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Oh wow. Just finished reading David Guterson’s book, East of the Mountains. You know this author from his most well known book, Snow Falling on Cedars. I loved the Cedars book when I read it years ago, and assumed I’d like this other book (not new) as well. Have you learned to trust my judgment when I tell you, you HAVE to read a book? When I tell you the story line, I can already hear you thinking . . . oh no, I don’t want to read this kind of a book. Please trust me. You’ll come away from it being glad you did. It tells the tale of a 70ish man, a widower, who has been diagnosed with terminal colon cancer. He’s a retired physician, knows the scenario of death by cancer, and doesn’t want to do it. He decides he’s going to take a bird hunting trip, east of the mountains in Washington State (Guterson writes a lot about his part of the world), with his two dogs, and he’ll commit suicide. He sets up an elaborate ruse with his children and grandchildren, and heads out. All of this, so far, takes place in the first 10 pages of the book. First he has an accident in his car, and that sets off a cavalcade of incidents. You’ll learn a whole lot about flora and fauna (one of Guterson’s writing attributes). You’ll learn a lot about apple and pear orchards, which abound in eastern Washington (I’ve been there, it’s beautiful, pastoral and full of fruit). Flashbacks of his life story are interspersed throughout, his growing up on an apple farm, meeting his wife, his service in WWII, their reuniting after the war and the life they had. You’ll learn some about his cancer pain, the grief of his wife’s death 5 years prior, and about his resolve to end it all. Please don’t NOT read this because  you’ll think it’s depressing. It is and it isn’t. It’s so much more for the better. And I just read, this book is being made into a movie.

A fabulous read – Catherine Ryan Hyde’s newest book, Have You Seen Luis Velez? I marvel sometimes about how authors ever come up with the ideas they do, to create the premise for a novel. And this one is right up there at the top of the list. Raymond, a youngster, an older teenager, who has a big lack of self-confidence and feels like an odd duck sometimes, reluctantly (at first) befriends an elderly woman in the apartment building where he lives with his mother and step-father. He discovers she’s blind and needs some help, which he gives her. Then he discovers that there is a lot more to know and understand about this elderly little lady down the hall and he begins a journey to try to find someone for her, the Luis Velez of the title. If you want to use coming-of-age to describe this, that’s partly true. He learns all about himself, the abilities he didn’t know he had, the kindness that lives within him that he never realized was there, and the friends he makes along the way who make some life-changing differences in his young life. He discovers he has some gifts that he can give to others, something most teenagers don’t understand. I can’t recommend this book highly enough – it’s a bit of a tear-jerker, but for every good reason and moral character trait described in the book. It’s there.

Kristin Hannah is quite an author. She’s written upwards of 20 books, I think. This one, Magic Hour: A Novel is another very mesmerizing read. I could hardly put it down. A young, 6-year old child is found in a small town on the Olympic Peninsula. She’s mute and frightened beyond reason. And she seems not to understand English. A psychiatrist is brought to town to try to unravel the mystery and to “reach” the child. I don’t want to spoil the story, but know that the whole subject of nature (biology) vs. nurture comes into play and will keep you hanging onto your seat until the last few pages.

Ever heard of Barbara Pym? I knew the name, but hadn’t ever read any of her work. She was an English author (deceased now), having penned several books. I think she was an inveterate spinster, and in this book, Excellent Women she wrote about a small village community in England with the humdrum, day to day life, but she wrote with such interesting detail. I thought I might be bored to tears reading it, as it describes a 31-year old woman, considered a spinster in the time (1950s), and the book is about her rather boring life with new neighbors who move into her small home (2 units, sharing a bathroom), the local vicar, his sister, and a myriad of other ladies of the parish. Yet you get caught up in the very minor intrigue of the deteriorating marriage of the couple in the building, the love life of the vicar, and the annual planning for a jumble sale at the local church. This book is considered Pym’s best. I loved the book. I highlighted a bunch of phrases and sentences (I will be doing a book review in one of my book clubs). It wasn’t boring at all, and was entertaining right up to the last page!

Did you ever watch Sandra Lee on the Food Network? This was in the early days of the network, and I did watch her some, although her cooking style didn’t mesh much with mine, since I’m a bit of a make-things-from-scratch kind of girl. But then, I don’t make my own mayo, or jam anymore. And I understand her philosophy, making it easier for busy women to feed their families and juggle a busy life. I’d never thought about reading her memoir. But then, a friend highly recommended I do so. I found a used copy online, and read Made From Scratch: A Memoir. She had a very, very hard young life. Her mother? Well, she shouldn’t have even been a mother. Sandra was the eldest and from a very early age she took care of all of her younger siblings. She was badly mistreated and nearly raped by a family member. Her grandmother Lorraine was her favorite person from the get-go and Sandra took care of her grandmother in her waning years. Once Sandra was old enough she left home and went to college for 3 years, then her entrepreneurial spirit just took over. She learned by doing in every job she’s ever had, and I have to admire her tremendously for her accomplishments. She made money, then lost it, found another niche, made money, then lost it. Yet she’s got the kind of grit that we should all emulate. There are 2 recipes in the book. Sandra is a Christian, and a paragraph that really gripped me was at the very end: “Grace has become one of my favorite words. To me it means learning to balance the good days with the bad. Grace is about being proud of yourself, your actions, your life, what you stand for, and the way you give back [Sandra is a huge philanthropist]. Its’ being generous when someone hurts you; it’s knowing when and how to react. It’s knowing that someone you’re not fond of today might turn out to be the only person who puts his or her hand out tomorrow just when you’re about to step in front of a moving bus. Grace is offering understanding and acceptance when the rest of the world does not.” This book isn’t great literature; yet I’m very glad I read it. She is an inspiration.

The book Pachinko (National Book Award Finalist) by Min Jin Lee had been recommended to me by several friends. Finally got around to reading it. It’s a novel about a family of Koreans living in Japan and covers several decades, beginning in the 1940s, I believe. They’re poor. Dirt poor, yet the women just get themselves back up and work. The husbands in the story have problems, health and otherwise. But what you see here is work, and work and more work just to keep above water. You’ve probably read about how poorly Koreans are treated in Japan – they’re kind of thought of as scum of the earth. I don’t know if this phenomena is still true today, but it apparently was even up until a couple of decades ago. As  you read this book, you’ll find yourself rooting for various family members as they progress in life. A fateful decision is made by one that reverberates throughout her life and those of her children. Pachinko (the machines and the gaming economy that runs because of it) is thought of as part of the underbelly of Japanese culture. I remember seeing the pachinko machines when I visited Japan back in the 1960s. So the book infers, much of pachinko is even controlled by a kind of Japanese mafia and certainly has no status if you work in the pachinko arena. Wealth, yes. Status, no. Very worth reading, even though it’s tough going part of the way. This isn’t a “happy” book. But still worth knowing and reading about the subject. Reading the author’s afterword at the end was very revealing and interesting.

Also read An American Marriage (Oprah’s Book Club): A Novel by Tayari Jones. The book is set in the south with a young, well-educated, middle-class couple and suddenly the husband is accused and convicted of rape (that he didn’t commit). The book is not about the justice system or his wrongful conviction. Not at all. It’s about the relationship, the husband, wife, and then the 3rd person who inserts himself into the mix. Much of this story is told through the letters that Roy and Celestial write each other during and after his incarceration. Jones recreates the couple’s grief, despair and anger until they finally work their way to acceptance, but maybe not how you would expect it. This is complicated emotional territory navigated with succinctness and precision, making what isn’t said as haunting as the letters themselves.  Some of the above (italics) came from the New York Times’ book review.

Recently finished Sally Field’s memoir (autobiography) called In Pieces. I’ve always admired her and her acting, but never knew much about her. I remember when she was involved with Burt Reynolds, but knew nothing about her dysfunctional coming of age. I think she’s a consummate actress, and was awed by her performance in Norma Rae, and also with her role as Abraham Lincoln’s wife.  She wrote this book herself, with help from a writer’s workshop and with some good advice from various other writers. It’s very well written. She spends a lot of time discussing the very young years and her perverted step-father. But the over-arching person in her life was her mother, be what she may as far as being a good/bad mother. I really liked the book; really enjoyed reading about how Sally throws herself into her tv and film roles over her life. And what a defining moment Norma Rae was in her career. Well worth reading if you enjoy movie star memoirs.

