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On my recent road trip, I visited one of my local libraries and borrowed 5 books on tape. We listened to 3 of them. I’m a big fan of Craig Johnson, the author of a series of mysteries taking place in Wyoming, and a TV series on Netflix called Longmire. This book, A Serpent’s Tooth: A Longmire Mystery was really complex. Hard to explain, but it’s about graft and greed and oil. Worth reading, for sure. Also read Stone Kiss by Faye Kellerman, another complex mystery about Lt Decker, an LA cop who journeys to NYC to help out his family when a murder occurs. Lots of violence in this one.  Not particularly a fav book, I’d venture. Then read Leaving Time: A Novel by Jodi Picoult. I’ve read most of her books – always very riveting. In this book, you’ll learn a whole lot about elephants since the protagonist in it is a young girl whose mother disappeared when she was quite young. Her parents ran an elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire. In the ensuing years, Jenna has tried to find clues as to her mother’s whereabouts because she just cannot believe her mother would have up and abandoned her. There are a whole cast of characters (her mother, her father, employees at the sanctuary, a cop or two, and a psychic). All play fairly prominent roles. Fascinating book – I really liked it, almost as much for the education about the behavior of elephants as about the mystery. A great read.

Also on the trip, I read a book (on Kindle) for one of my book clubs, The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin. It’s about the relationship between Truman Capote and his “swans,” a group of aging high society ladies, and specifically Beth Paley. I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not. Truman Capote was not a nice man, although the whole novel (vs. non-fiction, which this is not) is conjured from speculation about the years Truman was kind of adopted by the group of women. He cared about all of them (most were married/divorced, wealthy women) but in the end he betrays them all by writing a novella about their secrets, their marriages, their affairs (theirs or their spouses, information they’d all shared with him, thinking he could be trusted with their innermost secrets). It was scandalous, and yes, all that part is true. I finished the book, but almost felt like I’d read a “dirty book.” There is no graphic detail in this book – it’s just what Capote did to destroy these women, supposedly his dear, darling “swans.” He was the villain in the book, and in his old age . . . well, I won’t spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it.

I’ve written up an entire blog post about this book. (It hasn’t been posted yet, but will soon.) It may be one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a memoir by Pat Conroy (an author I’ve long admired). He died a year or so ago – sad, that. In order to get the most out of My Reading Life, I recommend you BUY THE HARDBACK. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s an autobiography of sorts, but not really. He never wrote one, I don’t think, and I doubt he would ever have written one as he likely didn’t believe anyone would want to read about his (sad) life. In this memoir, he chronicles the books (and the people who recommended them) that influenced his life. Starting at his mother’s knees and continuing through influential teachers and mentors and friends. One of my book clubs read it, and I devoured it, cover to cover, with little plastic flags inserted all the way through to re-read some of the prose. Pat Conroy was a fabulous writer – he studied words from a young age and used them widely and wisely throughout his writing, but better than most authors would. He adored his mother, and hated (with venom) his aviator military father who physically abused everyone in the family, including his mother. They all took it like stoic Buddhas. I’m going to have to read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel because of reading this book. I’ve never read it. Conroy says that book’s first page is the best first page of any book he ever read in his life. Wow. And maybe my book group is going to re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Vintage Classics) too because of the chapter on that book. We might have to assign that to a 2-month or longer read. If you have friends or family who are avid readers, this would make a great gift, this book, My Reading Life. If YOU are a reader, it needs to be on your bookshelf, but in hardback, so you can go back to it and re-read his stories. It’s a series of essays, each one about a sub-section of his life. A must-have and a must-read.

Also read The Towers of Tuscany by Carol Cram. It was a bargain book through amazon or bookbub (e-book). Back in the Middle Ages women were forbidden to be artists. Their only place was in the home, caring for children and sewing and cooking. But the heroine in this book was taught to paint by her widowed artist-father (in secret, of course). When her father suddenly dies, all hell breaks loose and she must fend for herself. Much of the book takes place in Siena (and also San Gimignano) as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

 

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 June 10th, 2017.

plum_blueberry_kuchen

My mouth is watering looking at that photo. So delicious and in-season with berries at their prime.

