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Just finished reading The German Girl: A Novel by Correa. It chronicles the story of a wealthy German Jewish family in Berlin, as the Nazis arrive and make life a living hell. The family is lucky (I guess you could say this) to be allowed to purchase passage on the M.S. St. Louis, a passenger liner, to take them to “the Americas.” The destination is actually Cuba. The story is told from two voices – the teenage daughter in this story, and from a current-day distant family member who is trying to learn about her ancestry. Of the 900+ passengers on the ship, only a few were allowed to disembark since the Cuban President decided he needed more money to accept them. Most families had no money left, as the Reich had taken nearly all of their assets. The daughter and her very eccentric mother were allowed to stay in Cuba.  The remaining passengers are rejected by the U.S. too, and eventually return to Europe, where most of the Jews end up dying in concentration camps. The story goes back and forth from the 1939 journey to current day as the link between the two women is slowly revealed. I had a tough time sometimes, tracking the people in this book, but the story was very riveting. It’s based on facts about the ship (see Wikipedia link above if you’re interested). A shameful chapter in history.

Recently finished reading a magnificent historical novel. Not new. Philippa Gregory has been a favorite author of mine for a couple of decades. You may remember her most famous book, The Other Boleyn Girl, published some years ago. I thought that was a really great book. I’ve read other books by Gregory, but most recently I read The King’s Curse (The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels). The time period is the 1450s to 1541, mostly under the rule of King Henry VIII, the infamous womanizer and wife/Queen-killer. The man who cursed Rome/the Pope because he wanted his first marriage annulled because Queen Catherine couldn’t produce a living male heir. And subsequently made himself the head of the church in England in order to do so. It was a Catholic country at the time. This story (it’s fiction, but woven with intricate historical detail) is from the voice of a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine, Margaret of York, later titled Countess of Salisbury, but a Plantagenet in her own right (which is key to the later events in the book). Certainly I’ve read other novels over the years that dealt with Henry VIII, but not with this much breadth of info. What a wicked, sinful man he was. And did I say tyrant. Wow.  I could hardly put it down, through its nearly 600 pages. In the author’s notes at the end, she shares relatively recent medical info that suggests Henry probably suffered from a rare problem, Kell positive blood type, which can cause miscarriages, stillbirths and infant deaths IF the mother has the more common Kell negative blood type. And that in his later years, he may have had McLeod syndrome, a disease only found in Kell positive individuals. Around the age of 40 it causes physical degeneration and personality changes resulting in paranoia, depression and irrational behavior. All of those King Henry VIII had in spades. If you read the book, you might read the author’s notes (at the end) before reading the book. If you like historical fiction (I love any book about English history) you’ll just love this one. It’s interesting, though, as I think about the many books I’ve read covering this era in English history, that each book presented its hero/heroine as the most innocent and worthy individual vying for the crown of England. I remember thinking Anne Boleyn was dealt with so badly during her life (and certainly her beheading), and yet reading this book, I completely reversed my opinion. Anne Boleyn was called a wh–e by most people during the years she shared Henry’s bed. The “curse” from the title pertains to Henry’s inability or the curse on the Tudors, that caused him to fail in producing a male heir. In any case, none of Henry’s wives should have died for it – likely it was all Henry’s fault anyway. Just read this one, okay?

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, too!

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.

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.

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 1st, 2016.

choc_buttermilk_cinn_cake

Oh my goodness, this was so delicious. The tenderest cake you can imagine, with a simple boiled frosting that’s spread on the hot cake, right out of the oven.

Having been invited to a fairly large backyard barbecue get-together, my friend Cherrie asked me to bring dessert. Knowing they were expecting close to 40 people, I knew I needed to make something to serve a lot of people (although, others brought dessert too). I’d wavered between making a lemon bundt cake, or a butterscotch poke cake, or a rum cake, but finally settled on this one. A recipe I’d never made before, but it had gotten raves (according to my notes) on some website. I have no idea where it came from.

