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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, 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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