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Here are the tastingspoons players. I’m in the middle (Carolyn). Daughter Sara on the right, and daughter-in-law Karen on the left. I started the blog in 2007, as a way to share recipes with my family. Now in 2021, I’ll still participate, but the two daughters are going to do more posting from here on out.

We participate in an amazon program that rewards a little tiny $ something (pennies, really) if you purchase any books recommended (below), or buy products occasionally mentioned on the blog with an amazon link. 

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BOOK READING:

No question, the most quirky book I’ve read of late, a recommendation from my friend Karen, West with Giraffes: A Novel by Lynda Rutledge. The book IS a novel, but the event is true. Back in the 1930s a small group of giraffes were brought across the Atlantic from Africa to New York, destined for the then-growing San Diego Zoo. On the voyage the ship encounters a hurricane and several giraffes are lost, but two young ones survive. The story is of their journey across the United States in the care of two oh-so-different people, both with a mission. A young boy (barely an adult) becomes the driver (his only goal is his desire to go to California), with the zoo’s delegate (a middle-aged man with a past), and it’s the story about these two misfits and their caring for the giraffes, feeding them (that’s a laugh – onions play a big part). No freeways existed back then, and the mental picture of the vehicle they used (basically a small truck) with the two giraffes confined within two tall boxes precariously strapped to the truck, and their driving and carrying-on getting under bridges and over rivers is just a hoot. I so wanted this story to be true – parts of it ARE true. Worth reading if you enjoy such animal stories. The giraffes survive, thankfully, and they both lived to a ripe old age at the zoo!

Also a kind of quirky book by Beth Miller, The Missing Letters of Mrs. Bright. Picture a middle-aged woman, slogging through life with a not-very-attentive husband, grown children, and one day she decides to leave. Completely. Maybe she had a bucket list of sorts, and she knew none of those places would ever happen in her life if she stayed put. She sets off to find a long-lost girlfriend. The book is about her journey. Her travels. Friendships, and lost friendships. Everyone can probably empathize with Kay Bright as she examines her life. And yes, there are letters and chapters with her daughter, Stella. Cute book.

Katherine Center’s book, Things You Save in a Fire: A Novel is certainly vivid. There aren’t very many women firefighters out there in the world – this is about one. A novel, however. About her work life and the harrassment she endures (some of it’s with love, some not) and about her relationships. The pros and cons of transferring to a different fire station (just like any job move, not always smooth). Good read.

Riveting story of post-WWII- Japan in Ana Johns novel, The Woman in the White Kimono: A Novel. About a young Japanese girl who falls in love with an American serviceman. Such relationships were fraught with problems from the very strict Japanese families who resented the American presence in their country, to the American military higher-ups who made it impossible for the servicemen to marry Japanese nationals. Could hardly put it down. Yes, it’s a romance of sorts, but not in the typical sense of today’s novel-romance-writing. There aren’t always happy beginnings, middles or endings, but the in between made for very interesting reading.

Also read Rishi Reddi’s novel, Passage West: A Novel with a very different take on the migration of Indians (East India) to the California agricultural lands east of San Diego during the 1920s and 30s. Wow. What an eye-opener. Of their small but loyal family enclaves, the hard-scrabble lives they led, the near poverty level of farming. I’d never heard that any Indian migrants were a part of farming here in California. Obviously they made up a very small percentage of the immigrants who settled there.

Maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, but the Mary Morris book, A Very Private Diary: A Nurse in Wartime tells the true day to day life of a young Irish girl who becomes a nurse, in England, France and Belgium in the midst of WWII and immediately after the war. Fascinating glimpse into the hardships not only for patients (the war-wounded) but for the underappreciated and hardworking staff at various hospitals (even a tent one in Normandy where she worked for many months after D-Day). She meets her to-be husband and even that is fraught with difficulty from many angles.

Could hardly put down Krueger’s book, This Tender Land: A Novel. My friend Ann recommended it. I was gripped with the story within the first paragraph, and it never stopped until I turned the last page. Tells the harrowing story of a young boy, Odie, (and his brother Albert) who became orphans back in the 30s. At first there is a boarding school, part of an Indian (Native American) agreement, though they are not Indian. Some very ugly things happen at that school. Eventually they  escape, and they are “on the run.” With a few others with them. If you loved Huckleberry Finn, you’ll have a great appreciation for this story as they use a canoe to get themselves down river. Never having very much to eat and getting into trouble way too often, and authorities on their tail. Well, you just have to read the book to find out what happens.