If you want grit, well, read Kristen Hannah’s newest book, The Great Alone: A Novel. It’s a gripping novel about a young girl whose family moves to Alaska when her father is gifted a small plot of land with a ramshackle cabin on it that’s barely fit for habitation. The family survives only because some of the townspeople offer to help them learn how to live through an Alaskan winter, which is not easy. The girl’s father is a tyrant and a wife-beater as well. Some pages were hard to read. Surviving on the land with nearly no funds is an arduous task in the best of times, but doubly so when you’re dealing with an Alaskan winter which lasts about 9 months of the year. I don’t want to spoil the story by telling you too many details. The book touches on some very current social issues and is so worth reading. Although difficult at times, as I said. But I’m very glad I did. I think it would make for a good book club read – lots of survival issues to discuss, let alone the other social problems that ensue. But there’s also love, which makes it worth the read.

Recently finished reading a book for one of my book clubs. I’m interested to find out who in that group recommended this book, Tangerine: A Novel by Christine Mangan. Had it not been selected for my club, I wouldn’t ever have picked it up. Most of it takes place in Tangiers, in the 1950s. Alice and John have moved there, newlyweds, when Lucy Mason shows up. Lucy is Alice’s former college roommate. Lucy simply moves in. There’s bad blood between them following the death of Alice’s beau during their college years. Lucy, who might appear as a very sensible woman, has a dark physical and mental obsession with her “friend.” Is it horror? Not really by strict definition. Is it a mystery? Not quite, although there are several murders that take place. Chapters jump between Alice’s voice and Lucy’s voice and you understand the mental fragility of Alice, and this consuming obsession Lucy has for her friend. I’m NOT recommending this book, but I did finish it just because of my book club choosing this very strange book.

You’ve got to read Catherine Ryan Hyde’s book – Take Me With You. What a story.  From Amazon’s description: August Shroeder, a burned-out teacher, has been sober since his nineteen-year-old son died. Every year he’s spent the summer on the road, but making it to Yellowstone this year means everything. The plan had been to travel there with his son, but now August is making the trip with Philip’s ashes instead. An unexpected twist of fate lands August with two extra passengers for his journey, two half-orphans with nowhere else to go. What none of them could have known was how transformative both the trip—and the bonds that develop between them—would prove, driving each to create a new destiny together. Have a tissue handy at the end. It’s such a charming, sweet story. You’ll fall in love with the young boys, and fall in love with them again 10 years later.

One of my book clubs occasionally reads a kind of edgy book. This is one of them. By Mohsin Hamid, Exit West: A Novel is a book set in an age not dissimilar to our own and in current time, but something bad has happened in the world. Something never divulged, although symptoms of a civil war are mentioned. A unmarried couple, Nadia and Saeed, are given the opportunity (as others are, as well) to go through a door (this is the exit part of the title) and to another place in the world – it takes but a second – to go through the special door. They go to England (London), to a palatial mansion. Sometimes the power grid is sketchy. Another door. And yet another. And finally to Marin County (north of San Francisco). You follow along with the ups and downs of the chaste relationship of the two, this couple from a house to living on the streets. And the eventual dissolution of the relationship too. I wasn’t enamored with the book, but after listening to the review of it and hearing others talk about it, I suppose there’s more to this story than it might appear. Hope is the word that comes to mind. The book is strange, but it won the Los Angeles Times book award in 2017. It’s received lots of press. It made for some very interesting discussion at our book club meeting.

The Last Letter from Your Lover: A Novel by JoJo Moyes. Story: Jennifer Stirling wakes up in hospital, having had a traumatic car accident. She’s introduced to her husband, of whom she has no recollection, and is sent home with him eventually, to a life she neither remembers or embraces readily. But this is the life she was raised to have, so surely it must be worth living, underneath the strange, muted tones of her daily existence. Jennifer goes through the motions, accepts what she is told is her life and all seems to bob along well enough, except when she finds a letter that isn’t her husband’s handwriting, and is clearly a link to someone she has been involved with, but whom? London, France, Africa and America all come into play in this story of a woman piecing back together her life in effort to understand what she has lost, and what she threw away. There is a bit of a time-hop from 1964 to 2003. . . from a reviewer on amazon.  I loved this book from page one to the end. There’s some bit of mystery and you so get into the head of Jennifer Stirling. I could hardly put it down. Great read.

Francine Rivers, an author relatively new to me, but much admired, is most known for this: Mark of the Lion : A Voice in the Wind, An Echo in the Darkness, As Sure As the Dawn (Vol 1-3) It’s a trilogy. The first 2 books are about Hadassah, a young woman in the time of the Roman Empire. When Jerusalem was overrun and destroyed, the Christians still alive were sent off and away, separated and derided and abused. Hadassah was one of them. She’s a slave to a wealthy family and it takes 2 of the books to read before the son of the family finally realizes that he’s in love with Hadassah. If  you’re a Christian, you’ll learn a whole lot more about the time following Christ’s crucifixion, about the lot of the struggling Christian community. The 3rd book in the trilogy is about a gladiator who is part of book 1 and 2, but not a main character. You’ll learn about his life too, after he regains his freedom from the fighting ring and the battle of his soul. These books are a fabulous read. Can’t say enough good things about them all. I’ve never been a huge fan of old-world Roman Empire reading, but this one was altogether different. Very worth reading.

Amy Belding Brown wrote this book: Flight of the Sparrow: A Novel of Early America, a true accounting in 1676, of Mary Rowlandson, a woman who was captured by Native Americans.  Even before she was captured on a winter day of violence and terror, she sometimes found herself in conflict with her rigid Puritan community. Now, her home destroyed, her children lost to her, she has been sold into the service of a powerful woman tribal leader, made a pawn in the ongoing bloody struggle between English settlers and native people. Battling cold, hunger, and exhaustion, Mary witnesses harrowing brutality but also unexpected kindness. To her confused surprise, she is drawn to her captors’ open and straightforward way of life, a feeling further complicated by her attraction to a generous, protective English-speaking native known as James Printer. The story is riveting, and perplexing once she is traded back to her home. You’ll see a different side to the Indian problem back then and find yourself conflicted. An excellent read.

Taylor Caldwell was a prolific writer, and one I read when I was younger. She died in 1980, and this book, her last, Answer As a Man certainly delivers as her others did. All his life, Jason Garrity has had to battle intolerance and injustice in his quest for power, money, and love. His new hotel will give him financial security, the means to support a loving family and become an upstanding citizen. When family secrets and financial greed combine to destroy his dreams, his rigid moral convictions are suddenly brought into question. . . from Goodreads. Caldwell believed the banking industry was way too powerful, and often took aim at it, as she did in this book. It chronicles the life of a very poor, impoverished Irish immigrant to the U.S. He was an upstanding citizen, God-fearing, but maybe naive in some respects. Good book if you enjoy very deep character study.

Another book by Diney Costeloe, Miss Mary’s Daughter. When a young women is suddenly left with no family and no job or income, she’s astounded to learn that she’s actually a granddaughter of a “grand” family in Ye Olde England. She’s very independent (at least I thought so, for the time period), but is willing to investigate this new family of hers. There are many twists and turns – is she going to inherit the family home – or is the man who has been caring for the home and his daughter the logical inheritors. There’s a villain who nearly sweeps her off her feet, much intrigue from many characters. Well developed plot with a happy ending. A good read.

Celeste Ng is a hot new author. I read another of her books (see below) but this time I read Little Fires Everywhere. There are so many various characters and plots in this book, as in her others. This book focuses on a Chinese baby abandoned at a fire station and the subsequent court battle when the single mother surfaces six months later to try to reclaim her daughter from the family in the process of adopting her. Emotions well up, waxing and waning on both sides of the issue. You may even find yourself changing your own mind about the right or wrong of a child raised with a natural-born mother (albeit late to the raising) or the mother the child has known since near birth. Ng likes to write books with lots of grit and thorny issues. Although a good read, I liked Everything I Never Told You better than this one.

The Rent Collector by Camron Wright. Oh my. This book has so many layers: (1) the young, impoverished couple and their infant son who live, literally, in a dump in Cambodia and about the precarious structure, if you can even call it that, that comprises their “house” in the midst and perched on top of trash; (2) the woman who collects the rent (hence the title and yes, people have to PAY to live there); (3) the young son’s chronic illness; (4) how they make a living out of collecting and selling trash; and (4) the life saving grace and wisdom imparted by characters in the book as the young mother begins to learn to read. If you decide to read this book, please don’t stop at about page 15-20, thinking you just don’t know if you want to read about this. Please continue. It’s so worth it. Have a highlighter pen in your hand because you’ll find so many quotes you will want to remember. Believe it or not, there is also quite a bit in this about literature.

