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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 June 22nd, 2017.


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
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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