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me_in_paris_198That’s me, on a trip, in a Paris restaurant.
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On a recent road trip, I listened to 2 books on CD that I checked out of the library. With long stretches of highway with nothing to occupy my time, I love doing books on CD. The better of the 2 was definitely Frances Mayes’ new memoir, Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir. She narrates the story herself, and I just loved hearing her southern accent all the way through, her lilting, slow manner of speaking. She tells the story of her youth, from as young as she can remember to about age 25 or so, with most of it her coming-of-age in her teens. Her parents were alcoholics. Her older sisters were away at college. She wasn’t from a wealthy family exactly, but there was some money, a maid that she loved dearly who protected her from her parents sometimes. A grandmother figures large for some of the years. Her thought processes are normal, although she says from the get-go that she always felt she was different than most people, not a traditionalist for sure. Having read her other books, I never picked up on all the angst she experienced as a young woman, a girl, really. I absolutely LOVED the book. Mayes has a gift of prose – of a kind you don’t often read – she uses amazing language and phrases, adverbs and adjectives. Describes scenes so well and with such detail you just know you’re right there beside her.  Didn’t want it to end. As I reached across to the passenger seat to pull out the last CD I was sad, knowing the story was coming to an end. Because she ended it at about age 25, I suspect there may be another book in her future. For several days after I listened to this book I could hear Mayes’ southern accent in my head (like I hear memorable music when I attend a concert or sing a hymn or praise song at church). Her voice resonated in my head. If you enjoy memoirs, and reading about a kind of a crazy family, AND you like Frances Mayes, well, then, you’ll like this book for sure.

The other book, that I am sorry to say I cannot recommend is Sue Miller’s book, The Senator’s Wife (Vintage Contemporaries). Reading the back of the CD box I wasn’t sure, but I took it anyway. And at first I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue listening to it (when the young woman digs into her neighbor’s personal letters when she’s supposedly taking in the mail and watering plants), then got engrossed in the story. It’s about a young couple who move to a new house, part of a duplex in New England. Their next door neighbor is the aging and somewhat estranged wife of a Washington Senator. The young woman is far too curious about her neighbor and her neighbor’s marriage, what there is of it, although she cares about her neighbor a lot. The chapters switch back and forth between the young wife and the aging woman next door with their personal daily trivia, interspersed with some drama on both sides. The Senator is a philanderer, hence the partial estrangement. The young woman has a baby and consequently spends lots of time at home, overwhelmed with motherhood, hoping for something to change her life. When the Senator has a stroke and returns “home” for his “wife” to care for him (her choice) the plot thickens. The young wife is asked to babysit, so to speak, for an hour or so once a week for the old man, and that’s when, something happens that sickened me. I disliked this young woman and felt her behavior was just so disappointing. I couldn’t continue. If you like that sort of thing, then maybe you’d like the book. I was on the last CD when the story took this turn, and I was sorry I’d wasted so many hours on it to get there. Friendship isn’t about betrayal – it isn’t a friendship then. If any of you have read this already and want to comment, send me an email. Go to my contact page above.

Read Maude by Donna Mabry. It’s a true story (but written as a novel) about the author’s grandmother, Maude. It takes place from the early 1900s to her death in the 1960s. She lived a hard, hard life (mostly in Detroit), and there’s information that even takes me back to things I vaguely remember about my own grandmother’s life. I was fascinated. I won’t say that I couldn’t put it down, but I looked forward each night to read what was going to happen next. It’s hard to tell you much about the book without revealing too much of the story – I won’t call it a happy book, because there is much sadness within its pages, but you admire Maude for what she did, the role she played, her inherent grit. But I wanted to smack her 2nd husband! A good read, though.

While I was on my 3-week trip to Europe, I read 5 books. Of them all, Sgt. Reckless: America’s War Horse by Robin Hutton, was by far the best story, a true story about an American Marine. Many books have been written about Sgt Reckless, this rather nondescript, small Mongolian mare that was purchased by American forces in Korea in the height of the war. She was reared as a race horse, but she spent her career as an heroic soldier for our military, saving countless lives as she willingly delivered munitions from one place to another. Everyone who came in contact with her loved her. She became a regular soldier, mostly so they could requisition food for her. Sometimes she survived on next to nothing to eat. She aimed to please, and please she did, as in one 24-hour period she ferried ammunition up steep slopes (too steep for soldiers to climb) and she did it all by herself. When the Marines unloaded her cargo, she immediately worked her way down for more. She knew what she was supposed to do. She was highly intelligent, amazing many people over the course of her life. If you love animal stories, you’ll love this one. Have a Kleenex box nearby.

Another really riveting story, one I could hardly put down, is The Headmaster’s Wager by Vincent Lam. My friend Joan recommended this one to me. Most likely  you’ve never read anything about Chinese immigrants living in South Vietnam during the war there, right? Neither had I. And you have to keep track of who is who, and the politics of the time. The Vietnamese don’t like Chinese people, so there’s that going on. The Chinese man runs an English school somewhere near Saigon. He has a right hand man who may or may not be what he appears to be. The Chinese man has a son who gets himself into trouble. Oh, webs woven every which way. As I said, I could hardly put it down. Will make a very good book club read.

