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Currently Reading

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Just finished Leaving Blythe River: A Novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde. Almost a page turner. When one uses the phrase “coming of age,” it usually means (I think) love and loss/boyfriend/girlfriend, and in this case it’s somewhat that way. When Ethan, a 17-year old boy and his mother come home unexpectedly to find dad and his young secretary in a compromising position, all hell breaks loose. Separation happens instantly and just as his father moves out, his mother has to go take care of her aging mother. Ethan’s too young to be left in the NYC apartment alone, so Mom sends son to the father who is escaping from the world in Wyoming, living in a primitive A-frame house, and continuing his daily 20+ mile running journeys. Ethan and his father are barely speaking. They live in the middle of nowhere. Ethan feels betrayed by his father in every possible way, and somewhat by his mother for forcing him to live with his father for a temporary period. Then his father doesn’t return one day from his run. The authorities do a cursory search, but they are under the impression the dad wants to “get lost” on purpose. Ethan, although he thinks he doesn’t care, really does. What happens next is best left to you reading this book. Very interesting people (kind of loners) enter the picture and off they go to search. So worth reading.

The Girl With No Name by Diney Costelhoe. What a good book. Perhaps you’ve read before about the huge numbers of German refugee children who were sent to England before Hitler closed down any exits. This is a novel about one particular young girl, who is devastated when her mother puts her on one of the boats. She ends up in London, in an orphanage kind of place, and is eventually placed with a childless couple. She speaks no English. They speak no German, but they manage soon enough. Lisa (who eventually becomes Charlotte) is so homesick. She’s bullied at school, because most people and children don’t want any Germans there. A boy steps up to protect her, and as she grows up, she’s attracted to him. She shouldn’t be – he’s also German and from her own home town. He’s not a good match for her. You live with her through the blitz during all those war years and during one attack, she’s badly injured and loses her memory (and no ID on her). Through a series of mishaps she ends up in a village far from London, with a spinster woman who does eventually come to love her very much – they name her Charlotte and Charlotte she becomes. She goes to school there, still longing, though, for her mother and brother and her London foster family too. Then when she’s 16 she returns to London to help at the orphanage where she was originally placed and tries to find her foster parents. The story goes on from there, with the boy/man who “wants” her, the bad boy, and a good boy/man she befriends in the village in the country. Eventually she regains her memory. SUCH a good read.

The Girl with Seven Names by Hyanseo Lee. If you, like me, know little about North Korea and how it came to be what it is today, you’ve got to read this book. It’s a memoir written by a young woman who escaped from North Korea about 9 years ago. Her journey – and I mean JOURNEY – is harrowing, frightening, amazing, heart-rendering all at the same time. She chronicles the lives of the Kims (Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il to current Kim Jong Un), shares the strict propaganda that surrounds every North Korean citizen, the poverty and hunger, as well as the underground black market for food and goods. It took her awhile to get from North Korea, to China and eventually to South Korea, where she currently lives. She’s well educated and speaks English quite well. She was invited to be a speaker at a TED talk – you know about those, right? TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a media organization which posts talks online for free distribution, under the slogan “ideas worth spreading.” I listen to them as  podcasts now and then. Always very educational, if sometimes over my head when it gets very technical. She works diligently for human rights now, doing her best to help other North Koreans escape. You owe it to yourself to read this book.

Also just finished reading The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian. Another WOW book. I’ve always liked the author – many years ago I read his book, Midwives and really liked it. Don’t confuse this book with the one I recently read, The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas that I reviewed recently. I think we read it in one of my book groups. He’s a brilliant writer, and this one has a lot of characters and twists. It’s a novel, but based on a lot of truth regarding the Armenian genocide. Most of the book takes place in Aleppo, Syria with some good Samaritan folk trying to help rescue people (mostly children) following the forced long marches the Turks made prodding the Turkish Armenians to exit their country. But it also jumps to near present day as a family member is trying to piece together obscure parts of her grandparents’ former lives there. She uncovers some hidden truths (many survivors of the genocide never-ever-ever wanted to talk about it) and a bit more about her Armenian heritage. A riveting book – I could hardly put it down. Lots to discuss for a book club read. I simply must read more of Bohjalian’s books (he’s written many).

The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke. All I can say is “wow.” In a general sense, this book is based on the premise of The Pilot’s Wife. But this one has some totally different twists and turns. A young wife is met at the door by police, informing her that her husband has died in an auto accident. Then she finds out he died in Hawaii – not Kansas, where she thought he was, on business. Then she finds out there was a woman in the car. Then she meets the fiance of the woman passenger and the two of them embark on a fact-finding mission in Hawaii to discover the truth. Well, I’m just sayin’ . . . the plot thickens. And thickens. And thickens clear up to the last few pages. Hang onto your seat. A really, really good, suspenseful read.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. What a WONDERFUL book. It opens up a shameful part of America’s past, but one you might not have heard about before this. In the late 1800s thousands of Chinese workers were brought to the West Coast to help with a variety of construction projects and a myriad of other things where laborers were needed. Many settled, married and made a new life for themselves. But suddenly the white population didn’t want them here anymore and they summarily ordered them ALL out of our country. This book chronicles a young Chinese girl, who was on a ship that was supposed to take her family to China, but the ship’s captain decided en route to dump them all overboard, to drown. The girl’s father knew it was going to happen and in order to save her, he threw his daughter off the ship as they were passing Orcas Island (in the San Juan Islands west of Seattle). She was saved. The book switches from that time to current time as a woman is rebuilding her family’s home on Orcas and finds a beautifully embroidered silk Chinese robe sleeve hidden under a stair step. The book is about that sordid past and the young girl’s descendents, and about the woman who is rebuilding. Stunner of a novel. Good for a book club read, I think. It has a reader’s guide at the back with good questions for book groups.

How It All Began: A Novel by Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.


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.


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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