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Since I’m a fan of Ann Patchett, it’s no surprise that I wanted to buy her most recent book, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage. It’s a book of short stories, but not fictional ones – it’s a compilation of essays and articles she’s written over the course of her writing life. My favorite is the one in which she describes in intimate detail how she goes about writing a book. About the process, her thinking, and the the hard, hard work it entails. I loved every one of the stories. She is quite self-deprecating about the book – it likely wasn’t her idea to put it together as she never thought any of her essays were worth much. She wrote them to make a living. Each of the chapters (essays) has been updated and/or addended to, so she did have to put some spit and polish on all of them before sending this group to the publisher. She’s written essays for a very esoteric group of publications; some I’d never heard of. But I enjoyed the book from beginning to end.

Also just finished reading The Invention of Wings: A Novel by Sue Monk Kidd. What a story. Sometimes it’s a good thing to read the author’s notes before you read a book. I guess I’m glad I didn’t (in this case the notes were at the end of the book) because it was then, afterwards, that I read that one of the characters in this novel is fictional; the other two (sisters) were real. There’s a bit about the Quaker religion in this book too, which was different. This is a slavery story and about the beginnings of the abolitionist movement. Interwoven between the 2 sisters who make waves about anti-slavery is the poignant story of one particular slave and her hard, hard life. It’s heartbreaking in many respects, not just because of the violence and abuse heaped upon her. The book is almost a page-turner. Very glad I read it.

Also read The Four Seasons: A Novel of Vivaldi’s Venice by Laurel Corona. It was recommended to me by a friend, and I enjoyed it a lot. It has a rather unusual story line, all envisioned by the author from reading a tiny line of elaborate script from a journal at what remains of a foundling hospital (run mostly like a convent by Catholic nuns) in Venice. It said something like Antonio Vivaldi purchased “a bow for Maddalena Rossa.” That started the author’s novel journey. Two sisters are raised at the Ospedale della Pieta. One becomes famous for her violin skills; the other for her voice. One is married “out” and the other stays cloistered her entire life. Then you throw Vivaldi himself into the mix, as he really was paid by the Ospedale for his compositions and for teaching some of the residents to play instruments. It’s an enlightening story about Vivaldi himself (a priest, with a lot of questions about his piety). It takes place in the early 1700s. Fascinating story and I want to listen again in total to Vivaldi’s very famous work, The Four Seasons, as a result of reading this. I’ve heard it many times before, but it will have new meaning now.

Also read The Time In Between: A Novel by Maria Duenas (translated). Apparently this book has been a runaway best seller in Europe as it deals with a little known, or I should say a part of WWII that you’ve probably never read about – Spain. The heroine is a Madrid seamstress, but is seduced by a young man to go to Morocco. She knows no one and is left high and dry when the lover disappears. She finds her way, makes friends, begins sewing couturier clothing in Morocco. The Spanish Revolution intervenes and merges into WWII. She becomes a spy of sorts (in Madrid) because she is coveted as a seamstress to the Nazi wives of Madrid. It’s a page-turner and informative. Good read.

IN THE POWDER ROOM: Our guest half-bath has a little tiny table with a pile of books that I change every now and then. They’re books that might pique someone’s interest even if for a very short read. The Art of Travel, a collection of essays about traveling (it’s not a how-to), gathering a variety of stories of some historic authors and where and why they traveled; The Greatest Stories Never Told; and Sara Midda’s South of France; also Forgotten Bookmarks: A Bookseller’s Collection of Odd Things Lost Between the Pages (just the cutest book – with a miscellany of things – letters, grocery lists, notes, reminders, confessions the author discovered hidden inside the books he purchased for his used bookstore); and The Trouble with Poetry (Billy Collins).

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small engraved sterling silver tea spoons that I use to taste as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Desserts, on May 20th, 2010.

With friends coming over for a Scrabble-fest, I needed a morning kind of bread. I had mis-filed this recipe in the “bread” section. It was only after I’d gathered all the ingredients together that I read – oh, this is actually a dessert, even though it says corn bread. But, well, maybe it would be okay anyway, I hoped. And yes, it was! Clearly, it is a dessert – it’s sweet (although it’s certainly not as sweet as I’d anticipated) and crunchy from the cornmeal. It was very easy to make.

I’d read the recipe over on FoodGal’s blog last year. It’s from Sherry Yard’s cookbook Desserts by the Yard: From Brooklyn to Beverly Hills: Recipes from the Sweetest Life Ever (she of Spago pastry chef fame). Food Gal absolutely raved about this recipe, calling it a star, and billed it as an academy-award winning corn bread [dessert]. With those words, I knew I had to try it sometime. Making the bread/cake itself was fairly ordinary (although there is more sugar than in a bread, of course). Once out of the oven, though, the cake is brushed with a honey-water-butter mixture that sinks into the holes you’ve made all over the top of the cake. You can barely see in the photo above the honey mixture as it sunk part-way down. I topped it with some powdered sugar; just because. I didn’t want my guests to be confused this was a bread. Results? It was very good. And I liked it because it wasn’t as sweet as some corn cakes could have been!
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Honey-Glazed Spago Corn Bread (Cake)

Recipe By: From “Desserts By the Yard” by Sherry Yard, via Foodgal blog 7/09
Serving Size: 12

CAKE:
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cake flour
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 large eggs — at room temperature
3 ounces unsalted butter — (3/4 stick)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup milk
1/2 cup buttermilk
GLAZE:
3 ounces unsalted butter — (3/4 stick)
1/4 cup honey
1/3 cup water

1. Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9-by13-inch baking pan with aluminum foil and spray foil with baker’s spray.
2. Sift together cornmeal, all-purpose flour, cake flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt 2 times. Set aside.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs. Melt butter and immediately whisk into eggs in a slow stream. Whisk in oil, milk, and buttermilk. Whisk in dry ingredients just until combined.
4. Scrape batter into the pan and bake for 30 minutes. Rotate pan from front to back and continue to bake for 10 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
5. To make the glaze: While corn bread is baking, melt butter in a medium saucepan. Add honey and water, and whisk until blended.
6. When corn bread is done, remove from oven and poke holes all over the bread, about 1/2 inch apart, with a toothpick. Brush with the glaze and allow to cool.
Per Serving: 372 Calories; 20g Fat (48.4% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 43g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 105mg Cholesterol; 557mg Sodium.

A year ago: Stewed Eggplant and Tomatoes
Two years ago: Almond Pound Cake with Limoncello
Three years ago: Mister Charlie (casserole)

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  1. Carolyn Jung

    said on April 20th, 2011:

    Glad you loved this recipe as much as I did. The powdered sugar is an inspired touch, too. You remind me that I need to make another batch of this soon to satisfy my craving. ;)

    Yes, indeed, we liked them a lot. Thanks for visiting my blog . . . carolyn t

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