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Just finished 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 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 parents were 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 a old 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.

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.

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.

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 January 7th, 2017.

choc_cake_ddl_frosting

Lovely chocolate cake (springform pan) and a rich cream cheese and dulce de leche frosting.

My friend Cherrie attended a cooking class awhile back and I couldn’t go – I think I was volunteering that morning at my church. I “work” in my church’s Samaritan Care Center twice a month, where it is staffed by 2-3 volunteers every weekday, who pray for church members (and non-members who regularly attend the church) going through tough times. It could be illness, cancer, other medical issues, divorce, grief, hospitalization, for their family members too, etc. We make choc_dlc_cake_slicenumerous phone calls to make sure we’re praying for the right things, and just let them know we’re praying for them. It makes a big difference in the lives of many people, to just know someone cares. I’m blessed each and every time I volunteer – someone gives a big “thank you,” or they tell us what a lift it gives them to hear from somebody.

Anyway, I couldn’t go to the class, but Cherrie shared the recipes, and said this dessert was the best of the bunch. Since she knows I enjoy baking, I tried this recipe first. My weekly nighttime bible study was meeting at my house, so I used that as a reason to make this cake. I parceled out the left overs so I wouldn’t have any of it in my refrigerator, to tempt me. I ate a tiny sliver of it – oh yes, it was good!

choc_cake_batterThe cake is a light textured chocolate cake – made in a springform pan, lined on the bottom with parchment, and the sides were butter-greased. It was easy enough to make. There at left you can see the batter in the pan. Once out of the oven, the center of the cake dropped some. Sometimes cakes done in a springform do that. Don’t understand why. Anyway, once it was cooled, I used a wide spatula to get the cake off onto a footed cake stand. Easy enough to do, too.

dulce_de_leche_frostingThen I made the frosting (see photo at right)– canned Dulce de Leche (it’s a thick Mexican caramel sauce), cream cheese, butter and vanilla. It was super-easy to spread on the top of the finished cake.

A small amount of chocolate sauce was next – I had a little trouble with it – it was supposed to be a drizzle (melted chocolate, butter and a tetch of warm water), but I just couldn’t get it to drizzle – it wanted to drop in round plops – so I just spread it all over the top. DO refrigerate the cake if you have left overs – with cream cheese in it, you need to keep it chilled.

What’s GOOD: this cake was really scrumptious. Rich? Absolutely. The frosting puts it over the top – but because the dulce de leche sauce has cream cheese mixed in, it gave it a really lovely texture, soft, great mouth-feel. The cake was really nice. Even though I used dark chocolate, it wasn’t overly deep in chocolate flavor – it certainly WAS chocolate. The cake isn’t dense at all. The frosting is what makes this cake.

What’s NOT: nothing, other than it takes an hour or so to make it. The cake batter is quite standard, and the frosting was too. For how beautiful it was, it actually was quite easy to make. Not a bad thing!

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Chocolate Cake with Dulce de Leche Frosting

Recipe By: From my friend Cherrie, who got it at a private cooking class
Serving Size: 10

CAKE:
3/4 cup unsalted butter
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate — or dark chocolate
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cups sour cream
FROSTING:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter — softened
8 ounces cream cheese — softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
13 3/8 ounces Dulce de leche — (canned)
DRIZZLE:
1/4 cup bittersweet chocolate — chopped
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon warm water

1. CAKE: Preheat oven to 325°F. Line a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper. Butter the sides of the pan.
2. In a large bowl microwave the butter and chocolate for 2-3 minutes until melted. Stir until all the chocolate and butter are completely mixed. Cool for 5 minutes.
3. In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, soda, baking powder and salt.
4. In a stand mixer, add the chocolate mixture, then add sugar and mix in thoroughly. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Alternately, beat in the sour cream and flour mixture, starting with sour cream.
5. Transfer batter to the prepared pan and bake for 1 hour to 1 hours 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool cake completely on a wire rack. Once cool, remove cake from the pan and set on a serving plate.
6. FROSTING: Beat butter and cream cheese with a mixer. Add vanilla and the Dulce de Leche and beat until smooth. Frost the cooled cake with the icing.
7. DRIZZLE: In a small bowl microwave the butter and chopped chocolate for about 45 seconds to a minute. Stir it until smooth and stir in the warm water. Drizzle mixture over the cake.
NOTES: Cake can be made a day ahead. Cover and refrigerate, then remove cake an hour before serving. If you want to make a half of a recipe, use a 7-inch springform pan. Can also be made into cupcakes.
Per Serving: 758 Calories; 48g Fat (54.9% calories from fat); 12g Protein; 77g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 163mg Cholesterol; 496mg Sodium.

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