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Just finished another great book, 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 February 26th, 2017.


If you’re a younger person, you’ve likely never heard of Laurie Colwin. She penned a column in Gourmet Magazine for many years. She died way too young.

How sad I was when I heard that Laurie Colwin had died in 1992. I loved her columns – irreverent for sure. She never considered herself a gourmand. She was just a home cook. She debunked theories and philosophies of cooking. She shared stories about how she cooked and entertained in her miniscule NYC apartment when she was a single person. I LOL’d when I read that story. I wrote up a post in 2013 about damp_gingerbread_wedgeLaurie Colwin, and part of that essay is in that post. And I’d always planned to make a lot of her recipes. She eventually married and had children, and continued to write her irreverent prose about the joys and dilemmas of day to day cooking. She wrote at least 2 memoir-style cookbooks, Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen (Vintage Contemporaries); and More Home Cooking: A Writer Returns to the Kitchen. I bought them years ago and savored every word in both books, certainly saying I’d make some of the recipes. But I never did.

Then recently I read a blog piece somewhere that mentioned this recipe, the Damp Gingerbread. One of her recipes I’d always intended to try. So, recently, when we had a dark, damp day, I dug into my baking stuff and made her cake.

This cake isn’t the heavy, dark kind of cake many people prefer, or think of when you think “gingerbread.” Most of those recipes contain molasses. This one doesn’t. This one uses Lyle’s Golden Syrup. Now, for those of you who don’t know what it is, it’s a type of syrup (Golden Syrup is made from sugar cane or sugar beet when processing for sugar. It is a form of invert sugar syrup. . . this from my friend Toni, in England) produced in England and available in some (rare) stores here in the U.S. I used to be able to find it sometimes, but since I had none on my shelves, I went to Amazon. The link above goes to a single can (free shipping even if you don’t have amazon Prime) that’s just the right size for this recipe. I had to wait for its delivery before I could bake the cake. Could you use regular corn syrup? I suppose, but Lyle’s has a lightly golden color and I think it’s made differently than our American corn syrup.

damp_gingerbread_slice_outThis gingerbread doesn’t contain the load of spices more common to gingerbread, either. Just ground ginger, ground cloves and ground cinnamon. I think Laurie Colwin liked a more subtle gingerbread. And then, what about the DAMP designation? Well, the recipe indicates you bake it JUST until the cake has pulled away from the sides and is still almost damp in the middle. I probably overbaked mine as it wasn’t exactly damp, in my opinion. Was it moist? Yes. Delicious? Yes. It would be nice to make two types and try them side by side. This one is more delicate. You don’t even need a mixer – I did it all in one bowl and poured it into my 9” round, high-sided cake pan (it would likely overflow a regular height cake pan). An hour later it was done.

What’s GOOD: it’s a lovely, lighter than usual gingerbread. Subtle spices, and delicious with a big, fat dollop of whipped cream on it. Easy to make – a one-bowl thing without using a mixer.

What’s NOT: if you prefer the dark heavy type of gingerbread, this one won’t float your boat. I liked it. Maybe next time I’ll try another recipe for the darker type. I think I like both, actually.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Laurie Colwin’s Damp Gingerbread

Recipe By: Laurie Colwin (deceased), writer, cookbook author
Serving Size: 10

9 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups Lyle’s Golden Syrup — (12 ounces)
2 cups all-purpose flour — plus 2 tablespoons
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 egg
1 cup milk

1. Heat the oven to 350° F. Butter a 9-inch round pan (2 inches deep) and line the bottom with parchment paper. In a small saucepan, melt the butter with the Lyle’s Golden Syrup.
2. Into a bowl, sift the flour, salt, baking soda, ground ginger, ground cloves, and cinnamon. Pour the syrup and melted butter onto the dry ingredients and mix well. Add the egg and the milk and beat well. The batter will be very liquidy, not to worry.
3. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 50 to 55 minutes. The middle should be just set, with the edge pulling away from the pan, and a tester will bring out a few crumbs. Cool the cake in the pan for 10 minutes before turning out. (Serve with sweetened whipped cream.)
Per Serving: 322 Calories; 12g Fat (33.5% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 49g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 52mg Cholesterol; 452mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on February 26th, 2017:

    Golden Syrup is made from sugar cane or sugar beet when processing for sugar. It is a form of invert sugar syrup. Quite different from your corn syrup.

    That is an interesting cake but having grown up eating the dark ginger cake, it might not be to my taste.

    I’m glad to know the science behind golden syrup – and to know it’s not a corn syrup derivative. I knew there were benefits to it, but did not know the particulars. I think I prefer the dark ginger cake also, but I was willing to try this one. . . carolyn t

  2. Joan

    said on February 26th, 2017:

    I enjoyed Laurie Colwin’s Gourmet magazine articles too and miss them. It’s nice to have this gingerbread recipe and I’ve ordered the Lyle’s Golden Syrup so I can try it. Thank you for the recipe.

    I do hope you enjoy the gingerbread. It’s different, so don’t expect the same kind of texture or taste to our more common dark (molasses-type) hyper-spiced variety. Let me know what you think. . . carolyn t

  3. Peggy

    said on February 26th, 2017:

    Again we have something in common. I loved reading Laurie Colwin and have both her books and several of her columns. And I must try this recipe – yes, gingerbread!

    Hope you enjoy the recipe. It’s NOT what you’re used to – the dark colored type with tons of spices. This one is much more mellow and light. Let me know what you think . . . carolyn t

  4. Madonna

    said on February 26th, 2017:

    It was so fun bumping into you at Trader Joe’s today. After reading your blog for awhile I felt like I already knew you.

    I am going to try to make this cake into teacakes. Jacques Pépin said to just make mini muffins and turn the upside down.


    That was a real kick to meet you yesterday. Small world for sure, Madonna. Enjoyed our conversation. . . carolyn t

  5. hddonna

    said on February 27th, 2017:

    Looks like a lovely accompaniment to afternoon tea. I do like dark gingerbread (The English Kitchen Sticky Ginger Loaf is my current favorite), but a lighter one would have its charms, too. I can get the syrup at my international grocery, so will have to give it a try.

    I think, if you are a fan of the dark type, this might not satisfy as much, but it’s very good. Just different. . . carolyn t

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