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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 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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