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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 22nd, 2017.

ginger_spice_cake_dried_cherries

Think gingerbread. Think spicy gingerbread.

As you’ve read here before, every few weeks I entertain a bible study group here at my home, and I always make some kind of dessert. Since I love to bake, it’s often a cake of some kind. I’d read about this cake somewhere, and found it online at Taking On Magazines, a blog. The cake just sounded so good, and the night I served this, it was still feeling like winter.

You mustn’t expect a light and fluffy cake here – it’s pretty darned hard to get that when you use molasses anyway. Just know, if you decide to make this, that it’s a fairly firm, dense cake. Delicious, but more on the heavy side. The original recipe called for a chocolate icing, but I ran out of time, so served it with whipped cream. I actually think it would be best served with vanilla ice cream. I think the icing would make this cake truly over-the-top rich. But, I didn’t try it, so I could very well be wrong about that part.

The dried cherries (the tart, Montmorency type) are soaked in hot espresso, along with the spices. AND real Dijon mustard. What an odd ingredient – I have no idea the reason for it, but I had it, so I used it! My only recommendation, when you’re preparing the fresh chopped ginger – make sure it’s very fine, and that you include no threads of it. I used 3 different graters, including what is supposed to be a ginger grater, and none worked very well, so I ended up chopping and then mincing it like crazy with a very sharp butcher’s knife. If you have any threads visible, remove them, as they aren’t very appetizing in the cake. I thought they were cat hairs (embarrassing!) but no, they were ginger threads. Whew!

This is a regular cake – nothing unusual about the preparation of it. A stand mixer helps since it’s a thick batter. Cut it in relatively narrow pieces, and I think it will serve more than 12. I have half of it in my freezer to pull out next month when I have family visiting. That with vanilla ice cream will make a very nice and easy dessert.

What’s GOOD: the flavors are really good – you can taste the minced up dried cherries, and all the warm fall spices are tummy-warming. Even the black pepper. Just know this is a dense cake.

What’s NOT: nothing, really. This kind of dense, dark cake may not be to everyone’s taste. Do serve it with something to cut the richness of it (whipped cream, ice cream, or the icing).

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Ginger Spice Cake with Dried Cherries

Recipe By: From Taking on Magazines blog
Serving Size: 12

1/2 cup unsalted butter — room temperature, plus more for pan
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
3 large eggs
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour — plus more for the pan
1 cup light molasses
1 cup dried tart cherries — finely chopped
1/2 cup crystallized ginger — finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh ginger — peeled, finely minced
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 cup espresso coffee — hot (I used decaf)
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
CHOCOLATE ICING: (optional)
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons espresso coffee — hot, or strong coffee
8 ounces semisweet chocolate — or bittersweet

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Butter Bundt pan. Dust pan with flour, tapping out excess. Combine cherries, crystallized ginger, grated ginger, and Dijon mustard in a medium bowl. Pour espresso over cherry mixture and set aside. In a medium bowl whisk 2 1/2 cups flour, ground ginger, baking soda, salt, allspice, cinnamon, and pepper.
2. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat 1/2 cup butter in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add brown sugar and beat for 2 minutes. Beat in eggs one at a time, then beat in molasses.
3. Strain cherry mixture into a small bowl, reserving soaking liquid. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture in 3 additions, alternately with soaking liquid in 2 additions, beating to blend between additions. Fold in drained cherry mixture. Scrape batter into prepared pan.
4. Bake until top of cake springs back when lightly pressed in the middle, about 1 hour. Let cool in pan on a wire rack. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.
5. Remove cake from pan. May be served as is, or with icing. Or serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
6. Spoon chocolate Icing over cake, if using, allowing it to drip down sides. Cut cake into wedges to serve.
7. ICING: Heat cream in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat until tiny bubbles form around the edges of pan. Stir in hot espresso. Place chopped chocolate in a medium bowl. Add hot cream mixture; let stand for 1 minute, then stir until icing is melted and smooth. DO AHEAD: Icing can be made 3 days ahead. Let cool completely at room temperature, then cover and chill. Rewarm icing slightly before using.
Per Serving: 483 Calories; 19g Fat (33.7% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 77g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 87mg Cholesterol; 508mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on June 26th, 2017:

    Mmm, my sort of cake!

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