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Just finished 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 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 parents were 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 a old 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.

Winter Journey by Diane Armstrong. Have you ever read about forensic dentistry? I sure had not, so I found it fascinating reading. It’s a debut novel for the author, and what a story. Halina, an Australian, with Polish roots, specializes in this obscure profession as a forensic dentist, and is asked to go to Poland, to help identify bone (and tooth) fragments, to put to rest a sad event in the story of this small town, when many, many people (Jews) were murdered. Was it the Nazis? Or was it the local townspeople who disliked the Jews. What a tangled web of intrigue, including Halina’s own mysterious past. I really enjoyed the read. The author does a great job of developing the characters (which I always like). This is no light read if you consider the subject matter, although it IS a novel (but based on fact). Nor is it a spy thriller – it’s more just an historical novel with lots of interesting people throughout. There’s a romance thrown in too, and a whole lot of angst about the discoveries found in the mass grave. But, the subject expanded my knowledge about forensics.

The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr. I just LOVED this book. I’ve never been much of a fan of Caravaggio’s paintings, although I’ve seen plenty of them (many are extremely large) in museums around the world. His paintings were dark, often with dark subjects. But as with many of the old masters, occasionally some obscure work surfaces, perhaps credited to another artist, even, that turns out to be one done by “the” master. In this case, Caravaggio. Although this book is written as a novel (with dialogue, etc.) it’s historical through and through. It begins with two young women art scholars, in Italy, who are asked to do a research project. One thing leads to another, and to another. All true.  If you enjoy books about art – I learned some things about the paint and the canvases of the time – you’ll be intrigued as I was.

Eye On the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press, by James, McGrath Morris. Each year my AAUW book club reads something related to Black History Month. This is a biography of a woman you’ve probably never heard of, Ethel Payne, and about her life-long journey in journalism, struggling to keep her head above water financially, but staying true to her purposes of telling the truth about the black stories and black racism of the day. Sometimes biographies aren’t all that riveting, but I found this one to be so, and I savored each new chapter. We had a really good discussion of the book, and the ups and downs of Payne’s life, especially during her years as a Washington reporter. You’ll not be sorry to have spent the time reading this book. It’s well-written, as well. I was thrilled when the author, Morris, left a message here on my blog, thanking me (and my group) for reading his book.

H Is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald. This one has been on the best seller list. It’s a memoir about a woman who takes on a personal challenge of taming a wild hawk. Prior to reading this book, I knew next to nothing about the entire subject of hawking, or taming any of the big, wild birds. The book is equally about the writer’s inner journey. She’s a consummate writer, and every page was a joy of words, for me. My only problem is my own – I found it hard, the more time that went by, and the more time the writer spent trying to tame this bird, to scream out “let the bird go.” Perhaps it’s because I spent time in Africa in 2015, seeing animals in the wild, that I felt more for the bird than I did with the writer’s discontent with herself and the taming process. Little did I know what a hard job it is to tame a hawk. I actually didn’t finish the book. It was a book club read, and highly recommended by several of our members. And I ended up not being able to attend the meeting as I had a cold. So perhaps there is some great ending to it that would have made me feel better. I haven’t gone to the end to find out. I just had to stop reading it. But I’m not NOT recommending it. If nothing else, read it for Macdonald’s sublime proficiency with words.

Also read George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, by Brian Kilmeade and Dan Yaeger. Here’s what it says on amazon: When George Washington beat a hasty retreat from New York City in August 1776, many thought the American Revolution might soon be over. Instead, Washington rallied—thanks in large part to a little-known, top-secret group called the Culper Spy Ring. He realized that he couldn’t defeat the British with military might, so he recruited a sophisticated and deeply secretive intelligence network to infiltrate New York. I won’t exactly call this book a riveting read, but it was interesting. Relating facts that few people knew about, this Culper Spy Ring. It’s a little chunk of American history researched in depth by the authors. An interesting read.

Also read The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel by Nina George. If you’re an avid reader, you probably have the same kind of longing as I do for a quaint, independently owned bookstore right around the corner. So few exist anymore. This novel is about a very unusual book store, and book store owner. In Paris. On a boat/barge. It’s not a typical book store, and the writer takes you on a journey of discovery about (likely) her own lifetime of book reading. You’ll learn all about a variety of existing books and why they’re a good read. But it’s all cloaked in a story about this book store and the owner. And the customers. Very fun. I’m reviewing it for one of my book clubs next month.

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 June 17th, 2007.

When I was in Berkeley 2 weeks ago Cherrie and I went on a tour of the Scharffen Berger chocolate factory. It was just a few blocks from our hotel near the waterfront and my GPS drove us right to the door in the industrial section of town. The factory itself was a big surprise – it’s quite small. Having once visited the Nestle plant in Pennsylvania, I was expecting something dramatic, especially with the panache garnered by the Scharffen Berger line.

