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Just finished reading How It All Began: A Novelby 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 (she arrived after the birth, actually). 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 father is a wealthy man in the area who carries a lot of clout. 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.

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 middle-aged 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, and wealthy) 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.

 

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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