C.J. Box’s book The Disappeared (A Joe Pickett Novel). I just love Box’s novels. They take place in present day semi-wild west, and chronicle the fish and game warden, Joe Pickett, as he unravels another crime in his territory. A woman has disappeared, and the governor has asked him to figure it out. He does, but the tale meanders  through multiple layers of intriguing story. His books are riveting. Men and women enjoy his books – so if you have a fellow in your life or family that would enjoy an intriguing book (this is not espionage) then gift him one of Box’s books.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. About a dysfunctional family, through and through. I picked this up from amazon from someone who read the book, named “McReader,” and she says: “Set in the 70s, the story follows a Chinese American blended family in Ohio. When Lydia [the daughter] is found floating in the lake, her family is forced to analyze what put her there. Was it pressure from her family to succeed? Was it pressure to fit in? Was it a crime of passion or convenience? I was spellbound reading the last half of this book. I loved each flawed family member, especially Hannah,. While the story went where I hoped it would go, I was not disappointed at all with the progression. It was also quite insightful on the prejudices that society had about Chinese Americans still during that timeframe and how careful parents have to be to put their dreams onto their children.” Such a good book and definitely worth reading. Would be a good book club read. You’ll be hearing more from this author. Am currently reading her next novel, Little Fires Everywhere.

The Boston Girl: A Novel by Anita Diamant. A very, very intriguing book. The book is written from the voice of a Jewish grandmother as she tells her granddaughter the saga of her life starting about 1910, who struggles with her own individuality, with her domineering mother who never says a kind word to her. It’s certainly a coming-of-age story as she grows up, finds a job, makes friends, joins a literary girls club, moves out, but still suffers under her mother’s thumb and tongue. She becomes a reporter on a local newspaper, which opens her eyes to more of the world than she ever knew. She finally meets the right man (of course!) and she shares the stories about her life, and her friends and family members as she grows up, giving some sage advice along the way. Part of the time she’s talking to herself – to her young self  (really wanting to tell young Addie to keep on, forgive herself for her perceived transgressions, to live life, and experience the world).

One of the best books I’ve read in a long time – Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. Rivers is a prodigious writer of Christian fiction, and I’d never read anything by her until now. As I write this, I’ve already read this, another one (below) and just purchased the Kindle trilogy called Mark of the Lion (Vol 1-3) that I haven’t yet started. (Two of my friends have said the trilogy is her best.) Redeeming Love details the fictional story of a godly man, Michael Hosea, forging his way in the era of the Gold Rush. He’s “driven” to rescue a beautiful prostitute who lives and works her trade in a nearby town. The entire book is about the story, the rescue, and it parallels a bit of scripture about Hosea who rescues a prostitute names Gomer. You get into the heads of both Hosea and the prostitute, named Angel. We read this for one of my book groups. A great read.

As soon as I finished the above book I promptly visited my church library and found a whole shelf of Rivers’ books, and grabbed one called The Atonement Child. This book takes place in the 1980s or 90s, about a young college student who is raped. She was engaged to be married, was a stellar student. The book chronicles what happens to her when she discovers she is pregnant from the rape. Every possible thing goes wrong in her life. I don’t want to spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it, but I couldn’t put it down. I ended up spending a good part of a day plowing through it. You hear her inner voice (I’m guessing this is a common thread in Rivers’ books) from a Christian perspective. Lots of meaty issues to discuss in a book club if your group would be interested and willing to talk about rape, abortion, adoption and the thorny issues surrounding all of those things, but with a Christian bent, for sure.

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen. It’s kind of amazing how many and varied plot lines can be created from events of WWII. This is another one, about a current day woman who finds papers in the attic, after her father’s death, with references to “the child.” She never knew her father could have had another child – could she have a step-sibling somewhere? Her father she knew, had been shot down over Italy, but he never talked much about it. But of course, she must go to Italy to find out about this “child.” The book flips back and forth from this daughter on the search, to her father during the war, all of it taking place in a very small town in Tuscany. It’s about the varied people she meets who want her to go away and not dredge up anything about the war years (are they hiding something, you question), about how much she loves the landscape, and some of the people. And about the intense love affair between the injured pilot and a caring woman of the village. Very charming story. I could almost smell the flowers, taste the olives, hear the bees flitting, and loved the prose about the simple meals that were described. I really enjoyed the book. Perhaps not enough meat for a book club read, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy reading it nonetheless.

Leaving Blythe River: A Novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde. Almost a page turner. When one uses the phrase “coming of age,” it usually means (I think) love and loss/boyfriend/girlfriend, and in this case it’s somewhat that way. When Ethan, a 17-year old boy and his mother come home unexpectedly to find dad and his young secretary in a compromising position, all hell breaks loose. Separation happens instantly and just as his father moves out, his mother has to go take care of her aging mother. Ethan’s too young to be left in the NYC apartment alone, so Mom sends son to the father who is escaping from the world in Wyoming, living in a primitive A-frame house, and continuing his daily 20+ mile running journeys. Ethan and his father are barely speaking. They live in the middle of nowhere. Ethan feels betrayed by his father in every possible way, and somewhat by his mother for forcing him to live with his father for a temporary period. Then his father doesn’t return one day from his run. The authorities do a cursory search, but they are under the impression the dad wants to “get lost” on purpose. Ethan, although he thinks he doesn’t care, really does. What happens next is best left to you reading this book. Very interesting people (kind of loners) enter the picture and off they go to search. So worth reading.

The Girl With No Name by Diney Costelhoe. What a good book. Perhaps you’ve read before about the huge numbers of German refugee children who were sent to England before Hitler closed down any exits. This is a novel about one particular young girl, who is devastated when her mother puts her on one of the boats. She ends up in London, in an orphanage kind of place, and is eventually placed with a childless couple. She speaks no English. They speak no German, but they manage soon enough. Lisa (who eventually becomes Charlotte) is so homesick. She’s bullied at school, because most people and children don’t want any Germans there. A boy steps up to protect her, and as she grows up, she’s attracted to him. She shouldn’t be – he’s also German and from her own home town. He’s not a good match for her. You live with her through the blitz during all those war years and during one attack, she’s badly injured and loses her memory (and no ID on her). Through a series of mishaps she ends up in a village far from London, with a spinster woman who does eventually come to love her very much – they name her Charlotte and Charlotte she becomes. She goes to school there, still longing, though, for her mother and brother and her London foster family too. Then when she’s 16 she returns to London to help at the orphanage where she was originally placed and tries to find her foster parents. The story goes on from there, with the boy/man who “wants” her, the bad boy, and a good boy/man she befriends in the village in the country. Eventually she regains her memory. SUCH a good read.

The Girl with Seven Names by Hyanseo Lee. If you, like me, know little about North Korea and how it came to be what it is today, you’ve got to read this book. It’s a memoir written by a young woman who escaped from North Korea about 9 years ago. Her journey – and I mean JOURNEY – is harrowing, frightening, amazing, heart-rendering all at the same time. She chronicles the lives of the Kims (Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il to current Kim Jong Un), shares the strict propaganda that surrounds every North Korean citizen, the poverty and hunger, as well as the underground black market for food and goods. It took her awhile to get from North Korea, to China and eventually to South Korea, where she currently lives. She’s well educated and speaks English quite well. She was invited to be a speaker at a TED talk – you know about those, right? TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a media organization which posts talks online for free distribution, under the slogan “ideas worth spreading.” I listen to them as  podcasts now and then. Always very educational, if sometimes over my head when it gets very technical. She works diligently for human rights now, doing her best to help other North Koreans escape. You owe it to yourself to read this book.

Also just finished reading The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian. Another WOW book. I’ve always liked the author – many years ago I read his book, Midwives and really liked it. Don’t confuse this book with the one I recently read, The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas that I reviewed recently. I think we read it in one of my book groups. He’s a brilliant writer, and this one has a lot of characters and twists. It’s a novel, but based on a lot of truth regarding the Armenian genocide. Most of the book takes place in Aleppo, Syria with some good Samaritan folk trying to help rescue people (mostly children) following the forced long marches the Turks made prodding the Turkish Armenians to exit their country. But it also jumps to near present day as a family member is trying to piece together obscure parts of her grandparents’ former lives there. She uncovers some hidden truths (many survivors of the genocide never-ever-ever wanted to talk about it) and a bit more about her Armenian heritage. A riveting book – I could hardly put it down. Lots to discuss for a book club read. I simply must read more of Bohjalian’s books (he’s written many).