Just finished Kristin Hannah’s latest book, The Four Winds: A Novel. What a story. One I’ve never read about, although I certainly have heard about the “dust bowl” years when there was a steady migration of down-and-out farmers from the Midwest, to California, for what they hoped to be the American Dream. It tells the story of one particular family, the Martinellis, the grandparents, their son, his wife, and their two children. The book is heartbreaking, but one of those that everyone should read. The hardship, the hunger, the dirt and dust, the failed crops, the lack of rain, then the story picks up again in central California, back in the day when the wealthy growers just used up the migrants. I don’t want to spoil the story. So worth reading. Hannah really knows how to weave a story.

Brit Bennett has written quite a book, The Vanishing Half: A Novel. It’s a novel, yet I’m sure there are such real-life situations. Twin girls are born to a young woman in the South. Into a town (that probably doesn’t exist) that prides itself on being light-skinned blacks. The father was very dark, but he plays no part, really, in this story. Growing up, the girls leave home at 18 to find their way in New Orleans. Suddenly, one twin disappears (her clothes and suitcase all gone in the wink of an eye). Her twin left behind has no idea what’s happened to her. As the story reveals, with divided paths, one twin continues her life as a black woman, and the other twin, the one who left, is able to pass as a white woman. She marries well, has a daughter. Well, let’s just say that there are lots of wicked webs woven throughout the story, starting from the girls’ mother who never wants to speak again of her lost daughter. But you know where this is going, don’t you? Things are found out. The author does a great job of weaving the story apart and then back together.

What a book. The Only Woman in the Room: A Novel by Marie Benedict. A novelized biography of Hedy Lamarr, the famous actress. She was a brilliant mind, and a beautiful woman. It tells the story of her coming of age, how she navigated the world of acting back in that time period (she was Austrian, and Hitler was in power). The writing was very well done – to tell Hedy’s story with detail and poignancy. Eventually Hedy made it to the U.S. and her life story changed, but still had its difficulties. I loved the book, beginning to end. She should have become an engineer as she invented several war related bomb tools. Very much worth reading.

Also read The Secret of the Chateau: Gripping and heartbreaking historical fiction with a mystery at its heart by Kathleen McGurl. There are two stories here. The historical part is just prior to and up to the French Revolution, when aristocrats were chased and killed, guillotined in many cases. There is a young couple (part of the royal court) who escape to a remote small castle owned by his family, located on the edge of France and Italy, hoping to wait out the revolution and hoping the villagers love and care about them. Then jump to current day as a small English group of close friends decide to retire somewhere on the continent, and settle on a small abandoned castle in the remote hills of France along the Italian border. Got the picture? The historian in the group is quite interested in the history of the home, and clues are revealed (in the tower) that lead her and the group on a quest to discover what happened to the couple who used to live there. There was a fire once upon a time. There’s an pesky ghost. There’s also a very old child’s doll/playhouse on the grounds. Plus there’s a small graveyard. It is VERY intriguing. Very interesting. I love historical novels like this, and this one in particular does have quite a mystery involved, too.

Also finished reading Sue Monk Kidd’s recent book, The Book of Longings: A Novel. It is a book that might challenge some Christian readers, as it tells the tale of Jesus marrying a woman named Mary. The story is all about Mary, her growing up, her scholarly pursuits, and then from the moment she meets Jesus as a young man. The story follows along to and beyond his death on the cross. In the time of Christ it was extremely uncommon for a man not to marry. It was almost unseemly. Fraught with suspicions, I’d suppose. Although scripture, as scripture, does not play a very strong part here, if you’ve read the Bible you’ll see many of the stories of Jesus’ life through Mary’s eyes. I loved the book from the first word to the last one. The book is believable to me, even though the Bible never says one way or the other that Jesus ever married. It’s been presumed he never did. But maybe he did?

Jeanine Cummins has written an eye-opener, American Dirt. A must read. Oh my goodness. I will never, ever, ever look at Mexican (and further southern) migrants, particularly those who are victims of the vicious cartels, without sympathy. It tells the story of a woman and her young son, who were lucky enough to hide when the cartel murdered every member of her family – her husband, her mother, and many others. Her husband was a journalist, and his life was always in danger because he wrote the truth, and that was taking a risk. The story is about her escape, with harrowing chapters as she makes her way north from Acapulco, with various major detours, one step, or sometimes nothing more than a hair’s width ahead of the cartel minions trying to find her. I could NOT put this book down. The author is not Hispanic, and some have criticized her for that, but she did her research, and many authors write about places and people they are not. I have nothing but respect for her having told this story. You need to read this.

