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Am still reading The Rent Collector by Camron Wright. Oh my. This book has so many layers: (1) the young, impoverished couple and their infant son who live, literally, in a dump in Cambodia and about the precarious structure, if you can even call it that, that comprises their “house” in the midst and perched on top of trash; (2) the woman who collects the rent (hence the title and yes, people have to PAY to live there); (3) the young son’s chronic illness; (4) how they make a living out of collecting and selling trash; and (4) the life saving grace and wisdom imparted by characters in the book as the young mother begins to learn to read. If you decide to read this book, please don’t stop at about page 15-20, thinking you just don’t know if you want to read about this. Please continue. It’s so worth it. Have a highlighter pen in your hand because you’ll find so many quotes you will want to remember. Believe it or not, there is also quite a bit in this about literature.

Recently finished C.J. Box’s book The Disappeared (A Joe Pickett Novel). I just love Box’s novels. They take place in present day semi-wild west, and chronicle the fish and game warden, Joe Pickett, as he unravels another crime in his territory. A woman has disappeared, and the governor has asked him to figure it out. He does, but the tale meanders through multiple layers of intriguing story. His books are riveting. Men and women enjoy his books – so if you have a fellow in your life or family that would enjoy an intriguing book (this is not espionage) then gift him one of Box’s books.

Also finished Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. About a dysfunctional family, through and through. I picked this up from amazon from someone who read the book, named “McReader,” and she says: “Set in the 70s, the story follows a Chinese American blended family in Ohio. When Lydia [the daughter] is found floating in the lake, her family is forced to analyze what put her there. Was it pressure from her family to succeed? Was it pressure to fit in? Was it a crime of passion or convenience? I was spellbound reading the last half of this book. I loved each flawed family member, especially Hannah,. While the story went where I hoped it would go, I was not disappointed at all with the progression. It was also quite insightful on the prejudices that society had about Chinese Americans still during that timeframe and how careful parents have to be to put their dreams onto their children.” Such a good book and definitely worth reading. Would be a good book club read. You’ll be hearing more from this author. Am currently reading her next novel, Little Fires Everywhere.

The Boston Girl: A Novel by Anita Diamant. A very, very intriguing book. The book is written from the voice of a Jewish grandmother as she tells her granddaughter the saga of her life starting about 1910, who struggles with her own individuality, with her domineering mother who never says a kind word to her. It’s certainly a coming-of-age story as she grows up, finds a job, makes friends, joins a literary girls club, moves out, but still suffers under her mother’s thumb and tongue. She becomes a reporter on a local newspaper, which opens her eyes to more of the world than she ever knew. She finally meets the right man (of course!) and she shares the stories about her life, and her friends and family members as she grows up, giving some sage advice along the way. Part of the time she’s talking to herself – to her young self  (really wanting to tell young Addie to keep on, forgive herself for her perceived transgressions, to live life, and experience the world).

One of the best books I’ve read in a long time – Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. Rivers is a prodigious writer of Christian fiction, and I’d never read anything by her until now. As I write this, I’ve already read this, another one (below) and just purchased the Kindle trilogy called Mark of the Lion (Vol 1-3) that I haven’t yet started. (Two of my friends have said the trilogy is her best.) Redeeming Love details the fictional story of a godly man, Michael Hosea, forging his way in the era of the Gold Rush. He’s “driven” to rescue a beautiful prostitute who lives and works her trade in a nearby town. The entire book is about the story, the rescue, and it parallels a bit of scripture about Hosea who rescues a prostitute names Gomer. You get into the heads of both Hosea and the prostitute, named Angel. We read this for one of my book groups. A great read.

As soon as I finished the above book I promptly visited my church library and found a whole shelf of Rivers’ books, and grabbed one called The Atonement Child. This book takes place in the 1980s or 90s, about a young college student who is raped. She was engaged to be married, was a stellar student. The book chronicles what happens to her when she discovers she is pregnant from the rape. Every possible thing goes wrong in her life. I don’t want to spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it, but I couldn’t put it down. I ended up spending a good part of a day plowing through it. You hear her inner voice (I’m guessing this is a common thread in Rivers’ books) from a Christian perspective. Lots of meaty issues to discuss in a book club if your group would be interested and willing to talk about rape, abortion, adoption and the thorny issues surrounding all of those things, but with a Christian bent, for sure.