IN THE POWDER ROOM: The guest half-bath in my house has a little tiny table with a pile of books that I change every now and then. They’re books that might pique someone’s interest even if for a very short read. The Art of Travel, a collection of essays about traveling (it’s not a how-to), gathering a variety of stories of some historic authors and where and why they traveled; The Greatest Stories Never Told; and Sara Midda’s South of France; also Forgotten Bookmarks: A Bookseller’s Collection of Odd Things Lost Between the Pages (just the cutest book – with a miscellany of things – letters, grocery lists, notes, reminders, confessions the author discovered hidden inside the books he purchased for his used bookstore).

 

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small engraved sterling silver tea spoons that I use to taste as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Desserts, on January 5th, 2012.

apple_cake_whole

Tis the season for apples. And when I can be torn away from my family favorite, Crisp Apple Pudding (it’s really an apple crisp, but that’s it’s name!), I have a few other apple desserts that I will make. Grandgirl’s Fresh Apple Cake for one. And I’m very enamored with Teddie’s Apple Cake too. But I decided to make something new this time. We had some of our family for dinner on January 2nd, and this was the dessert I made, with major help from daughter Dana.

I found the recipe over at Food Gal’s blog a couple of years ago. The original article came from the New York Times, back in 2008. David Rose (owner/chef of Spring, in Paris) was interviewed about his story – his career – which has rocketed since he opened the restaurant. Included in the article was his grandmother’s apple cake. Not something, he said, that he could or would serve in his restaurant, but he wanted to share something of his Jewish heritage.

 

apple_cake_slice

I’d intended to use the (above) as my main photo for this post, but when I opened the whole-cake photo at top, I decided it needed to have star billing. When I say that this is a “variation” on the original, it’s only because I used one more apple than the recipe called for. I love that one big chunk of apple that’s about to fall off the slice.

The batter is a butter and egg rich one, but doesn’t contain anything unusual. You do fold into the batter about a third of the apples, then the remaining apples are arranged decoratively on top of the batter in a springform pan. It’s baked for about an hour and allowed to cool. The darker colored edges are from the cinnamon sprinkled all over the apples. Gives it a lovely golden hue. The cake was wonderful. We had 9 people partaking, and I think I heard raves from about 7 of them, me included.

What I liked: everything about it. The flavor – the cake part is really tasty too. At least half of each serving is apple, so you might think it’s healthier for you. Well, probably not so since there is a lot of butter in it. I’ll definitely make it again.

What I didn’t like: now that I know more about it, I’d cut the apples that go into the batter in smaller pieces, like 1-inch chunks. It’s hard to level the batter when it contains the rather monstrous apple slices. That’s it, though.

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Babette Friedman’s Apple Cake

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Daniel Rose – original recipe printed in New York Times, 2008. Babette Friedman was Daniel Rose’s grandmother.
Serving Size: 10
NOTES: The original recipe called for 4 apples. I used 5. Do be certain you add at least a third of the apples to the batter. If you don’t you’ll have too many slices to fit on top. With 5 apples I did have just a few slices left over. Next time I make this – although it was not in the original recipe – I will cut the apples that go into the batter into smaller pieces. Not small-small, but maybe each slice into thirds. Do not use Granny Smith apples in this as they are too firm and too big.

8 ounces unsalted butter — (2 sticks) plus more for greasing pan
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar — remove 1 T. for sprinkling on top
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
4 whole Gala apples — peeled, cored, and each cut into 8 slices
1 tablespoon Calvados — or apple brandy
1 teaspoon fresh ginger — grated
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
The reserved 1 tablespoon granulated sugar — for sprinkling on top
Sweetened whipped cream for topping

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Butter a 9-inch springform pan, and set aside.
2. In bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine butter, sugar (remove the 1 T. for sprinkling on top), and salt. Mix until blended and fluffy. Add eggs and whisk until smooth. In a small bowl, combine flour with baking powder. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the flour-baking powder mixture into the butter-sugar mixture until thoroughly combined. Fold in about 1/3 of the apples, and spread batter evenly in pan.
3. In a large bowl, toss remaining apples with Calvados, ginger and cinnamon. Arrange apple slices in closely fitting concentric circles on top of dough; all slices may not be needed. Sprinkle remaining 1 tablespoon sugar over apples.
4. Bake until a toothpick inserted into center of cake dough comes out clean and apples are golden and tender, about 50-60 minutes (or a little longer). Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream.
Per Serving: 413 Calories; 20g Fat (42.7% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 56g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 92mg Cholesterol; 142mg Sodium.

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  1. Carolyn Jung

    said on January 5th, 2012:

    Yours turned out very pretty! Glad you enjoyed the cake. It’s a reminder to me that I need to bake it again now that it’s apple season. Happy New Year!

    Thank you, Carolyn. We DID enjoy the cake – and I had leftovers last night. Happy New Year to you, too! . . . carolyn t

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on January 5th, 2012:

    Oh there you are! I lost you, so sorry. Firmly bookmarked this time. Love your new photograph and the Apple Cake recipe.

    I have a lot of catching up to do. Happy New Year!

    Am so glad you “found” me again. I just uploaded the new photo. We had a photo studio group visit our church, to update our member directory, and they took some really good pictures of us. We had one blown up large and framed it. For an additional $18 they mailed us a CD with all the photos on it, so we own them. .. .carolyn t

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