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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 May 4th, 2018.

spiced_cranberry_bundt_cake

Do you still have some cranberries stuck in the back of your refrigerator? Or maybe a package in the freezer. This one’s for you!

The other day I was trying to find cornichon pickles in my refrigerator. I knew I had some, but couldn’t seem to find them. People who don’t cook much don’t have that kind of problem, I’d guess, since you might be able to open the refrigerator and you can see everything in it at one glance. Not so with mine. I’ve got all kinds of stuff in mine, little jars and packages of this and that, some in little long rectangular box/trays slid onto a shelf, on rounders on the top shelf, etc. Anyway, lo and behold, I had a bag of fresh cranberries pushed up against the back wall on the bottom shelf. That package, unfortunately, had to be tossed out, but I also had a small amount of fresh cranberries in a ziploc bag in the freezer. Perfect for this cake.

spiced_cranberry_bundt_cake_wholeHaving been invited to dinner with my friends Cherrie and Bud, I was asked to bring dessert. And knowing my schedule on that date, I knew I needed to make it the day before. Whatever it was I decided to make. I scrolled through my to-try recipes and settled on this one, since cranberries were on my brain. One of my criteria was to NOT have to make a trip to the grocery store. So, this one fit the bill. I had everything, including Greek yogurt, Chinese five spice, almonds and both the frozen cranberries and dried cranberries. Zi-pi-dee-do-da. Did I spell that right? Haven’t a clue!!

spiced_cranberry_bundt_sliceThe dry ingredients are mixed up together. Easy. The butter needed to be warmed (my Dacor microwave does a stellar job of bringing chilled butter to room temp with one 10 second period, a pause to turn over the cubes, and another zap of 6 seconds, and the cubes are soft but not too soft. The batter was begun by whipping the butter (adding lots of air), then the sugars were added, eventually the eggs, yogurt, then the dry ingredients and mixed just briefly. Once that was combined, the dried cranberries and the halved frozen cranberries plus toasted almonds were added and it easily slid into the greased and floured Bundt cake pan. It baked for over an hour, cooled for an hour, then I upended it onto my wood cutting board to cool completely. I covered it in plastic wrap overnight (since I don’t have a glass dome cake cover). It was easy enough to bring along a fresh orange and I decorated the cake just before serving. I also bought some vanilla ice cream on the way to their house.

What’s GOOD: loved the Chinese five spice (it’s different because of the little amount of ground fennel and Szechuan pepper in it). It gives this cake a different flavor – but you can’t quite identify it. It was moist and sweet. Liked the use of frozen cranberries (tart) and the dried cranberries (sweet). You will want ice cream with this. I brought more than half of it home (even after sharing some with Cherrie & Bud) and it’s now in the freezer from some occasion when I need a dessert in a hurry! On the scale of heavy cake to light cake, I’d say it was about in the middle. The cake pan was heavy. Just don’t overcook it (test with a toothpick) so it doesn’t get dry.

What’s NOT: maybe that you don’t have frozen cranberries on hand. The cake was easy to make, although the ingredient list might be daunting – it’s not really that difficult.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Spiced Cranberry Bundt Cake

Recipe By: Epicurious
Serving Size: 14

2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup almond flour — or almond meal (about 2 1/2 ounces)
2 1/2 teaspoons Chinese five-spice powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup unsalted butter — (2 sticks) room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 cup light brown sugar — (packed)
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup Greek yogurt, full-fat — or 2% works too
1 cup almonds — chopped toasted
1 cup fresh cranberries — chilled, halved (or frozen cranberries, not thawed)
1/2 cup dried cranberries — chopped
1 tablespoon orange zest
2/3 cup powdered sugar
4 teaspoons orange juice — (about)

NOTES: Chinese five-spice powder is a combination of spices: make your own with 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ground cloves, 1/2 tsp fennel seed, toasted and ground, 1/2 tsp star anise, ground and 1/2 tsp szechuan peppercorns, toasted and ground.
1. CAKE: Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour 12-cup Bundt pan. Whisk first 8 ingredients in medium bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until smooth. Add both sugars and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating 1 minute after each addition. Beat in vanilla extract, then Greek yogurt. Add dry ingredients; beat just until blended. Fold in almonds and all cranberries. Transfer batter to prepared Bundt pan. Bake cake until tester inserted near center comes out clean, about 1 hour 10 minutes. Cool cake in pan 10 minutes. Turn cake out onto rack and cool completely.
2. ICING: Stir powdered sugar and 2 teaspoons orange juice in small bowl until sugar dissolves. Mix in more juice by 1/2 teaspoonfuls to reach consistency of heavy cream. Spoon icing over cake, allowing it to drip down sides. Sprinkle top with orange zest. Let stand until icing sets, at least 30 minutes. Serve with vanilla ice cream. DO AHEAD: Cake can be made 3 days ahead. Cover with cake dome and store at room temperature. Freezes well for up to a month.
Per Serving: 429 Calories; 22g Fat (45.9% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 50g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 88mg Cholesterol; 187mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on May 7th, 2018:

    The five-spice powder really makes this one interesting! I have a favorite cranberry Bundt cake, which uses whole wheat flour, but this one sounds worth a try! For me, it’s a fall or winter thing, though, so I’ll be bookmarking it for later on. I love star anise, so am sure I’ll enjoy this when the time comes!

    The cake was nice – different. It doesn’t have a really tender crumb, though, so I might tinker with the recipe to give it more tenderness. . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on May 8th, 2018:

    Interesting point. I just made a from-scratch Harvey Wallbanger cake for my son-in-law–have never had one myself, but the original calls for a cake mix and a pudding mix, as you probably know. I’m told the KAF from-scratch version was a little “denser/dryer” than the original, though still very good. I e-mailed KAF for advice on how to make it moister and lighter, and the person who replied recommended the KAF cake enhancer. I’ll have to wait for an opportunity to get some–I only order from them when there’s free shipping or a discount coupon and I can come up with enough items that I really want to meet the minimum purchase amount. She said the Instant Clear-Jel, which I was suggesting, would not work because it would “bind it too much.” Just thought I’d share that info in case it would be of interest to you.

    How interesting! I just ordered a big box from KAF a few weeks ago with items my daughter asked for – I could have so easily added in the cake enhancer. I’ve read about it in their catalog, but never felt motivated enough to order it. . . .carolyn t

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