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.

 

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 May 8th, 2019.

apple_cinn_custard_cake_whole

Lovely, lovely apple cake – maybe more like a torte. Light, tender yet packed with sliced apples.

Hi everyone – Carolyn here – how am I? Good. Busy. Have just finished having my laundry room remodeled – so happy to have my washer/dryer back and installed. Have moved my kitty’s circulating water bowl and food dispensing machine into the laundry room and have had to teach him where it is (remember, he’s blind). It took him a few days. Am currently having solar panels installed on my roof. Am glad I’m getting this done just before the summer heat begins. The company has guaranteed I’ll have a reduction of at least 55% of my current high electric bill (and maybe more). It’s supposed to pay for itself in 4 years. Otherwise I’m good. Do I miss writing the blog? Yes, I must say that I do, but not enough to write often! I’m still on the Steven Gundry diet (14 months and counting) and am still losing. I’m still on a regimen of soup for lunch and a salad for dinner with some kind of protein in it. Salad dressings are my most innovative, although I am making numerous varieties of soup too. Made an Arabic ground lamb and vegetable soup yesterday. Lamb really isn’t on the diet, but I was tired of chicken and fish so picked up a package of ground lamb that looked extremely lean. Don’t know that it’s blog-worthy, however.

apple_cinn_custard_cake_sliceMy bible study group started up again after a couple of months’ hiatus. We’re studying the book of James. Anyway, I needed a dessert for 10, and this cake just spoke to me. But, caveat here: I didn’t taste it. I asked my guests to tell me in detail about the flavor and texture. There were raves all around from my guests.

The recipe is from the chef, Curtis Stone. I found it on a Australian website, so converted it to our measurements. I didn’t have an orange, so used lemon zest. The apples are drenched in orange liqueur, which keeps them from turning brown while you prepare the cake batter. The cake is baked in a springform pan and when it was finished, and cooled, it was very easy to get out of the pan. The bottom of the cake was extremely moist, so I used my offset spatula to release the cake from the pan bottom and gently slid it off onto the pedestal cake stand (above). Once in place I couldn’t move it to center it. But then, you probably didn’t even notice, right?

My guests told me the apple flavor was very prominent, and that the cake was super-moist. One person couldn’t taste the cinnamon, so I might up that a little bit if I made it again. Also, I added cinnamon to the whipped cream. They also loved the little crispy top (some of the cake batter is reserved, flour added to it and it’s poured over the top). I forgot to sprinkle powdered sugar all over the top when I served it. Oh well. I asked – is this recipe a keeper? They all said in raised voices – YES.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Apple Cinnamon Custard Cake

By: From Curtis Stone (chef)
Serving Size: 10

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 Granny Smith apples — peeled, cored, cut into 8 wedges, then cut into very thin slices
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier — or other orange liqueur
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour — plus 2 tbsp extra
1 cup sugar — plus 1 tbsp extra
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon — divided use
1 cup canola oil
1 cup whole milk
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons orange zest — or lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon powdered sugar — sifted
WHIPPED CREAM:
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon icing sugar

1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 330°F. Grease a 9-inch springform pan with butter.
2. In a medium bowl, toss the apples with Grand Marnier (or Cointreau) to coat, and set aside
3. In another medium bowl, whisk together the 1 1/4 cups of flour, 1 cup of sugar, baking powder, salt and 1/4 tsp of the cinnamon. In a large bowl, whisk together oil, milk, whole eggs, orange zest and vanilla to blend. Whisk dry ingredients into the wet ingredients to form a smooth batter. Be careful not to over-mix. [I used my stand mixer for this.]
4. Transfer 1 cup of the batter to a small bowl and mix in the remaining 2 tbsp flour; set aside. Whisk egg yolks into remaining batter in the large bowl just to blend. Stir in the apples. Transfer the apple batter to prepared pan and, and spread batter into an even layer and press the apples in to submerge them. Pour the reserved batter evenly over the apple batter. In a small bowl, whisk the remaining sugar and cinnamon to blend, and then sprinkle it evenly over the batter.
5. Bake for 50 mins, or until a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean and the top is golden brown. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and cool for 15 mins. Run a knife around the sides of the cake and release the pan sides. Cool cake for about 30 mins to serve warm, or cool completely. Dust with icing sugar.
6. To make whipped cream, in a medium bowl, whisk cream and sugar. To serve, cut cake into wedges and serve with a generous dollop of whipped cream.
Per Serving: 502 Calories; 41g Fat (73.2% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 29g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 82mg Cholesterol; 285mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, Uncategorized, on April 11th, 2019.

Wanna know what SMBC means?  SMBC is Swiss Meringue Butter Cream.

This is a post from Sara.  Please note this recipe takes time but is not difficult.

Sorry for the long delay in getting a blog post up here but I chose a ridiculously complicated dessert to be my first attempt on my own.  What ever made me think I should post a cupcake that includes 3 separate recipes, I’ll never know.

I’ve been baking since I was itty bitty and I’ve never found a chocolate cake this moist or a frosting so good.  I’m never going back to a standard butter cream recipe.  You know, the typical butter, powdered sugar and liquid.  The SMBC is the lightest, fluffiest frosting I’ve ever worked with.  As with all other frostings, you can color it and flavor it but it is best done without liquids.  Colored gels and powdered flavors are best.  The cake is a buttermilk recipe that is now my absolute go to favorite.  I’m very new to Pinterest but found this website Livforcake.com.   The blogger, Olivia, gave me the inspiration for this recipe.  I actually used her buttermilk chocolate cake and her SMBC peanut butter recipe but added the surprise center filling on my own.

The original cake recipe used oil and buttermilk but as I am watching my fat intake, I substituted low fat buttermilk and unsweetened applesauce.  I’ve made the recipe both ways and the original recipe is excellent.  It’s fluffy, moist and very intensely flavored.  However, with the sweetness of the filling and frosting, I don’t mind the change.

There is a real trick to making SMBC (Swiss Meringue Butter Cream).  There is a tips blog page on Olivia’s website that I would mandate you read first if I could grab the link.  So search SMBC on her website for “How to make swiss meringue buttercream”.  The biggest and most important detail is to use metal utensils and bowls and to wipe them down with lemon juice or vinegar before using.

I have a thing for filled cupcakes so this has 3 recipes that make up the cupcake.  If I could suggest, bake the cupcakes beforehand.  Then scoop out the centers (keep for snacks later!) and make the peanut butter filling.  Drop a ball into each cavity.  Then make the frosting.  Assemble and decorate.  I made these for my niece and her soccer team.  She shoots and she SCORES!  Needless to say, they were a big hit.

What’s GOOD:  What’s not to like?  These are moist, decadent cupcakes with a peanut butter surprise and intensely flavored peanut butter frosting.  I love this cake recipe.  I think it’s my new favorite.

What’s NOT:  If you haven’t made a meringue frosting before, it can be intimidating.  As I said, read up on it first and DO NOT skip the acid wipe of your all metal utensils.  I’ve made the SMBC twice now and haven’t had any problems.  The recipe is time consuming, I admit.  But I made the cupcakes Thursday night after work.  Stored them in lidded containers.  Then Friday after work, I scooped out the cupcakes, made the filling and dropped it in.  It probably took me 30 mins to make the frosting.

printer friendly pdf for the cupcakes

Chocolate Buttermilk Cake

Adapted from LivForCake.com
Servings: 24

1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder, sifted
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup buttermilk, room temperature
3/4 cup hot water
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 350F, line cupcake pan with cupcake liners.
2. Place all dry ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Stir to combine.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk all wet ingredients (pour water in slowly as not to cook the eggs if very hot.)
4. Add wet ingredients to dry and mix on medium for 2-3 mins. Batter will be very thin.
5. Pour evenly into prepared cupcake trays.
6. Bake until a tester comes out mostly clean 18-22 mins.
7. Cool 10 mins in pans then turn out onto wire rack to cool completely.
8. CUPCAKES: scoop out center of cupcake to make room for filling, if using.

. . .
printer friendly pdf for peanut butter filling

* Exported from MasterCook *

Peanut Butter Filling

Recipe By: Adapted from an old magazine
Serving Size: 28

1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
3 tablespoons butter — softened
1 cup confectioner’s sugar

1. Stir together peanut butter and butter.
2. Gradually add sugar, stirring til combined.
3. Shape into balls. Place on wax paper and chill til needed.
Per Serving: 55 Calories; 4g Fat (56.1% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 5g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 3mg Cholesterol; 34mg Sodium.

