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Just finished a stunning book, 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 (don’t confuse this book with the one I recently read and is reviewed below) and really liked it. 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 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.

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. 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 angry father is a wealthy and influential man in the area. 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.

 

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 13th, 2018.

sicilian_love_cake

Oh, mouth watering going on here. As I write, I have 2 pieces left over in my refrigerator. They won’t last long . . . what you see is a kind of cheese layer on the bottom, a chocolate cake in the middle, plus a “frosting” that starts with an instant chocolate pudding mix.

Now that my bible study group is back to normal weekly meetings again (after a break for Christmas), we met at my house, and that meant DESSERT. Sara (daughter) had mentioned making this cake and that her family had loved it. So I looked up the recipe, and read all kinds of different reviews of it (not everyone was successful at baking it correctly) but nearly everyone raved about how GOOD it was, plus the unusualness of it. Sure enough!

Most likely you’ll need to make a trip to the grocery store for 28 ounces of whole-milk ricotta cheese and about 14 ounces of mascarpone cheese. And perhaps a chocolate cake mix box AND a package of chocolate instant pudding.

What happens here: first you mix up a chocolate cake mix according to the box directions (eggs, oil or butter, water) and it’s poured into a 9×13 pan. Then you mix up a batch of the kind-of cheese layer consisting of mascarpone cheese, eggs, ricotta cheese, sugar and salt. Once it’s smooth and sort-of light, that gets poured all over the top of the raw cake batter in the 9×13 pan. Into the oven it goes and bakes for nearly an hour. In that time, the heavier cheese layer sinks to the bottom and the lighter chocolate cake rises to the top. Here is where the directions online (recipe comes from Valerie Bertinelli) are incorrect and so far no one at the Food Network has seen fit to correct the recipe info. The cake must bake nearly an hour to get all of it done in the middle. Mine took 60 minutes.

sicilian_love_cake_panThen the cake has to be allowed to cool completely – and I’m just telling you – it takes longer than you think. Because of the denseness of the cheese layer (the most likely reason) it took at least 1 1/2 hours for mine to cool to a bit warmer than room temp. THEN, you mix up the frosting. Which consists of a small box of chocolate instant pudding, 10 ounces of mascarpone cheese and a cup of milk. It makes a lovely spreadable consistency which you put on the top of the cake. And serve it right away. Everyone who had it that night raved about it. Me included.

It does keep – but it must be refrigerated because you’re dealing with milk and cheese products that could easily make not-nice bacteria.

VARIATIONS: So I read, this cake can be made in many flavors – you’re only limited by the types of cake-mix flavors and instant pudding flavors. So, lemon-lemon, spice-butterscotch (maybe), vanilla-vanilla. Use your imagination. But since I’m a choco-holic, this may be the only flavor combo I’ll try.

What’s GOOD: well, the flavor and texture of this cake is just so different. Good-different. Delicious! The cheesy (kind of like cheesecake) layer is smooth and tasty, the chocolate cake layer is well, like a chocolate cake, and then the frosting, which isn’t very sweet, has a lushness about it too. Altogether wonderful. Don’t let the more savory frosting lull you into thinking this is a lower calorie dessert. Nope. Very high, likely from the mascarpone and ricotta cheese. But worth it – yes, indeed. I’ll definitely make this again!

What’s NOT: only that you do have to make 3 layers of stuff, so a bit more work than just mixing up a boxed cake mix and a frosting. But I’m just sayin’ . . . it’s worth it, in my opinion.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Sicilian Love Cake (Chocolate)

Recipe By: Valerie Bertinelli
Serving Size: 12

BATTER:
1 Chocolate cake mix
MASCARPONE-RICOTTA FILLING:
4 ounces mascarpone cheese — 1/2 cup
28 ounces ricotta cheese — 3 1/2 cups (whole milk)
3 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
FROSTING:
1 1/4 cup mascarpone cheese — (10 ounces)
4 ounces chocolate pudding mix — INSTANT type
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup milk

1. Preheat the oven to according to package instructions for a 9×13” pan. Coat baking dish with canola oil or cooking spray.
2. CAKE BATTER: Prepare the batter according to box instructions. Pour the batter into the prepared dish and set aside.
3. CHEESE FILLING: Combine the mascarpone, ricotta, eggs, sugar, and salt in a bowl of a stand mixer and whisk until smooth. Gently pour the filling onto the cake batter so the top is completely white.
4. Bake cake until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean and the chocolate layer has risen to the top, about 55-60 minutes. Let the cake cool before frosting it, which may take up to 2 hours.
5. FROSTING: Just before serving, make the frosting: In a stand mixer, blend together the mascarpone, instant chocolate pudding mix, sugar and milk in a small bowl until smooth and thickened. Using an offset spatula, spread the frosting evenly all over the cake and serve. If you have leftovers, cover and refrigerate. It will keep just fine for several days.
Per Serving (doesn’t include cake mix additions): 456 Calories; 25g Fat (48.4% calories from fat); 13g Protein; 48g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 119mg Cholesterol; 395mg Sodium.

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  1. Jean

    said on January 14th, 2018:

    Oh wow! This looks and sounds delicious. My DH loves these kinds of textures, so I’ll definitely be giving this recipe a try soon.

    It’s really, really good. Am sure you’ll enjoy it . . .carolyn t

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