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen. It’s kind of amazing how many and varied plot lines can be created from events of WWII. This is another one, about a current day woman who finds papers in the attic, after her father’s death, with references to “the child.” She never knew her father could have had another child – could she have a step-sibling somewhere? Her father she knew, had been shot down over Italy, but he never talked much about it. But of course, she must go to Italy to find out about this “child.” The book flips back and forth from this daughter on the search, to her father during the war, all of it taking place in a very small town in Tuscany. It’s about the varied people she meets who want her to go away and not dredge up anything about the war years (are they hiding something, you question), about how much she loves the landscape, and some of the people. And about the intense love affair between the injured pilot and a caring woman of the village. Very charming story. I could almost smell the flowers, taste the olives, hear the bees flitting, and loved the prose about the simple meals that were described. I really enjoyed the book. Perhaps not enough meat for a book club read, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy reading it nonetheless.

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, on October 10th, 2010.

There’s a long, meandering story to tell about this recipe. When we were in Britain in August we stayed in Wales for several days. And after a really interesting (and different) Welsh dinner at a pub one night, the chef served us a few Welsh cakes. Having never had them before (or ever heard of them) I was intrigued. He brought us four. We ate two and took the other two with us, which we enjoyed the next day. I almost always keep a small plastic bag in my purse. You just never know when you might need one. It was perfect for my little stash of Welsh Cakes. (And say, speaking of what kind of stuff women keep in their handbags – did any of you watch Nate Berkus on his new TV show, where he wanted to know what women keep in their purses – why we feel naked without one – and one audience member he interviewed actually pulled out a black bra from hers? THAT was weird!)

Traditionally, I’d guess a Welshman would not eat a Welsh Cake after dinner. And why the chef did for us, I’m not sure, except that he made us a typical Welsh meal. They’re more like a little treat to have with a cup of tea or coffee. Probably eaten mid-morning or mid-afternoon. The dessert I ordered, banofee pie – oh so good – was delicious, but it’s not Welsh particularly. So I guess he wanted us to end our meal on a Welsh high note.

We tasted them, and I fell in love with them. Being a scone aficionado, I quizzed our waitress about them. How were they made, I asked? In a dry skillet – cast iron preferred, she said. They were just lightly sweet, with a little sprinkling of sugar on the top of each one. They were warm, light and scrumptious. Right then and there I determined I’d learn how to make them once I got home. As we left the pub that evening the chef scribbled out his recipe and handed it to me. Comparing it in my mind with scones, I didn’t see any liquid on the list. I asked him about milk or cream, and he said no, the butter was sufficient. His instructions were so succinct as to be non-existent, so I figured I’d best figure it out later. I didn’t think any more about it then.

Within 24 hours of our arrival home I was searching my cookbooks (first I went to my EYB site – and yes, EYB told me I owned one cookbook with a recipe – and if you don’t know EYB, you can read my post about it). I went online and found several recipes too – many of them  identical. I made a kind of Welsh Cake spreadsheet, so to speak, of the different ingredients from all the recipes I found. Some had more butter (in proportion to flour) than others. Some had spices (like mace, nutmeg, cinnamon, or “mixed spice,” which is a combination jar sold in Britain). Some called for cream or milk. But every recipe called for an egg. Except the chef’s. Here’s the chef’s entire recipe: 5 ounces butter, 10 ounces self-raising flour, 3 ounces caster sugar, 1 pinch mixed spice, 4 ounces currants or raisins. 1/2 hour fridge, griddle no oil. Isn’t that a kick? That was it. He was doing it from memory as he scribbled onto a tiny piece of paper, and I think he must have forgotten the EGG.

SO, the next day I decided to try one of the recipes (not the chef’s) that included an egg and I’d see where it led me. I was pleased with the taste, but I followed a method that said to pat out the rounds by hand. I knew the chef’s had been much more structured, more precise than that. I didn’t know what temperature to cook them, either, although I quickly determined that using my nonstick electric skillet would be the best choice. I have an cast iron skillet, but the electric skillet would be more heat-consistent. I watched a precious video online of a dear, little Welsh grandmother named Betty making Welsh Cakes for her grandchildren. I didn’t try her recipe, but I watched the technique carefully. So next I tried the chef’s recipe – and decided with the quantity of flour  – that I should add two eggs. Mistake. Probably one would have been sufficient. But I didn’t think they were quite right, either, although I did use my rolling pin and got perfect rounds. And incidentally, my friend Marie, who writes A Year From Oak Cottage has a recipe on her other blog, about Welsh Cakes. Hers calls for lard, though. Take a look if you’re interested.

