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Just finished another great book, 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 September 21st, 2016.


Oh, gosh. I’m getting so stuck in a rut – I love these kinds of cakes or cobblers, or crisps. This one’s actually just a “cake” but it has some of the rhubarb stalks embedded in the top and the cake fluffs up around them a bit. Absolutely delicious.

Not everyone is a fan of rhubarb. I am. My mother used to make stewed rhubarb frequently (she grew it in the backyard of the home where I grew up) as my mom and dad were big fans of rhubarb. Sometimes my mom would make a rhubarb pie (no strawberries, just the straight fruit), which was also really good. I have several rhubarb recipes here on my blog: Rhubarb Crisp, Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler, a Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake, and Fern’s Rhubarb Cake. All stellar recipes, and this one is now added to the list. It’s a good one. A really good one. It might be my favorite to date.

raw_rhubarbWhat intrigued me about the recipe (from Bon Appetit, in 2015) was the ribs of rhubarb that decorate the top of the cake. How different, I thought. And, yes, it IS different in that aspect. Some of the stalks become the decoration and all the rest of the rhubarb (more than half of it) gets chopped up to mix into the cake batter. But there’s also a couple of other different things about this recipe – there’s ground almonds mixed into the batter (and I’m embarrassed to say that I forgot that step but it seemed to make no-never-mind to the result!) – and you dust the greased springform pan with sugar, which gives the outside edges a lovely, sweet crust/crunch. I just loved that part of this.

rhubarb_cake_ready2bakeNot having weighed the rhubarb, I just guessed I had a little over a pound, so I was generous with the sugar I sprinkled on the top, just before it popped into the oven. The cake batter is relatively standard, though it has some yogurt in it, and you do need to whip the butter and sugar mixture for a looooooong time (thank goodness for stand mixers). The chopped up rhubarb is stirred into the batter just before pouring it into the greased and sugared baking pan. DO grease the pan – even a nonstick – because you want the sugar to stick to the sides. The long stalks are then placed on top (don’t push them in – not necessary – as the cake will rise around them a little bit, the sugar sprinkled on top and into the oven it goes. The recipe indicates 70-80 minutes. rhubarb_cake_cutMine took 80, and I took it out when the interior reached 205°F on an instant read thermometer.

Because of my error in forgetting the ground almonds, I whipped cream and added almond extract to it. In any case, the cake was nicely cooked through (though moist). My friends Sue and Lynn were visiting from Colorado and I served it after dinner one night (3 servings) and took the remaining to a dinner party another night with ample to serve 5 people. With some left over. The 2nd time I served it with vanilla ice cream. Sue’s the author of the Fern’s Rhubarb Cake already on my blog.

What’s GOOD: loved the flavor, texture, the crunchy sugar on the outside edges (if you have one of those crazy, weird cake pans that gives you outside edges on two sides, this would be perfect for that pan). Since I love rhubarb, it was a no-brainer that I’d likely enjoy this. I thought it was a LOVELY cake, and ever so pretty besides. I’d definitely make this again.

What’s NOT: nothing, really. Only thing I could mention is that when you serve it, do bring knives to the table because you can’t cut through the top rhubarb stalk very easily with a fork. If you try and don’t succeed cutting it, your bite will include the entire stalk of rhubarb on your bite.

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

Rhubarb-Almond Cake

Recipe By: Bon Appetit, April, 2015
Serving Size: 9-10

1 cup unsalted butter — room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan
3/4 cup sugar — plus more for pan
1 pound rhubarb — trimmed
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup blanched almonds
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/4 cup Greek yogurt, full-fat — or sour cream
3 tablespoons sugar — for sprinkling on top
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream for serving

NOTE: It might feel like you’re beating the batter for a long time, but that’s what gives this cake an airy lift. Stay with it! One 11×8″ tart pan or a 9″-diameter springform pan is needed. [I used a 9″ square springform pan and you’ll have at least 9-12 servings.]
1. Preheat oven to 350°. Butter pan and sprinkle with sugar, tapping out excess. Slice about 8-10 stalks to fit inside your preferred pan shape. Don’t use extra-large stalks for the decorative top, but do use the redder ones as they’re especially attractive on the finished cake. Chop remaining rhubarb into 1/2″ pieces. Pulse flour, almonds, baking powder, and salt in a food processor until almonds are finely ground (texture should be sandy).
2. Place butter and sugar in bowl of a stand mixer, preferably. Add vanilla extract. Beat on high speed, until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating to blend first egg before adding second. Beat until mixture is pale and fluffy, about 4 minutes. (So a total of 8+ minutes.)
3. Reduce speed to low and gradually add dry ingredients, followed by yogurt. Beat, scraping down the sides of bowl as needed, just to combine (batter will be thick). Fold in chopped rhubarb and scrape batter into prepared pan. Smooth batter and arrange reserved rhubarb over top; sprinkle with remaining 3 tablespoons sugar.
4. Place pan on a large rimmed baking sheet (to catch any rogue juices) and bake, rotating once, until cake is golden brown and rhubarb on top is soft and beginning to brown, 70–80 minutes. Test the internal temp in the center of the pan, toward the end of the baking time and remove when it reaches 205°F. Transfer to a wire rack and let cake cool before removing from pan.
5. Do ahead: Cake can be baked 3 days ahead. Keep tightly wrapped at room temperature. Serve with whipped cream (possibly flavored with almond extract) or vanilla ice cream. Serve with knives to cut through the top rhubarb stalks.
Per Serving: 429 Calories; 29g Fat (58.8% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 39g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 105mg Cholesterol; 236mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on September 25th, 2016:

    I love rhubarb, as a child I used to stick it into sugar and crunch it, made a lovely contrast.

    I’ve heard others mention eating it that way. . . . Carolyn T

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