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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 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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