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Just finished reading The Boston Girl: A Novel by Anita Diamant. A very, very intriguing book. The book is written from the voice of a Jewish grandmother as she tells her granddaughter the saga of her life starting about 1910, who struggles with her own individuality, with her domineering mother who never says a kind word to her. It’s certainly a coming-of-age story as she grows up, finds a job, makes friends, joins a literary girls club, moves out, but still suffers under her mother’s thumb and tongue. She becomes a reporter on a local newspaper, which opens her eyes to more of the world than she ever knew. She finally meets the right man (of course!) and she shares the stories about her life, and her friends and family members as she grows up, giving some sage advice along the way. Part of the time she’s talking to herself – to her young self  (really wanting to tell young Addie to keep on, forgive herself for her perceived transgressions, to live life, and experience the world).

One of the best books I’ve read in a long time – Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. Rivers is a prodigious writer of Christian fiction, and I’d never read anything by her until now. As I write this, I’ve already read this, another one (below) and just purchased the Kindle trilogy called Mark of the Lion (Vol 1-3) that I haven’t yet started. (Two of my friends have said the trilogy is her best.) Redeeming Love details the fictional story of a godly man, Michael Hosea, forging his way in the era of the Gold Rush. He’s “driven” to rescue a beautiful prostitute who lives and works her trade in a nearby town. The entire book is about the story, the rescue, and it parallels a bit of scripture about Hosea who rescues a prostitute names Gomer. You get into the heads of both Hosea and the prostitute, named Angel. We read this for one of my book groups. A great read.

As soon as I finished the above book I promptly visited my church library and found a whole shelf of Rivers’ books, and grabbed one called The Atonement Child. This book takes place in the 1980s or 90s, about a young college student who is raped. She was engaged to be married, was a stellar student. The book chronicles what happens to her when she discovers she is pregnant from the rape. Every possible thing goes wrong in her life. I don’t want to spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it, but I couldn’t put it down. I ended up spending a good part of a day plowing through it. You hear her inner voice (I’m guessing this is a common thread in Rivers’ books) from a Christian perspective. Lots of meaty issues to discuss in a book club if your group would be interested and willing to talk about rape, abortion, adoption and the thorny issues surrounding all of those things, but with a Christian bent, for sure.

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen. It’s kind of amazing how many and varied plot lines can be created from events of WWII. This is another one, about a current day woman who finds papers in the attic, after her father’s death, with references to “the child.” She never knew her father could have had another child – could she have a step-sibling somewhere? Her father she knew, had been shot down over Italy, but he never talked much about it. But of course, she must go to Italy to find out about this “child.” The book flips back and forth from this daughter on the search, to her father during the war, all of it taking place in a very small town in Tuscany. It’s about the varied people she meets who want her to go away and not dredge up anything about the war years (are they hiding something, you question), about how much she loves the landscape, and some of the people. And about the intense love affair between the injured pilot and a caring woman of the village. Very charming story. I could almost smell the flowers, taste the olives, hear the bees flitting, and loved the prose about the simple meals that were described. I really enjoyed the book. Perhaps not enough meat for a book club read, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy reading it nonetheless.

Leaving Blythe River: A Novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde. Almost a page turner. When one uses the phrase “coming of age,” it usually means (I think) love and loss/boyfriend/girlfriend, and in this case it’s somewhat that way. When Ethan, a 17-year old boy and his mother come home unexpectedly to find dad and his young secretary in a compromising position, all hell breaks loose. Separation happens instantly and just as his father moves out, his mother has to go take care of her aging mother. Ethan’s too young to be left in the NYC apartment alone, so Mom sends son to the father who is escaping from the world in Wyoming, living in a primitive A-frame house, and continuing his daily 20+ mile running journeys. Ethan and his father are barely speaking. They live in the middle of nowhere. Ethan feels betrayed by his father in every possible way, and somewhat by his mother for forcing him to live with his father for a temporary period. Then his father doesn’t return one day from his run. The authorities do a cursory search, but they are under the impression the dad wants to “get lost” on purpose. Ethan, although he thinks he doesn’t care, really does. What happens next is best left to you reading this book. Very interesting people (kind of loners) enter the picture and off they go to search. So worth reading.

