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me_in_paris_198That’s me, on a trip,  sitting in a Paris restaurant.
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Just finished a page-turner of a book, Before the Fall by Noah Hawley. It grabbed me nearly from the first sentence. A small group of people take a private jet out of Martha’s Vineyard. Sixteen minutes later the plane crashes into the ocean. Two survive, a 4-year old boy and a single guy, a painter, who ended up on the plane almost by happenchance. What might have looked more like a fluke accident turns a bit sinister when you begin to know all of the people on the plane, including the two pilots and the flight attendant; the parents of the young boy, and a few others. Each person is scrutinized through the author’s lens and his/her culpability is analyzed. The painter and the boy form a bond because the man rescues the child and they swim miles and miles to shore. It’s just riveting. It’s not a James Bond type of thriller, but a real-life kind of drilling down into the core of each person on the plane.

Eight Hundred Grapes: A Novel by Laura Dave. I bought it because it’s about Sebastapol, a cute little town in California wine country, in Sonoma County, although it’s on the fringes of the more mainstream wineries. A daughter of a friend of mine recently moved there, and when I visited her a few months ago, I was charmed by the cute downtown and the small village feel to it. Anyway, although the backdrop of the entire book is about the winery, the wines, the fields, the processes of wine making, it’s more about the family relationships. It seems that everyone (mom, dad, 2 sons, wife of one, a daughter [who is the protagonist] and her fiance and his ex-girlfriend) is in the midst of extreme turmoil. I swear, when I think about authors as they toil away in their aeries writing, they compile a big long list on a huge whiteboard of all the different awful things (divorce, affairs, fistfights, love lost, love gained, screaming and yelling, public drunkenness) they can make happen in one book and they pick and choose, yet make every effort to pack in as many of them as they can. No one in this family is immune from high levels of emotion and action or acting out about something or many things. I enjoyed the book despite those character flaws which occur on nearly every page. You have compassion for each one of them. Yet they’re a close family nonetheless. I haven’t read any of Laura Dave’s other books, but I suspect this one will be a winner. It’s not on any best-seller lists, but amongst book club readers, I believe it’s a strong contender.

When one of my book groups gathered last week, we discussed a bunch of books that we might read for our next Sept-August “year.” We select them all, for the whole year, in advance. On the list of 18 possible ones (we’ll read nine only) was an old classic – I guess you could call it a classic – Plainsong – by Kent Haruf. Since it was published some years ago I dropped by the library, and sure enough, they had a copy. I came home and devoured it in one fell swoop. What a story. Tender, yet harsh in some respects. It tells the story of a group of small-town people (a teacher – a man separated from his wife, but he has the 2 boys who both play prominent roles in the book; a single woman caring for her aging and Alzheimer’s driven father; a young teenage girl who should have known better, but got pregnant; a couple of very old brothers, both single, struggling along with their ranch). All this takes place in a small town in eastern Colorado. I laughed. I cried. I wanted to reach through the pages to some of these characters to give them a hug. It’s a winner of a book. I may have to read more of Haruf’s books. The prose is spare, yet you can feel the anguish, the pain, the love, the caring. What a book!

You may have heard about this woman, Marina Chapman . . . she was kidnapped at about age 4 in Columbia. She was eventually discarded in the jungle. This, just a few days after her capture. No humans. No help. She learned to survive in the jungle and was taken in by a large Capuchin monkey family. She had no language, much, except sounds she learned amongst the monkeys. She lived for some years in the jungle, all alone. Eventually she saw some humans and followed them, was made a slave. Terribly treated, nearly starved, and was being primed as a prostitute, but she escaped that too. Her story is harrowing, and yet uplifting. She did escape eventually, in her mid-teens and grew up from there with a kind, loving family in Bogota. Her adult daughter helped her to write the stories – most of which she wanted to forget. The book is The Girl With No Name: The Incredible Story of a Child Raised by Monkeys by Marina Chapman and Lynne Barrett-Lee. National Geographic highlighted her story awhile back, and she appeared on some morning TV shows when the book came out in 2014. The author is writing a sequel, about Chapman’s life after she was rescued. I’ll be watching for that as this book leaves you hanging – only knowing that she was rescued and went to Bogota.

Just finished reading a very unusual book, certainly not on everyone’s radar – Once an Arafat Man: The True Story of How a PLO Sniper Found a New Life by Tass Saada. It’s about an angry young Palestinian. He felt wronged; he felt despised; his father didn’t understand him. He escaped his family’s plan for his life and became a PLO sniper. He killed many people. He killed Israelis and was elated. He was sent to the United States and big plans were in store for him, he thought. And then he discovered a new life as a Christian. It didn’t happen overnight, and he had many questions along the way. His family disowned him, yet he persevered. He met an American woman, married her, and had children. And he became an activist for change. It’s a fascinating story. He now speaks around the world, for peace and understanding about the Palestinian problem(s). It’s quite a book, and I’m glad I read it.

 

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 February 13th, 2011.

countess_toulouse_lautrec_french_chocolate_cake

Looking at this photo above, you’d probably think this is just a chocolate cake. Well, it is a chocolate cake, but it’s nothing related to ordinary. One of the descriptions of this cake is that it tastes more like cheesecake than cake. I don’t know that it’s cheesecake-like, only because it doesn’t have that wet-like texture of a cheesecake. It’s more like a cake, but with an almost velvet texture. It sort of defies description. It’s not exactly a cake; it’s not really a cheesecake, either (because it contains no dairy – like cream cheese –  except butter, and doesn’t have a crust – and isn’t wet like a cheesecake – it’s not even like a dry cheesecake, either). It’s not a torte, because it has no crust. I don’t really know what to call it.

