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me_in_paris_198That’s me, on a trip,  sitting in a Paris restaurant.
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Just finished reading Unsaid: A Novel by Neil Abramson. I think I read about it on amazon because I don’t remember anyone telling me about it. Perhaps amazon recommended it to me because I’ve read several books about African animals lately. The narrator of the book is the soul and voice of a woman who has just died of cancer. So she’s a ghost, of sorts, or an angel. But she’s hanging around her old life (her husband, her friends, her co-workers – she was a veterinarian) because she’s so very worried about her menagerie of animals she owned and worked with. The crux of the story is about a chimpanzee that is part of a U.S. government study – measuring the intelligence and sign language ability of this one chimp. The funded study is suddenly ended, and the intelligent and sentient animal (that word, sentient – I had to look it up – is used several times in the book – it means with “feelings”) is going to be returned to the general population of chimps used for maybe not-so-nice drug studies and likely would die from an inflicted disease. The widower is an attorney, and he’s thrown into battle with the U.S. government about saving the chimp. There’s a huge message here about the use of animals in drug studies and it’s hard to come away from this book without feeling “feelings” for the sweet chimp, whose intelligence was measured as the age of a 4-year old human. You’ll be drawn into the many other animals, the husband’s grief, and the team of people trying to save the chimp. Quite a story.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah – many reader friends recommended it, and oh, is it good! If you’re at the end of your tether with reading WW II resistance stories, you’ll want to skip this one, but you’ll be rewarded if you do read it. It’s the story of 2 sisters who live in a remote area of France and both get caught up in the war. There are some very terror-filled moments in this book – I won’t kid you – the deprivation, torture, hunger, betrayal; all the things that make a book real, wartime real. The relationship between the sisters isn’t always good. One becomes a resistance fighter; the other is a mom whose husband fights for France, but is imprisoned for years. She eventually participates by shepherding Jewish children to safety. It’s a riveting book, and the 2 women are portrayed with great realism.

Also read The Secret Chord: A Novel by Geraldine Brooks. It’s a novelized biography of King David, the man who was a sinner from his youth. If you’ve studied the Holy Bible, then you’ll know that he reformed, eventually, and he is credited with writing most of the Psalms. If you’ve spent much time reading Psalms, then you’ll know there is so much angst contained within the poetic verses. David was a consummate writer and poet – no question about that – and he was a musician as well. But he had his appetites, which betrayed him over and over and over. He laments his bad character in the form of the Psalms. I can remember singing in our church choir one of the Psalms about Absalom, his beloved son, that he had killed. King David’s time was primitive, life for life, where trust wasn’t taken lightly. It’s a really fascinating portrayal of the man, his vices, and his eventual redemption.

If you’re already a fan of Molly Wizenberg, then you’ll know about her book Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage. Molly started off writing a blog some years ago, called Orangette. She wrote a book (part memoir and cookbook) a few years ago, and her prose is a delight to read. She’s a commander of words. This book is the story of meeting and marrying her husband Brandon, and their journey to realizing HIS dream of opening a pizza restaurant (Delancey) in Seattle. It’s a very interesting read since they built the restaurant in a questionable neighborhood; they had insufficient money. Let’s just say that along the road to getting the restaurant open, there are many hurdles, including her own belief in the project. I loved the book. And yes, there are a few recipes included too.

After I read The Elephant Whisperer (which was a fabulous book), I read online that Lawrence Anthony considered his best book The Last Rhinos: My Battle to Save One of the World’s Greatest Creatures. So I had to read that, of course. It’s the very sad story about his effort to extract 6 rare white rhino from deep in the jungle of Africa, in an area controlled by guerrillas. He’s unsuccessful, and now the only known white rhinos left are in zoos. They’ll likely be extinct in the next generation. I wasn’t as enamored with the book as I was with the elephant book – maybe because the mechanics of trying to find and negotiate to get the rhinos wasn’t as riveting as the elephant stories. Jungle politics, nighttime helicopter flights, slogging in the mud all play important parts. If you want to know more about rhinos, the rare northern whites, then you’ll want to read this book. Maybe you’re lucky enough to have one in your local zoo. Great literature this is not, but it tells an important story about poaching and why we must fight to eliminate it with education.

Also read, for one of my book clubs, Circling the Sun: A Novel by Paula McLain. It’s the biography of Beryl Markham, but only of her early life. Beryl’s own book, West with the Night has long been a favorite of mine, but she only wrote about her later life once she learned to pilot a plane and flew all over Africa. The McLain book is about her youth on her father’s horse farm, her coming of age and about falling in love (she was a philanderer from way back), her young adulthood, her marriages, her successes in life and her failures. It’s a VERY good book that I enjoyed reading from beginning to end. Markham is known more compellingly for her piloting career, but she led a fascinating life before she ever began to fly. Worth reading.

Read Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. Oh my goodness. When one of my book groups met to discuss this book, we all talked about the crying we did at the end. Oh yes, me too. This is a novel with a point to make (somewhat like Jodi Piccoult’s books). In this case it’s the right to die issue and it’s cloaked in a fast-paced page turner. A young woman who is a bit at loose ends, accepts a new job as a caregiver, something she’s never done before, to a young man who had recently become a quadriplegic. There are numerous sub-stories (about her family, her relationship with her sister, her boyfriend and her relationship with him, the patient himself, who is grumpy, and his relationships with his mother and father and ex-girlfriend). And, it’s about his wish to end his life. During the last 100 pages I could hardly put it down. I don’t want to jinx the story. It’s a romance of sorts. It’s gritty in a way, but charming. Loved the book. Now I’m going to order the sequel, the book the author never really intended to write, but so many people wrote her asking for one. I’m right there too. This book is being made into a movie.

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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