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Currently Reading

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Just finished Leaving Blythe River: A Novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde. Almost a page turner. When one uses the phrase “coming of age,” it usually means (I think) love and loss/boyfriend/girlfriend, and in this case it’s somewhat that way. When Ethan, a 17-year old boy and his mother come home unexpectedly to find dad and his young secretary in a compromising position, all hell breaks loose. Separation happens instantly and just as his father moves out, his mother has to go take care of her aging mother. Ethan’s too young to be left in the NYC apartment alone, so Mom sends son to the father who is escaping from the world in Wyoming, living in a primitive A-frame house, and continuing his daily 20+ mile running journeys. Ethan and his father are barely speaking. They live in the middle of nowhere. Ethan feels betrayed by his father in every possible way, and somewhat by his mother for forcing him to live with his father for a temporary period. Then his father doesn’t return one day from his run. The authorities do a cursory search, but they are under the impression the dad wants to “get lost” on purpose. Ethan, although he thinks he doesn’t care, really does. What happens next is best left to you reading this book. Very interesting people (kind of loners) enter the picture and off they go to search. So worth reading.

The Girl With No Name by Diney Costelhoe. What a good book. Perhaps you’ve read before about the huge numbers of German refugee children who were sent to England before Hitler closed down any exits. This is a novel about one particular young girl, who is devastated when her mother puts her on one of the boats. She ends up in London, in an orphanage kind of place, and is eventually placed with a childless couple. She speaks no English. They speak no German, but they manage soon enough. Lisa (who eventually becomes Charlotte) is so homesick. She’s bullied at school, because most people and children don’t want any Germans there. A boy steps up to protect her, and as she grows up, she’s attracted to him. She shouldn’t be – he’s also German and from her own home town. He’s not a good match for her. You live with her through the blitz during all those war years and during one attack, she’s badly injured and loses her memory (and no ID on her). Through a series of mishaps she ends up in a village far from London, with a spinster woman who does eventually come to love her very much – they name her Charlotte and Charlotte she becomes. She goes to school there, still longing, though, for her mother and brother and her London foster family too. Then when she’s 16 she returns to London to help at the orphanage where she was originally placed and tries to find her foster parents. The story goes on from there, with the boy/man who “wants” her, the bad boy, and a good boy/man she befriends in the village in the country. Eventually she regains her memory. SUCH a good read.

The Girl with Seven Names by Hyanseo Lee. If you, like me, know little about North Korea and how it came to be what it is today, you’ve got to read this book. It’s a memoir written by a young woman who escaped from North Korea about 9 years ago. Her journey – and I mean JOURNEY – is harrowing, frightening, amazing, heart-rendering all at the same time. She chronicles the lives of the Kims (Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il to current Kim Jong Un), shares the strict propaganda that surrounds every North Korean citizen, the poverty and hunger, as well as the underground black market for food and goods. It took her awhile to get from North Korea, to China and eventually to South Korea, where she currently lives. She’s well educated and speaks English quite well. She was invited to be a speaker at a TED talk – you know about those, right? TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a media organization which posts talks online for free distribution, under the slogan “ideas worth spreading.” I listen to them as  podcasts now and then. Always very educational, if sometimes over my head when it gets very technical. She works diligently for human rights now, doing her best to help other North Koreans escape. You owe it to yourself to read this book.

Also just finished reading The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian. Another WOW book. I’ve always liked the author – many years ago I read his book, Midwives and really liked it. Don’t confuse this book with the one I recently read, The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas that I reviewed recently. I think we read it in one of my book groups. He’s a brilliant writer, and this one has a lot of characters and twists. It’s a novel, but based on a lot of truth regarding the Armenian genocide. Most of the book takes place in Aleppo, Syria with some good Samaritan folk trying to help rescue people (mostly children) following the forced long marches the Turks made prodding the Turkish Armenians to exit their country. But it also jumps to near present day as a family member is trying to piece together obscure parts of her grandparents’ former lives there. She uncovers some hidden truths (many survivors of the genocide never-ever-ever wanted to talk about it) and a bit more about her Armenian heritage. A riveting book – I could hardly put it down. Lots to discuss for a book club read. I simply must read more of Bohjalian’s books (he’s written many).

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.


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 August 12th, 2016.


For some reason I’ve neglected to add this cake to my blog. Good heavens! I used to make it often when our kids were living at home. It’s made with a cake mix and doesn’t have all that much Kahlua in it, but it’s divinely delicious and decadent. It comes together in a flash.

