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Recently finished reading The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke. All I can say is “wow.” In a general sense, this book is based on the premise of The Pilot’s Wife. But this one has some totally different twists and turns. A young wife is met at the door by police, informing her that her husband has died in an auto accident. Then she finds out he died in Hawaii – not Kansas, where she thought he was, on business. Then she finds out there was a woman in the car. Then she meets the fiance of the woman passenger and the two of them embark on a fact-finding mission in Hawaii to discover the truth. Well, I’m just sayin’ . . . the plot thickens. And thickens. And thickens clear up to the last few pages. Hang onto your seat. A really, really good, suspenseful read.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. What a WONDERFUL book. It opens up a shameful part of America’s past, but one you might not have heard about before this. In the late 1800s thousands of Chinese workers were brought to the West Coast to help with a variety of construction projects and a myriad of other things where laborers were needed. Many settled, married and made a new life for themselves. But suddenly the white population didn’t want them here anymore and they summarily ordered them ALL out of our country. This book chronicles a young Chinese girl, who was on a ship that was supposed to take her family to China, but the ship’s captain decided en route to dump them all overboard, to drown. The girl’s father knew it was going to happen and in order to save her, he threw his daughter off the ship as they were passing Orcas Island (in the San Juan Islands west of Seattle). She was saved. The book switches from that time to current time as a woman is rebuilding her family’s home on Orcas and finds a beautifully embroidered silk Chinese robe sleeve hidden under a stair step. The book is about that sordid past and the young girl’s descendents, and about the woman who is rebuilding. Stunner of a novel. Good for a book club read, I think. It has a reader’s guide at the back with good questions for book groups.

How It All Began: A Novel by 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. 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 angry father is a wealthy and influential man in the area. 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.

 

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 April 19th, 2012.

rhubarb_cake

A tender, tender cake with rhubarb. Full of brown sugar flavor, nuts and just overall deliciousness!

OMGosh. Trust me when I tell you you HAVE to make this cake. It’s rhubarb season, folks. Go buy some right now and make this asap. The recipe came out of the book I told you about a few days ago, Bonny Wolf’s Talking with My Mouth Full: Crab Cakes, Bundt Cakes, and Other Kitchen Stories. I’d told you I was going to bake her mother’s cake-mix style chocolate pistachio bundt cake first. I lied. When I went grocery shopping the other day I spotted rhubarb. Beautiful, pristine stalks that just begged to be bought. I did. I bought. I mixed. I made.

The cake itself was very, very easy to make. This one is not a cake-mix type – just simple ingredients – butter, brown sugar (hence that darker crumb to the cake), an egg (just one), some cream, flour and stuff like that. Then you fold in 1 1/4 cups of chopped up rhubarb and pour it into a 9×9 pan. The topping just “makes it.” A combo of sugar, softened butter, cinnamon and walnuts – sprinkled over the top and it’s baked for 45 minutes. Mine was done in about 41 minutes (I tested the interior of the cake with my Thermapen instant thermometer), when it reached 210°.

A few hours later I cut squares. Oops, I lied again. I cut one square. My DH didn’t want any. He’s not crazy about rhubarb (he says) and it did have quite a bit of sugar in it. I used some Splenda in the topping, but I have never tried the Splenda brown sugar mix (guess I should), so I needed to use the real stuff in the cake. But, when I put the first bite into my mouth I let out a resoundingly loud “mmmm.” He came walking over to me and I gave him a bite of mine. He too went “mmmm.” Then he said “wow.” I said “wow.” I was sorely tempted to cut another slice, but I resisted. This could be made as a coffeecake, I think – but it’s certainly a lovely dessert. I didn’t put anything on it (like ice cream or whipped cream) as it doesn’t need it at all. As I’m writing this it’s about 11 am and my DH said, after we returned from a bunch of food shopping, that he blood sugar felt low. I offered him a little piece of the cake and he scarfed it up in a matter of a minute. And pronounced it “delicious.”

What I liked: the extremely tender and moist crumb of the cake – soft and silky; loved the nutty and cinnamon laden topping. The rhubarb is a low-profile undercurrent. I might even add more rhubarb next time. The cake is certainly sweet enough it could handle more, I think. This is a keeper. It’s going onto my favorites list, if that’s any indication of how much I loved it. I’m so glad I read Bonny Wolf’s book and copied out this one.

What I didn’t like: absolutely nothing!

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

Fern’s Rhubarb Cake

Recipe By: Talking with Your Mouth Full, by Bonny Wolf, 2006
Serving Size: 9

CAKE:
1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 large egg
1 cup cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 pinch salt — (more if using unsalted butter)
2 cups flour — (USE SCANT MEASURE)
1 1/2 cups rhubarb — finely diced
TOPPING:
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup walnuts — chopped (or pecans)

1. Preheat oven to 350°
2. Butter a 9×9 baking pan.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer cream the butter and sugar. Add the egg, cream and vanilla and mix. Add baking soda, salt and flour, then blend thoroughly. Stir in the rhubarb.
4. Pour batter into baking pan.
5. Mix the topping ingredients together and sprinkle over the cake. Bake for 45 minutes (or to 210° using an instant read thermometer). Cool on a rack.
Per Serving: 469 Calories; 24g Fat (45.6% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 59g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 81mg Cholesterol; 313mg Sodium.

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