Now we fast-forward a couple or three weeks. I wasn’t sure which recipe I’d try next. Coincidentally, I’d had a couple of email exchanges with one of my readers, Toni-Anne, who lives in England (we’ve been emailing occasionally for the last couple of years). Just on chance I asked her whether she knew Welsh Cakes. Well, yes, indeed she did. She was raised in Wales, and recalled her mother making them often. Sadly, Toni-Anne’s mother died when she was 10, and she doesn’t have her mum’s recipe. Toni-Anne said she’d see what she could do, though.

A few days went by and then I got another message from Toni-Anne. She’d remembered that in the early 80’s she’d spent a few weeks in North Carolina and she’d made Welsh Cakes while she was there. North Carolina, I thought? From a magazine recipe, she said. And would you believe it? She still had the recipe. And the magazine! From the December, 1981 Redbook. The Welsh Cakes were credited to a woman named Blodwyn Lewis. Blodwyn? Yup. Blodwyn, a very Welsh name, I’ve learned.

Promptly, I made this recipe, and am so happy to say that this will be my go-to recipe for Welsh Cakes, thank you very much! I did make one change – I used cream instead of milk, but either will work. And I used my food processor to cut in the butter. They taste very similar to my buttermilk scones, but these have no buttermilk in them. I’ll have to make an ingredient by ingredient comparison of the two. Or maybe I’ll have to try my scone recipe cooked on a griddle. Maybe later. For now I’m sticking with this recipe. So here, my friends, is the Redbook magazine Welsh Cake recipe, from 1981, thanks to Toni-Anne and her amazing archives! Thank you, cyber-friend!

printer-friendly PDF

Welsh Cakes

Recipe By: Adapted from Redbook Magazine, December, 1981 (a recipe from Blodwyn Lewis) via one of my readers, Toni-Anne, who lives in Buckinghamshire
Serving Size: 13
NOTES: If you only get 10-11 Welsh cakes, you may have made them thicker than mine, so they’ll take another minute or so per side. You’ll get the hang of it after you’ve done one batch of these. You can also add in a pinch of mixed spices (mace, cinnamon and nutmeg) if you’d like.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup butter — cold, diced
1/2 cup golden raisins — or currants
1 large egg
1/3 cup heavy cream — or more if needed (or milk)
About 1/4 cup flour to sprinkle on the work surface
About 2 T. granulated sugar for sprinkling on top

1. In the bowl of a food processor combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Pulse a few times to mix and lighten the mixture.
2. Add the cold, cubed butter and pulse until the mixture is coarse crumbs, with some small pieces of butter still visible.
3. Pour this mixture out into a medium-sized bowl. Add raisins and mix gently.
3. Whisk the egg, stir in the heavy cream and add to the flour mixture. Using a wooden spoon, stir to combine and if needed, add more liquid (a teaspoon at a time) until the mixture will come together into a ball.
4. Gently pat the dough into a large oval, then use a rolling pin to roll it out flat, using as few strokes as possible. The less you handle the dough the more light the cakes will be. Roll the dough until it’s about 1/4 to 3/8 inch thick and use a 3-inch cookie or biscuit cutter to make uniform pieces.
5. Meanwhile, preheat an electric skillet (or a flat griddle on your stove) to 350°. Place the cakes on the hot pan and leave them alone for about 3-4 minutes, depending on the temperature, until one side is golden brown. Gently turn them over and continue cooking on the second side for another 3-4 minutes. Break one in half to make sure they’re done in the middle.
6. Remove to a cooling rack and sprinkle a little pinch of granulated sugar on the top of each Welsh cake. Serve immediately, or cool and freeze. Ideally, serve them just barely warm. I make them ahead and when I’m ready to serve I slip them back into the electric skillet for about one minute, lid on, just to barely heat them through. They require no adornment (no butter or jam needed).
Per Serving: 209 Calories; 10g Fat (42.2% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 28g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 44mg Cholesterol; 238mg Sodium.

A year ago: Olive Oil Orange Madeleines
Three years ago: Anise Pound Cake

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  1. Jane

    said on October 11th, 2010:

    Thanks for the recipe!!! Love it

  2. hddonna

    said on October 11th, 2010:

    You really did your homework on these! I made some once, two or three years ago, and thought they were yummy. I can’t remember where I got the recipe, though–perhaps in a little Welsh and Irish recipe booklet I have. I’ll try your recipe one of these days. What a lovely little treat for afternoon tea. Thanks for reminding me!

    I can’t wait to make these again, but I need some kind of occasion to do so. Making 13 of these, I’d eat 12 of them and that’s NOT what I should do! Do try them – they’re outstanding! . . . carolyn t

  3. Toffeeapple

    said on October 28th, 2010:

    You made them! Don’t they look good? They look exactly like those that my Mother used to make, well done Carolyn; I’m glad you got there in the end.

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