As I think I explained before, John Scharffenberger (spelling intentional) came to some reknown as a winemaker. After a couple of decades producing some very fine sparkling wine (a favorite of mine, his to be specific), he sold the business. Then he was approached by Robert Steinberg, a friend, and now his partner in Scharffen Berger, and they decided to start a chocolate manufacturing company, but only producing a high quality – European style – product. They purchased European, i.e. old, equipment. They wanted to capitalize on the known Scharffenberger name, but John had sold the rights to it with the winery. So, they merely added a space between the n and the b and made it into Scharffen Berger. It wasn’t quite building a business in a garage, but close to it.

They don’t make chocolate every day. Although likely some pieces of equipment are running most days. The roaster (the red thing right) was in a separate room (warm and if running, very noisy). The building probably isn’t 300 feet long and about 200 feet wide, and not only housed the factory floor, but offices, a restaurant and a store. Did I spend money in there? Well, to be sure. Did we taste chocolate? Oh yes, indeed. Probably the most important thing I learned there was about how to eat a piece of chocolate: put it into your mouth, hold it on the middle of your tongue, up against the roof of your mouth, and allow it to completely melt on your tongue. Don’t chew. Don’t move it around. You’ll savor the flavors far better, and it’ll last longer besides. Kind of like how you taste wine.

To the left is the photo of the cocoa bean crusher. A huge cauldron – I mean huge – of swirling, melting chocolate and the crusher rolling around in the middle. So, it was on a blog a few months ago that I read about a recipe in the new cookbook published by the Scharffen Berger partners, The Essence of Chocolate. Liking chocolate as I do, I made it and oh – my – goodness.
What flavor. Not all that difficult. I like bundt cakes, and this one doesn’t require anything but the cake itself. It does have a caramel sauce that is poured over the hot-out-of-the-oven cake, but otherwise, nothing else. No garnishes, although you could serve with a bit of vanilla ice cream. It’s rich enough, however, as it is. I will include the nutritional information about the cake, but for heaven’s sake, whatever you do, don’t read it. I’m going to put it in the smallest type available on this blog.
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Banana Caramel (Chocolate) Cake with Caramel Sauce

Recipe: Essence of Chocolate by Robert Steinberg and John Scharffenberger.
Serving: 12 – I think it will serve at least 16
Note from Carolyn: I think the caramel is too thick – it doesn’t drip down into the cake like I think it should, so I’ve been adding more milk to the sauce so it’s thinner.

CAKE:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
3 large eggs
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cup chopped pecans
3 ounces chocolate — broken into small pieces (size of chips)
3 whole bananas — diced
CARAMEL:
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 tbsp. whole milk
4 tbsp. unsalted butter — cut into pieces

1. Butter and flour a tube pan or a bundt pan that can hold 12 cups. Preheat the oven to 350°.
2. Sift together the dry ingredients (flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, salt and baking soda).
3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the eggs, oil and sugar. With the paddle attachment, mix on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure that the sugar has been incorporated. Add the vanilla extract and mix for another 30 seconds. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients a bit at a time. Scrape down the sides of the bowl every now and then to ensure everything is incorporated. Once the dry ingredients have been added, remove the bowl from the stand mixer and add the pecans, chocolate and bananas. Gently fold them in with a spatula or a wooden spoon. Don’t over mix.
4. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 50 minutes and then test the cake to see if it’s done by poking a toothpick or cake tester into the center of the cake. If it comes out clean, it’s done. If not, bake the cake for another 5 to 10 minutes. In my oven, this cake took 55 minutes.
5. About 5 to 10 minutes before the cake is done, make the caramel by combining all the ingredients in a small pan. Bring to the boil and stir occasionally to ensure that it doesn’t burn. Let it boil for about 5 minutes and then turn off the heat. The caramel needs to be thin, so add more milk if needed. Once the cake is out of the oven, poke holes all over the cake with a skewer. Immediately pour the caramel over the cake, stopping every now and then to let the caramel sink in. If the caramel pools in spots, poke more holes to allow it to sink in. Gently push cake away from sides to add more caramel.
6. Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack. Once it’s cool, loosen the cake from the sides of the pan and then unmold it onto a plate. If most of the caramel pooled on the top (in the pan) you may want to turn the cake back over so the wide side is on top.
Per Serving: 595 Calories; 36g Fat (52.7% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 67g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 64mg Cholesterol; 308mg Sodium.

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  1. Kit Oliveira

    said on June 17th, 2008:

    Hi Carolyn,
    I made this banana carmel chocolate cake for our June garden club meeting. It was very, very popular. People were going back for seconds. I barely had a piece to bring home to Stan.
    Kit

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