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me_in_paris_198That’s me, on a trip,  sitting in a Paris restaurant.
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Just finished reading Unsaid: A Novel by Neil Abramson. I think I read about it on amazon because I don’t remember anyone telling me about it. Perhaps amazon recommended it to me because I’ve read several books about African animals lately. The narrator of the book is the soul and voice of a woman who has just died of cancer. So she’s a ghost, of sorts, or an angel. But she’s hanging around her old life (her husband, her friends, her co-workers – she was a veterinarian) because she’s so very worried about her menagerie of animals she owned and worked with. The crux of the story is about a chimpanzee that is part of a U.S. government study – measuring the intelligence and sign language ability of this one chimp. The funded study is suddenly ended, and the intelligent and sentient animal (that word, sentient – I had to look it up – is used several times in the book – it means with “feelings”) is going to be returned to the general population of chimps used for maybe not-so-nice drug studies and likely would die from an inflicted disease. The widower is an attorney, and he’s thrown into battle with the U.S. government about saving the chimp. There’s a huge message here about the use of animals in drug studies and it’s hard to come away from this book without feeling “feelings” for the sweet chimp, whose intelligence was measured as the age of a 4-year old human. You’ll be drawn into the many other animals, the husband’s grief, and the team of people trying to save the chimp. Quite a story.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah – many reader friends recommended it, and oh, is it good! If you’re at the end of your tether with reading WW II resistance stories, you’ll want to skip this one, but you’ll be rewarded if you do read it. It’s the story of 2 sisters who live in a remote area of France and both get caught up in the war. There are some very terror-filled moments in this book – I won’t kid you – the deprivation, torture, hunger, betrayal; all the things that make a book real, wartime real. The relationship between the sisters isn’t always good. One becomes a resistance fighter; the other is a mom whose husband fights for France, but is imprisoned for years. She eventually participates by shepherding Jewish children to safety. It’s a riveting book, and the 2 women are portrayed with great realism.

Also read The Secret Chord: A Novel by Geraldine Brooks. It’s a novelized biography of King David, the man who was a sinner from his youth. If you’ve studied the Holy Bible, then you’ll know that he reformed, eventually, and he is credited with writing most of the Psalms. If you’ve spent much time reading Psalms, then you’ll know there is so much angst contained within the poetic verses. David was a consummate writer and poet – no question about that – and he was a musician as well. But he had his appetites, which betrayed him over and over and over. He laments his bad character in the form of the Psalms. I can remember singing in our church choir one of the Psalms about Absalom, his beloved son, that he had killed. King David’s time was primitive, life for life, where trust wasn’t taken lightly. It’s a really fascinating portrayal of the man, his vices, and his eventual redemption.

If you’re already a fan of Molly Wizenberg, then you’ll know about her book Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage. Molly started off writing a blog some years ago, called Orangette. She wrote a book (part memoir and cookbook) a few years ago, and her prose is a delight to read. She’s a commander of words. This book is the story of meeting and marrying her husband Brandon, and their journey to realizing HIS dream of opening a pizza restaurant (Delancey) in Seattle. It’s a very interesting read since they built the restaurant in a questionable neighborhood; they had insufficient money. Let’s just say that along the road to getting the restaurant open, there are many hurdles, including her own belief in the project. I loved the book. And yes, there are a few recipes included too.

After I read The Elephant Whisperer (which was a fabulous book), I read online that Lawrence Anthony considered his best book The Last Rhinos: My Battle to Save One of the World’s Greatest Creatures. So I had to read that, of course. It’s the very sad story about his effort to extract 6 rare white rhino from deep in the jungle of Africa, in an area controlled by guerrillas. He’s unsuccessful, and now the only known white rhinos left are in zoos. They’ll likely be extinct in the next generation. I wasn’t as enamored with the book as I was with the elephant book – maybe because the mechanics of trying to find and negotiate to get the rhinos wasn’t as riveting as the elephant stories. Jungle politics, nighttime helicopter flights, slogging in the mud all play important parts. If you want to know more about rhinos, the rare northern whites, then you’ll want to read this book. Maybe you’re lucky enough to have one in your local zoo. Great literature this is not, but it tells an important story about poaching and why we must fight to eliminate it with education.

