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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 aging 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, wealthy women) 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.

I’ve written up an entire blog post about this book. (It hasn’t been posted yet, but will soon.) It may be one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a memoir by Pat Conroy (an author I’ve long admired). He died a year or so ago – sad, that. In order to get the most out of My Reading Life, I recommend you BUY THE HARDBACK. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s an autobiography of sorts, but not really. He never wrote one, I don’t think, and I doubt he would ever have written one as he likely didn’t believe anyone would want to read about his (sad) life. In this memoir, he chronicles the books (and the people who recommended them) that influenced his life. Starting at his mother’s knees and continuing through influential teachers and mentors and friends. One of my book clubs read it, and I devoured it, cover to cover, with little plastic flags inserted all the way through to re-read some of the prose. Pat Conroy was a fabulous writer – he studied words from a young age and used them widely and wisely throughout his writing, but better than most authors would. He adored his mother, and hated (with venom) his aviator military father who physically abused everyone in the family, including his mother. They all took it like stoic Buddhas. I’m going to have to read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel because of reading this book. I’ve never read it. Conroy says that book’s first page is the best first page of any book he ever read in his life. Wow. And maybe my book group is going to re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Vintage Classics) too because of the chapter on that book. We might have to assign that to a 2-month or longer read. If you have friends or family who are avid readers, this would make a great gift, this book, My Reading Life. If YOU are a reader, it needs to be on your bookshelf, but in hardback, so you can go back to it and re-read his stories. It’s a series of essays, each one about a sub-section of his life. A must-have and a must-read.

Also read The Towers of Tuscany by Carol Cram. It was a bargain book through amazon or bookbub (e-book). Back in the Middle Ages women were forbidden to be artists. Their only place was in the home, caring for children and sewing and cooking. But the heroine in this book was taught to paint by her widowed artist-father (in secret, of course). When her father suddenly dies, all hell breaks loose and she must fend for herself. Much of the book takes place in Siena (and also San Gimignano) as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

 

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 August 4th, 2007.


My friend Linda emailed me one day just to tell me about this glorious apple cake. With the most unlikely name: Grandgirl’s Fresh Apple Cake from Georgia. Huh? She mentioned it again a few weeks later. We do share recipes all the time, and she’s a good cook. She still works full time, so can’t go to cooking classes much, if at all.

She has the MasterCook software also, and I’ve taught her how to use it, how to capture recipes off the web and easily import them into the software. It’s really quite easy. MasterCook is not expensive software, but it’s a very powerful program that accomplishes nearly everything I need to do to save my recipes. I have over 400 recipes in My Cookbook within MasterCook 9. It has a lot of functions that aren’t exactly “advertised,” but are subtle enhancements the program offers if you learn how to use them. Like scaling recipes. You’re having 10 for dinner and the recipe serves 6? No problem. Two keystrokes and you have the recipe re-sized for 10.One of the things I like the best is the fact that I can create my own custom cookbook design. In other words, I’ve set up a pretty design for all of my recipes. If you have printed out one of the recipes from my blog, the recipe was entered into MasterCook 9, then I converted it to a PDF file (for Adobe Acrobat) so you can print the exact recipe, with picture, in the format I’ve chosen.

I love working with MasterCook. One of its better features is how easy it is the copy and paste a web-based recipe into the program. It takes about 3 keystrokes to get to the import assistant, a small help screen that requires very little to get the recipe into MasterCook. I move a few things around sometimes (the program likes the recipe to be in a certain order), I hit a couple more keystrokes and the recipe is there. Sometimes a photo is available; if so, I import that too. I never forget that adage – a picture speaks a thousand words. Or, I use a fairly new feature called the Web Import Bar which will help you transfer a web recipe into the program. Also very easy.

So back to the fresh apple cake. Last weekend Linda drove up to our house (she lives about 50 miles south of us) on Sunday JUST to fix a wonderful dinner for us. Bless her heart! DH was delighted not to have to cook. I was delighted to finally eat two of Linda’s favorites that I’d not gotten around to trying. Grandgirl’s Apple Cake from Georgia was one of them. We’re still eating off the cake 5 days later. It’s SO SO good.

The recipe came from Paula Deen, and unfortunately it’s no longer available online at the food network, but you can find it at a couple of other sites if you do a search on the web for the title. It doesn’t need any changes or embellishments. It’s perfect just the way it is. It’s a dense, nutty cake. Just overflowing with apple flavor. And once the cake is baked, you pour over it this luscious buttermilk sauce that takes a bit of time to soak in. Please try this recipe. It doesn’t need anything to serve with it, but it’s good with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, or even a drizzle of heavy cream too. So, thanks Linda, for another winning recipe.
printer-friendly PDF

Grandgirl’s Fresh Apple Cake from Georgia

Recipe By: Paula Deen via my friend Linda
Servings: 20

CAKE:
Butter — for greasing pan
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 ½ cups vegetable oil
1/4 cup orange juice
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 cups apples — peeled and finely chopped
1 cup coconut — shredded
1 cup chopped pecans
SAUCE:
½ cup butter — (1 stick)
1 cup sugar
½ cup buttermilk
½ teaspoon baking soda

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Generously grease a tube pan.
2. For the cake: in a large bowl, combine the sugar, eggs, oil, orange juice, flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and vanilla extract; and mix well. Fold apples, coconut, and pecans into batter.
3. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a tester comes out clean, about 1 ½ hours.
4. Shortly before the cake is done, make the sauce: Melt the butter in a large saucepan, stir in the sugar, buttermilk, and baking soda, and bring to a good rolling boil, stirring constantly. Boil for 1 minute. Pour the sauce over the hot cake in the pan as soon as you remove it from the oven. Let stand 1 hour, then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.

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  1. Anna

    said on August 11th, 2007:

    Hi Carolyn,

    I just saw that grandgirl apple cake recipe on FoodTV today, so I guess it’s back on-line. It’s something I’d like to try. My mother’s coming for a visit, so maybe I’ll make it for her.

    As for Mastercook, I have it and love it but am not really happy with the cookbook publishing functionality. Lately, I’ve been working with something called http://www.Blurb.com The site lets you download publishing software. After you build a book using their software, you submit it and they print it and bind it. You have to enjoy playing with publishing type software to really get into it, but the end result will look professional.

  2. Carolyn T

    said on August 11th, 2007:

    Thanks for the idea about blurb.com. I’ll go check it out. I agree with you that printing is the poorest feature in MC. I’ve never printed my entire cookbook. I’ve learned from the MC discussion group on Yahoo (Yahoo Groups) that most people who print divide up their “cookbook” into smaller ones (like one cookbook is just appetizers, even if it’s only 4 recipes; another would be cookies, even though that might be just 10 of them) as that seems to be an easier number of recipes to work with. And, if anything went wrong with a huge cookbook like mine is, it’d be forever before the printer would stop.

    Funny about the Grandgirl’s recipe. It truly wasn’t online earlier this week! But I noticed that Paula is on reruns right now.

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