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 November 25th, 2016.

moms_cocoa_spice_cake

Not, perhaps, the spice cake you’re used to – one that’s light and speckled with spices. This one is much more a chocolate cake. And not a lot of frosting, certainly not enough to spread on the sides. But good, nonetheless. My cake pans are not angled, yet the cake looks like they are flared. Oh well.

My mom did enjoy baking. But, I don’t think she enjoyed it as much as I do. My mom was a relatively plain cook. Products of Midwest parents, my mom and dad both grew up on simple fare, with their mothers rarely using spices or herbs to enhance meats or vegetables. Hence, my mother didn’t either. Only in baking did spices pop up. As I was going through old recipes (and throwing out the 3×5 card this was on – it took me awhile to physically DO that – the throwing of it into the trash – I mean, what if I lost my entire MasterCook files? – what if, what if – I also hated throwing away the ones written in my mother’s handwriting – it seemed like a bad thing to toss out that little piece of her. Can you relate?). Yet, I have my recipes backed up in 2 places (one on my computer and also on Carbonite) so I should feel assured my precious recipes won’t get lost.

What I remember of a spice cake my mom made wasn’t this one (now that I’ve made it) because the one I remember was moist and paler without any chocolate in it. Maybe it was a banana spice cake. I’ll have to go hunting further into my mother’s recipe box – I still have all those recipes – they’re ones I didn’t think I’d ever make – I took out the ones I thought I would, of which this was one. But this cake was good. Maybe not sensational. But if you like spice cakes (this one with cinnamon and nutmeg) this will satisfy for sure. For me, the chocolate was all I tasted, so my mother’s notes about increasing the amount of cocoa perhaps should be a cautionary tale.

cocoa_spice_cake_sliceI don’t buy Crisco anymore, but the newer trans-fat free type. It’s available at most markets these days. You can use Crisco if you want – I just prefer to not eat trans-fats anymore if I can help it. I also didn’t have lemon extract, so that ingredient was left out entirely. I suppose I could have used some lemon zest – didn’t think of it. I also didn’t use the egg yolk (raw) in the frosting. Why? I didn’t think an egg yolk would really enhance the frosting all that much, much less the possible dangers of eating raw egg. I never seem to mind nibbling on raw cookie dough, though, so why should I care. When I can avoid it, though, I do.

The recipe calls for all-purpose flour, or cake flour. I didn’t quite have enough cake flour, but I used what I had and added in more AP to equal the 2 cups (slight). I think the cake flour is the right way to go.

The frosting contains both cocoa and coffee. On the recipe it’s called a “coffee” frosting. I made espresso so I’d be sure to taste the coffee (yes, you could). It makes only enough to frost the center and the top – if you like a bit drizzled down the sides, or you really want it frosted all over, you’ll need to make more (double it for drizzles, triple to frost all over). The only cocoa_spice_cake_sidecomplaint I have is that the sides of the cake that were exposed got dried out during the 3-4 hours it sat on my kitchen counter. That’s not good. If you have a cake cover, use it! Otherwise, eat it right away. I have the left overs covered in plastic so hopefully it will be okay.

I served the cake with a drizzle of heavy cream (above photo) but I wanted you to see the better side view (see sliced almonds in the cake – which didn’t sink to the bottom).

What’s GOOD: the cake was FULL of flavor, mostly chocolate. I liked the almonds – next time I’ll use walnuts if I do make it again. My favorite part was the frosting – it wasn’t so profuse that I didn’t enjoy a bit with many of the bites. This isn’t a super-soft cake like a cake mix cake, but it was moist. However, the cake did soak up the cream on the plate. It was very tasty. My friend Bud slicked it up in no time, and I sent him home with enough for 2 meals, I think. Cherrie isn’t a fan of chocolate, particularly, but she might eat this. We’ll see.

