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Just finished a quirky book, Goodbye, Vitamin: A Novel by Rachel Khong. She’s a new writer (newly published, I guess I should say) and this story is about Ruth, a 30+ something, trying to readjust to life without her fiance, who’s dumped her. She goes back home to help with the care of her father, who has Alzheimer’s. Written in a diary style, it jumps all over about her life, her mother, the funny, poignant things her father says on good days, and the nutty stuff he does on not-so-good days, her ex-, and her very quirky friends, too. Then a woman flits through who had had an affair with her father –  you get to observe all the angst from the mom about that. Mostly it’s about her father, as he’s relatively “together” early in the book, but then he disintegrates. Reading that part isn’t fun, although the author is able to lean some humor into it. I’m not sure I recommend the book exactly – I read it through – and felt sad. It doesn’t tie up loose ends – if you want that kind of book – you may not want to read this one.

Also finished Julian Fellowes’s Belgravia. You know Julian Fellowes, the producer and writer of Downton Abbey? He lends his mind to a story about a family or two from the similar time period as Downton, who live in London. There’s some amount of intrigue, romance, observations from within the halls of wealthy Londoners and moderately well off tradesmen and their families. There’s affairs, shady business dealings, an illegitimate child, the comings and goings of the “downstairs” staff too, etc. The characters were well done – I had no trouble keeping all of the people identified. The story is somewhat predictable, but it was interesting clear up to the end.

The Letter by Kathyrn Hughes. It’s a very intricate tale. At first it’s about Tina, a battered wife [at which point I paused and wondered if I wanted to read any further, but I’m glad I did]. She tries to get the courage to leave her husband. Then enters the letter she finds in a suit pocket in the thrift shop where she volunteers. It’s old – sealed and stamped, but never mailed. Then you learn about Crissie, decades earlier, a young pregnant girl who is sent off to Ireland to a distant relative by her father, then to a rigid (meaning horrible) convent [the book takes place mostly in Manchester, England and in rural Ireland]. The letter is addressed to her. Jump forward decades and William, the adopted child Crissie gave up, tries to find his birth mother. William meets Tina in Ireland [a serendipitous moment] as she’s trying to find the woman to whom the letter is addressed. This book is the #2 best seller on Amazon at the moment. It’s a riveting tale and I really enjoyed it.

The Muralist: A Novel by Shapiro. It tells the story of a young woman, an artist, who was part of the U.S.’s WPA mural project from the 1930s-40s (she is fiction, the WPA is not). As with so many artists, even today, they live in abject poverty through much of their lives. This woman, though, had family in France, desperately trying to escape before Hitler’s henchmen rousted them into concentration camps. The story, a bit of a mystery but not of the mystery-genre, is about Alizée Benoit, this young painter, who slightly captivates Eleanor Roosevelt’s help. It also skips into current time when the painter’s great-niece uncovers paintings she believes were painted by her aunt. The painter had disappeared into thin air in 1940, and her relative tries desperately to find out what happened to her. It’s a really good story including such Abstract Expressionist painters as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner well-woven into the narrative. It keeps you guessing right up to the end. A good read. The author also wrote The Art Forger: A Novel a few years ago.

Also recently read News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a free-lance job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her family was killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of an old (wild) west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many. Just read this one first!

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 March 25th, 2008.

applesauce spice cake caramel icing
My mother used to make a simple applesauce spice cake, so when I ran across this recipe (from Gourmet, December, 2005) it took me back to my childhood. Reminded me of coming home from school and the house would be perfumed with spices. Those apple-pie kind of spices. I don’t have my mother’s recipe, so this offered an opportunity to try a similar one. I think my mother used to add chopped apples and raisins to hers. They would be an easy addition, even to this recipe.

This is a simple cake to make, including the frosting. Once you get all the ingredients together in one place, it’s quite simple to mix up and pour into a greased springform pan to bake. Once the cake is cool, it’s frosted with an easy cooked frosting flavored with rum. The cake has a couple of teaspoons of rum in it too (you could easily use rum flavoring instead). If you go onto epicurious, you can read reviews of the cake. By and large, everyone who made it enjoyed it. A couple of cooks thought it needed more spices, and a couple of people thought the frosting was too thin, so I added a bit more powdered sugar than was called for. You pour the frosting all over the cake and let it drip down the sides.

