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Just finished reading 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 because 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 a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine, Margaret of York, later titled Countess of Salisbury, but 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, too!

Winter Journey by Diane Armstrong. Have you ever read about forensic dentistry? I sure had not, so I found it fascinating reading. It’s a debut novel for the author, and what a story. Halina, an Australian, with Polish roots, specializes in this obscure profession as a forensic dentist, and is asked to go to Poland, to help identify bone (and tooth) fragments, to put to rest a sad event in the story of this small town, when many, many people (Jews) were murdered. Was it the Nazis? Or was it the local townspeople who disliked the Jews. What a tangled web of intrigue, including Halina’s own mysterious past. I really enjoyed the read. The author does a great job of developing the characters (which I always like). This is no light read if you consider the subject matter, although it IS a novel (but based on fact). Nor is it a spy thriller – it’s more just an historical novel with lots of interesting people throughout. There’s a romance thrown in too, and a whole lot of angst about the discoveries found in the mass grave. But, the subject expanded my knowledge about forensics.

The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr. I just LOVED this book. I’ve never been much of a fan of Caravaggio’s paintings, although I’ve seen plenty of them (many are extremely large) in museums around the world. His paintings were dark, often with dark subjects. But as with many of the old masters, occasionally some obscure work surfaces, perhaps credited to another artist, even, that turns out to be one done by “the” master. In this case, Caravaggio. Although this book is written as a novel (with dialogue, etc.) it’s historical through and through. It begins with two young women art scholars, in Italy, who are asked to do a research project. One thing leads to another, and to another. All true.  If you enjoy books about art – I learned some things about the paint and the canvases of the time – you’ll be intrigued as I was.

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, 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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