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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 March 21st, 2011.

cajun_apple_cake

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.

CAKE:
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
BRANDY DRIZZLE:
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. http://sweet-as-sugar-cookies.blogspot.com/2011/03/sweets-for-saturday-10.html

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