What I will tell you, though, is that you need to have a pan that’s not all that common in most kitchens – it’s a 10×15 pan, rimmed. I think mine is 1 1/2” high on the sides. If  you do a Google search for 10×15 jelly roll pan, you’ll find numerous sources for that size. It’s bigger than a quarter sheet pan, and it’s larger than a 9×13 also. I do have a number of recipes for this particular pan (not  jelly roll cakes!) and am glad I have it. Most of these pans don’t have very high sides, but this cake does need at least a 1” side or it would overflow.

choc_buttermilk_cinn_cake_inpanAnyway, It’s a very regular cake – this one made with cocoa (I used Hershey’s dark, a favorite), oil, eggs, butter, buttermilk (which gives it that oh-so tender crumb) and a fairly healthy dose of ground cinnamon. While the cake is baking – toward the end of the 20-minute cooking time I mixed up the frosting (on the stovetop) – it also uses cocoa, a little bit of whipping cream, butter, powdered sugar and nuts. It’s very easy to make – there isn’t anything fussy about it. It’s not a liquid, but it’s not really stiff, either. There is JUST enough of the frosting to delicately spread (use an offset spatula if you have one) the frosting over the top of the hot cake. I suggest putting a bunch of little dollops of the frosting all over the cake so it’s easier to spread it out. Getting out to the corners is the hardest, if you can call it “hard.” You can add the nuts to the frosting (I did, so they’d definitely stay put) or you can sprinkle the nuts on top after spreading the frosting and just press them into the frosting a bit). I used walnuts, but pecans are an optional nut.

Having made this, I THINK this is a riff on a Texas sheet cake. I’ve never made one of those, but I suspect that’s what this is, but with the buttermilk it makes it so tender.

Well, rather than go on and on about it – just move to the next paragraph and read the results!

What’s GOOD: The cake got raves. Absolutely raves. Me included. Some friends from San Diego who were invited to the party came to stay with me – they had to sample the cake before we even left my house! SO, I did too. It’s a fabulous cake – very chocolaty, very tender, but cut into lots of small bar-shapes, each piece was about 2-3 bites at most. I’m sorry there weren’t leftovers to bring home. I’d love-me one of those right now! The cinnamon is very THERE – if you don’t like cinnamon, just leave it out, or reduce it significantly in both cake and frosting. I loved the cinnamon flavor – such a complement to the chocolate.

What’s NOT: nary a thing except you’ll have sticky chocolate frosting fingers unless you eat it with a fork! This recipe is a keeper, for sure.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Cinnamon Chocolate Cake

Recipe By: Am not sure the origin of my recipe – but it’s available online at Taste of Home
Serving Size: 30

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup butter — cubed
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa — [I used Hershey’s dark]
2 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
FROSTING:
1/2 cup butter — cubed
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup walnuts — or pecans finely chopped

NOTES: You can triple this recipe and make it in two large-large 11x17x1 pans, but increase baking time by 5-7 minutes.
1. In a mixing bowl, combine the first four ingredients. In a saucepan, combine the water, oil, butter and cocoa; bring just to a boil over medium heat. Pour over dry ingredients; mix well. Add eggs, buttermilk, vanilla and baking soda; mix well. Pour into a greased 15-in. x 10-in. x 1-in. baking pan.
2. Bake at 375° for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Place on a wire rack.
3. Meanwhile, during the last 10 minutes of baking, prepare FROSTING: combine the butter, cream, cocoa and cinnamon in a saucepan. Cook and stir over medium heat until butter is melted and mixture is heated through. Remove from the heat; beat in sugar and vanilla until smooth. Stir in walnuts. Carefully and gently scoop about 6 big dollops of the frosting on the cake, then using an offset spatula, spread over warm cake, all the way out to the corners. If the frosting is hot, it will spread easily enough. Cool completely. Yield: 24-30 small bar-shaped servings. Note: You may also sprinkle the nuts on top after spreading the frosting – your choice.
Per Serving: 263 Calories; 14g Fat (45.9% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 33g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 34mg Cholesterol; 134mg Sodium.

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  1. Leslie Christon

    said on September 2nd, 2016:

    On your recommendation, I read Plainsong by Kent Haruf, and then the two related books, Eventide and Benediction. Talk about plucking your heartstrings! Well worth the read, thank you for bringing these to my attention! Not very often do I find both excellent recipes as well as book selections I know I’ll enjoy. I love your posts, and have passed them on to friends and family. Thank you so much.

    Warm regards,
    Leslie

    How very sweet of you, Leslie. Thank you for telling me. I do wonder, sometimes, whether anybody actually reads my blog since I have very few people who ever leave comments. So I doubly appreciate your kind words, and glad you enjoyed Haruf’s books. Just heard about a book today called “Evergreen.” Don’t know anything about it, except that it brought tears at the end. . . .carolyn t

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