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Just finished a quirky book, Goodbye, Vitamin: A Novel by Rachel Khong. She’s a new writer (newly published, I guess I should say) and this story is about Ruth, a 30+ something, trying to readjust to life without her fiance, who’s dumped her. She goes back home to help with the care of her father, who has Alzheimer’s. Written in a diary style, it jumps all over about her life, her mother, the funny, poignant things her father says on good days, and the nutty stuff he does on not-so-good days, her ex-, and her very quirky friends, too. Then a woman flits through who had had an affair with her father –  you get to observe all the angst from the mom about that. Mostly it’s about her father, as he’s relatively “together” early in the book, but then he disintegrates. Reading that part isn’t fun, although the author is able to lean some humor into it. I’m not sure I recommend the book exactly – I read it through – and felt sad. It doesn’t tie up loose ends – if you want that kind of book – you may not want to read this one.

Also finished Julian Fellowes’s Belgravia. You know Julian Fellowes, the producer and writer of Downton Abbey? He lends his mind to a story about a family or two from the similar time period as Downton, who live in London. There’s some amount of intrigue, romance, observations from within the halls of wealthy Londoners and moderately well off tradesmen and their families. There’s affairs, shady business dealings, an illegitimate child, the comings and goings of the “downstairs” staff too, etc. The characters were well done – I had no trouble keeping all of the people identified. The story is somewhat predictable, but it was interesting clear up to the end.

The Letter by Kathyrn Hughes. It’s a very intricate tale. At first it’s about Tina, a battered wife [at which point I paused and wondered if I wanted to read any further, but I’m glad I did]. She tries to get the courage to leave her husband. Then enters the letter she finds in a suit pocket in the thrift shop where she volunteers. It’s old – sealed and stamped, but never mailed. Then you learn about Crissie, decades earlier, a young pregnant girl who is sent off to Ireland to a distant relative by her father, then to a rigid (meaning horrible) convent [the book takes place mostly in Manchester, England and in rural Ireland]. The letter is addressed to her. Jump forward decades and William, the adopted child Crissie gave up, tries to find his birth mother. William meets Tina in Ireland [a serendipitous moment] as she’s trying to find the woman to whom the letter is addressed. This book is the #2 best seller on Amazon at the moment. It’s a riveting tale and I really enjoyed it.

The Muralist: A Novel by Shapiro. It tells the story of a young woman, an artist, who was part of the U.S.’s WPA mural project from the 1930s-40s (she is fiction, the WPA is not). As with so many artists, even today, they live in abject poverty through much of their lives. This woman, though, had family in France, desperately trying to escape before Hitler’s henchmen rousted them into concentration camps. The story, a bit of a mystery but not of the mystery-genre, is about Alizée Benoit, this young painter, who slightly captivates Eleanor Roosevelt’s help. It also skips into current time when the painter’s great-niece uncovers paintings she believes were painted by her aunt. The painter had disappeared into thin air in 1940, and her relative tries desperately to find out what happened to her. It’s a really good story including such Abstract Expressionist painters as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner well-woven into the narrative. It keeps you guessing right up to the end. A good read. The author also wrote The Art Forger: A Novel a few years ago.

Also recently read News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. 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 required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a free-lance job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her family was killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of an old (wild) west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many. Just read this one first!

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, on July 19th, 2016.

chai_masala_banana_bread_orange_whipped_cream

Are all banana breads the same, with not much difference? Not so! This one’s very different – not only does it have chai spices in it, but it also uses coconut palm sugar (a dark brown sugar from the coconut tree).

A few weeks ago I followed a link and ended up at a blog called Indian Simmer (that I now subscribe to through my RSS reader). I suspect the blog is aimed mostly at people from India, wherever they might be living. Sometimes I don’t even recognize the names of things they talk about, but the blog is written in English and comes from the voices of five different women. Right away I got interested in this recipe for chai_masala_banana_breadbanana bread, just because it contained chai spices. I had some aging bananas on my countertop, and I only had to go to the grocery store to buy coconut palm sugar. An item I’d never heard of – you could substitute dark brown sugar if you don’t have it, and I might do that next time. The sugar is quite dark brown in color, but also a very golden color (more like the color of gingerbread), definitely not light brown – it’s more of a caramel color, as you can see from the color of this banana bread.

Since I was expecting my granddaughter Taylor (the one who just finished her freshman year at Sonoma State) and 2 of her friends to arrive from Northern California that day, I thought this would be something I could have on hand that they could snack on if they wanted to. They have reported that they like this bread very much – they took several slices wrapped in a plastic bag when they headed for the day at Disneyland. If you’re expecting regular banana bread, this isn’t it. It’s sweet. It’s spicy. It warms your mouth for sure. I thought it was better the 2nd day, actually – I was able to taste the bananas in it better on day two.

chai_masala_spicesFirst, though, you have to make the CHAI MASALA (pictured) – not a lot of difficulty to do, providing you have all the ingredients (black peppercorns, cinnamon sticks, ginger, whole nutmeg, whole cloves, whole green cardamom pods). All those things get whizzed up in a spice grinder until they’re a fine, fine powder, then you mix them together. I didn’t make a whole lot because I didn’t know what else I might use it for, although it should last 6-8 months. I made two loaves of this bread and I used about 2/3 of the mixture you see on the plate. Whatever you do, just make sure you grind the stuff to a fine powder – that’s a real requirement as you don’t want to bite into a cracked peppercorn. The only problematical ingredient here is the pepper – it’s surprising that the recipe calls for as much as it does – you might think the bread would be hot-hot, but it’s not. You do feel a warmth; that’s all and since it couldn’t come from anything else (well, maybe the ginger, but I doubt it) it must be the pepper.

