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On my recent road trip, I visited one of my local libraries and borrowed 5 books on tape. We listened to 3 of them. I’m a big fan of Craig Johnson, the author of a series of mysteries taking place in Wyoming, and a TV series on Netflix called Longmire. This book, A Serpent’s Tooth: A Longmire Mystery was really complex. Hard to explain, but it’s about graft and greed and oil. Worth reading, for sure. Also read Stone Kiss by Faye Kellerman, another complex mystery about Lt Decker, an LA cop who journeys to NYC to help out his family when a murder occurs. Lots of violence in this one.  Not particularly a fav book, I’d venture. Then read Leaving Time: A Novel by Jodi Picoult. I’ve read most of her books – always very riveting. In this book, you’ll learn a whole lot about elephants since the protagonist in it is a young girl whose mother disappeared when she was quite young. Her parents ran an elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire. In the ensuing years, Jenna has tried to find clues as to her mother’s whereabouts because she just cannot believe her mother would have up and abandoned her. There are a whole cast of characters (her mother, her father, employees at the sanctuary, a cop or two, and a psychic). All play fairly prominent roles. Fascinating book – I really liked it, almost as much for the education about the behavior of elephants as about the mystery. A great read.

Also on the trip, I read a book (on Kindle) for one of my book clubs, The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin. It’s about the relationship between Truman Capote and his “swans,” a group of aging high society ladies, and specifically Beth Paley. I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not. Truman Capote was not a nice man, although the whole novel (vs. non-fiction, which this is not) is conjured from speculation about the years Truman was kind of adopted by the group of women. He cared about all of them (most were married/divorced, wealthy women) but in the end he betrays them all by writing a novella about their secrets, their marriages, their affairs (theirs or their spouses, information they’d all shared with him, thinking he could be trusted with their innermost secrets). It was scandalous, and yes, all that part is true. I finished the book, but almost felt like I’d read a “dirty book.” There is no graphic detail in this book – it’s just what Capote did to destroy these women, supposedly his dear, darling “swans.” He was the villain in the book, and in his old age . . . well, I won’t spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it.

I’ve written up an entire blog post about this book. (It hasn’t been posted yet, but will soon.) It may be one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a memoir by Pat Conroy (an author I’ve long admired). He died a year or so ago – sad, that. In order to get the most out of My Reading Life, I recommend you BUY THE HARDBACK. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s an autobiography of sorts, but not really. He never wrote one, I don’t think, and I doubt he would ever have written one as he likely didn’t believe anyone would want to read about his (sad) life. In this memoir, he chronicles the books (and the people who recommended them) that influenced his life. Starting at his mother’s knees and continuing through influential teachers and mentors and friends. One of my book clubs read it, and I devoured it, cover to cover, with little plastic flags inserted all the way through to re-read some of the prose. Pat Conroy was a fabulous writer – he studied words from a young age and used them widely and wisely throughout his writing, but better than most authors would. He adored his mother, and hated (with venom) his aviator military father who physically abused everyone in the family, including his mother. They all took it like stoic Buddhas. I’m going to have to read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel because of reading this book. I’ve never read it. Conroy says that book’s first page is the best first page of any book he ever read in his life. Wow. And maybe my book group is going to re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Vintage Classics) too because of the chapter on that book. We might have to assign that to a 2-month or longer read. If you have friends or family who are avid readers, this would make a great gift, this book, My Reading Life. If YOU are a reader, it needs to be on your bookshelf, but in hardback, so you can go back to it and re-read his stories. It’s a series of essays, each one about a sub-section of his life. A must-have and a must-read.

Also read The Towers of Tuscany by Carol Cram. It was a bargain book through amazon or bookbub (e-book). Back in the Middle Ages women were forbidden to be artists. Their only place was in the home, caring for children and sewing and cooking. But the heroine in this book was taught to paint by her widowed artist-father (in secret, of course). When her father suddenly dies, all hell breaks loose and she must fend for herself. Much of the book takes place in Siena (and also San Gimignano) as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

 

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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