What’s NOT: For me there wasn’t quite enough frosting, so it was barely sufficient. I liked the coffee accent (which was only in the frosting) so it was a very nice flavor. I don’t think this cake would keep long without getting stale. I’m giving all but one tiny sliver to my neighbors. It’s not because I don’t like it, just so I won’t eat it all myself!

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

My Mother’s Cocoa Spice Cake

Recipe By: My mother, Fay Orr’s, recipe – don’t know origin
Serving Size: 12

CAKE:
3/4 cup shortening — buy trans-fat free type, not Crisco
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
2 cups cake flour — or 1 3/4 cups AP flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa — original recipe was 1 T, my mother’s notes suggested 1/2 cup (what I used – too much)
3/4 cup buttermilk — or sour milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon lemon extract — optional (or some lemon zest)
1/2 cup nuts — chopped (walnuts, pecans or almonds)
COFFEE FROSTING:
6 tablespoons butter
1 large egg yolk — optional
2 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 tablespoons hot coffee — [I used espresso] and may need more for the right consistency

NOTE: My mother’s recipe showed adding 1 T. cocoa to the cake batter, but her hand-written notes said to increase to 1/2 CUP. Having made this, I think less would be better, so I’ve suggested 1/4 cup. Use your own judgment. I’d also add about a T. more buttermilk if you use 1/4 cup cocoa as the cocoa is just like adding more flour to the batter.
1. CAKE: Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease two 9-inch layer cake pans. Set aside.
2. Cream together the shortening and sugar until light and fluffy. Blend in eggs, one at a time, mixing well between additions. Sift flour once before measuring, then sift the flour with baking powder, salt, soda, cocoa and spices. Add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk. Beat the batter well so there are no streaks of dry ingredients. Add vanilla, lemon extract and nuts. Pour into the two prepared pans.
3. Bake cake about 35-40 minutes, testing it by inserting a toothpick in the center which should come out clean. Cool cake in pans and cool completely before frosting.
4. FROSTING: Cream butter and blend with egg yolk (if using). Add cocoa and mix well. Sift sugar and cinnamon together, then add to creamed mixture, alternately with the hot coffee. Beat until smooth, adding more coffee or powdered sugar to make it spreadable. Use a bit less than half to frost between the layers and use the larger portion on top. If you want to have nice frosting drips down the sides, increase quantities of powdered sugar and coffee. There is just enough to frost the middle and top (barely). The cake sides will begin to stale if not covered (use toothpicks in cake and cover with plastic wrap).
5. SERVING: Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream for sure! Or a drizzle of heavy cream as I did. Just know the cake will soak most of it up before you can eat the cake!
Per Serving: 483 Calories; 24g Fat (44.3% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 63g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 87mg Cholesterol; 257mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on November 27th, 2016:

    I like the look of this. Did you keep the card with your mother’s handwriting on it? I surely would have done so.

    I didn’t. I thought about it. And thought about it. I have many others with her handwriting, but this one I decided to toss once I input it into my computer. But I had misgivings about doing it. I’m trying to get rid of stuff. Maybe I’ll give the entire big recipe box to my San Diego daughter who would probably really appreciate it, though I doubt she’d cook many, if any of the recipes. . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on November 30th, 2016:

    I admire you for organizing all those recipes–what a huge project! I need to do it, too, but haven’t taken the plunge yet!

    My favorite cake that my mom baked when I was growing up was a buttermilk chocolate one. It called for shortening, too, but about 15 or 20 years ago, I took a chance and substituted butter. It worked great, and I’ve never looked back. A couple years ago, I was making it for my son’s birthday, and I put out all the ingredients for the frosting as well as the cake. Then I put all three sticks of butter into the cake! Didn’t realize what I’d done until I was ready to make the frosting and couldn’t find the butter. And guess what? It was even better than usual, and it didn’t fall or turn out heavy. My son said he’d like it that way all the time, but I’m not going that far!
    But I’d call that a true never-fail cake.

    I’m sure most of us have made some similar mistake – I did that once myself. Can’t recall what it was in, and I thought the cake tasted okay, but not great. Nobody else knew or noticed, thankfully! . . . carolyn t

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