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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 aging 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, wealthy women) 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.

I’ve written up an entire blog post about this book. (It hasn’t been posted yet, but will soon.) It may be one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a memoir by Pat Conroy (an author I’ve long admired). He died a year or so ago – sad, that. In order to get the most out of My Reading Life, I recommend you BUY THE HARDBACK. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s an autobiography of sorts, but not really. He never wrote one, I don’t think, and I doubt he would ever have written one as he likely didn’t believe anyone would want to read about his (sad) life. In this memoir, he chronicles the books (and the people who recommended them) that influenced his life. Starting at his mother’s knees and continuing through influential teachers and mentors and friends. One of my book clubs read it, and I devoured it, cover to cover, with little plastic flags inserted all the way through to re-read some of the prose. Pat Conroy was a fabulous writer – he studied words from a young age and used them widely and wisely throughout his writing, but better than most authors would. He adored his mother, and hated (with venom) his aviator military father who physically abused everyone in the family, including his mother. They all took it like stoic Buddhas. I’m going to have to read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel because of reading this book. I’ve never read it. Conroy says that book’s first page is the best first page of any book he ever read in his life. Wow. And maybe my book group is going to re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Vintage Classics) too because of the chapter on that book. We might have to assign that to a 2-month or longer read. If you have friends or family who are avid readers, this would make a great gift, this book, My Reading Life. If YOU are a reader, it needs to be on your bookshelf, but in hardback, so you can go back to it and re-read his stories. It’s a series of essays, each one about a sub-section of his life. A must-have and a must-read.

Also read The Towers of Tuscany by Carol Cram. It was a bargain book through amazon or bookbub (e-book). Back in the Middle Ages women were forbidden to be artists. Their only place was in the home, caring for children and sewing and cooking. But the heroine in this book was taught to paint by her widowed artist-father (in secret, of course). When her father suddenly dies, all hell breaks loose and she must fend for herself. Much of the book takes place in Siena (and also San Gimignano) as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

 

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 January 10th, 2011.

ginger_apple_cake_whole

Was this cake ever delicious! We had a nice family gathering on New Years’ Day, so I whipped up this cake periodically watching the Rose Parade on TV that morning while the house was quiet. I think everyone at the dinner table had something great to say about it. Exceedingly flavorful, spicy, moist . . . all the superlatives you’d want to hear about a cake. It’s kind of a combination gingerbread and apple cake. Very moist. And full of those heart-warming gather-‘round-the-fire kind of spices.

Having read about it over at Food 52, the blog written by Amanda Hesser (she’s the Food Editor of the N.Y. Times) and Merrill Stubbs (a NYC food journalist), I knew I needed to try this cake. It was in early November when the gals at Food 52 had a contest for the best non-pie Thanksgiving dessert, and this one won, submitted by a reader named Dr. Babs. It’s been a huge hit by the number and variety of comments submitted about this one recipe.

Now, as cakes go, this one does take a bit more work than some (because you must make the apple mixture separately) but the cake itself is . . . is, really, just a nice, moist and flavorful spice cake. It does have a grand list of ingredients including Greek yogurt, dark rum, molasses, fresh ginger and turbinado sugar. If you have allergies, you might go to the Food 52 blog write-up and read about all the different substitutions other bakers made to adapt this cake, even one that was gluten-free. You can substitute milk for the rum (and add some rum extract) if you don’t want alcohol in it.

ginger_apple_cake_cutThe cake is made in a springform pan (buttered) and you scoop in half the cake batter, then add the cooked apple mixture, then the remaining cake batter on top. Add walnut halves on the top and sprinkle generously with turbinado sugar and into the oven it goes. Nothing more required. We enjoyed it with vanilla ice cream, but whipped cream (very lightly sweetened, Dr. Babs suggests) would work equally well.

May I just suggest, whatever you do, make this cake. It’s really worth every ounce of work, and I guarantee you’ll hear lots of raves at your table! And if the comments left on the website are any indication, most people who had any leftovers, ate it for breakfast. As I’m writing this, the cake is all gone. I’m sad. I may just have to make another one. Soon.

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Ginger Apple Cake Torte

Recipe By: Food 52 blog (Amanda Hesser & Merrill Stubbs), but it was a reader submission from Dr.Babs
Serving Size: 10

3 large apples — Honeycrisp and Fuji, but use any good crisp eating apple
1/2 cup unsalted butter — (1 stick) + 1 T more to grease the pan
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 cups brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh ginger — (about a 2 inch piece, peeled and grated with a microplane grater)
1 tablespoon molasses
3 tablespoons dark rum — [or substitute milk; then add rum extract instead]
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup low fat Greek yogurt — full fat or low fat, plain, not flavored
3 tablespoons walnut halves — (about 10-12 halves)
4 tablespoons turbinado sugar — divided

1. Preheat oven to 350. Butter a 9” springform pan. If you are concerned about your springform pan leaking, wrap the bottom with aluminum foil. [I didn’t]
2. Core and peel apples, and cut into thin slices. Melt 2 T butter in saucepan and cook until it is lightly browned. Stir in apple slices until all slices are covered with browned butter. Sprinkle 2 T turbinado sugar over apples, and continue to saute, stirring occasionally, until apples are softened and most of the liquid has evaporated. Set aside. Do not cook the apples to the point the fall apart.
3. In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, ginger and salt. Set aside.
4. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar till fluffy. Beat in two eggs. Beat in lemon zest, ginger, molasses, rum, and vanilla extract. (The mixture will look curdled. It’s OK.)
5. Stir in the flour mixture a little at a time, mixing after each addition so the batter is thick and smooth. Fold in the milk and yogurt until batter is smooth and thoroughly combined.
6. Scrape half the batter into the prepared springform pan. Cover with apple slices (spread evenly and flatten slightly), and spread the other half of the batter over the apples. Smooth top with spatula. Place walnut halves on the top of the cake, and sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons of turbinado sugar over the top of the cake.
7. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the top of the cake is golden brown and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. The cake may slightly pull away from the sides of the pan.
8. Transfer to a cooling rack. Run a knife along the edges of the cake to loosen it completely from the sides of the pan. Open the ring and remove it. If you want to remove the cake from the base of the springform pan, wait until it has cooled completely, then slide a long thin spatula between the cake and the base. Use a large spatula to then move it to a serving plate.
9. Serve as is or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a blob of barely sweetened softly whipped cream.
Per Serving: 302 Calories; 12g Fat (36.9% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 42g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 69mg Cholesterol; 139mg Sodium.

Three years ago: Brandied Apricot Bars (an adult cookie, and a favorite of my friend Cherrie . . . I gave her a batch for her birthday one year)

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