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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 March 21st, 2011.


Can you see the little morsels of Granny Smith apple nestled in the middle of this cake? And the toasted pecans? And the stick-your-spoon-in-it-and-lick-it-clean brandy sauce (drizzle) all around it? Oh my. This is another one of those – if you trust me – you need to make this cake. It’s SO moist. So delicious. It makes a very tender cake (well, it should, since it does have 1 1/2 cups of vegetable oil in it!). The title may be a tad misleading. You’d think it must have some kind of Cajun spices in it with a Cajun name to it. No, it really doesn’t. It’s the sauce that makes it Cajun, using brandy, or praline liqueur if you have that, or bourbon.

There’s nothing difficult about this cake – it makes a thick batter and your pour it into a 9×13 pan. Once baked, it’s cooled, then you pour part of the brandy sauce over it and serve a bit more on each plate. The sauce is very easy to make – you merely bring the ingredients to a boil, cool. Pour. You could make this in a bundt pan. You can halve the recipe and make one 9-inch round cake pan of it. You can double it to serve a whole lot more people. And it’s better the next day, actually.

The recipe came from Katherine Emmenegger, the executive chef at Great News, the cooking school in San Diego that my friend Cherrie and I visit with regularity. Katherine prepared a New Orleans style meal from beginning to end. I’m starting with the end since this was my favorite recipe of the bunch. Make this one, okay?

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Cajun Apple Cake with Brandy Drizzle

Recipe By: Katherine Emmenegger, chef at Great News, San Diego (March 2011)
Serving Size: 12
NOTES: The cake can be made in a bundt cake pan also (might require slightly longer baking time). You can also halve the recipe and bake it in a 9-inch round cake pan. The recipe also can be doubled if you’re serving a crowd; just divide the doubled batter into two pans. Katherine Emmenegger says this cake is even better the second day.

1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 large eggs — beaten
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
4 teaspoons brandy — or praline liqueur or bourbon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups Granny Smith apples — small diced (dropped into lightly salted water and drain on paper towels when ready to use them)
1 cup pecans — toasted
4 ounces unsalted butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup whole milk
3 tablespoons brandy — or praline liqueur or bourbon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. CAKE: Preheat oven to 325°. Prepare a 9×13 cake pan with a light coating of Baker’s Joy (or butter and flour the pan).
2. In a large bowl sift the salt, baking soda and flour together.
3. In another bowl combine the eggs, oil, sugar, liqueur and vanilla; add to the flour mixture and combine.
4. Add the apples and pecans. Stir to combine. This makes a very thick batter.
5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Lightly bang the cake pan on your countertop twice, to burst any air bubbles in the batter. If using a glass or ceramic cake pan, do this carefully!
6. Bake for 45 minutes, but start checking the cake at 30 minutes and every 5 minutes thereafter, until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the center of the cake.
7. Set on a rack and allow to cool to room temperature, then top with brandy drizzle and serve.
8. BRANDY DRIZZLE: In a saucepan over medium heat combine the butter, sugar and milk. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the brandy and vanilla extract and allow to cool to room temperature. DO NOT refrigerate the cake.
Per Serving: 729 Calories; 43g Fat (52.7% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 80g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 74mg Cholesterol; 312mg Sodium.

Two years ago: Butterflied Leg of Lamb with Cherry Merlot Sauce

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  1. Marie

    said on March 22nd, 2011:

    Oh gosh Carolyn, Todd would love this cake. He just loves apple anything. I am having the missionaries over for supper tonight. I might make them this cake, minus the brandy of course! Perhaps a brown sugar sauce would go down well. xxoo

    It is a really delicious cake. Just use vanilla instead of the brandy! . . . carolyn t

  2. Lisa @ Sweet as Sugar Cookies

    said on March 27th, 2011:

    Mmm, that cake sounds nice and apple-y. Looks like a great way to end a meal. I have a sweet treat linky party going on at my blog and I’d like to invite you to stop by and link your cake up.

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