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Recently finished reading 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 Desserts, on September 6th, 2007.

 
My friend Linda T. is a very good cook. We always talk cooking and food and restaurants and all-things-entertaining as part of our conversation. She used to work for the Los Angeles Times (that’s how I knew her through the ad agency I co-owned; she was our outside rep).

Maybe one time I mentioned my tried-and-true carrot cake, and she mentioned hers. Then she brought it recently for a get-together. Oh my goodness, was it ever GOOD. Her recipe is better than mine. Maybe one of these days I need to put her recipe and my recipe side by side and compare them. Hers has considerably more pineapple in it than mine, but that just makes it more moist and delicious. I don’t know the origin of this cake, but I remember first having “carrot cake” in the late 1950’s, or no later than 1960. It was REAL popular back then. Linda, if you’re reading and want to comment on the origin of your recipe, that would be lovely. But, 50+ years later there has been no diminishment of carrot cake’s popularity. And it’s just as good as ever.

Low calorie it is NOT, unfortunately. Delicious it is, though, and I highly recommend you try it. It’s not made in the layer format, but in a 9×13 Pyrex dish. Easier. Just as good as a layer cake in my book. And yes it has a cream cheese frosting too. Nothing so different there, even the proportions, whatever. It’s just gosh-darned good. And not very many recipes serve 16. You want small portions of this and maybe you can stay out of the pan for seconds. If so, you have more discipline than I do.

printer-friendly PDF

Carrot Cake

Recipe: Linda T’s recipe, my long-time friend
Servings: 16

CAKE:
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
4 large eggs
2 cups grated carrots
20 ounces crushed pineapple — drained
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts
FROSTING:
1/2 cup butter
8 ounces cream cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 pounds powdered sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Sift together the flour, baking powder, soda, salt and cinnamon into a large bowl. Add sugar, oil and eggs. Mix with a large spoon (do not beat), then add carrots, drained pineapple and walnuts.
2. Pour into a buttered and floured 9 x 13 glass pan, and bake for 1 hour, or until toothpick comes out clean.
3. Frosting: Cream butter, cheese and vanilla. Beat in sifted powdered sugar. If it’s too thick add a few drops of milk until it reaches spreading consistency.
4. Frost cake and refrigerate until ready to serve. Refrigerate this cake (because cream cheese could spoil).
Per Serving: 775 Calories; 39g Fat (44.5% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 103g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 84mg Cholesterol; 437mg Sodium.

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  1. Anonymous

    said on September 6th, 2007:

    Carolyn,
    This recipe is from my dear L.A. Times friend, Clyda Bernasconi. She gave it to me in 1972. I have made it ever since to rave reviews. I keep the ingredients on hand at all times just in case.
    Linda T

  2. Britt-Arnhild

    said on September 7th, 2007:

    Marta is in 6th grade now and is learning to cook and bake in school. Two weeks ago she made a carrot cake, and she has promised me to make it at home also 🙂

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