My family went absolutely nutso over this recipe. I believe more than one piece was consumed the next day with breakfast (ah, I am guilty, your honor). It was that good. But, having read some of the reviews on epicurious, my supposition is that the frosting makes the cake. It’s not a normal frosting – but kind of a cross between a frosting and a caramel sauce. And maybe it’s the turbinado sugar too that makes such a difference too, although turbinado can be interchanged with brown sugar.
printer-friendly PDF
Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook14 (click link to open in MC)

Applesauce Spice Cake with Caramel Icing

Recipe By: Gourmet, December 2005
Serving Size: 10
Cook’s Notes: use your own choice of spices, but what’s in the recipe gives the cake a pleasant, light spicy flavor. Add more if you like a highly spiced cake. The recipe calls for turbinado sugar (which I had), but you can substitute brown sugar. I added about a tablespoon more powdered sugar to the icing.

CAKE:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg — freshly grated, if possible
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup turbinado sugar [or brown sugar]
1 stick unsalted butter — (1/2 cup) softened
2 teaspoons light rum
1 large egg
1 cup unsweetened applesauce — plus 1 tablespoon
ICING:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup turbinado sugar [or brown sugar]
6 tablespoons evaporated milk — canned
1 teaspoon light rum
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup powdered sugar + 1 tablespoon

1. CAKE: Place oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 10-inch springform pan and set aside. Whisk together flour, baking soda, spices, and salt in a bowl.
2. Beat together sugar, butter, and rum with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until combined well, then add egg and beat until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes with a stand mixer or 5 to 6 minutes with a hand held. Reduce speed to low and add dry ingredients, mixing until combined well. Add applesauce and mix until combined well. Spread batter evenly in springform pan and bake until a wooden pick or skewer comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Start testing the cake at 25 minutes so you make sure you don’t over bake it.
3. Cool cake in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then remove side of pan and cool completely.
4. ICING: Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a 1 1/2- to 2-quart heavy saucepan, then add sugar and evaporated milk and simmer, stirring constantly until sugar is dissolved, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in rum, vanilla, salt, and remaining tablespoon butter, then whisk in confectioners sugar 1 tablespoon at a time. Cool to warm, about 20 minutes, then spread over cooled cake.
Per Serving: 374 Calories; 14g Fat (33.4% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 60g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 58mg Cholesterol; 226mg Sodium.

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  1. Balisha

    said on September 25th, 2008:

    Hi,
    My first time here. My Grandma always brought her Christmas Cake to our house to share.This is the same recipe. Hers was an old recipe and called for brown sugar. People used to say, “CAKE who has cake for Christmas” Then they tasted it…it’s wonderful. Thanks for the memories.

    Hi Balisha – I can’t seem to get enough of this cake – it just has the most addictive flavor. I think the brown sugar does make a huge difference. Glad you were able to rekindle those memories of times past. . . Carolyn

  2. yvette

    said on April 17th, 2010:

    We made this cake this afternoon and we loved it.It was
    so tasty! We used a bundt pan. This does belong on your “Favorites List”. We both agreed that we will make this again. Loved all of the spices
    in the cake.

    Yvette and Linda
    Your Villa Pals

  3. Sean

    said on February 25th, 2011:

    Thanks for the recipe. Gonna try this at the weekend

    Looks delicious

    It IS good – one of our family favorites. . .carolyn t

  4. Joan Landers

    said on February 19th, 2012:

    I made this cake yesterday and it was a hit! So moist and the frosting is delicious. Think I’ll make it for a family birthday celebration that’s coming up next month. I’m sure it will be a regular favorite at our house. Thanks for sharing. Joan

    THANK YOU, Joan. It’s a favorite at my house too, although Dave doesn’t eat it so I only make it for family or guests. . . carolyn t

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