Also read JoJo Moyes’ book, The Giver of Stars. Oh gosh, what a GREAT book. Alice, living in an English home which lacks much, leaps to agree to marry a visiting American. It was an escape for her. He is a man of some family wealth, and she travels from England to Kentucky, during the 1920s. Once settled into the family home, she discovers married life is not what she had expected. Affection is lacking, and she must share the home with her tyrannical father-in-law, the owner of mines in the deep mountains. And with the ghost of the deceased mother-in-law. The family cook won’t tolerate Alice’s help in the kitchen. Alice is terribly lonely and unhappy. The town doesn’t much like this English woman with her funny way of speaking. But then, she meets a woman who encourages her to join the Horseback Librarians. With trepidation, she begins traversing the remote hills, through unbelievable weather, to deliver old, battered and tattered books to the remote inhabitants of the area. She makes friends, wonderful, loving people from all walks of life. There is tremendous tension from the danger of the mines, the unions trying to get a foothold, plus the unraveling of her marriage, including the dreaded father-in-law who feels she should answer to him, behave as he wants. Uh, no. Alice goes her own route. Her new friends become her family, and, oh, what love. There has been much criticism of Moyes’ possible plagiarism of another book regarding the Horseback Librarians. I read the other book – but I didn’t feel remotely as intrigued by that story as I was by Moyes’ version. A feel good story, but it takes some while getting to that “feel good” part, nearly to the end.

Frances Liardet has written a blockbuster tale, We Must Be Brave. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Although the scene is WWII England, this book is not really about the war. It’s about the people at home, waiting it out, struggling with enough food, clothing and enough heat. It’s about Ellen. Her early years, under much hardship. About her teens, some of it as an orphan. Then a young adult, which includes marriage, a marriage blanc, which I didn’t understand until you learn the meaning. Then a child enters the picture, a child that will become a focus for the remainder of the book. Through the war, and beyond. I cried several times, as will you, I suspect. What’s a constant is the descriptions of the place, a town called Upton, near Southampton. About the hills and dales, the flora and fauna, the rain, the mud sometimes, the flooding sometimes. But throughout, it’s about neighbors caring for neighbors, and about love. A must read. Would make a really good book club read.

William Kent Krueger wrote Ordinary Grace. From amazon: a brilliantly moving account of a boy standing at the door of his young manhood, trying to understand a world that seems to be falling apart around him. It is an unforgettable novel about discovering the terrible price of wisdom and the enduring grace of God. It’s a coming of age story.

Best book I’ve read recently. Not new. Called Follow the River: A Novel by James Alexander Thom. This one is also based on the history of a woman (married, pregnant) who was captured by the Shawnee, during the early settlement days east of the Ohio River, about 1755. And her eventual escape. I stayed up all hours to keep reading. The book was written from the many journals and writing compiled by her children. Her name: Mary Ingles. And it chronicles her 1000-mile trek in treacherous weather and over uncharted ground. What an amazing woman, and what a story.

A Column of Fire: A Novel by Ken Follett. It takes place in the 1500s, in England, and has everything to do with the war between the Catholics and the Protestants, that raged throughout Europe during that time, culminating in the Spanish Inquisition.

My Name Is Resolute by Nancy Turner. She’s the author of another book of some renown, These is my Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901 (P.S.). Resolute is what I’m discussing here. It’s fiction, but based some on a true story. Resolute, as a young girl from a privileged life on a plantation in Jamaica, was taken captive by slavers, eventually ended up in Colonial America. This book is the story of her life. The people she met, the men in her life, her children, and always about her indefatigable energy for life. Always hoping to return to Jamaica.

The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape by James Rebanks. This is a memoir, so a true story, of a young man growing up in the Lake District of Northern England, the son of a farming family, who sabotages everything in his being regarding going to school and leaves as soon as he is able (probably about 8th grade, I’d guess). And becomes a shepherd. And at night, he read literature that he accumulated from his grandfather. And then what happens to him as he grows up. Riveting.

 

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 February 14th, 2014.

darios_olive_oil_cake

So far this year I haven’t urged you, fervently, to cook or bake anything I’ve written up. This recipe is my first fervent call! Oh my goodness, this cake is so darned good. No wonder it was featured in the 2013 L.A. Times top recipe round-up. Read on . . .

