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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 Desserts, on January 10th, 2011.


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.

printer-friendly PDF

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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