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Currently Reading

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Just finished 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 Breads, Brunch, on December 5th, 2009.

pumpkin streusel coffeecake whole

Does that look yummy, or what? It’s so pretty. Extra flavorful. Easy to make, although you must concoct three different mixtures – the cake batter, the pumpkin and dried cranberry middle and the nut streusel for the top. They’re layered in a springform pan and that’s all there is to it.

pumpkin streusel side view

Reading Canela y Comino’s blog, she raved – with lots of superlatives – in the write-up about this coffeecake. Since pumpkin in just about anything is “my cup of tea,” there was no question I’d be making it. My DH was having his Bible study guys here, so it was a perfect occasion to make it. Festive for the holidays.

pumpkin streusel slice The cake batter is a normal type – this one contains buttermilk (I used whole-milk yogurt because that’s what I had on hand). The recipe calls for pumpkin pie spice. I don’t keep that combo in my spice pantry, so just added my own mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves, in descending quantities. If you make your own as I did, do note that there is pumpkin pie spice in both the cake batter and the streusel.

The pumpkin was Libby’s canned. And I used walnuts in the streusel, just because I didn’t have any pecans on hand.  I didn’t take photos of all the different processes (but if you go to Gretchen’s blog, she has photos of every step). The pumpkin layer, although not all that much quantity, really (it starts with a cup of canned pumpkin), does give you almost a pumpkin-pie type consistency. But it’s thin as you can see in the photo above and right. You place half the cake batter on the bottom, the pumpkin in the middle, blobs of the cake batter on top of that (which must be carefully spread out to the edges) then the nut streusel generously sprinkled on top. The recipe indicated the cake should be baked for about 60-65 minutes. I did 60, poked my cake tester in it in several places. What I didn’t do was poke the tester right in the center. Once the cake cooled, I discovered it was still doughy in the middle, so it likely should have baked another 10 minutes. The other option would be to bake this in a bundt pan for about 50-55 minutes (my guess on time).

So, if you’ve still got some pumpkin lurking in your pantry, this is a winner. Try it! Gretchen says the recipe came from a cookbook (magazine maybe?), Holiday Baking, 2009.
printer-friendly PDF

Pumpkin Coffee Cake with Pecan Streusel

Recipe By: Adapted from Holiday Baking 2009, on Canela y Comino blog
Serving Size: 12

1/3 cup flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
3 tablespoons cold butter
1/3 cup chopped pecans — [or walnuts, my alteration]
1 cup canned pumpkin
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1/2 cup unsalted butter — softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk — or sour cream, or plain yogurt

1. To prepare pecan streusel, combine flour, brown sugar and pumpkin pie spice in a medium bowl. Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles pea sized crumbs. Mix in the pecans. Reserve.
2. To prepare pumpkin filling, combine pumpkin, brown sugar, cranberries and flour in a small bowl. Reserve.
3. Preheat oven to 325F. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and pumpkin pie spice. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar until creamy. Add vanilla and then eggs one at a time, beating after each one. Add one third of the flour mixture followed by half of the buttermilk; repeat, ending with the flour mixture. Remove and reserve 1 1/2 cups of batter.
4. Pour remaining batter into a 9? springform, already prepared with cooking spray, spreading into an even layer. Spoon filling into the center of the pan, spreading to make an even layer. Carefully spoon reserved batter in small mounds on top of filling, spreading gently to cover. Sprinkle with streusel.
5. Bake at 325F for 60-70 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when tested in the center of the pan. Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then remove the sides of the springform pan. Cool completely.
Per Serving: 332 Calories; 14g Fat (37.8% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 47g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 64mg Cholesterol; 291mg Sodium.

A year ago: Panettone bread
Two years ago: Salmon with Maple Syrup and Thyme

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