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Since I’m a fan of Ann Patchett, it’s no surprise that I wanted to buy her most recent book, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage. It’s a book of short stories, but not fictional ones – it’s a compilation of essays and articles she’s written over the course of her writing life. My favorite is the one in which she describes in intimate detail how she goes about writing a book. About the process, her thinking, and the the hard, hard work it entails. I loved every one of the stories. She is quite self-deprecating about the book – it likely wasn’t her idea to put it together as she never thought any of her essays were worth much. She wrote them to make a living. Each of the chapters (essays) has been updated and/or addended to, so she did have to put some spit and polish on all of them before sending this group to the publisher. She’s written essays for a very esoteric group of publications; some I’d never heard of. But I enjoyed the book from beginning to end.

Also just finished reading The Invention of Wings: A Novel by Sue Monk Kidd. What a story. Sometimes it’s a good thing to read the author’s notes before you read a book. I guess I’m glad I didn’t (in this case the notes were at the end of the book) because it was then, afterwards, that I read that one of the characters in this novel is fictional; the other two (sisters) were real. There’s a bit about the Quaker religion in this book too, which was different. This is a slavery story and about the beginnings of the abolitionist movement. Interwoven between the 2 sisters who make waves about anti-slavery is the poignant story of one particular slave and her hard, hard life. It’s heartbreaking in many respects, not just because of the violence and abuse heaped upon her. The book is almost a page-turner. Very glad I read it.

Also read The Four Seasons: A Novel of Vivaldi’s Venice by Laurel Corona. It was recommended to me by a friend, and I enjoyed it a lot. It has a rather unusual story line, all envisioned by the author from reading a tiny line of elaborate script from a journal at what remains of a foundling hospital (run mostly like a convent by Catholic nuns) in Venice. It said something like Antonio Vivaldi purchased “a bow for Maddalena Rossa.” That started the author’s novel journey. Two sisters are raised at the Ospedale della Pieta. One becomes famous for her violin skills; the other for her voice. One is married “out” and the other stays cloistered her entire life. Then you throw Vivaldi himself into the mix, as he really was paid by the Ospedale for his compositions and for teaching some of the residents to play instruments. It’s an enlightening story about Vivaldi himself (a priest, with a lot of questions about his piety). It takes place in the early 1700s. Fascinating story and I want to listen again in total to Vivaldi’s very famous work, The Four Seasons, as a result of reading this. I’ve heard it many times before, but it will have new meaning now.

Also read The Time In Between: A Novel by Maria Duenas (translated). Apparently this book has been a runaway best seller in Europe as it deals with a little known, or I should say a part of WWII that you’ve probably never read about – Spain. The heroine is a Madrid seamstress, but is seduced by a young man to go to Morocco. She knows no one and is left high and dry when the lover disappears. She finds her way, makes friends, begins sewing couturier clothing in Morocco. The Spanish Revolution intervenes and merges into WWII. She becomes a spy of sorts (in Madrid) because she is coveted as a seamstress to the Nazi wives of Madrid. It’s a page-turner and informative. Good read.

IN THE POWDER ROOM: Our guest half-bath 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); and The Trouble with Poetry (Billy Collins).

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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