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Just finished reading The Boston Girl: A Novel by Anita Diamant. A very, very intriguing book. The book is written from the voice of a Jewish grandmother as she tells her granddaughter the saga of her life starting about 1910, who struggles with her own individuality, with her domineering mother who never says a kind word to her. It’s certainly a coming-of-age story as she grows up, finds a job, makes friends, joins a literary girls club, moves out, but still suffers under her mother’s thumb and tongue. She becomes a reporter on a local newspaper, which opens her eyes to more of the world than she ever knew. She finally meets the right man (of course!) and she shares the stories about her life, and her friends and family members as she grows up, giving some sage advice along the way. Part of the time she’s talking to herself – to her young self  (really wanting to tell young Addie to keep on, forgive herself for her perceived transgressions, to live life, and experience the world).

One of the best books I’ve read in a long time – Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. Rivers is a prodigious writer of Christian fiction, and I’d never read anything by her until now. As I write this, I’ve already read this, another one (below) and just purchased the Kindle trilogy called Mark of the Lion (Vol 1-3) that I haven’t yet started. (Two of my friends have said the trilogy is her best.) Redeeming Love details the fictional story of a godly man, Michael Hosea, forging his way in the era of the Gold Rush. He’s “driven” to rescue a beautiful prostitute who lives and works her trade in a nearby town. The entire book is about the story, the rescue, and it parallels a bit of scripture about Hosea who rescues a prostitute names Gomer. You get into the heads of both Hosea and the prostitute, named Angel. We read this for one of my book groups. A great read.

As soon as I finished the above book I promptly visited my church library and found a whole shelf of Rivers’ books, and grabbed one called The Atonement Child. This book takes place in the 1980s or 90s, about a young college student who is raped. She was engaged to be married, was a stellar student. The book chronicles what happens to her when she discovers she is pregnant from the rape. Every possible thing goes wrong in her life. I don’t want to spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it, but I couldn’t put it down. I ended up spending a good part of a day plowing through it. You hear her inner voice (I’m guessing this is a common thread in Rivers’ books) from a Christian perspective. Lots of meaty issues to discuss in a book club if your group would be interested and willing to talk about rape, abortion, adoption and the thorny issues surrounding all of those things, but with a Christian bent, for sure.

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen. It’s kind of amazing how many and varied plot lines can be created from events of WWII. This is another one, about a current day woman who finds papers in the attic, after her father’s death, with references to “the child.” She never knew her father could have had another child – could she have a step-sibling somewhere? Her father she knew, had been shot down over Italy, but he never talked much about it. But of course, she must go to Italy to find out about this “child.” The book flips back and forth from this daughter on the search, to her father during the war, all of it taking place in a very small town in Tuscany. It’s about the varied people she meets who want her to go away and not dredge up anything about the war years (are they hiding something, you question), about how much she loves the landscape, and some of the people. And about the intense love affair between the injured pilot and a caring woman of the village. Very charming story. I could almost smell the flowers, taste the olives, hear the bees flitting, and loved the prose about the simple meals that were described. I really enjoyed the book. Perhaps not enough meat for a book club read, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy reading it nonetheless.

Leaving Blythe River: A Novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde. Almost a page turner. When one uses the phrase “coming of age,” it usually means (I think) love and loss/boyfriend/girlfriend, and in this case it’s somewhat that way. When Ethan, a 17-year old boy and his mother come home unexpectedly to find dad and his young secretary in a compromising position, all hell breaks loose. Separation happens instantly and just as his father moves out, his mother has to go take care of her aging mother. Ethan’s too young to be left in the NYC apartment alone, so Mom sends son to the father who is escaping from the world in Wyoming, living in a primitive A-frame house, and continuing his daily 20+ mile running journeys. Ethan and his father are barely speaking. They live in the middle of nowhere. Ethan feels betrayed by his father in every possible way, and somewhat by his mother for forcing him to live with his father for a temporary period. Then his father doesn’t return one day from his run. The authorities do a cursory search, but they are under the impression the dad wants to “get lost” on purpose. Ethan, although he thinks he doesn’t care, really does. What happens next is best left to you reading this book. Very interesting people (kind of loners) enter the picture and off they go to search. So worth reading.

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 January 8th, 2018.

hazelnut_choc_torte_sliice

So wonderfully rich with chocolate and textured with hazelnuts. Altogether a great dessert for chocolate lovers everywhere.

My mouth is watering. That happens sometimes as I’m writing up a blog post. The picture is added into my writing/editing window first (after I’ve already sized it and added text to the photographs) and I get to stare at it while I write. I’m a sucker for chocolate and try so very hard not to have much. That recommendation that we not have more than an ounce a day . . . hmmm. I haven’t ever measured – my chocolate sin of choice is Ghiradelli dark chocolate chips. I have a container in my pantry and when I’m craving, I go grab a small handful – hopefully no more than about 8-10 of them. If I’m being good, I don’t go back to the container later in the day to have more. Right now – I’m writing this up about a week before Christmas – I’ve got Christmas cookies on hand, plus a plate full of new Christmas cookies given to me by friends, and I’ve got my favorite Bishop’s Bread that I made over Thanksgiving weekend. I’ve had a slice today, in lieu of a little mound of chocolate chips. As I write this, I’ve just made myself a second coffee latte and enjoyed the slice with it.

