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Just finished a quirky book, Goodbye, Vitamin: A Novel by Rachel Khong. She’s a new writer (newly published, I guess I should say) and this story is about Ruth, a 30+ something, trying to readjust to life without her fiance, who’s dumped her. She goes back home to help with the care of her father, who has Alzheimer’s. Written in a diary style, it jumps all over about her life, her mother, the funny, poignant things her father says on good days, and the nutty stuff he does on not-so-good days, her ex-, and her very quirky friends, too. Then a woman flits through who had had an affair with her father –  you get to observe all the angst from the mom about that. Mostly it’s about her father, as he’s relatively “together” early in the book, but then he disintegrates. Reading that part isn’t fun, although the author is able to lean some humor into it. I’m not sure I recommend the book exactly – I read it through – and felt sad. It doesn’t tie up loose ends – if you want that kind of book – you may not want to read this one.

Also finished Julian Fellowes’s Belgravia. You know Julian Fellowes, the producer and writer of Downton Abbey? He lends his mind to a story about a family or two from the similar time period as Downton, who live in London. There’s some amount of intrigue, romance, observations from within the halls of wealthy Londoners and moderately well off tradesmen and their families. There’s affairs, shady business dealings, an illegitimate child, the comings and goings of the “downstairs” staff too, etc. The characters were well done – I had no trouble keeping all of the people identified. The story is somewhat predictable, but it was interesting clear up to the end.

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.

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.

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.


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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