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Am still reading The Rent Collector by Camron Wright. Oh my. This book has so many layers: (1) the young, impoverished couple and their infant son who live, literally, in a dump in Cambodia and about the precarious structure, if you can even call it that, that comprises their “house” in the midst and perched on top of trash; (2) the woman who collects the rent (hence the title and yes, people have to PAY to live there); (3) the young son’s chronic illness; (4) how they make a living out of collecting and selling trash; and (4) the life saving grace and wisdom imparted by characters in the book as the young mother begins to learn to read. If you decide to read this book, please don’t stop at about page 15-20, thinking you just don’t know if you want to read about this. Please continue. It’s so worth it. Have a highlighter pen in your hand because you’ll find so many quotes you will want to remember. Believe it or not, there is also quite a bit in this about literature.

Recently finished C.J. Box’s book The Disappeared (A Joe Pickett Novel). I just love Box’s novels. They take place in present day semi-wild west, and chronicle the fish and game warden, Joe Pickett, as he unravels another crime in his territory. A woman has disappeared, and the governor has asked him to figure it out. He does, but the tale meanders through multiple layers of intriguing story. His books are riveting. Men and women enjoy his books – so if you have a fellow in your life or family that would enjoy an intriguing book (this is not espionage) then gift him one of Box’s books.

Also finished Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. About a dysfunctional family, through and through. I picked this up from amazon from someone who read the book, named “McReader,” and she says: “Set in the 70s, the story follows a Chinese American blended family in Ohio. When Lydia [the daughter] is found floating in the lake, her family is forced to analyze what put her there. Was it pressure from her family to succeed? Was it pressure to fit in? Was it a crime of passion or convenience? I was spellbound reading the last half of this book. I loved each flawed family member, especially Hannah,. While the story went where I hoped it would go, I was not disappointed at all with the progression. It was also quite insightful on the prejudices that society had about Chinese Americans still during that timeframe and how careful parents have to be to put their dreams onto their children.” Such a good book and definitely worth reading. Would be a good book club read. You’ll be hearing more from this author. Am currently reading her next novel, Little Fires Everywhere.

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 May 5th, 2017.

choc_apricot_torte

Oh my. Decadence on a plate. No counting calories on this one; just so you know . . .

It isn’t until I get home from a cooking class and enter a recipe into my software, MasterCook, that I glance at the calories and/or fat, or carbs for any dish. Tarla Fallgatter prepared this at a class a month or so ago, and everyone swooned over it. Me included. The torte is so soft, tender, melt-in-your-mouth chocolaty, and hits all the buttons for tasty. It’s so tender that it sinks in the middle – hence you can see the far right end of the cake has almost completely collapsed. Oh, but that didn’t detract one single calorie from enjoying it. Someone in the class asked if this was a chocolate lava cake, and Tarla said no, it wasn’t, although one could think so.

Tarla oftens does chocolate tortes, cakes, etc. That particular cooking class group loves chocolate too. Tarla loves chocolate, I’m guessing, although she never eats a bite of anything she fixes at the cooking classes, unless it’s to check for seasonings. This torte contains some apricot puree in the cake itself, and she served it with some additional on the plate, along with a scoop of sweetened whipped cream. There’s a chocolate ganache frosting on top, then toasted almonds sprinkled on top of that. It does have to be surrounded in foil (the springform pan, in a single sheet so water can’t permeate) and then baked in a water bath. Not hard, but requires a few extra steps and minutes. Do use a pan (for the water bath) that is much bigger than the springform pan because you need to steam to escape. Tarla baked this in a round pan that wasn’t too much bigger, and the cake took much longer to bake. Just so you know . . .

Serve this when you’re having a very light dinner – not at the end of a multi-course heavy meal as it’s very rich.

What’s GOOD: I hate to say this, but everything about this torte was delicious. Fantastic, really. I ate every smidgen. Will I actually make it? Maybe, but as I suggested above, not to serve after a heavy dinner.

What’s NOT: nothing except the excess of calories! Oh, and maybe the requirement to bake this in a foil covered base and in a water bath. Kind of a nuisance.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Chocolate Apricot Torte

Recipe By: Tarla Fallgatter, cooking instructor, chef, 2017
Serving Size: 10

CAKE:
10 ounces bittersweet chocolate — coarsely chopped
3/4 cup unsalted butter
8 large eggs — separated
3/4 cup sugar — PLUS 2 tablespoons
3/4 cup apricot puree (see below)
1/4 cup Amaretto — or brandy or rum
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup almonds — toasted
1 pinch salt
APRICOT PUREE:
1 cup dried apricots
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
CHOCOLATE GLAZE:
3/4 pound bittersweet chocolate — coarsely chopped
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup unsalted butter — room temperature
2 tablespoons Amaretto — or brandy
GARNISH:
1/2 cup sliced almonds — toasted
1/2 cup heavy cream — beaten with sugar and vanilla to taste

