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On my recent road trip, I visited one of my local libraries and borrowed 5 books on tape. We listened to 3 of them. I’m a big fan of Craig Johnson, the author of a series of mysteries taking place in Wyoming, and a TV series on Netflix called Longmire. This book, A Serpent’s Tooth: A Longmire Mystery was really complex. Hard to explain, but it’s about graft and greed and oil. Worth reading, for sure. Also read Stone Kiss by Faye Kellerman, another complex mystery about Lt Decker, an LA cop who journeys to NYC to help out his family when a murder occurs. Lots of violence in this one.  Not particularly a fav book, I’d venture. Then read Leaving Time: A Novel by Jodi Picoult. I’ve read most of her books – always very riveting. In this book, you’ll learn a whole lot about elephants since the protagonist in it is a young girl whose mother disappeared when she was quite young. Her parents ran an elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire. In the ensuing years, Jenna has tried to find clues as to her mother’s whereabouts because she just cannot believe her mother would have up and abandoned her. There are a whole cast of characters (her mother, her father, employees at the sanctuary, a cop or two, and a psychic). All play fairly prominent roles. Fascinating book – I really liked it, almost as much for the education about the behavior of elephants as about the mystery. A great read.

Also on the trip, I read a book (on Kindle) for one of my book clubs, The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin. It’s about the relationship between Truman Capote and his “swans,” a group of aging high society ladies, and specifically Beth Paley. I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not. Truman Capote was not a nice man, although the whole novel (vs. non-fiction, which this is not) is conjured from speculation about the years Truman was kind of adopted by the group of women. He cared about all of them (most were married/divorced, wealthy women) but in the end he betrays them all by writing a novella about their secrets, their marriages, their affairs (theirs or their spouses, information they’d all shared with him, thinking he could be trusted with their innermost secrets). It was scandalous, and yes, all that part is true. I finished the book, but almost felt like I’d read a “dirty book.” There is no graphic detail in this book – it’s just what Capote did to destroy these women, supposedly his dear, darling “swans.” He was the villain in the book, and in his old age . . . well, I won’t spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it.

I’ve written up an entire blog post about this book. (It hasn’t been posted yet, but will soon.) It may be one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a memoir by Pat Conroy (an author I’ve long admired). He died a year or so ago – sad, that. In order to get the most out of My Reading Life, I recommend you BUY THE HARDBACK. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s an autobiography of sorts, but not really. He never wrote one, I don’t think, and I doubt he would ever have written one as he likely didn’t believe anyone would want to read about his (sad) life. In this memoir, he chronicles the books (and the people who recommended them) that influenced his life. Starting at his mother’s knees and continuing through influential teachers and mentors and friends. One of my book clubs read it, and I devoured it, cover to cover, with little plastic flags inserted all the way through to re-read some of the prose. Pat Conroy was a fabulous writer – he studied words from a young age and used them widely and wisely throughout his writing, but better than most authors would. He adored his mother, and hated (with venom) his aviator military father who physically abused everyone in the family, including his mother. They all took it like stoic Buddhas. I’m going to have to read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel because of reading this book. I’ve never read it. Conroy says that book’s first page is the best first page of any book he ever read in his life. Wow. And maybe my book group is going to re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Vintage Classics) too because of the chapter on that book. We might have to assign that to a 2-month or longer read. If you have friends or family who are avid readers, this would make a great gift, this book, My Reading Life. If YOU are a reader, it needs to be on your bookshelf, but in hardback, so you can go back to it and re-read his stories. It’s a series of essays, each one about a sub-section of his life. A must-have and a must-read.

Also read The Towers of Tuscany by Carol Cram. It was a bargain book through amazon or bookbub (e-book). Back in the Middle Ages women were forbidden to be artists. Their only place was in the home, caring for children and sewing and cooking. But the heroine in this book was taught to paint by her widowed artist-father (in secret, of course). When her father suddenly dies, all hell breaks loose and she must fend for herself. Much of the book takes place in Siena (and also San Gimignano) as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

 

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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