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Am just starting News of the World: A Novel by William Morris. 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 requires me to read it. It’s about an old man, during the early, old wild west times, who goes from town to town and people pay him money to read the newspaper to them. (Imagine, there WAS such a job.) By chance he’s asked to take a very young girl to Texas to reunite with her family. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby, raised by them, and she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!).

Just finished 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.

Recently finished reading 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.

Also just read Eye On the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press, by James, McGrath Morris. Each year my AAUW book club reads something related to Black History Month. This is a biography of a woman you’ve probably never heard of, Ethel Payne, and about her life-long journey in journalism, struggling to keep her head above water financially, but staying true to her purposes of telling the truth about the black stories and black racism of the day. Sometimes biographies aren’t all that riveting, but I found this one to be so, and I savored each new chapter. We had a really good discussion of the book, and the ups and downs of Payne’s life, especially during her years as a Washington reporter. You’ll not be sorry to have spent the time reading this book. It’s well-written, as well. I was thrilled when the author, Morris, left a message here on my blog, thanking me (and my group) for reading his book.

Also read H Is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald. This one has been on the best seller list. It’s a memoir about a woman who takes on a personal challenge of taming a wild hawk. Prior to reading this book, I knew next to nothing about the entire subject of hawking, or taming any of the big, wild birds. The book is equally about the writer’s inner journey. She’s a consummate writer, and every page was a joy of words, for me. My only problem is my own – I found it hard, the more time that went by, and the more time the writer spent trying to tame this bird, to scream out “let the bird go.” Perhaps it’s because I spent time in Africa in 2015, seeing animals in the wild, that I felt more for the bird than I did with the writer’s discontent with herself and the taming process. Little did I know what a hard job it is to tame a hawk. I actually didn’t finish the book. It was a book club read, and highly recommended by several of our members. And I ended up not being able to attend the meeting as I had a cold. So perhaps there is some great ending to it that would have made me feel better. I haven’t gone to the end to find out. I just had to stop reading it. But I’m not NOT recommending it. If nothing else, read it for Macdonald’s sublime proficiency with words.

Also read George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, by Brian Kilmeade and Dan Yaeger. Here’s what it says on amazon: When George Washington beat a hasty retreat from New York City in August 1776, many thought the American Revolution might soon be over. Instead, Washington rallied—thanks in large part to a little-known, top-secret group called the Culper Spy Ring. He realized that he couldn’t defeat the British with military might, so he recruited a sophisticated and deeply secretive intelligence network to infiltrate New York. I won’t exactly call this book a riveting read, but it was interesting. Relating facts that few people knew about, this Culper Spy Ring. It’s a little chunk of American history researched in depth by the authors. An interesting read.

Also read The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel by Nina George. If you’re an avid reader, you probably have the same kind of longing as I do for a quaint, independently owned bookstore right around the corner. So few exist anymore. This novel is about a very unusual book store, and book store owner. In Paris. On a boat/barge. It’s not a typical book store, and the writer takes you on a journey of discovery about (likely) her own lifetime of book reading. You’ll learn all about a variety of existing books and why they’re a good read. But it’s all cloaked in a story about this book store and the owner. And the customers. Very fun. I’m reviewing it for one of my book clubs next month.

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.

rhubarb_cake_square_springform

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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