1. APRICOTS: Simmer apricots with water, sugar until very soft, about 20-30 minutes. Let cool; add vanilla and puree until smooth. Set aside. You will have more puree than needed.
2. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan; line with parchment and butter the parchment. Using extra-wide foil, wrap bottom half of springform pan so none of the water bath will be able to enter the springform pan.
3. CAKE: Combine chocolate and butter in a bowl and heat over simmering water until melted. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Pulse the flour and almonds in a food processor.
4. Beat egg yolks and HALF the sugar until very thick and very light colored. Gently stir the apricot puree (3/4 cups of it only) and Amaretto into the chocolate mixture and the pinch of salt. Gently fold the almond flour and chocolate mixture into the egg yolk mixture.
5. In a clean bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form, then add remaining sugar and continue beating until thoroughly incorporated. Fold the egg whites, by thirds, into the chocolate mixture. Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan. Place the cake pan into a larger, open baking dish or pan (10×14 pan, or a large round or oval) and add enough hot water to the cake pan barely floats. Tent the top of the springform pan with foil. Bake for about 40-50 minutes.
6. Remove cake from the water bath and allow to cool on a wire rack for at least an hour. Gently unmold the cake from the springform pan.
7. GLAZE: Combine the chocolate, water and cream in the top half of a double boiler and melt over simmering water. Remove from heat and add butter and Amaretto. Allow to cool until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Ladle about half the glaze over the top of the torte, tilting it slightly so it spreads as evenly as possible. Use remaining glaze to drizzle on the side of each cake slice or drizzle on top of the cake when served.
8. GARNISH:: On each plate place the cake slice with a drizzle of glaze, then garnish with a spoonful of the remaining apricot puree and a dollop of whipped cream. Sprinkle the toasted almonds over all.
Per Serving: 916 Calories; 78g Fat (70.1% calories from fat); 16g Protein; 59g Carbohydrate; 12g Dietary Fiber; 264mg Cholesterol; 95mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on May 6th, 2017:

    Years ago, I made an apricot chocolate mousse cake for my mother-in-law’s birthday. It was from a magazine called Cuisine, which I subscribed to until it ceased publication around 1985. (The current or recent magazine of the same name bears no resemblance). I have all the issues still, but have never been able to locate the recipe or anything like it. This seems much richer, but I think it would do the trick nicely! Can’t wait for an excuse to make it! Maybe my daughter-in-law’s birthday in a couple weeks…

    Oh, I’m glad you’re going to try it. The finished torte is just SO good, but I even hesitated posting it because of the calories. Cut small slices, maybe? . . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on May 7th, 2017:

    Yes, small slices for sure! I hadn’t noticed the calorie count–wow! I’ll have to make mine just a sliver. I’m not sure how you can cram that many calories into a single nine-inch layer! I was just visiting one of my daughters this evening. She reads your blog, too, and she had also noticed this post and thought it sounded fantastic.

    It really is fabulous. One of the best recipes for chocolate. The apricot part just makes it even better. . . carolyn t

  3. hddonna

    said on June 7th, 2017:

    I finally got my chance to bake this when my daughter-in-law and grandkids came for a visit–it was a belated birthday cake. Everyone loved it. I only had a very thin sliver, and it was marvelous. My DIL enjoyed all the parts, but said her favorite was the cake with the apricot puree–she ate the whipped cream and ganache separately. We agreed that the torte with the puree would be great by themselves if one wanted to cut calories and still have a big treat. Even though I was prepared for a big production, I was taken aback just how many dishes and appliances were used–blender, food processor, and mixer with two different bowls and beaters, assorted measuring cups and spoons, saucepan, baking sheet, bowls for separating the eggs, and enough other items to make a complete dishwasher load, with a minimum of hand-washing to boot. And that did not include the springform pan or the ganache bowl, which still contained the cake and the ganache when I went to bed. (It came out of the pan easily even after about six hours.) I am sure my husband would be thrilled if I’d do it all again for his next birthday!
    I missed the note about using a large pan for the water bath, and it did take a lot longer to bake, probably close to twice as long as called for. As there are no doneness tests given, I didn’t know how to be sure it was done. In the end, I used a thermometer in the middle. It came out with lots of goo on it until about 160 degrees, when it was still very moist but slightly firmer when shaken. The resulting torte did not sink much for me, but it was still extremely moist and a bit gooey.
    I’d call it a big success and worth the time and the dishes–but not something to be undertaken lightly! One big plus in my estimation is that I did not have to find room for a cake in my already-crowded-with-food-for-a-feast refrigerator.

    Wow, Donna! Yes, I do recall there were tons of dishes to wash. Am so glad you enjoyed it. It’s truly a delicious dessert, but certainly on the “over the top” kind of scale. Tarla doesn’t test cakes with a thermometer, so am not sure what the “right” temp would be for this one since it’s supposed to be extra moist. . . . carolyn t

  4. hddonna

    said on June 7th, 2017:

    I was also wondering whether you simmered the apricots covered or uncovered. I did them uncovered, since covering wasn’t mentioned, but after 30 minutes most of the water had evaporated and the apricots were still not tender, as they were sticking up out of the syrup. I added a bit of water and covered it and gave them another ten minutes, which worked fine. There was still not much liquid, and I ended up adding a bit more when I pureed them, as they were too thick to blend. Of course, it is easy enough to add water as needed to achieve the consistency desired. It would be helpful to know about how much puree there should be. I ran out of puree too soon, too–a quarter of the torte is left, and no puree, so I’d make more next time.

    I don’t think I have an answer to that. Tarla scooped a bit onto each plate so there was just enough for all the servings. I’d say she put about a tablespoon additional puree on each plate, so not really very much! And then there was some in the torte itself, too. The cooking of them – it also depends on how old the dried apricots are – the fresher ones that are still almost sticky will cook faster. I hate it when they get “old” and it takes forever to rehydrate them! The other option would be to just let the dried apricots sit in hot water for a couple of hours before trying to cook them – that way they wouldn’t take long – or AS long. . . carolyn t

    I would most likely do the apricots covered because you want to retain all the fluid and it helps in the rehydrating process too… carolyn t

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