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Just finished The Letter by Kathyrn Hughes. It’s a very intricate tale. At first it’s about Tina, a battered wife [at which point I paused and wondered if I wanted to read any further, but I’m glad I did]. She tries to get the courage to leave her husband. Then enters the letter she finds in a suit pocket in the thrift shop where she volunteers. It’s old – sealed and stamped, but never mailed. Then you learn about Crissie, decades earlier, a young pregnant girl who is sent off to Ireland to a distant relative by her father, then to a rigid (meaning horrible) convent [the book takes place mostly in Manchester, England and in rural Ireland]. The letter is addressed to her. Jump forward decades and William, the adopted child Crissie gave up, tries to find his birth mother. William meets Tina in Ireland [a serendipitous moment] as she’s trying to find the woman to whom the letter is addressed. This book is the #2 best seller on Amazon at the moment. It’s a riveting tale and I really enjoyed it.

Read Grace Unshakled, by Irene Huising. From Amazon’s page, it says: “In the year 2025, 17-year-old Grace Duncan finds herself in shackles because of her faith in Christ. An obedient daughter and stellar student, doing time in jail was never on her mental radar, despite the changes in religious laws [this takes place here in the United States] over the past few years. Through twists and turns in circumstances, Grace and a small band of Christians in Newport Beach, California begin a journey to discover what it means to follow Christ with unwavering faith in the midst of increasing persecution. Facing the potential loss of all her hopes and dreams, would Christ be enough?” We read this for one of my book clubs, and it’s a scary thought about what it could mean if we take God out of our country. The author is a friend of a friend and she attended our book club meeting to share about how she came to write this book. I don’t often share my faith here on my website, but this book made me stop and think about the direction our government is going, removing more and more our ability to worship God. Or to worship in any religion. Will this book ever make waves in the book world? Probably not. My copy may be a pre-edited version, as it contained numerous typos and formatting errors. But they didn’t detract from the subject, just the cosmetics. The book doesn’t come to a resolution; in fact it leaves you hanging, as some books do. It was intentional (obviously), but left me wondering about the “end of the story.”

Also just finished reading The Muralist: A Novel by Shapiro. It tells the story of a young woman, an artist, who was part of the U.S.’s WPA mural project from the 1930s-40s (she is fiction, the WPA is not). As with so many artists, even today, they live in abject poverty through much of their lives. This woman, though, had family in France, desperately trying to escape before Hitler’s henchmen rousted them into concentration camps. The story, a bit of a mystery but not of the mystery-genre, is about Alizée Benoit, this young painter, who slightly captivates Eleanor Roosevelt’s help. It also skips into current time when the painter’s great-niece uncovers paintings she believes were painted by her aunt. The painter had disappeared into thin air in 1940, and her relative tries desperately to find out what happened to her. It’s a really good story including such Abstract Expressionist painters as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner well-woven into the narrative. It keeps you guessing right up to the end. A good read. The author also wrote The Art Forger: A Novel a few years ago.

Read 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) – 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 Margaret of York (a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine),  who was 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 first!

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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