He realized that he couldn’t defeat the British with military might, so he recruited a sophisticated and deeply secretive intelligence network to infiltrate New York. I won’t exactly call this book a riveting read, but it was interesting. Relating facts that few people knew about, this Culper Spy Ring. It’s a little chunk of American history researched in depth by the authors. An interesting read.

Also read The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel by Nina George. If you’re an avid reader, you probably have the same kind of longing as I do for a quaint, independently owned bookstore right around the corner. So few exist anymore. This novel is about a very unusual book store, and book store owner. In Paris. On a boat/barge. It’s not a typical book store, and the writer takes you on a journey of discovery about (likely) her own lifetime of book reading. You’ll learn all about a variety of existing books and why they’re a good read. But it’s all cloaked in a story about this book store and the owner. And the customers. Very fun. I’m reviewing it for one of my book clubs next month.

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 Desserts, on March 25th, 2016.

best_almond_cake

A winner of a recipe. Should be, since it’s the culmination of kitchen magic by the chefs at America’s Test Kitchen. I’ve made almond cake before (there are two on my blog archives already) but no almond cake I’ve ever tasted has been so tender, and so full of almond flavor as this one. Does that get you interested?

Saying I’m a fan of America’s Test Kitchen is certainly a true statement. I don’t think there has ever been a recipe I’ve tried from their books or the TV show that hasn’t been wonderful.  It had been a week before that I watched the program for this cake and knew I’d be making it. I needed a dessert to serve to one of my bible study groups that was meeting here at my house. We happen to be studying Romans, Paul’s letter to the people of Rome, cautioning them about their behavior. Maybe if they’d had some of this cake, they might have listened better!

This cake was really very easy to make, although there are a few steps to it – it’s not a slap-dash kind of cake. You do have to toast the almonds and you make a couple of different bowls of things before it all comes together – but it all gets mixed in the food processor at the end, it’s poured into a greased (and parchment lined) round cake pan and it bakes. The topping (almonds, sugar and lemon zest) are added after pouring the batter into the pan and there’s nothing else to it. The cake has nearly 2 cups of almonds in it, so it’s not the cheapest cake to make these days, what with the cost of almonds rising by the day. The eggs (4 of them) certainly must help with the light texture – and you do whiz them up until they’re light before mixing up the rest of it.

best_almond_cake_sliceGetting the cake out of the pan was a bit of a challenge – I had buttered the pan (which was nonstick, by the way) AND used parchment, but it took a bit of doing to kind of un-stick the bottom corners from the pan – where the parchment met the sides – but it all came out beautifully once I gently pried all around the interior edges with my plastic spreader. It stayed together as I up-ended it onto my outstretched palm and arm and onto the cake plate it went (this, all when it was cooled).

They didn’t suggest serving it with anything, but I thought a bit of whipped cream with some almond extract in it was appropriate, and it certainly added to the intense almond flavor, but the cake, all by itself, is intensely almond-y already.

What’s GOOD: this will be the last almond cake recipe I’ll ever need to try. It’s THAT good. I loved the tender cake (texture) since many almond cakes are a bit on the firm side. Not this one – truly tender. And since I’m a big almond lover anyway, the amount of almond flavor (from the almonds themselves and from a little bit of almond extract added) it was just perfect. I highly recommend it. I also loved the addition of the whipped cream flavored with almond extract. Yummy.

What’s NOT: nothing other than the cost of almonds these days. This recipe is a keeper.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe

* Exported from MasterCook *

Best Almond Cake

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from America’s Test Kitchen, 2016
Serving Size: 8

CAKE:
1 1/2 cups sliced almonds — toasted (blanched if you have them)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour — (3 3/4 ounces)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
4 large eggs
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest — from about 2 lemons (save 1/2 tsp for the topping)
3/4 teaspoon almond extract
5 tablespoons unsalted butter — melted
1/3 cup vegetable oil
TOPPING:
1/3 cup sliced almonds — toasted (leave these sliced)
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
ALMOND CREAM:
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

NOTES: Even if you have a nonstick baking pan, do use the parchment, and do butter/grease the pan as well. Yes, really. I used all sliced almonds because that’s what I had on hand.
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan and line with parchment paper. Pulse 1½ cups almonds, flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in food processor until almonds are finely ground, 5 to 10 pulses. Transfer almond mixture to a bowl.
2. Process eggs, 1 1/4 cups sugar, 1 tablespoon lemon zest, and almond extract in now-empty processor until very pale yellow, about 2 minutes. With processor running, add melted butter and oil in steady stream, until incorporated. Add almond mixture and pulse to combine, 4 to 5 pulses – or just enough to incorporate all the dry mixture. Transfer batter to prepared pan.
3. TOPPING: Using your fingers, combine 2 tablespoons sugar and 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest in small bowl until fragrant, 5 to 10 seconds. Sprinkle top of cake evenly with remaining 1/3 cup almonds followed by sugar-zest mixture.
4. Bake until center of cake is set and bounces back when gently pressed and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 55 to 65 minutes, rotating pan after 40 minutes. (I removed it when my instant read thermometer registered 198°F.) Let cake cool in pan on wire rack for 15 minutes. Run paring knife or plastic spreader around sides of pan. Invert cake onto greased wire rack, discard parchment, and reinvert cake onto second wire rack. Let cake cool, about 2 hours. Cut into wedges and serve. (Store cake in plastic wrap at room temperature for up to 3 days.)
5. ALMOND CREAM: Whip cream to soft peaks, then add sugar and almond extract and continue whipping until firm peaks form. Dollop each slice of cake with the almond cream.
Per Serving: 611 Calories; 42g Fat (59.7% calories from fat); 12g Protein; 52g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 146mg Cholesterol; 280mg Sodium.

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  1. bethier

    said on March 25th, 2016:

    Hi Carolyn–wow this definitely does look like a winner!! Beautiful– can’t wait to make it! I must
    confess the idea of the lemon with the almond surprises me a little–have not used that combo
    before in baking–but I’m sure it will be wonderful! You haven’t steered me wrong yet! 🙂
    Again, want to say how much I enjoy your blog. You do an amazing job and I love that it
    incorporates not just food, but books, travel and darn good writing! Thank you for sharing
    with us!

    Thank you so much. I assume your name is Bessie – my grandmother’s name. Thanks for your many compliments. I wonder some days why I continue with the blog, but it’s for comments like yours, today, that keep me writing. . . carolyn t

  2. Jean D

    said on March 28th, 2016:

    This sounds wonderful and definitely on my list to make! Thank you for your excellent description and tips.

    I’m glad I was able to draw a mental picture of a really good cake, and something that you want to try. . . carolyn t

  3. Madonna

    said on March 28th, 2016:

    I will be making this for my nephew’s birthday. Almond is his favorite flavor.

    I do love your blog. I love how you guide us through with extra comment of how to get a little more flavor or the pitfalls of getting that cake out of the pan even if the pan is nonstick. Those little extra tips make a big difference.

    Thanks.

    Thank you so much for your very kind comments. I do try to make it easy or easier anyway. I stuck the last couple of pieces of that almond cake in the freezer, so I have that to look forward to one of these days. Hope you enjoy it as I did. . . carolyn t

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