. . .
printer friendly pdf for SMBC PB Frosting

* Exported from MasterCook *

Peanut Butter SMBC (Swiss Meringue Butter Cream) Frosting

Recipe By: LivForCakes.com

5 large egg whites
1 2/3 cup dark brown sugar lightly packed
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter cubed — room temperature
1/2 cup powdered peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla

1. Place egg whites and dark brown sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk until combined. Ensure there is NO trace of egg yolk.
2. Place bowl over a hot water bath on the stove and whisk constantly until the mixture is hot and no longer grainy to the touch (approx. 3mins). Or registers 160F on a candy thermometer.
3. Place bowl on your stand mixer and whisk on med-high until the meringue is stiff and cooled (the bowl is no longer warm to the touch (approx. 5-10mins)).
4. Slowly add cubed butter and mix until smooth. It may look like it’s curdling at some point. Keep mixing until it comes together.
5. Add powdered peanut butter & vanilla and whip until smooth.
Per Serving: 96 Calories; 0g Fat (0.0% calories from fat); 18g Protein; 3g Carbohydrate; 0g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 274mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on February 16th, 2019.

caramel_apple_rose_final

So quick and pretty – just 15 mins from start to oven

This is a post from Sara: The recipe is from Phillis Carey.  I attended a class a few months ago and am now on her mailing list.  I saw these gems on her Valentine’s Day email and I thought; I can do that!  They are so simple and quick; just 3 main ingredients.  I had them ready for the oven in less than 15 mins.  I baked them while finishing the rest of dinner and served them warm with vanilla ice cream.

apple_rose_tart_stripsThe puff pastry is folded in thirds so just cut the thawed pastry on the crease lines then each third in half to get 6 equal strips.  I used a silicone pastry brush to spread the caramel sauce from end to end. The microwaving of the apple slices is imperative because they must be soft to roll.  Then line the strip of pastry with the apple slices skin side up 1/4” above the top of the pastry overlapping a bit.  Fold the bottom half of the pastry over the apple slices leaving skin side exposed.  Then roll from end to end forming a rose.

apple_rose_tart_before_bakingPlace in muffin tin and continue with remaining strips.  Sprinkle with course sugar and bake.  I drizzled more caramel sauce on top and served it with vanilla ice cream.  My family just loved them.

What’s Good: I love how quickly I put this together.  Valentine’s Day was a weekday this year and I was able to put this together after work no problem.  I also think they are pretty and look difficult to make.

What’s Not:  There is some time to allow for the puff pastry to thaw.  Also I found the Smucker’s brand of caramel sauce not intense enough.  I think I’d try the Mrs. Richardson’s Butterscotch Caramel or maybe Dulce De Leche for a more robust flavor.

printer friendly pdf

* Exported from MasterCook *

Caramel Apple Rose Tart

Recipe By: Phillis Carey’s recipe
Serving Size: 6

1 apple — Honeycrisp, Pink Lady or Gala work best
6 tablespoons caramel sauce — purchased and extra for garnish
1 sheet frozen puff pastry sheet — thawed
Coarse sugar
Vanilla ice cream

1. Preheat oven to 400F.
2. Cut apple in quarters and core. Then slice very thinly
3. Arrange apple slices on plate and microwave on HIGH for 45 seconds until soft and pliable, cool
4. Cut puff pastry into 6 equal strips. Brush each strip with 1T caramel sauce. Place apple slices lengthwise with skin edge up along the edge of the dough, sticking 1/4″ above the edge of the dough and slightly overlapping. Fold bottom half of dough over the apple slices leaving the skin edge exposed. Starting at one end, roll the dough up in a spiral to form a rose shaped pastry.
5. Generously butter or spray muffin tin and transfer a rose to each cup, apple edge up. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 30-40mins.
6. Cool in pan for 5 mins. Remove from pan and cool on rack. Serve warm with a scoop of ice cream and drizzled with more caramel sauce.
Per Serving 294 Calories; 16g Fat (47.7% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 36g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; trace Cholesterol; 175mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on February 6th, 2019.

apple_blueb_cobbler

Lovely dessert. Apples and blueberries.

Made this dessert last night for my bible study group. I ate a couple of bites of it, trying not to eat the cobbler part, just fruit. Thought it was great, and my group gave me raves.

apple_blueb_cobber_side

I used Envy apples, or were they Gala. Can’t remember what I bought, other than they were the red/yellow sweet, crisp type apples. They held their shape well, and were super sweet tasting. I adapted the recipe from Marie Rayner’s blog, The English Kitchen. I used different and more apples, more blueberries. The topping is easy but doesn’t really cover the fruit altogether. Just enough to kind of hold it together. The orange zest gives it an elusive flavor – nobody could identify it!

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Apple and Blueberry Cobbler

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from The English Kitchen blog.
Serving Size: 8

2 pounds apples — use sweet, crisp variety, peeled, quartered, cored, cut into thick slices
2/3 cup blueberries — fresh
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon water
TOPPING:
4 ounces unsalted butter — at room temperature (1/2 cup)
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
4 ounces self-rising flour — a scant cup
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
the grated zest of one small orange
powdered sugar for dusting on top
whipped cream for serving

NOTE: If you don’t have self-rising flour, use regular all-purpose and add a teaspoon of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
1. Preheat the oven to 350*F.
2. Place the apples in the bottom of a 9×9 or larger baking dish, at least 2 inches deep. Add blueberries on top, then sprinkle the sugar over top along with the water. Bake for about 10 minutes while you make the topping.
3. TOPPING: Using a mixer, add softened butter and sugar and beat for several minutes until mixture is creamy and light. Add eggs, self-rising flour and continue beating until no flour streaks appear. Add orange juice and zest and mix in gently. Remove the fruit from the oven and spoon the thick batter evenly over top. Return to the oven and cook for 40 to 50 minutes until golden brown and the top springs back when lightly touched.
4. Dust with powdered sugar and serve warm with whipped cream, lightly sweetened.
Per Serving (oops, wrong as it served about 10 people, original recipe said served 6): 428 Calories; 18g Fat (36.1% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 66g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 112mg Cholesterol; 267mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on November 20th, 2018.

apple_gingerbread_cake_whole

So pretty. So fall. So apple-y. And also really tasty.

Every few weeks I need to either buy or make some kind of dessert for the evening bible study group when they meet at my house. I almost bought something this time as I was really cramming a lot into one day. As it happened, we had heavy winds in my neck of the woods, and they were so severe they blew down power lines in lots of places. Near me, obviously, as I had a power outage for about 14-16 hours. The night and morning that the winds blew I was driving from NorCal to home, so I missed most of them. But I arrived to find that the power was out. Thank goodness my security gate was open or I’d have had a heck of a time trying to get TO my house. I bought groceries, unpacked, but couldn’t do laundry, or watch tv, or bake. So I went out to dinner (salad) and got home just at dusk and found my flashlight. I read. I played with my kitty. I read some more. Decided that I really couldn’t do my bible study homework by flashlight. Went to bed early. By morning the power had been restored. I baked. Did laundry, put the suitcase away and went through the mail.

apple_gingerbread_cake_sliceSince it’s fall, well, my mind turns to apples. And this recipe, oddly enough, calls for red skinned apples, leaving the skins on. I bought Gala I think it was. They’re BIG apples, so I only used 2. My guests suggested that I should use more apples. The recipe called for a pound, and I used 1.25 pounds (that was 2 apples). So I’ve upped the apples by a little in the recipe below. But otherwise, I’d stick to the recipe as listed.

Since I’m not eating desserts these days, I had to rely on my guests to give me a critique of the cake. They said “mmmm.” They said moist, could really taste the ginger (there are 2 T of freshly grated ginger in the cake). They liked the spices in it. And they really liked how pretty it was. I served it with whipped cream.

First I made a small amount of caramel (brown sugar, butter and a little water) which was poured into the bottom of a springform pan. Then I cooked the slices of apple in butter (just a little) which is done in 2 batches, and those translucent slices are fanned out on top of the caramel, doubling up a little bit. Then the cake batter is made (molasses, maple syrup spices, eggs, the freshly grated ginger, flour, etc.) and lastly you add in a little bit of baking soda and water. Pour it all over the apples. THEN, you pour 1/2 cup heavy cream all over the top of the batter. I don’t know what that accomplished, really, as it just sat there. I did spread it out a bit, and most of it was absorbed into the cake eventually, during the baking. Once baked, it sat for 15 minutes to cool a bit, then you run a knife (I used a plastic spatula) around the outside edge to loosen it, then you remove the springform and cool some more. Then I upended it onto a platter and let it cool completely. Some sweetened whipped cream finished it off. Serve.