Also read, for one of my book clubs, Circling the Sun: A Novel by Paula McLain. It’s the biography of Beryl Markham, but only of her early life. Beryl’s own book, West with the Night has long been a favorite of mine, but she only wrote about her later life once she learned to pilot a plane and flew all over Africa. The McLain book is about her youth on her father’s horse farm, her coming of age and about falling in love (she was a philanderer from way back), her young adulthood, her marriages, her successes in life and her failures. It’s a VERY good book that I enjoyed reading from beginning to end. Markham is known more compellingly for her piloting career, but she led a fascinating life before she ever began to fly. Worth reading.

Read Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. Oh my goodness. When one of my book groups met to discuss this book, we all talked about the crying we did at the end. Oh yes, me too. This is a novel with a point to make (somewhat like Jodi Piccoult’s books). In this case it’s the right to die issue and it’s cloaked in a fast-paced page turner. A young woman who is a bit at loose ends, accepts a new job as a caregiver, something she’s never done before, to a young man who had recently become a quadriplegic. There are numerous sub-stories (about her family, her relationship with her sister, her boyfriend and her relationship with him, the patient himself, who is grumpy, and his relationships with his mother and father and ex-girlfriend). And, it’s about his wish to end his life. During the last 100 pages I could hardly put it down. I don’t want to jinx the story. It’s a romance of sorts. It’s gritty in a way, but charming. Loved the book. Now I’m going to order the sequel, the book the author never really intended to write, but so many people wrote her asking for one. I’m right there too. This book is being made into a movie.

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 February 15th, 2012.

pineapple_upsidedown_cake

You remember the ubiquitous pineapple upside down cake from the 1950’s. With canned pineapple rings and a maraschino cherry in the center of each? With a bland-tasting yellow cake? Well, this isn’t THAT recipe, but it’s similar – using fresh pineapple and a light textured “cake flour” batter.

You know all about Thomas Keller, right? Probably the most well-known chef in the U.S. – because of his restaurant The French Laundry (in Yountville, California, in the middle of wine country). I’ve never been there – it’s still, all these years hence – almost impossible to get into. It takes reservations, but a long way in advance. And, it’s very dear to eat there – upwards of $200+ per person. A few years ago Keller opened a second restaurant nearby, called Ad Hoc. I haven’t been there, either. But Keller has published a couple of cookbooks, namely The French Laundry Cookbook, Ad Hoc at Home, and a boxed set of both: The Essential Thomas Keller: The French Laundry Cookbook & Ad Hoc at Home [Box Set] [Hardcover].

One day some years ago I read a recipe online for an appetizer soup that was in one of his cookbooks (the first one, I think). It was an almond soup (or maybe it was hazelnut), as I recall. Not finding the actual recipe anywhere, I visited my local bookstore and surreptitiously took the cookbook to a convenient chair and copied it off in cryptic notes. It was an intensely long, loooong recipe. And I’ve never made it. It looks like it would take hours to prepare. More work, likely, than I’m interested in, although the person who had made it just raved about it. So, based on that recipe, I’d decided I didn’t need to buy the cookbook – as I glanced in it, the recipes were mostly pages and pages long. Then, when he published his Ad Hoc cookbook, I thought it might be more approachable. And indeed, it is. One of my favorite chocolate chip cookies came from that cookbook. Chocolate Chip Cookies from Ad Hoc, in case you’re interested. I make them every now and then, although my favorite, I think, are Chocolate Chip Cookies from Silver Moon Bakery. But, I still haven’t purchased either cookbook. I should check my local library. Sorry, I got sidetracked there.

pineapple_upsidedown_collageSo, I decided to make this Pineapple Upside Down Cake that came from Keller’s Ad Hoc cookbook. I’d read about it online at Foodgal’s blog. I figured that Keller would have discovered the real secret to such a cake – probably a better and different topping (actually, remember, it starts out on the bottom, but then it is turned over and becomes the top after baking). And more importantly, I figured he would have found a much better (and lighter textured) cake to pair with it.

The cake as a whole isn’t hard to make, although it does have a few steps – a few more than usual. First you make a schmear. What’s a schmear? Well, in this case it’s a mixture of brown sugar, butter, honey and dark rum. That softened stuff is spread all over the bottom of the 9-inch (high sided) cake pan. You can see the schmear in the top photo above. It took a bit of doing to get it to spread out in the pan. And there’s another little aside: the recipe has you make enough for 3 pans worth of schmear. In the headnotes it does indicate that you make more than needed – I didn’t read that when I actually started making this. He said the quantity is too small to mix up well in a stand mixer.  I’ve adjusted the recipe below accordingly, hoping you can make it work – if you do it with a hand mixer I think it’ll be fine.