hazelnut_choc_torte_nuts_sidesSo, this cake. Oh my. I wish it was a purely flourless cake so I could make it for my cousin Gary, who must eat gluten-free. I suppose I could use a different cake batter to accommodate that. He loves-loves chocolate, so maybe I’ll do that for him. The cake is very light and fluffy, mostly because you separate the eggs and beat the whites and fold them into the cocoa-laden batter. The batter also has a lot of finely ground toasted hazelnut “flour” in it to give it a boost of hazelnut flavor. It’s baked in a higher-sided 8” cake pan (that you’ve buttered and dusted with cocoa powder). Once baked you allow it to cool before upending it and right side upping it again, then pouring a chocolate ganache over the top and down the sides. Meanwhile, you have slightly more chunky hazelnuts at-the-ready to gently pat onto the sides of the cake. Let it set for awhile so the ganache firms up, then slice and serve with sweetened whipped cream.

The recipe came from a cooking class with Tarla Fallgatter. You may not want to read the calorie count on this one – just know it’s a treat, and you’ll hopefully have only one slice. Make it to share with others. Then you’ll feel virtuous. Maybe.

What’s GOOD: the chocolate flavor is intense in this cake. Not for the faint of heart when it comes to the cocoa bean, for sure! It’s rich. Very filling, but oh-so-good.

What’s NOT: just the calorie and fat content, I’m afraid!

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Hazelnut Chocolate Torte (Cake)

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

CAKE:
2 3/4 cups hazelnuts — toasted, skins removed (divided use)
3/4 cup unsalted butter — melted and cooled
3/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder — plus more for dusting the pan
1/3 cup all purpose flour
6 large eggs — separated
1/2 cup light brown sugar — packed
1 pinch salt
1/2 cup sugar
GANACHE:
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate — chopped
3 ounces heavy cream
WHIPPED CREAM:
1 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

NOTE: the hazelnuts are used in the batter and also to press onto the sides, so note there are 2 quantities needed.
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter an 8-inch cake pan (with 2″ sides), dust with cocoa powder and tap out the excess.
2. Grind 1-3/4 cups of the hazelnuts in a food processor with the flour. Pour out into a bowl and set aside. Process remaining hazelnuts to a medium texture and set aside (for patting onto the sides of the cake).
3. Mix together cocoa powder and hazelnut/flour mixture. Beat egg yolks and brown sugar until very thick.
4. In another bowl whip the egg whites with a pinch of salt added until it reaches soft peaks. Add the white sugar and beat until the peaks are stiff.
5. Fold egg white mixture into the egg yolk mixture in THREE additions. Pour the reserved cocoa mixture over the egg mixture; gently fold in with rubber spatula until just combined (some streaks may show). Fold in the melted and cooled butter.
6. Pour batter into prepared pan. Smooth the top. Bake until the center comes out clean, 35-40 minutes. Transfer cake to a wire rack to cool completely. Run a knife around the outside edge and invert cake onto the wire rack, then turn over, right side up. Allow cake to cool 15-20 minutes at least.
7. Place a piece of plastic wrap or parchment underneath the wire rack (to catch drips).
8. GANACHE: Place chocolate in a small bowl. Bring cream to a boil and pour over the chocolate pieces and let stand for 5 minutes. Stir until all the chocolate has melted and mixture is smooth. Set aside until thickened to the consistency of thick cake batter, about 10-15 minutes.
9. Pour chocolate ganache over the top of the cake and use an offset spatula to gently coax the ganache barely over the edges, using spatula to spread on the sides as much as possible. If there is enough ganache make a second coat of frosting on the cake. Press the reserved hazelnuts on the sides of the cake, pressing in so the nuts will hold. Dust top of cake with a bit of cocoa powder. Serve with whipped cream.
10. WHIPPED CREAM: In a bowl combine heavy cream and sugar. Beat until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and serve on top or alongside the cake slice.
Per Serving: 1002 Calories; 91g Fat (74.9% calories from fat); 18g Protein; 50g Carbohydrate; 11g Dietary Fiber; 261mg Cholesterol; 103mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on January 8th, 2018:

    Goodness–even more than the apricot chocolate torte! Wouldn’t you think there’s be a limit to how many calories they can cram into one little cake?
    I’m with you on the Ghirardelli’s dark chocolate chips. They’ve got just the right chocolate intensity and just the right texture to satisfy my cravings.
    Meanwhile, I’ll have to look for an excuse to make this torte! Next up is my son’s birthday, but I’ve already promised him a chocolate pie.

    I was slightly astounded when I entered the recipe into MasterCook to discover the calorie count. I’m certain Tarla, the instructor, had no idea. She doesn’t use a program for recipes, and she’s as thin as a toothpick. And she does eat – obviously she has a very high metabolism. At the most recent class with her, she laughed and said she decided to make something other than chocolate. We all laughed with her because 9 times out of 10, she makes a chocolate dessert of some kind. But this one was really, really good, and something I’d make only if I had guests so they’d eat up most of it!! . . .carolyn t

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