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Just finished reading How It All Began: A Novelby 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.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant (she arrived after the birth, actually). Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the father is a wealthy man in the area who carries a lot of clout. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

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 middle-aged 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, and wealthy) 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.

 

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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