I suspect that amongst Indian cooks, everyone has her own combination of chai spices that she likes – maybe you like more ginger and less cloves, or more nutmeg and less pepper. That kind of thing. This combo tasted fine to me, so I’ll go with it!

chai_masala_banana_bread_ready2bakeThe bread mixes up much like any other – except that this bread contains yogurt, and olive oil plus milk and honey. All different tastes of things in this one. Into a greased loaf pan (unless you’re using one of the really nice, new pans that don’t require greasing) it goes. I have the ones from King Arthur Flour – they don’t require greasing or powdering, or lining. See photo at right with the batter just poured in. The recipe indicated the bread would be ready in 40 minutes. Uh . . . no. Definitely not cooked through. I used my instant read thermometer, and it took a full 60 minutes at 350° and it reached 198°F in the middle of the loaf.

It was all I could do when I upended them to cool, not to slice into it right then and there, but I knew it needed some more resting time. I waited an hour or so, the girls had arrived and they’d not had lunch, so I sliced a few pieces and we all snacked on it before I took them out to dinner.

As I’m writing this I’ve got things ready to make a chicken dish for dinner tonight, kind of like chicken fingers. A new recipe. If it’s worth its salt, then I’ll be writing it up in the next few days. Watermelons have been in a bin outside the entrance to Trader Joe’s for the last couple of months. I’ve not bought any until the other day, so I’m making one of my favorites, the Minted Watermelon Feta Salad to go along with the chicken. I made 2 of these banana bread loaves and the one in the freezer will be served to my Bible study group when they come to my house next (soon). I’ll take a photo of it then – served with the orange zested whipped cream to go along with it.

What’s GOOD: this might be an acquired taste if you’re looking for regular old-fashioned banana bread. This bears little resemblance to the traditional – but, the flavor is wonderful, warmed with the spices. The texture is super-tender, but it has plenty of structure so you needn’t fear slicing into it. The yogurt likely gives it the tenderness. I loved it – almost better on the 2nd day.

What’s NOT: maybe a little extra effort since you have to grind up a variety of spices to make the chai masala. Otherwise, it’s much like other banana breads as far as work is concerned. I liked it, so no complaint here.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Chai Masala Spiced Banana Bread with Orange Cream

Recipe By: From Indian Simmer blog
Serving Size: 12

2 1/4 cups white whole wheat flour — or use regular all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 teaspoons chai masala powder — see recipe below
1 large egg
1 cup coconut palm sugar — or substitute dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons honey
2/3 cups milk
1/2 cups Greek yogurt, full-fat
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium bananas — ripe
ORANGE WHIPPED CREAM:
zest of 1 orange
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar
CHAI MASALA POWDER:
2 tablespoons black peppercorns, ground to a fine powder
2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, ground from one stick
1 teaspoon ground cardamom pods, ground finely
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cloves
1/2 teaspoons freshly ground nutmeg

NOTES: If you don’t have coconut palm sugar, just use dark brown regular sugar. The flavor won’t be quite the same, but you might not want to buy the other. It’s a bit pricey. Next time I make it I will cut down slightly on the sugar – it was plenty sweet with a cup of the coconut palm sugar in it plus the honey.
1. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
2. In a bowl combine the flour, soda, baking powder, salt, and the chai spices. Use a whisk to combine and mix them. Set aside.
3. With mixer on medium, beat egg for about 1 minute, then add sugar, honey, milk, yogurt, vanilla. Keep beating until sugar dissolves well and the mixture gets light.
3. Add dry ingredients into the liquid ones and mix well with mixer on medium.
4. Add yogurt to the mixture while still mixing it. Turn off mixer and fold in mashed bananas until no streaks of banana are visible.
4. Pour the batter into a buttered and lined loaf pan. Place the pan into the oven and bake it for 45 minutes, then test with a knife. Continue baking for 5-minute intervals until the bread is cooked through and reaches an internal temperature of about 198°F.
5. Remove from oven and allow it to cool before pulling out of the loaf pan. After 15 minutes, slide a spatula down all four sides and gently turn the loaf over into your outstretched palm and arm, then allow it to cool completely. Eat it immediately, or serve as a dessert with orange whipped cream.
6. ORANGE WHIPPED CREAM: In an electric mixer with whisk attachment, whip the ingredients together, on medium high until stiff peaks form.
7. CHAI POWDER: Grind each ingredient separately in a spice grinder (or a coffee grinder that you reserve for spices), then combine them into a small jar. Keep tightly sealed and it will be usable for 6-8 months.
Per Serving: 360 Calories; 12g Fat (29.8% calories from fat); 8g Protein; 58g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 51mg Cholesterol; 390mg Sodium.

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