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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, Utensils, on June 8th, 2011.

teddies-apple-cake

My plan had been that the next recipe I’d try was the Green Goddess dressing in my newest cookbook, The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century. But we were invited to some friends for dinner and there would be a crowd, so I offered to make two desserts. With that in mind, there was no question that the 2nd most requested recipe from the New York Times’ recipe archives would be the one I’d try first.

teddies-apple-cake-sliceThis is an easy recipe. In fact, in Amanda Hesser’s headnote to the recipe she says: “For reasons that elude me, cakes are reputed to require long hours in the kitchen, when anyone who actually makes cakes knows that cookies are the true time suck . . . “ She goes on to say “if you look back in the Times’ archives at recipes from 30+ years ago, when most people cooked every day, there were many more cake recipes. Cake was a staple you whipped up every couple of days, after the previous one had vanished into crumbs.

What’s great about this cake is that there’s nothing odd in it – you might even have all the ingredients in your pantry right this minute. To me, that’s a bonus if I don’t have to go to the grocery store, or send my DH for me. You just need apples, vegetable oil, walnuts, raisins and eggs. The other items are baking staples. The cake has no frosting or topping at all. That certainly makes it an easy cake.

Picnik collageThe cake batter uses vegetable oil instead of butter, which, according to the headnote, makes for a very light crumb. It’s really simple to put together, just as Hesser suggests. The apples can turn brown, so I didn’t do those until the batter was complete – then I just folded them in with the raisins and walnuts. I used my handy-dandy apple corer-cutter. It’s my newest, fun gadget in my kitchen. And when I need apples, this make such quick work of it. You do have to peel the apples first, but it really didn’t take me long then to wham this thing down to get wedges, then I cut each slice in half and into the batter they went.

The cake bakes for 75 minutes in a greased and floured tube pan, then cools before you remove it. I will tell you that my heart skipped a beat when I tried to remove it from the pan. I used a plastic knife kind of thing to clear the edges, pulled it out of the outer form, but then I had to turn it upside down (off that center tube part) and turn it out. My hand isn’t all that big and it was a precarious moment or two before it came loose and plopped, still barely warm into my hand, then I carefully balanced it on its side until I could put it onto the footed cake plate. Whew. If you have a second set of hands, I’d recommend it. I hadn’t let it cool completely to room temp, either, so that might have made a difference since it was almost bendable. It could easily have broken in half – do the deed in a hurry so that doesn’t happen!

The texture of the top of the cake is so interesting – it’s craggy – that’s the best word, and one used by somebody else who made this. You can barely see some of the cracking shards on the top of the cake in the picture –  they cracked even more when I balanced the cake in my hands. A couple of pieces broke off (oh darn, I had to taste them right then and there, of course).

apple slicerIn my book, this would serve a whole lot more than 8 people, but that’s what the recipe says. And the original suggests serving it with vanilla ice cream. By all means do, but Amanda Hesser thought lightly whipped and sweetened heavy cream was better. That was my first choice anyway – for both of the desserts. Amanda suggested mixing some crème fraiche with the whipped cream, which I did. For a cup of whipping cream, after it was whipped I added about 1/3 cup of crème fraiche.

I do want to share with you about my newest gadget for the kitchen. It’s an apple corer. But it’s a different apple corer than some – note the differences between the two photos – in the top one the cuts make 8 wedges. In the bottom one I’ve twisted the unit and it now has 16 cutter blades. That’s what I used for the cake.

The unit is made by Amco, costs about $17, and it’s available through Amazon, if you’re interested – the Amco Dial-A-Slice Adjustable Apple Corer and SlicerGraters, Peelers & Slicers).

IMG_4563You can see how it works – it cuts out the core itself – in the picture at right. I have two other such slicers, but not as good as this one. None of them peel the apples – that’s about the only down side to it. I’ve used it several times, and been pleased each time. It has small clips on the red outer edge – once pulled out slightly the corer rotates to adjust to either setting. It also has a clear base that fits on the cutter blade side so you won’t cut yourself if you leave it in your kitchen drawer.

So, the bottom line? We loved the cake. It was really extra tasty. I cut it into about 20 slices instead of 8. I’ll make it again. In fact I have just one tiny slice that didn’t get eaten and I’ll be enjoying that in the next day or two. Some people eat it for breakfast. That also sounds good! The cake is different – the texture (with the raisins and big chunks of apple) – the top, crackly edges – even the cake part itself. All delicious. Worth making. I see why it’s such a highly requested recipe.

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Teddie’s Apple Cake

Recipe: New York Times, 11/2007
Serving Size: 8 (and up to about 20)
NOTES: This recipe appeared in The Times in an article by Jean Hewitt. It will serve a WHOLE lot more people than 8 – I think I served about 20 small slices, although it’s difficult to cut small slices of this cake. Do serve it with sweetened whipped cream with a little added creme fraiche (1 cup cream, 1/3 cup creme fraiche added at the end). I did everything before I peeled and sliced the apples, then added them to the batter.

Butter for greasing pan
3 cups flour — plus more for dusting pan
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups Granny Smith apple — peeled, cored and thickly sliced tart apples, can also use Honeycrisp
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup raisins

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Butter and flour a 9-inch tube pan. Beat the oil and sugar together in a mixer (fitted with a paddle attachment) while assembling the remaining ingredients. After about 5 minutes, add the eggs and beat until the mixture is creamy.
2. Sift together 3 cups of flour, the salt, cinnamon and baking soda. Stir into the batter. Add the vanilla, apples, walnuts and raisins and stir until combined. Do not overmix.
3. Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan before turning out. Serve at room temperature with vanilla ice cream, if desired. [I prefer sweetened whipped cream.]
Per Serving (for 8 – you’ll get many more servings than that): 923 Calories; 52g Fat (49.7% calories from fat); 12g Protein; 107g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 80mg Cholesterol; 455mg Sodium.

A year ago: Italian Spaghetti and Meat Sauce, with Meatballs (my old-time favorite I’ve made for about 40 years)
Two years ago: Grilled Caesar Salad

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