Anyway, once the schmear is in place you cut up a fresh, very ripe, pineapple. That took awhile – at least half and hour, I’d say to cut it properly and layer it in the pan – on top of the schmear. The pieces are overlapped slightly so it covers the entire schmear. I think I’d perhaps layer a bit more pineapple – I used about 2/3 of the pineapple, I’d guess. Just a bit more would have been good. I think I should have cut the pineapple is thicker pieces by just a little bit. I’d have liked more of that flavor as I was eating it.

Then you make the cake batter – nothing out of the ordinary here except that it uses cake flour and you need to be gentle with it to keep the batter inflated, so to speak. You don’t whip egg whites separately or anything – it’s a pretty straight-forward yellow cake. Anyway, that is poured in over the pineapple, leveled off and baked. The cake rests for 20-30 minutes before you run a knife around the outside edge and invert. The center of the cake was a little indented when it came out of the oven, so I was concerned, but it was fine once I inverted it. I served it with whipped cream and a little bit of crystallized ginger on top.

What I liked: Well, that it’s an updated version of that old-fashioned favorite. I liked the fresh pineapple, although once it bakes, it’s hard to tell it’s from a fresh pineapple. The cake has a lighter consistency (texture) than my mother’s old recipe. Maybe it needed a little caramel sauce drizzle over it too. Just a thought.

What I didn’t like: I think I expected more from it – that it would be somehow exceptional. It wasn’t. It was good, but nothing to write home about. I think my pineapple slices were just a tad too thin, too. Use most of the pineapple if you decide to make this. It certainly was pretty, though. Would I make it again? Probably not. Maybe pineapple upside down cake isn’t one of my favorites?

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MasterCook 5+ import file – right click to save file, run MC, then File|Import

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake (Ad Hoc)

Recipe By: Adapted from “Ad Hoc at Home,” via Foodgal blog
Serving Size: 8
Serving Ideas: I served it with softly whipped and sweetened cream, and sprinkled a tiny bit of finely minced crystallized ginger on top.

FOR PAN SCHMEAR:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter — (1 stick) at room temperature
1/2 tablespoon honey
1/4 teaspoon dark rum
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 dash vanilla paste — or pure vanilla extract
Kosher salt
1 whole fresh pineapple
CAKE:
1 1/3 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
8 tablespoons unsalted butter — (1 stick) at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar — plus 2 tablespoons
1/2 teaspoon vanilla paste — or pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon milk — plus 1 teaspoon

1. With a hand mixer, combine the butter, honey, rum, sugar, and vanilla, and beat until smooth and well blended. Spread schmear over the bottom of a 9-inch silicone cake pan [I used a traditional metal pan and the cake came out just fine]. Sprinkle lightly with salt.
2. Cut top and bottom from pineapple, and cut away peel. Cut pineapple lengthwise into quarters, and cut off core from each section. Cut each piece crosswise into 1/8-inch-thick slices. Beginning at the perimeter of the pan, make an overlapping ring of pineapple slices with the curved side facing out. Make a second ring inside the first one, overlapping the slices in the opposite direction, working toward the center of the pan. Reserve any pineapple for another use.
3. Sift flour and baking powder together; set aside. Preheat oven to 350°.
4. Put butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle and mix on low speed to combine, then beat on medium speed for about 3 minutes, until light and creamy, stopping to scrape down the sides as necessary. Mix in vanilla. Add eggs one at a time, beating until the first one is incorporated before adding second and scraping down the sides as necessary. Beat in milk. Add flour mixture in 3 batches, beating just until combined.
5. Pour batter into pan and spread over pineapple. Bake for 15 minutes. Rotate the pan for even browning and bake for another 20 to 25 minutes, until a cake tester or wooden skewer inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool cake in the pan on a cooling rack for 20 to 30 minutes.
6. Run a knife around the edges of the cake, invert onto a serving platter, and serve warm. (Leftover cake can be stored at room temperature for up to 2 days.)
Per Serving: 343 Calories; 18g Fat (45.1% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 45g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 96mg Cholesterol; 147mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on February 15th, 2012:

    I haven’t made one of those for so many years! Now I rarely eat cake, how times change.
    Isn’t that so true! Although I do make cake now and then just not pineapple upside down. . . Carolyn t

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