What’s GOOD: the comments come from my guests as I didn’t have any of it . . . they said it was wonderful. They loved the ginger, the spices and the apples. They said use more apples. The center of the cake wasn’t quite done, so it sunk a little bit – gave it a pudding like texture in the middle, they said. So make sure the center is cooked through before taking it out of the oven. The recipe said a 10” springform. I don’t have one, so used a 9” and added about 10 minutes of baking time. Not quite enough, I guess.

What’s NOT: a few more steps than some – making caramel, cooking the apples, then making them look pretty in the pan. Then the liquids, then the dry stuff, mixed.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Apple Gingerbread Cake with Cream

Recipe By: Bon Appetit, 10/2016
Serving Size: 10

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar — (packed) divided
1 1/2 pounds apples — Honeycrisp or other sweet, red skinned apples, unpeeled, very thinly sliced, seeds removed, divided
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
2 large eggs — room temperature
2 tablespoons ginger — fresh, finely grated peeled
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda — dissolved in 1 T hot water
1/2 cup heavy cream — to pour on cake batter
1/2 cup heavy cream — whipped for serving

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 10″ springform pan and line bottom with a parchment round; butter parchment. Heat 1 T butter, 1/2 cup brown sugar, and 2 T water in a large skillet over medium, stirring constantly, until butter is melted and sugar is dissolved. Cook, without stirring but swirling skillet often, until large bubbles that are slow to pop form, about 2 minutes. Pour caramel into prepared pan and tilt pan to evenly coat bottom.
2, Melt 1 T butter in same skillet over medium heat; add half of apples and toss to separate. Cook, tossing often, until apples are softened and almost translucent, about 4 minutes. Repeat process with another 1 T butter and remaining apples. Let apples sit until cool enough to handle, then arrange over caramel in overlapping layers. Set pan aside.
3. Whisk flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg in a large bowl to combine; set aside. Heat molasses, maple syrup, remaining 1/2 cup brown sugar, and remaining 1/2 cup butter in saucepan over very low heat, stirring constantly, until butter is melted and mixture is smooth. Set aside for a couple of minutes until mixture cools slightly. Whisk in eggs and ginger. Stir baking soda into 1 T very hot water in a small bowl until dissolved, then whisk into molasses mixture. Whisk molasses mixture into reserved dry ingredients and scrape batter over apples, spreading evenly. Evenly drizzle 1/2 cup cream over batter spreading if needed to outer edges.
4. Place cake on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet and bake until center is firm to the touch and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 35–45 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack and let cake cool in pan 15 minutes. Run a paring knife around the sides of cake to loosen, then remove the sides of pan and invert cake onto rack. Carefully remove pan and peel away parchment (apples might stick, so work slowly). Let cool completely.
5. Slice cake into wedges and serve drizzled with more cream. Cake can be baked 1 day ahead. Store tightly covered at room temperature. To revive apples, reheat cake slightly in a microwave and brush top with maple syrup.
Per Serving: 472 Calories; 22g Fat (40.9% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 67g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 106mg Cholesterol; 489mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on November 4th, 2018.

deep_choc_torte

Pure chocolate heaven. This was likely the BEST flourless chocolate cake (torte) I’ve ever had. Does that motivate you to try making it? It’s VERY easy.

The leftovers of this are in my freezer. I simply HAD to package them up and put them away or I’d have been eating a little wedge of this every day until it was gone. As it is, I have 2 servings in 2 packages. Perfect for when my cousin comes to visit and he’ll be happy that I’ve made something for him that’s GF.

There are relatively few ingredients in this cake/torte – dark chocolate, eggs, sugar, Kahlua and heavy cream. That’s it. And you don’t have to whip up egg whites, though you do have to whip the cream to soft peaks. All done in a bowl, with a hand mixer if you want to. First, the chocolate is melted in a bowl sitting over slowly simmering water. You need to butter a springform pan and line is with parchment and then butter the parchment.

Then you mix up the eggs, sugar and Kahlua (or other liqueur, or vanilla) until it’s thick – that does take several minutes. Fold in the heavy cream that’s been beaten to soft peaks, then pour it carefully into the springform pan. Bake for 40 minutes or until the center is just barely set (still slightly jiggly). Cool it to room temp, or to a warm temp for sure. Dust top with cocoa powder and garnish it with some sweetened whipped cream and berries. And a little mint sprig if you have one. I convinced myself that I wasn’t consuming all that much more chocolate/sugar than I do daily with my 1-ounce portion of chocolate. I ate a tiny wedge. Oh my.

What’s GOOD: well, if you’re a chocoholic, then this will satisfy every one of your chocolate buttons. It is a dark chocolate – although I suppose if you’re a milk chocolate person you might be able to make it with milk chocolate – not sure about that as there is milk contained in the chocolate which might change the chemistry. But nevertheless, the finished cake does sink some in the middle (which is normal) and you’ll serve very small servings. This cake will serve at least 12 or even more. It’s ultra-rich. So tender it’s like a feather.

What’s NOT: I don’t want to read the nutrition, or lack thereof. But in a small wedge, as it can be served, it shouldn’t be too awful for you!

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Deep Chocolate Torte

Recipe By: Tarla Fallgatter cooking class, 2018
Serving Size: 10-12

1 pound dark chocolate — 60% cacao, chopped
6 large eggs
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons Kahlua — Grand Marnier or other liqueur
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup berries — optional
1 cup heavy cream — whipped & sweetened
Cocoa for dusting
Mint sprigs for garnish

1. Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl or the top of a double boiler over barely simmering water and allow to melt completely.
2. Preheat the oven to 350º. Generously butter a 9″ cake or springform pan. Cut a 9″ round of parchment paper and press it over the bottom of the pan. Butter the parchment.
3. Beat the eggs, sugar, and liqueur until very thick. Slowly stir in the melted chocolate.
4. Whip the cream to soft peaks and gently fold into the chocolate mixture. Carefully transfer the batter to the pan.
5. Bake for 40 minutes or until a straw or cake tester inserted into the torte at least 2 to 4 inches from the side comes out clean. The center should be just set; do not overbake.
6. Let cool to room temperature. The center will sink, which is normal. Remove from the pan, and peel off the liner. It is best served with a simple dusting of cocoa; garnish with fresh berries and a mint sprig, if desired. May also garnish with a spoon full of sweetened, whipped cream.
Per Serving: 460 Calories; 34g Fat (63.7% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 37g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 192mg Cholesterol; 65mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on October 19th, 2018.

10_minute_lime_cracker_pie

When I read this recipe, I knew I’d be making it soon. A 10-minute dessert? Yes, I’m in.

My evening bible study group has started up again after taking a hiatus for the summer. We kind of abide by the traditional Sept-June school year rotation. I ended up hosting the first two weeks and now we’re trading off amongst all of our homes. So I needed dessert. The first week I made a peach cobbler. An old recipe from my mother’s 3×5 card file. But I didn’t like it that much, so am not posting it here. But the second week I’d read about this lime cracker pie at Food 52 and just knew it’d be something I’d try.

lime_cracker_pie_ingredientsThe old-fashioned dessert that uses lemon juice and sweetened condensed milk in a graham cracker crust is updated here using lime juice instead, and layering the rich, creamy mixture with Ritz crackers. I used Trader Joe’s version called Golden Rounds. There at left you can see the ingredients. My limes were big enough that I only used 5, I think it was, to yield 1/2 cup of juice.

First, get out the ceramic or glass dish you’ll use. A 9×9 pan isn’t big enough, so use a ceramic dish larger than that. Meanwhile, you use a big bowl to combine the Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk (not evaporated milk – recipe won’t work with that) and 2 cups of heavy cream. Mix that up with a whisk for a few stirs, then you add in the lime juice and zest. Stir some more and within about 45 seconds the mixture begins to thicken. The lime juice causes a reaction somehow (I don’t know the actual chemistry of it) and it becomes a pudding-like texture.

assembling_lime_cracker_pieScoop out about a cup of the cream into the dish, spread it around, then gently add the crackers all over. See my photo at right. That’s one layer. Just keep layering. (If I did this again, I’d use a smaller dish than the one you see here – it was just slightly too big, in my opinion – it is 11 inches long). End up with a layer of cream on the top.

lime_cracker_pie_completeMAKE AHEAD: This dessert needs at least 2 hours, or preferably overnight refrigeration. What happens is the cream is absorbed into the crackers and it creates a kind-of cake layer. Not exactly, but close. The only thing to do before serving is to grate a bit more lime zest on top. It doesn’t need any other embellishments.