The recipe is in Maida Heatter’s chocolate cookbook: Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Chocolate Desserts. It’s an old cookbook, but Maida Heatter is just a jewel of a baker. Nothing I’ve ever made from this book has been less than fabulous. Last year I made her 86-proof Chocolate Bundt Cake. It was sensational.

I can’t say that I’d ever even heard of Countess de Toulouse-Lautrec (1901-1969). And no, she was not married to the famous artist. Her husband was one of Henri’s distant cousins. But, she became a well-known foodie of that era and published a cookbook. This recipe, though, she introduced to American tastes by way of an article in McCall’s magazine way back in 1959.

Whatever this cake is, it’s absolutely rich with chocolate. It’s soft and velvety. And not heavy in the least. It’s a somewhat unorthodox cooking method, I will say. Not hard to make – kind of like a sponge cake – a chocolate one.  But it’s a far cry from a sponge cake in texture – it’s a bit more dense, remember. I was supposed to use an 8-inch springform pan. Would you believe, I don’t have one. So I had to improvise and use an 8 1/2-inch cake pan. It made it a little bit iffy getting the cake out of the pan that way (it could have been a disaster, actually), but it did come out because I greased a piece of parchment paper in the bottom. And the cake pan was nonstick too.

What’s odd is that you bake this little guy for a total of 15 minutes. Yup. That’s correct. And would you believe it only has one tablespoon of flour in it? And one tablespoon of sugar too. Well then, we will talk about the chocolate – it, of course, has sugar in it. And the recipe uses an entire pound of chocolate. The recipe calls for semisweet chocolate. I didn’t have a whole pound of semisweet, so I had to improvise with some bittersweet plus some ordinary chocolate chips. It didn’t seem to matter – the cake came out just fine.

Once we cut into this cake, I had a very hard time keeping my kitchen knife out of the dish to just cut off a thin, tiny little wedge to eat out of hand. Even with no whipped cream on top, it was sensational. The recipe indicates it’s even better made a day ahead. I would agree, although it was delicious the first evening too. You don’t chill it – it stays out at room temp, covered, of course. If you chilled it, I think the chocolate would firm up, and that you wouldn’t want! Do eat it within 2 days, though. Otherwise, freeze it to eat at a later time.

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Countess Toulouse-Lautrec’s French Chocolate Cake

Recipe By: Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Chocolate Desserts, 1978
Serving Size: 10
NOTES: Use whatever combination you have on hand for the chocolate – semisweet if you have it (chocolate chips, even) or bittersweet. The ‘one tablespoon’ measures of flour and sugar are correct. It is rather like a rich, moist, dense cheesecake – like unadulterated and undiluted chocolate. It is best to make it a day before serving or at least 6 to 8 hours before, or make it way ahead of time and freeze it. (Thaw before serving.)

1 pound semisweet chocolate
5 ounces unsalted butter — room temp
4 large eggs — separated
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour — unsifted
1 pinch salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
2. In an 8-inch springform pan, cut a round waxed or parchment paper to fit the bottom. Butter one side of paper and the sides of the pan (not the bottom). Place buttered paper in pan, buttered side up, and clamp shut.
3. In top of double boiler, place coarsely chopped chocolate. Melt over simmering water, stirring occasionally with rubber spatula. Add 1/3 of butter at a time, each addition completely melted before adding next. Set aside to cool slightly.
4. In small bowl beat egg yolks at high speed for 5-7 minutes, until pale and thick. Add Tbsp. of flour and beat on low only to incorporate. Gently fold beaten egg yolks to into chocolate.
5. In another clean bowl, beat egg whites and salt until whites hold a soft shape. Add sugar and beat until whites hold definite shape but not too stiff or dry. Fold one-half beaten whites into chocolate — don’t be too thorough. Fold chocolate into remaining whites, handling gently until blended. Turn into prepared pan and rotate to level batter.
6. Bake for 15 minutes. Cake will be soft (only 1 inch high in middle, rim higher and cracked ~ you’ll think it’s not done but don’t worry). With a small sharp knife, carefully cut around side of hot cake, but don’t remove sides. Let cake stand in pan until room temperature. Refrigerate several hours or overnight.
7. To remove, cut around sides again with small sharp knife. Remove sides. Carefully insert a narrow spatula and invert on serving plate. Glaze with whipped cream, ganache (or top with toasted sliced almonds or a fine dusting of cocoa).
Per Serving: 355 Calories; 27g Fat (63.2% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 31g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 116mg Cholesterol; 48mg Sodium.

A year ago: Chocolate Puddle Cookies
Two years ago: A post about planning for a Valentine’s dinner

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  1. Janet J

    said on April 18th, 2011:

    Carolyn, when I attempted to print out the pdf version of the Countess Toulouse-Latrec Fr Choc Cake, McAfee gave me a warning!!!

    Yes, Janet, I have a problem with FileDen, the site where I’ve been storing my pdf’s. I’m loading all of them to my own website and am going back to fix all the links so they point to the new location. I’ve sent you the link privately. . . carolyn

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