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Just finished The Letter by Kathyrn Hughes. It’s a very intricate tale. At first it’s about Tina, a battered wife [at which point I paused and wondered if I wanted to read any further, but I’m glad I did]. She tries to get the courage to leave her husband. Then enters the letter she finds in a suit pocket in the thrift shop where she volunteers. It’s old – sealed and stamped, but never mailed. Then you learn about Crissie, decades earlier, a young pregnant girl who is sent off to Ireland to a distant relative by her father, then to a rigid (meaning horrible) convent [the book takes place mostly in Manchester, England and in rural Ireland]. The letter is addressed to her. Jump forward decades and William, the adopted child Crissie gave up, tries to find his birth mother. William meets Tina in Ireland [a serendipitous moment] as she’s trying to find the woman to whom the letter is addressed. This book is the #2 best seller on Amazon at the moment. It’s a riveting tale and I really enjoyed it.

Read Grace Unshakled, by Irene Huising. From Amazon’s page, it says: “In the year 2025, 17-year-old Grace Duncan finds herself in shackles because of her faith in Christ. An obedient daughter and stellar student, doing time in jail was never on her mental radar, despite the changes in religious laws [this takes place here in the United States] over the past few years. Through twists and turns in circumstances, Grace and a small band of Christians in Newport Beach, California begin a journey to discover what it means to follow Christ with unwavering faith in the midst of increasing persecution. Facing the potential loss of all her hopes and dreams, would Christ be enough?” We read this for one of my book clubs, and it’s a scary thought about what it could mean if we take God out of our country. The author is a friend of a friend and she attended our book club meeting to share about how she came to write this book. I don’t often share my faith here on my website, but this book made me stop and think about the direction our government is going, removing more and more our ability to worship God. Or to worship in any religion. Will this book ever make waves in the book world? Probably not. My copy may be a pre-edited version, as it contained numerous typos and formatting errors. But they didn’t detract from the subject, just the cosmetics. The book doesn’t come to a resolution; in fact it leaves you hanging, as some books do. It was intentional (obviously), but left me wondering about the “end of the story.”

Also just finished reading The Muralist: A Novel by Shapiro. It tells the story of a young woman, an artist, who was part of the U.S.’s WPA mural project from the 1930s-40s (she is fiction, the WPA is not). As with so many artists, even today, they live in abject poverty through much of their lives. This woman, though, had family in France, desperately trying to escape before Hitler’s henchmen rousted them into concentration camps. The story, a bit of a mystery but not of the mystery-genre, is about Alizée Benoit, this young painter, who slightly captivates Eleanor Roosevelt’s help. It also skips into current time when the painter’s great-niece uncovers paintings she believes were painted by her aunt. The painter had disappeared into thin air in 1940, and her relative tries desperately to find out what happened to her. It’s a really good story including such Abstract Expressionist painters as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner well-woven into the narrative. It keeps you guessing right up to the end. A good read. The author also wrote The Art Forger: A Novel a few years ago.

Read 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) – 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 Margaret of York (a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine),  who was 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 first!

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 April 22nd, 2017.

neva_tees_carrot_cake_slice

Oh my goodness, is this cake just off the charts. And it has a story (not mine – on food52).

A couple of weeks ago I was reading a post at food52, and this carrot cake story was just so sweet. About Mary Catherine Tee’s grandmother “Mom Mom’s” 3-layer carrot cake. And how the grandchildren made the cake for her in her last days, when she was suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s, confined to a nursing home. And about the smile it brought to her face. It was such an unusual story, I had to send the post to my friend Linda T (many recipes here on my blog are from her recipe files), who has been making a more traditional 9×13 carrot cake for decades. That recipe is here on my blog too. Hers had been my go-to recipe for as long as I’ve had it; at least 30 years. Until now. Until this cake. neva_tees_carrot_cake_whole

Recently, Linda, my friend Cherrie, another mutual friend Yvette and I met for lunch in Carlsbad. At a very hot new restaurant called Campfire. Quite a place – lots of grilled items, fabulous breads, sandwiches, unusual sauces or spreads on bread, or something different on most everything on the menu. It was close to Yvette’s birthday, and yvettes_birthday_cakebecause Linda and I had talked a lot about this cake, she made it and brought it to the restaurant (they didn’t charge us for the use of extra plates). Carrot cake happens to be Yvette’s husband Joe’s favorite, Cherrie’s husband Bud’s favorite, and was my DH’s favorite as well. Linda let us split up the remaining cake between us, to take home. What a treat. The birthday girl in the photo at right with the cake in the shade in front of her.

What’s different about this cake? It’s lighter in texture – MUCH lighter. Hard to believe since it contains so much shredded carrot, but it IS. It’s a more tender cake – I guess that’s what I mean when I say “lighter.” It still has some cream cheese in the frosting, but it’s not a thick frosting (that part I really liked). It uses pecans – but in the frosting. The ONLY thing I’d try next time, is to add some pineapple into the frosting. Crushed (canned) pineapple that had been squeezed completely dry and squeezed in paper towels too – so it wouldn’t dilute the frosting with any liquid. I haven’t tried this – so I can’t make any promises about it, but I think it would be a lovely enhancement to the cake. At least I’d try it. I’d use an 8-ounce can, drained well, then squeezed dry as mentioned.

What’s GOOD: I think this cake is fantastic. Not that I make 3-layer cakes often – and I didn’t make this one, but since my friend Linda has now made it twice, and was planning to make it again the same week, I’d say it’s been truly tested well. Do read my notes about possibly adding crushed pineapple to the frosting. Linda did not frost the outside of the cake – it was supposed to be enough, but Linda just thought it would be better to leave the frosting off the sides. I’d definitely do it that way again too.

What’s NOT: only that you have to make/bake 3 layers. Not hard, really. A bit time consuming. But, you’ll hear raves. I just know it.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Neva Tee’s Carrot Cake

Recipe By: Food52: Neva Tee (from her granddaughter, Mary Catherine Tee)
Serving Size: 12

2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil — (such as Crisco)
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla — divided
2 cups self-rising flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3 cups grated carrots
3 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 stick butter — room temperature
1 cup chopped pecans
8 ounces cream cheese — room temperature
8 ounces canned pineapple, drained (optional) to add to frosting; see NOTE in directions

NOTE: Although not in the original recipe, I would try adding 8 ounces of canned crushed pineapple to the frosting. BUT, thoroughly drain the pineapple and blot dry with paper towels before adding to the frosting mixture.
1. Line 3 round 8-inch cake pans with parchment paper and heat the oven to 350*F.
2. Add sugar, oil, eggs, and 1 teaspoon vanilla to a bowl. Beat well.
3. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and cinnamon. Add slowly to the sugar/oil mixture, stirring to incorporate. Fold in the carrots. Divide among 3 prepared pans.
4. Bake for 30 minutes. Once cake passes the toothpick test, remove from oven and cool on wire racks.
5. For the filling/frosting, use an electric mixer to mix the confectioners’ sugar, butter, remaining 1 teaspoon vanilla, and cream cheese on medium-high speed until smooth. Turn off mixer. Add chopped pecans and mix on medium-low speed until nuts are incorporated. Refrain from eating all of it with a spoon. Spread between layers (may do sides too, though it will be a thin layer) and top of cake once the cake has cooled completely.
NOTES: My friend Linda doesn’t own 8-inch cake pans; only 9″ ones. She made this in the 9″ pans and it turned out just fine – probably a few minutes less baking time.
Per Serving: 740 Calories; 41g Fat (49.0% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 90g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 112mg Cholesterol; 538mg Sodium.

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