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Just finished The Letter by Kathyrn Hughes. It’s a very intricate tale. At first it’s about Tina, a battered wife [at which point I paused and wondered if I wanted to read any further, but I’m glad I did]. She tries to get the courage to leave her husband. Then enters the letter she finds in a suit pocket in the thrift shop where she volunteers. It’s old – sealed and stamped, but never mailed. Then you learn about Crissie, decades earlier, a young pregnant girl who is sent off to Ireland to a distant relative by her father, then to a rigid (meaning horrible) convent [the book takes place mostly in Manchester, England and in rural Ireland]. The letter is addressed to her. Jump forward decades and William, the adopted child Crissie gave up, tries to find his birth mother. William meets Tina in Ireland [a serendipitous moment] as she’s trying to find the woman to whom the letter is addressed. This book is the #2 best seller on Amazon at the moment. It’s a riveting tale and I really enjoyed it.

Read Grace Unshakled, by Irene Huising. From Amazon’s page, it says: “In the year 2025, 17-year-old Grace Duncan finds herself in shackles because of her faith in Christ. An obedient daughter and stellar student, doing time in jail was never on her mental radar, despite the changes in religious laws [this takes place here in the United States] over the past few years. Through twists and turns in circumstances, Grace and a small band of Christians in Newport Beach, California begin a journey to discover what it means to follow Christ with unwavering faith in the midst of increasing persecution. Facing the potential loss of all her hopes and dreams, would Christ be enough?” We read this for one of my book clubs, and it’s a scary thought about what it could mean if we take God out of our country. The author is a friend of a friend and she attended our book club meeting to share about how she came to write this book. I don’t often share my faith here on my website, but this book made me stop and think about the direction our government is going, removing more and more our ability to worship God. Or to worship in any religion. Will this book ever make waves in the book world? Probably not. My copy may be a pre-edited version, as it contained numerous typos and formatting errors. But they didn’t detract from the subject, just the cosmetics. The book doesn’t come to a resolution; in fact it leaves you hanging, as some books do. It was intentional (obviously), but left me wondering about the “end of the story.”

Also just finished reading The Muralist: A Novel by Shapiro. It tells the story of a young woman, an artist, who was part of the U.S.’s WPA mural project from the 1930s-40s (she is fiction, the WPA is not). As with so many artists, even today, they live in abject poverty through much of their lives. This woman, though, had family in France, desperately trying to escape before Hitler’s henchmen rousted them into concentration camps. The story, a bit of a mystery but not of the mystery-genre, is about Alizée Benoit, this young painter, who slightly captivates Eleanor Roosevelt’s help. It also skips into current time when the painter’s great-niece uncovers paintings she believes were painted by her aunt. The painter had disappeared into thin air in 1940, and her relative tries desperately to find out what happened to her. It’s a really good story including such Abstract Expressionist painters as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner well-woven into the narrative. It keeps you guessing right up to the end. A good read. The author also wrote The Art Forger: A Novel a few years ago.

Read The German Girl: A Novel by Correa. It chronicles the story of a wealthy German Jewish family in Berlin, as the Nazis arrive and make life a living hell. The family is lucky (I guess you could say this) to be allowed to purchase passage on the M.S. St. Louis, a passenger liner, to take them to “the Americas.” The destination is actually Cuba. The story is told from two voices – the teenage daughter in this story, and from a current-day distant family member who is trying to learn about her ancestry. Of the 900+ passengers on the ship, only a few were allowed to disembark since the Cuban President decided he needed more money to accept them. Most families had no money left, as the Reich had taken nearly all of their assets. The daughter and her very eccentric mother were allowed to stay in Cuba.  The remaining passengers are rejected by the U.S. too, and eventually return to Europe, where most of the Jews end up dying in concentration camps. The story goes back and forth from the 1939 journey to current day as the link between the two women is slowly revealed. I had a tough time sometimes, tracking the people in this book, but the story was very riveting. It’s based on facts about the ship (see Wikipedia link above if you’re interested). A shameful chapter in history.

Recently finished reading a magnificent historical novel. Not new. Philippa Gregory has been a favorite author of mine for a couple of decades. You may remember her most famous book, The Other Boleyn Girl, published some years ago. I thought that was a really great book. I’ve read other books by Gregory, but most recently I read The King’s Curse (The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels). The time period is the 1450s to 1541, mostly under the rule of King Henry VIII, the infamous womanizer and wife/Queen-killer. The man who cursed Rome (the Pope) – he wanted his first marriage annulled because Queen Catherine couldn’t produce a living male heir. And subsequently made himself the head of the church in England in order to do so. It was a Catholic country at the time. This story (it’s fiction, but woven with intricate historical detail) is from the voice of Margaret of York (a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine),  who was a Plantagenet in her own right (which is key to the later events in the book). Certainly I’ve read other novels over the years that dealt with Henry VIII, but not with this much breadth of info. What a wicked, sinful man he was. And did I say tyrant. Wow.  I could hardly put it down, through its nearly 600 pages. In the author’s notes at the end, she shares relatively recent medical info that suggests Henry probably suffered from a rare problem, Kell positive blood type, which can cause miscarriages, stillbirths and infant deaths IF the mother has the more common Kell negative blood type. And that in his later years, he may have had McLeod syndrome, a disease only found in Kell positive individuals. Around the age of 40 it causes physical degeneration and personality changes resulting in paranoia, depression and irrational behavior. All of those King Henry VIII had in spades. If you read the book, you might read the author’s notes (at the end) before reading the book. If you like historical fiction (I love any book about English history) you’ll just love this one. It’s interesting, though, as I think about the many books I’ve read covering this era in English history, that each book presented its hero/heroine as the most innocent and worthy individual vying for the crown of England. I remember thinking Anne Boleyn was dealt with so badly during her life (and certainly her beheading), and yet reading this book, I completely reversed my opinion. Anne Boleyn was called a wh–e by most people during the years she shared Henry’s bed. The “curse” from the title pertains to Henry’s inability or the curse on the Tudors, that caused him to fail in producing a male heir. In any case, none of Henry’s wives should have died for it – likely it was all Henry’s fault anyway. Just read this one, okay?

Also recently read 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 free-lance 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 family was 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 an old (wild) 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. Just read this one first!

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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