What’s GOOD: well, 10 minutes to make it? It might have taken me 15, but oh my, so easy. The flavor is piquant – the acid from the lime juice mixes with the sweet of the condensed milk. Sublime. Oh, pun there! I ate about 4 bites (quality control, you know) and sent all the rest of it home with my friends so I wouldn’t be tempted.

What’s NOT: it’s very rich. Full of fat, obviously. High calorie. But oh-so easy!

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

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Ten-Minute Lime Cracker Pie

Recipe By: J. Kenji López-Alt, at Food52
Serving Size: 10

2 cans sweetened condensed milk — 14-ounce/396ml cans
2 cups heavy cream — (470g)
1 tablespoon lime zest — finely grated, plus more for serving
1/2 cup lime juice — (120g) freshly squeezed
10 ounces Ritz crackers — (285g) from about 3 sleeves

1. Whisk together the condensed milk and heavy cream in a large bowl until combined. Add the lime zest and juice and whisk until thickened, about 1 minute.
2. Spread 1 cup (240ml) of the condensed milk mixture on the bottom of a deep-dish pie plate, an 10-inch (28cm) oval casserole, or a similar large shallow dish. Top with a single layer of Ritz crackers. Repeat, alternating layers of filling and crackers, until the dish is full, finishing with a layer of filling. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight—the longer you wait, the more the crackers will soften and meld with the filling. Serve cold, zesting more fresh lime over the top, if you like.
Per Serving: 504 Calories; 30g Fat (51.9% calories from fat); 8g Protein; 54g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 86mg Cholesterol; 346mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, Gundry-friendly, on October 8th, 2018.

keto_mug_cake

Oh my goodness. I’ve discovered nirvana. I can still have my cake and eat it too!

For the last many months, I’ve been on a diet (Steven Gundry, Plant Paradox diet) and the weight loss has slowed down to a trickle. So much so that if I go out to eat – and am still trying to order things that are within the diet – I gain a pound every time. (It’s probably portion control and salt and maybe sometimes a sauce or something like that served with the piece of fish or chicken.) Then it takes me another week or more to get that off. I’m quite frustrated. There are lots of foods I really miss – some carbs, even some vegetables like green beans (the seeds contain lectins). I miss a piece of toast now and then. I miss eating a sandwich, like a tuna sandwich on white bread. I miss desserts. There is a coconut milk ice cream that is acceptable (So Delicious brand) but I don’t like it all that much. I’m really missing Mexican food – I’d do just about anything to have a shredded beef taco right about now. Or a cheese enchilada. But no, I’m afraid that if I succumb to having it once, it would become a regular routine to go off the diet. But what I’m not missing is chocolate because I’m able to have an ounce a day. Yippee!

So, at one of the Phillis Carey cooking classes a month or so ago, she mentioned a chocolate mug cake that she can have on her diet (keto). She emailed the recipe to me. I promptly looked at the ingredients and decided that yes, I can have it too! I made it once and was not thrilled, but I decided afterwards that I could tweak the recipe and would buy some fresh(er) almond meal. The mug cake had a decided bitter aftertaste that I couldn’t define. The almond meal didn’t smell stale, but then I didn’t taste it straight, either and it definitely was past its use-by date. So, today, I was just craving something sweet (I don’t often have those cravings) and since I can have a tablespoon of cocoa a day (or regular chocolate, 1 ounce) I’d try making the keto mug cake again. I had a new bag of Trader Joe’s almond meal (almond flour is okay too).

One thing I tweaked was the amount of sweetener. The original recipe called for 2 T of sweetener. Well, I think that’s way too much – I morphed it down to 1/2 tablespoon for the mug in its entirety. But perhaps that’s the Swerve. Taste the batter to make sure.

First I melted a tablespoon of butter in a mug in the microwave. (Now, technically, a tablespoon of butter is not on my diet, but even Gundry says that if butter is an important element to something go ahead and use it in moderation, so I did.) Then you add the almond flour, (there’s no wheat flour in this), baking powder, sugar sweetener in some form (I used Swerve, which is my new go-to sweetener), the tablespoon of cocoa powder, some coconut shreds if you want them (I didn’t), an egg and a tiny tetch of vanilla. Stir it up well in the mug and put it in the microwave. The recipe says 45-60 seconds. Mine is done perfectly at 45 seconds. The cake part rises up more than halfway in the mug and it kind of has a sponge-like look to the top. You sprinkle in just a few chocolate chips (optional – recipe calls for sugar free – I used the real thing, but only about 3-4) and pour on a tablespoon of coconut cream or heavy cream. Eat. Oohs and aaahs from here.

Whether I can have this regularly – well, probably not. But when I’ve had a really light lunch as I did today, I think the keto mug cake is in order. The calorie count is 427, so yes, this definitely needs to be an occasional treat!

What’s GOOD: nirvana for me, on this just-about-zero-carbs diet I’m on. Taste is wonderful – cake is moist and kind of sponge-cake like. Definitely a good chocolate taste/flavor. Not a large portion, which is good. Protein is in there (egg and almond meal) and I get my ration of chocolate too. Altogether wonderful. And it took all of about 4 minutes to mix it up and 45 seconds to “cook.”

What’s NOT: nothing at all, really. If you’re not dieting, use regular sugar – taste and add what you think it needs. Don’t use honey as it would change the chemistry – might need another tablespoon of almond meal if you used that route.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

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Chocolate Keto Mug Cake

Recipe By: adapted slightly from Phillis Carey
Serving Size: 1

1 tablespoon butter — salted
3 tablespoons almond flour — or almond meal
1/2 tablespoon Swerve — or erythritol or monkfruit sugar (if you use different sweeteners, taste the batter, it may need more)
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon coconut shreds — unsweetened, optional
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 large egg — beaten
1/8 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon chocolate chips — sugar free Lily brand, optional
1 tablespoon coconut milk — or coconut cream or heavy cream, optional

1. Melt butter in mug in microwave oven. Stir in almond flour, sweetener, cocoa, coconut, baking powder, egg and vanilla; mix well.
2. Microwave on HIGH power for 45-60 seconds until puffed and set. DO NOT OVERCOOK. Immediately top with chocolate chips. Serve topped with coconut milk or cream, if desired, to moisten the cake.
Per Serving: 427 Calories; 32g Fat (62.5% calories from fat); 19g Protein; 24g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 243mg Cholesterol; 453mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on July 29th, 2018.

fresh_lemon_crostata_slice

Sometimes when I type up posts, my taste buds kick into high gear, remembering the flavor of the dish. That’s the case here, Proust-like, I remember the piquant taste of the lemon curd filling and the crispy top.

Since I’m not eating desserts these days, it’s with reverence that I recall the lovely mouth-feel of this crostata, and just wish I could have some. This was from a cooking class a several months ago; one I’d forgotten about, so am posting it now.

Update about my diet: As an aside, I’m positively amazed that I’ve been able to not eat a single, solitary sweet thing for the last 2 1/2 months. I don’t crave sweets now (and I sure did in the past), and lucky for me, I can have an ounce of bittersweet chocolate a day. I went cold-turkey on carbs altogether – – and trust me, if this wasn’t working, I wouldn’t be continuing with the diet of zero carbs – except for the few carbs that exist in regular vegetables. Nary a piece of bread, a grain of rice, a bite of potato, a bean (legume), a grain of any kind, a speck of flour, sugar or pasta has passed my lips in the 2 1/2 months. I am able to eat 1/2 cup of fruit a day (berries only). I snack on a specific mix of toasted nuts (without peanuts or cashews, which are both legumes), 1/4 cup mid-morning and another 1/4 cup in the afternoon (if I’m hungry) and mostly I have soup (more cold soups lately) at lunchtime and I make a nice big salad for dinner with some kind of protein on it – maybe chicken, salmon, tuna, hard boiled eggs, or even a hunk of burrata cheese with a tasty salad dressing. Although I can make a more traditional dinner (a piece of grilled meat, for instance, with side vegetables) I’ve found that my weight loss continues at a steadier pace if I make my dinner meal a salad. I vary it with different dressings (just none like blue cheese, ranch or thousand island). I’ve never been a snacker type person after dinner, and I hope every night that when I go to bed my stomach is growling slightly. That means when I get on the scale each morning, it usually shows a weight loss.