Kuchen (koo-ken) is the German word for cake. It originated, obviously, in Germany, yet it has also been embraced by Russian populations ‘round the world too. When I did a search on the ‘net to verify the definition (I was quite certain it meant cake, but thought I’d best check), I found a blog from a California girl who is now a farmer’s wife in North Dakota. Apparently there is a heavy German and Russian or German-Russian population in that neck of the woods. Her version of a kuchen uses a raised, yeasted dough, and she makes them in bulk and freezes them. They’re a very popular dessert in that neck of the woods.

kuchen_ready2_bakeAnyway, THIS kuchen is not a yeast dough, just a simple enough cake batter (thick, though) that forms the base. It’s scraped into a springform pan and spread out to the edges. Fruit is added, then a sugar/cinnamon mixture and baked. Then a thin egg/cream mixture is poured over the top and baked another 10 minutes. Cooled. Then a powdered sugar top a nd served with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

This cake is not as sweet as some, and in fact, kuchens are often served more like a coffeecake or for a brunch, than as a dessert. But, no matter what, it has to do with the sweetness of the fruit – you can use peaches or plums and blueberries or raspberries. Apricots would likely work fine too – just use a stone fruit for the bottom fruit and a berry of some kind for the top. This recipe was one prepared by Tarla Fallgatter at a cooking class I attended last month. It was served warm with the sweetened whipped cream on the side. Yum.

kuchen_just_bakedWhat’s GOOD: it’s VERY easy to make – just have good, ripe fruit to start with. The batter is easy to mix up, so is the topping, and also the egg/cream that’s baked at the end. I loved the taste of the fruit with the cake. A keeper. It should freeze well if you wanted to double it to make two – one for the freezer. Just press plastic wrap directly onto the fruit (don’t add the powdered sugar), wrap well in another plastic layer and foil and freeze. This dessert is very low in fat as desserts go.

What’s NOT: only that there are a few steps to preparing this – none hard – but a few extra steps to get the toppings finished. Do serve it warm if you can. Or reheat it slightly if you make it a few hours ahead.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Plum and Blueberry Kuchen

Recipe By: Tarla Fallgatter cooking class, 2017
Serving Size: 8

FRUIT:
2 pounds plums — OR peaches
1/3 cup fresh blueberries — OR raspberries
KUCHEN BATTER:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour — sifted
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons milk — or half and half or cream
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon zest
1/4 cup unsalted butter — melted
TOPPING:
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2nd TOPPING:
1 large egg yolk
3 tablespoons heavy cream
GARNISH:
1 1/2 tablespoons powdered sugar — sifted
SERVE with vanilla ice cream or sweetened whipped cream

1. Preheat oven to 450°F. If you oven runs hot, lower it to 425°F.
2. Sift flour and mix with sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.
3. In a food processor pulse eggs with milk and zest. Pulse in melted butter and then add the flour mixture. Batter will be thick.
4. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and scrape batter into it, spreading evening.
5. Combine topping and mix well. Set aside.
6. Arrange plum or peach slices around edge of pan, filling the center with remaining slices. Sprinkle with berries (blue or raspberry). Sprinkle top with sugar-cinnamon mixture.
7. Bake kuchen for 25 minutes and remove from oven.
8. Beat yolk and cream together with a form and pour over the top of the kuchen. Return to oven and bake another 10 minutes.
9. Coolin the pan on a rack for 10 minutes, then remove springform side. Sprinkle top with powdered sugar (through a sieve or pre-sifted) and serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream
Per Serving: 326 Calories; 11g Fat (28.9% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 54g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 103mg Cholesterol; 279mg Sodium.

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