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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 April 22nd, 2017.

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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