The Los Angeles Times may be the only daily newspaper that still has a working test kitchen. As an institution, newspaper test kitchens have kind of slid into oblivion with the cost-cutting going on at nearly every major daily in the country. It’s so sad. I used to look forward to reading the big – really big – food section back a couple of decades ago. The Times still has a food section, but oh, it’s so small. I do read it online occasionally. Most newspapers rely on a bevy of written offerings from a variety of free lance food writers who prepare short stories and provide pictures. So the food editors need only pick and choose, within budget, to include this article, that article, decide which one to “feature,” which ones to discard.

Our more local newspaper, the Orange County Register, doesn’t have a test kitchen. The kitchen shown in occasional articles is the Food Editor’s home kitchen, with photos taken usually by one of the staff photographers. And my guess is that her budget doesn’t allow that very often.

But fortunately, the L.A. Times still tests recipes, still writes articles and has a small coterie of writers who write only for that paper. Like Russ Parsons. Who is likely reaching retirement age. I’ll be sad not to read his short stories when that happens. One of the food writing events at the Times is the annual best-recipe contest. The food section staff cook and bake the “best” recipes from the previous year and narrow them down and down and down. And the results are published in late January to great fanfare.

Anyway, back to this cake. The origin of it is Dario Cecchini’s butcher shop and restaurant deep in the heart of Tuscany – in Panzano in Chianti. It’s a cake his trusty baker Simonetta has been preparing daily for decades. Many people have written about it and there are a few recipes “out there” of a similar style. But this one – oh yes. This one that Nancy Silverton (of La Brea Bakery fame, and now Mozza restaurant) has revised and made possible for a home kitchen. Her recipe makes 2, so I tuned it down, dialed it back and made it for just ONE cake. Although – I’m telling you – maybe you should make TWO and freeze the other one. You’ll be glad . . . . .

Having made it and eaten it, I’ll just say there are very distinct things that are different about this cake: (1) naturally, that it’s made with olive oil as the fat, and GOOD extra virgin olive oil, at that; (2) that it contains 1 1/2 whole oranges, chopped up, peel, pith and all; and (3) the topping is different – sugar, pine nuts and fresh rosemary. And certainly this is a dessert cake, but somehow the pine nuts and fresh rosemary give it a savory tone. And it’s divine.

Raisins are in this cake – and you soak them in Vin Santo, if you have it. That’s an Italian dessert wine, and can vary a lot in sweetness from one winery to another. It’s a common little treat given to nearly everyone after dinner in restaurants in Italy. Well, I didn’t have any, so I scanned my liquor closet and finally settled on a very old bottle of tawny Port. It had faded to a light sherry color and had all kinds of lees in the bottle. I poured it through a sieve and had enough to soak the raisins for awhile. The raisins I have on hand right now are really large – jumbo size and from several varieties of grape, so they’re different colors – in the picture at top you can see one or two that had settled to the bottom of the batter. In the photo at top you can see the orange pith – but you absolutely don’t know you’re eating pith – it comes through clean and sweet.

oranges_choppedThe oranges are Navels, and I cut off the ends, cut them in half, then sliced into half-rounds and chopped to get a very nice mound of chopped orange stuff. I did that ahead. There at right was the plate full of oranges. It’s not necessary to do this in the food processor, although you can if you’d prefer. Just don’t pulverize them – it’s nice to bite into a little chunk of orange now and then in the finished cake.

The recipe calls for pastry flour. Since I didn’t have that on hand, I went online to read about it – all it means is flour that has lower protein, but not as low as cake flour, which is 7-8%. So, I mixed half all-purpose (10-12%) and half cake flour, to reach an approximate 9% protein, which is the level for pastry flour.

Mixing up the cake wasn’t difficult – eggs, the leavening and sugar were combined for several minutes in the stand mixer, then very slowly you pour the extra virgin olive oil down the side of the bowl and into the batter. If you go too fast it spatters anyway, and it might separate. Slow-slow. Then you add the soaked raisins and the flour mixture in 3 separate batches. Once that’s mixed, you turn off the mixer and use a spatula to fold in the oranges.

