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Just finished a stunning book, 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 (don’t confuse this book with the one I recently read and is reviewed below) and really liked it. 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 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.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant. Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the angry father is a wealthy and influential man in the area. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

 

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 29th, 2017.

applesauce_bundt_cake_caramel_icing

Oh yummy. A tender, moist cake made with vegetable oil and applesauce. But this isn’t one of those that omits any other fat – the vegetable oil is in lieu of butter, obviously. But it’s super moist because of the home made applesauce added into the batter.

Needing a nice, big dessert to take to one of the Easter celebrations I attended (I was blessed to go to my son’s wife’s family celebration on Saturday, then on Sunday I drove to San Diego to be with daughter Sara), this recipe jumped out at me. Originally it was on Food52, but has since appeared a few other places as well. I have a new Bundt cakepan – a heritage one (but new, $36) that you can find on Food52’s website. It’s made by Nordic Ware, so you know it’s a good, solid cake pan. My older one I bought many years ago at a discounted place and it’s tweaked around the top edge, so it never bakes into a perfect round. Since I use it often, I decided I wanted this new shaped one.

applesauce_bundt_cake_coolingI bought Granny Smith apples, and used one Gala apple I had on hand too, but I used nothing but a  little bit of water and cinnamon (no sugar), and it took about 10 minutes to make it. Well, except for the time peeling the apples. The cake contains 1 1/2 cups of the home made applesauce. You can use canned applesauce (unsweetened) and buy chunky if you can find it. I decided I wanted to make my own, and once cooked, I used a potato masher to make sure pieces were smaller.

applesauce_cake_icingThe cake itself has some nice, warm spices in it (including a small amount of ground black pepper, plus cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg). It uses dark brown sugar, hence the darker color of the cake. The black pepper isn’t really discernible, but am certain it wouldn’t be as tasty without it, so don’t skip past that ingredient. The cake baked in 45 minutes at 350°, and I tested the temp – it was exactly 206°F. Perfect. I let it cool overnight (loosely tented in plastic wrap, then made the caramel icing the next morning. I had one FAIL in this – my fault – I forgot to sift the powdered sugar, so you can see little bits of powdered sugar in the glaze. Not a deal breaker. The cake was easy easy to make.

I made it a second time a few days later for another group of guests at my home. I pressed the powdered sugar through a sieve that time and got a much smoother icing/glaze. It was also just perfectly baked. Such a winner of a recipe.

applesauce_bundt_sliceWhat’s GOOD: well, the texture (moist, tender) and flavor (lovely apple flavor throughout and the combo of spices are perfect). The caramel icing adds a nice fillip to the serving. It might be over the top with a little scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side. Don’t go the whipped cream route – it wouldn’t go with the icing, I don’t think. Altogether lovely cake – a definite keeper. I heard many uhmmmms from guests who ate it.

What’s NOT: nothing whatsoever.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Applesauce Bundt Cake with Caramel Icing

Recipe By: Food52
Serving Size: 12

CAKE:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce — home made if possible
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
GLAZE:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter — cut into chunks
1/2 cup light brown sugar — or dark brown
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar — SIFTED (important)

NOTES: You can use canned applesauce (chunky if possible) or make your own, but unsweetened. The icing is very sweet, so you don’t need added sugar in the applesauce. Do SIFT the powdered sugar or you’ll have lumps.
1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a standard-size (12-cup) Bundt pan (or spray with nonstick cooking spray).
2. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, pepper, and spices, and whisk to mix well.
3. In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a standing mixer, beat the eggs with both sugars until light. Beat in the applesauce, oil, and vanilla until smooth. With the mixer on the lowest speed, add the flour mixture, and beat briefly, just to combine. Use a rubber spatula to fold gently, making sure that all the dry ingredients are incorporated.
4. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for about 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the thickest part of the cake comes out clean. Cool the cake for 10 minutes in the pan on a rack before turning it out and allowing to cool completely. (The cake should be room temperature before applying the glaze).
5. When you’re ready to glaze, set the cooling rack (with the cake on it) on top of a rimmed sheet pan. This will catch drips.
6. Place the butter in a medium (2- to 3-quart) saucepan with the brown sugar, cream, and salt, and set over medium heat. Bring to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Boil for one minute exactly, and then pull the pan off the heat. Leave to cool for about 2-3 minutes, and then gradually whisk in the SIFTED confectioner’s sugar until you have a thick but pourable consistency. Only add as much sugar as you need to make a thick glaze. If it gets too thick, add a little cream to thin it down.
7. Immediately pour the glaze over the cake, evenly covering as much surface area as possible. Let the glaze set before serving the cake.
Per Serving: 419 Calories; 19g Fat (41.2% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 59g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 55mg Cholesterol; 375mg Sodium.

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