When I was visiting with my daughter Sara, she decided to whip together this cake and said, “this is your cake; remember, we used to make it all the time.” Sure enough, we did. I think this cake was my old business partner Audre’s recipe. Probably she made it for one of our potluck lunches we had at the office once in awhile. Remember when cake mix bundt cakes were just “the thing?” Everybody was making them, with rum or bourbon, or other types of alcohol additions.

This one is made with a regular cake mix – remember back then, BEFORE the cake mix producers started adding the pudding mix into the cake. I suppose you could use that type in this, then just eliminate the instant pudding. But I like this one the way it is, so we chose not to use that type. It makes a very tender cake, and VERY chocolaty. Sara made this in a jiffy – in her stand mixer she added the box mix, instant pudding, eggs, oil, the Kahlua. Then you stir in the chocolate chips, and into the bundt cake pan it went. Once baked and cooled, I made a very thin drizzle to go on it as it looked a little bare on the pretty platter with nothing. Guess you could use powdered sugar too – easier.

kahlua_cake_cutSara ended up using the new Hershey brand dark chocolate pudding INSTANT mix. It worked just fine, and I’ll tell you, the chocolate flavor was intense. I think when I made it years ago I used a devil’s food cake or a German chocolate mix (one of those has a reddish tinge to the finished and baked cake) and regular Jell-O brand instant pudding. I never buy the regular Jell-O pudding anymore because I’m in love with the Hershey’s dark chocolate one.

If you look at that photo at left, you can hardly SEE the cake it’s so dark. I Photoshop’d it, to lighten it, so you could perhaps see some of the cake texture in the photograph.

What’s GOOD: everything about it. If you like chocolate, and Kahlua, well, you’ll love it all. Very intense chocolate flavor, especially if you use a dark chocolate cake mix and the Hershey’s dark chocolate instant pudding mix.

What’s NOT: nothing whatsoever. If you’re willing to eat boxed cake mixes, this one’s a winner; has been for generations of home cooks! This recipe probably exists in a thousand places on the internet already!

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Kahlua Bundt Cake

Recipe By: Recipe came from an old friend, dates to the 1970s or 80s
Serving Size: 18

15 ounces chocolate cake mix
4 ounces chocolate instant pudding and pie filling
2 eggs
1/2 cup Kahlua
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 cups sour cream — or yogurt unflavored (don’t use nonfat yogurt)
12 ounces chocolate chips

NOTES: DO use instant pudding, not anything else. If you use Hershey’s dark chocolate pudding and a dark chocolate cake mix, the cake will be really dark, almost black. You can also remove part of the chocolate chips and add in chopped walnuts instead.
1. Preheat oven to 350º.
2. Beat together all ingredients except chocolate chips. Add chocolate chips when batter is smooth. Pour into well greased and floured Bundt pan. Bake 40-50 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean, inserted about 1/2 inch from the center post of the bundt pan.
3. Cool about 10 minutes and turn out onto cake plate. Sprinkle with powdered sugar when cool. May also make a drizzle with powdered sugar and Kahlua, or simply milk and powdered sugar.
Per Serving: 329 Calories; 18g Fat (48.8% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 40g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 35mg Cholesterol; 309mg Sodium.

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  1. J.

    said on August 13th, 2016:

    Did you say you used a cake mix that did NOT have the pudding in it, or did you add the Hershey pudding mix to a cake mix that DID have pudding it? I’m not sure what you meant. Thanks. I’ve been enjoying your blog so much.

    Thanks for commenting . .. I used a mix that did NOT have the pudding in it. This recipe originates from a time before the cake mix manufacturers PUT pudding mix in the cake mix box. So, you can use either one – but if you use the mix with, then don’t put in the added pudding mix. I wanted to use the Hershey’s pudding mix, so I chose to use the old, regular cake mix type. Hope that clarifies . . . carolyn t

  2. J.

    said on August 13th, 2016:

    Thank you very much! Joan

  3. Toffeeapple

    said on August 14th, 2016:

    I had to look up Kahlua…

    No kidding? Gosh, Kahlua (ka-LOO-ah) is so common here. Made in Mexico. You can make a fake version of it with Vodka and coffee granules. It’s really good drizzled over vanilla ice cream. Lots of desserts here call for it. . . carolyn t

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