At this point you do something else a bit different – you let the batter rest for 10 minutes. Why, I don’t know. The only thing I can think of is that the batter is fairly thick, and in order to get the fruit (oranges and raisins) to not sink to the bottom of the tube pan (which they might do anyway) if they’re allowed to sink in the mixing bowl first, then when you pour it into the tube pan they’ll be at the top and perhaps not sink to the bottom before the lifting/leavening keeps them suspended. At any rate, the batter is poured into a buttered and floured tube pan.  You probably could use a olive_oil_cake_ready2_bakespringform pan, but the recipe indicates a tube pan – since the cake is dense (but not really heavy) it will cook more evenly in a tube pan. A Bundt pan will not work because those pans assume you’ll turn the cake upside down, and the top here IS the top in the finished cake. The cake top is sprinkled with granulated sugar (a really nice touch and you do taste it’s crunch in the finished cake), then toasted pine nuts and lastly you sprinkle on minced fresh rosemary, which sticks in the little crevices.

The baking was simple enough – but requires you to visit the oven every 10 minutes. It’s baked for 10 minutes at 400°, then you turn it down to 325° and bake another 10. Turn the pan around, and olive_oil_cake_slicedanother 10, and another 10, until it’s baked a total of about 40 minutes. I should have measured the internal temp, but didn’t. The cake is cooled in the pan, then you’ll want to run a knife around the inner tube, and a spatula slid around the bottom to make sure the cake releases completely. Then you very, ever-so carefully turn the cake out onto your outstretched hand and forearm and carefully place it on a platter or cake plate. You will lose some of the pine nuts and sugar. The cook gets to eat those flying pine nuts (I only had about 10-15 of them fly off). My cake did have a few indentations – I suspect it’s from the amount of fruit. It did not detract one iota from the flavor. You’ll not care a bit.

At Mozza, Nancy Silverton makes this and serves it with olive oil gelato she’s developed. I’ll be trying that. It’ll be posted here if it’s good. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, I’m going to go cut myself another sliver of this outstanding cake.

What’s GOOD: oh gosh. Every single, solitary thing about this cake is exceptional. The taste – the oranges, the texture of the cake, which is light, surprisingly, the rosemary I loved, the pine nuts, and the sprinkling of sugar on the top that becomes slightly crunchy. Divine. Next time I am going to make sure I use small raisins – or I’ll chop the raisins – they were heavy so I think they did sink.
What’s NOT: nothing except you do need to have fresh oranges, and if you can find Vin Santo, fine. Otherwise use white port or a light port. Don’t use sherry – it would come through in the flavor. Do use really good olive oil too – this isn’t exactly a cheapo cake!

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Dario’s Olive Oil Cake

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from a Nancy Silverton recipe, that she adapted from Dario Cecchini in Panzano, Chianti, Italy
Serving Size: 12

1/2 cup raisins
3 tablespoons Vin Santo wine — [I used tawny port]
1 1/2 whole oranges — (including the peel, etc.)
2 large eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar — plus 2 tablespoons
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil — plus 1 tablespoon (use VERY good EVOO)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder — SCANT
14 ounces pastry flour — [I used half all-purpose and half cake flour]
TOPPING:
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup pine nuts — toasted
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary

1. Bring the raisins and the Vin Santo to a simmer in a small saucepan, then immediately remove from the heat. Let stand at least 30 minutes, up to overnight. If you are using very large raisins, chop them into smaller pieces before cooking and plumping them.
2. Heat the oven to 400° F. Prepare a (10-inch) angel food cake (tube) pan by generously spraying with cooking spray and dusting with flour.
3. Trim off the ends of the oranges. Halve them through the stem and slice into one-fourth-inch thick sections. Remove any seeds and coarsely chop.
4. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, mix the eggs, sugar and the leavening over medium high speed until thickened, 3 to 4 minutes.
5. With mixer on medium speed, slowly add olive oil in a slow, steady stream down the side of the bowl until emulsified. Turn the mixer to low and add the flour and soaked raisins (with any remaining liquid) alternately in 3 batches, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. The batter should be thick.
6. Remove the bowl from the mixer. Using a rubber spatula, fold chopped oranges into mixture. Set the batter aside for 10 minutes, then pour into the prepared pan.
7. Add topping: sprinkle the pinenuts and sugar over the cake, then add rosemary.
8. Bake the cakes for 10 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 325° F and continue to bake, rotating the cake every 10 to 15 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick inserted comes out clean, an additional 30 to 35 minutes. Set pan on a rack and allow to cool to room temp.
9. Run a knife around the inside of the pan and carefully invert it over a large plate to release the cake. Carefully turn it over and transfer it to a large serving plate or cake stand.
Per Serving: 314 Calories; 12g Fat (33.8% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 47g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 35mg Cholesterol; 451mg Sodium.

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