If you missed my earlier mention of this diet, I’m following the food plan of Dr. Steven Gundry, a heart surgeon, who wrote the best selling book, The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in Healthy Foods That Cause Disease and Weight Gain. It all has to do with wicked lectins, which exist in so many foods (carbs, grains and legumes, even dairy). I didn’t have intestinal issues when I began this diet, but as I read his book, it simply made so much sense to me that I decided to go for it. And I am consistently losing about a pound a week, which is a healthy type of weight loss. I’m not hungry all the time. At my age, I’m content with losing a pound a week. Going out to eat is do-able (salads or fish and a vegetable), although I’ve found that when I do go out, my weight loss slows for a day or two, likely because of salt. If I sweeten my iced tea, I use a stevia product (Truvia or Sweet Leaf), which is okay because it’s derived from a plant, not chemicals. Of course, I’m a family of one, so sticking to this diet is easier, as I simply don’t buy or prepare any carbs. I’ve given away a whole lot of things from my pantry, and will likely continue doing that. If you’re interested in knowing what you can and can’t eat, this LINK will take you to Gundry’s website where he provides a printer-friendly group  of pages you can print out (I keep it in my purse).

fresh_lemon_crostata_wholeWell, so back to this lovely crostata. It’s made with an almond crust (it does contain some flour), and then you concoct a lemon curd filling. You’ll use a food processor for the crust (easy, really), adding only as much flour to make the dough hold together. It’s flavored with lemon zest and almond extract and does contain a big chunk of butter, which makes the crust kind of shortbread-like. There’s enough to make a bottom crust, and also to add strips to the top, which makes for a really beautiful presentation. The bottom crust needs to be blind baked and cooled.

The lemon curd is the normal type. You can use this version, or you can make my favorite lemon curd that came from America’s Test Kitchen. It needs to be made enough in advance that it can chill well, then it’s added to the cooled crust and baked again just long enough to get the extra pastry strips browned. Then the crostata is cooled completely on a rack before slicing and serving – along with some sweetened whipped cream and a sprig of mint for decoration.

What’s GOOD: the flavor – but then I love lemon anything – and the pretty presentation. Lots of good flavors in your mouth as you encounter the soft, acidic lemon curd and the crispy crusty bits. Softened by the whipped cream. Divine.

What’s NOT: this does take longer than some to prepare.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

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Fresh Lemon Crostata

Recipe By: From a cooking class with Tarla Fallgatter, 2018
Serving Size: 10

CRUST:
3/4 cup whole almonds — toasted and cooled (or more substitute hazelnuts)
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour — (yes, added separately)
1 1/4 sticks unsalted butter — cut in cubes, well chilled
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons lemon zest — grated
1/2 teaspoon salt
FILLING (LEMON CURD):
5 large egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
3/4 stick unsalted butter — cut into small pieces
1/8 teaspoon salt
EGG GLAZE:
1 large egg
2 teaspoons water
1 tablespoon sugar
GARNISH:
8 mint leaves — for garnish
Sweetened whipped cream

1. CRUST: Pulse almonds and FIRST amount of flour in food processor until finely ground. Add almost all of the SECOND amount of flour, salt and sugar and pulse again. If dough needs the remaining flour, add it. Try to use as little flour as needed to bring the doughto a ball. Pulse in cold butter, extracts and zest. Pulse in egg until dough forms. Halve the dough and form each into a disk, one just slightly larger than the other. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill until firm.
2. Roll the larger piece of dough between two pieces of parchment paper. Remove top sheet and invert into an 8-inch springform pan lined with parchment. Press over bottom and at least an inch up the sides of the pan. Roll out remaining dough between sheets of parchment. Remove top piece of parchment, then cut dough into ten 1/3″ wide strips. Chill that dough until firm.
3. Preheat oven to 375°F. Line the springform pan with foil and add pie weights and bake until pale golden and edge is golden brown, about 15-20 minutes. Cool shell on a rack.
4. FILLING: Beat egg yolks and 3/4 cup sugar until very thick and trip le in volume. Transfer mixture to a heavy bottomed pan and stir in lemon zest, juice, butter and salt. Cook over medium-low heat, whisking frequently, until lemon curd is thick enough to hold marks on a spoon, about 6 minutes. Transfer lemon curd to a bowl, cover top with plastic wrap so it’s touching the curd, cool and chill.
5. Spread filling in baked pie shell and arrange 5 dough strips one inch apart on top of filling. Arrange remaining 5 strips one inch apart diagonally across strips to form a lattice (of sorts, but not woven over and under). Trim edges. Brush tops with egg wash (egg mixed with water, whisked), then sprinkle top with remaining sugar. Bake crostata until golden and filling is bubbling, 25-30 minutes. Cool completely in the pan, on a rack, for 2 hours. Remove springform sides and completely the cooling. Serve with sweetened whipped cream and garnish with mint leaves.
Per Serving: 452 Calories; 31g Fat (60.6% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 38g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 198mg Cholesterol; 156mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on July 4th, 2018.

mayan_choc_pud

Oh, my mouth is watering. It was early May when I had this, and I can still remember the wonderful mouth-feel of this decadent chocolate pudding. I have these adorable little-bitty glass footed cups (pictured). They’re not used for much, but when it’s the right thing, well, they’re perfect!

You’ll want to know that this pudding is rich. You’ll not eat all that much of it. Does that make it more enticing because you know you’ll only eat about 1/4 cup of it? Less guilty, maybe? But you should not bypass this recipe just because of the calories. If you’re a chocoholic like I am, you’ll want this recipe in your repertoire. You could make this the day or two ahead of a party too. I doubt I’d make this for a weeknight meal – only because of the nuisance of baking in a water bath. Why do we think that’s so much trouble? It’s really not, but still I might not make it sometimes because of that.

It starts with an equal quantity of heavy cream and whole milk. Then 12 ounces of bittersweet chocolate (do use something at least 72% cacao) get added in, with ground cinnamon (which would give it a Mexican hint) but THEN you add 1/4 tsp of ground chipotle chili powder. Pow. It also has a tetch of ground allspice in it, and a dozen egg yolks. This recipe is not for the faint of heart. Once the pudding is mostly made on the stove, it’s poured into individual ramekins, or a larger vessel (so it can be scooped as I did with the photo above) into smaller dishes to serve. Do make some whipped cream (it needs it, believe it or not, to cut through the sweet and the chocolate of the pudding itself) and sweeten it and add a little cinnamon to it too. Your table of guests will be deadly quiet as you hear the spoons clinking in the cups as they eat it. From a cooking class with Phillis Carey.

What’s GOOD: the overall chocolate flavor – almost a fudge like texture – and I loved the tiny hint of heat (from the chipotle chili powder). It’s very subtle, but perfect! Make this for Cinco de Mayo next year?

What’s NOT: maybe only the water bath thing. Otherwise, this recipe is a real winner.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

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Mayan Chocolate Pudding

Recipe By: Phillis Carey, cooking instructor, 5/2018
Serving Size: 12-16

2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate — finely chopped (72% or higher)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon ground chipotle chile powder
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
12 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
whipped cream with sugar, cinnamon and vanilla added

1. Preheat oven to 325°F. In a medium saucepan, combine the cream and milk and bring to a boil over moderate heat. Be careful as it reaches boiling as it may boil over. Remove from heat and whisk in chocolate until completely melted, then whisk in cinnamon, salt, chipotle and allspice.
2. In a large bowl whisk egg yolks with sugar until pale, about 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in the hot chocolate mixture until smooth. Whisk in vanilla. Ladle the custard into twelve 5-ounce ramekins. This is very rich, so you may use smaller containers and serve about 3 ounces each, in which case you’d likely be able to serve 16.
3. Set ramekins in a large roasting pan or two deep baking pans and transfer them to the middle of the oven. Fill the roasting pan with enough boiling water to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 40 minutes (less if using small containers), until the puddings are set but still slightly wobbly in the center. Using tongs, transfer ramekins to a baking sheet and cool, then chill at least 4 hours, or up to 2 days. Top the puddings with a dollop of whipped cream with sugar, cinnamon and vanilla added.
Per Serving (based on serving 12): 403 Calories; 37g Fat (75.0% calories from fat); 8g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 273mg Cholesterol; 85mg Sodium.

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