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Just finished 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 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 parents were 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 a old 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.

Winter Journey by Diane Armstrong. Have you ever read about forensic dentistry? I sure had not, so I found it fascinating reading. It’s a debut novel for the author, and what a story. Halina, an Australian, with Polish roots, specializes in this obscure profession as a forensic dentist, and is asked to go to Poland, to help identify bone (and tooth) fragments, to put to rest a sad event in the story of this small town, when many, many people (Jews) were murdered. Was it the Nazis? Or was it the local townspeople who disliked the Jews. What a tangled web of intrigue, including Halina’s own mysterious past. I really enjoyed the read. The author does a great job of developing the characters (which I always like). This is no light read if you consider the subject matter, although it IS a novel (but based on fact). Nor is it a spy thriller – it’s more just an historical novel with lots of interesting people throughout. There’s a romance thrown in too, and a whole lot of angst about the discoveries found in the mass grave. But, the subject expanded my knowledge about forensics.

The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr. I just LOVED this book. I’ve never been much of a fan of Caravaggio’s paintings, although I’ve seen plenty of them (many are extremely large) in museums around the world. His paintings were dark, often with dark subjects. But as with many of the old masters, occasionally some obscure work surfaces, perhaps credited to another artist, even, that turns out to be one done by “the” master. In this case, Caravaggio. Although this book is written as a novel (with dialogue, etc.) it’s historical through and through. It begins with two young women art scholars, in Italy, who are asked to do a research project. One thing leads to another, and to another. All true.  If you enjoy books about art – I learned some things about the paint and the canvases of the time – you’ll be intrigued as I was.

Eye On the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press, by James, McGrath Morris. Each year my AAUW book club reads something related to Black History Month. This is a biography of a woman you’ve probably never heard of, Ethel Payne, and about her life-long journey in journalism, struggling to keep her head above water financially, but staying true to her purposes of telling the truth about the black stories and black racism of the day. Sometimes biographies aren’t all that riveting, but I found this one to be so, and I savored each new chapter. We had a really good discussion of the book, and the ups and downs of Payne’s life, especially during her years as a Washington reporter. You’ll not be sorry to have spent the time reading this book. It’s well-written, as well. I was thrilled when the author, Morris, left a message here on my blog, thanking me (and my group) for reading his book.

H Is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald. This one has been on the best seller list. It’s a memoir about a woman who takes on a personal challenge of taming a wild hawk. Prior to reading this book, I knew next to nothing about the entire subject of hawking, or taming any of the big, wild birds. The book is equally about the writer’s inner journey. She’s a consummate writer, and every page was a joy of words, for me. My only problem is my own – I found it hard, the more time that went by, and the more time the writer spent trying to tame this bird, to scream out “let the bird go.” Perhaps it’s because I spent time in Africa in 2015, seeing animals in the wild, that I felt more for the bird than I did with the writer’s discontent with herself and the taming process. Little did I know what a hard job it is to tame a hawk. I actually didn’t finish the book. It was a book club read, and highly recommended by several of our members. And I ended up not being able to attend the meeting as I had a cold. So perhaps there is some great ending to it that would have made me feel better. I haven’t gone to the end to find out. I just had to stop reading it. But I’m not NOT recommending it. If nothing else, read it for Macdonald’s sublime proficiency with words.

Also read George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, by Brian Kilmeade and Dan Yaeger. Here’s what it says on amazon: When George Washington beat a hasty retreat from New York City in August 1776, many thought the American Revolution might soon be over. Instead, Washington rallied—thanks in large part to a little-known, top-secret group called the Culper Spy Ring. He realized that he couldn’t defeat the British with military might, so he recruited a sophisticated and deeply secretive intelligence network to infiltrate New York. I won’t exactly call this book a riveting read, but it was interesting. Relating facts that few people knew about, this Culper Spy Ring. It’s a little chunk of American history researched in depth by the authors. An interesting read.

Also read The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel by Nina George. If you’re an avid reader, you probably have the same kind of longing as I do for a quaint, independently owned bookstore right around the corner. So few exist anymore. This novel is about a very unusual book store, and book store owner. In Paris. On a boat/barge. It’s not a typical book store, and the writer takes you on a journey of discovery about (likely) her own lifetime of book reading. You’ll learn all about a variety of existing books and why they’re a good read. But it’s all cloaked in a story about this book store and the owner. And the customers. Very fun. I’m reviewing it for one of my book clubs next month.

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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