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Just finished reading 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 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 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.
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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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