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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 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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