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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 July 22nd, 2014.

anise_cake_coyote_cafe

Knowing some of you as I do, I’m venturing a guess that many most of you will look at that picture, read the word anise, and just decide nope, it’s not for you. You’d be making a big mistake. You’re going to miss out on a really wonderful taste treat. Curiously, I don’t like licorice. Period. I don’t eat the candy, nor the liqueurs made from it. Yuck. But this cake, oh yes, I love it.

Back in 2007 (a couple of months after I started writing this blog, and my photos were awful, I must tell you!) I posted this recipe. Most of you weren’t reading my blog back then. It was a baby blog, you could say, and I didn’t have all that many readers. Still today I have no idea whether people download recipes or not (I know how many people look at my blog, but downloading the pdf, or the MasterCook files, I don’t know).  This is a recipe I’ve been making for well over 20 years. And not all that often, but when I do make it, it’s always a hit. I had a group of women friends over for a potluck lunch and at the last minute (well, 9:30 for an noon lunch) I decided to whip up this cake. It took about 45 minutes of preparation, then the rest was easy (baking and cooling time).

The original recipe came from Mark Miller’s cookbook Coyote Cafe: Foods from the Great Southwest, Recipes from Coyote Café. Back in the early 80s I was quite enamored with southwestern food (still am, but Mexican food has to stand in since southwestern restaurants have basically been and gone) and on a trip to Santa Fe on a food tour, I ate at Miller’s restaurant. I was smitten. With his cookbook in hand, I have prepared some of the recipes from it, but the standout by far is this cake.

Anise Seed Tip:

When you toast anise, it absolutely mellows out the flavor. There is nothing pungent or strong about the flavor once it’s toasted/roasted. You’ll be amazed. Considering that there’s 4 tablespoons of anise in this cake!

Over the years I’ve changed it some – it’s still resembles his recipe – with eggs, butter, anise seed, sugar, vanilla, flour, etc. But I lightened it up (the texture mostly) a little bit many years ago. I reduced the amount of butter, and I separated the eggs to whip the whites to texturally lighten the cake from a heavy pound cake to just a “cake.” It’s still made in a tube pan, and baked for a little longer.

Let’s talk about anise seed a little bit. You know already that it is part of the licorice family – in some countries anise and fennel go by the same name. They certainly are similar. They’re both very aromatic. stovetop_spice_toaster_pan_mesh_lid_closed

In this recipe, the anise seeds have to be toasted. I have a cute little stovetop spice toaster thing. I bought it years ago and have no recollection where. Might have been in an Indian market, since Indian cuisine uses a lot of toasted spices. It’s about 8 inches long, and the metal pan is little more than paper thin, but that means the spices toast in a jiffy. The mesh lid clips down so when hot spices begin to dance and/or pop, they stovetop_spice_toaster_lid_opendon’t go flying.  Once the pan heats up you absolutely have to be right there at the stove gently shaking the pan – otherwise the spices would burn. It’s a miraculous little thing and when I use it I’m ever so glad I have it. But you can use any old pan – just watch it carefully so the spices don’t burn. Generally it takes 2-4 minutes to toast spices over a medium to medium high heat. As soon as they’re done, however, tip the contents out onto a plate so they don’t continue to toast. With my little toaster, I just set it onto the cold granite countertop, and move it about 3 times, shaking it as I move it and the spices stop toasting.

anise_cake_batterThe cake batter is fairly standard. But it sure looks different because of the finely ground toasted anise seed in it – it makes a lovely taupe color as you can see in the photo at right. I’d just folded in the whipped egg whites when I took that picture. The batter is relatively thick, and you do need to fold those whipped egg whites until you can’t see any streaks. Then it’s scooped into the tube pan, leveled slightly and baked. The original recipe said it baked in 50-60 minutes. Mine takes longer, from 60-80 minutes, depending on your oven. I used my instant read thermometer and baked it until I got a reading of about 200° in several places.

anise_cake_wholeIt cools in the pan for awhile (an hour), then you can remove the outer part of the tube pan. Even though the pan is greased and flour-dusted, I always run a knife around the edge (mine is old – it’s not a nonstick – I think tube pans – mostly designed for making angel food cake aren’t ever supposed to be nonstick). Once the outer rim is removed, then I run a knife underneath the cake and around the center tube and usually the cake will come out of the tube onto your outstretched hand and forearm. Then gently place it onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

I think this is best with nothing but vanilla ice cream or whipped cream – you want the anise flavor to shine through. If you add fruit or syrups or anything, it will just dampen the anise flavor.

What’s GOOD: to me, the anise flavor is just off the charts. When I served this to my group of lady friends they – to a person – raved. And I mean RAVED. The cake isn’t hard to make at all. Do use anise that’s not too old, or it won’t have good flavor. Am sure my jar is at least a year old, but it hadn’t been opened, so I knew it was good. Freeze the left overs, if you have any. It’s best eaten the day it’s made if at all possible.

What’s NOT: well, if you don’t like anise, I’m sorry! But remember, I don’t like licorice and I just adore this cake. You might be a convert to this type of anise flavor.

printer-friendly CutePDF

Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click on link to open recipe in MC)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Anise Pound Cake a la Coyote Cafe

Recipe By: Adapted some from Mark Miller’s cookbook, Coyote Cafe
Serving Size: 16

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
14 ounces unsalted butter — softened
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 tablespoons anise seed — roasted, ground
5 large eggs — separated
2/3 cup sour cream — (I used a mix of sour cream and Greek yogurt)

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan. Sift together flour and salt, then set aside. To toast the anise seeds, use an iron skillet, or pan with a heavy bottom, if possible. Heat the pan (dry) to medium-high. Add the seeds, and either shake or stir with a spatula until the seeds begin to brown. If they begin to smoke, the heat may be too high – be careful and don’t burn them. You want them to be just past golden brown – but not burned. This will take 2-3 minutes, maybe 4, depending on the heat level. Immediately tip the seeds out onto a big plate (to stop the toasting altogether).
2. Cream the butter with sugar, vanilla and toasted, finely ground anise seed until light, 5-7 minutes. In another bowl, whip the egg whites until they reach stiff peaks and set aside. To the caek batter add the egg yolks, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Then add dry ingredients alternately with the sour cream. Scrape the bowl well and mix until blended. Then, using a spatula fold in the egg whites until mixed in and no streaks of white are visible. (This is a bit difficult because the batter is thick.)
3. Pour or scoop into prepared pan and bake for approximately 60-75 minutes, until the cake is golden brown and springs back to the touch. If using an instant read thermometer, bake until cake reaches 200°, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool on a rack for about 45 minutes, then run a knife around the outside of the pan and around the center, then remove the outer part of the tube pan. Holding onto the top of the tube, slide a knife all along bottom (between the cake and the bottom of the cake, turning the cake as you go. Unmold the cake onto your outstretched hand, then quickly, but gently, turn it back over onto the cooling rack. Can serve warm.
4. Serve in small slices with vanilla ice cream, or with fresh, sliced summer fruit (peaches, strawberries, other berries) and whipped cream. You’ll have the more predominant anise flavor if you serve it plain with ice cream or whipped cream.
Per Serving: 411 Calories; 24g Fat (52.2% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 45g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 125mg Cholesterol; 155mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on July 23rd, 2014:

    Carolyn, this looks intriguing. I love anise in biscotti, springerle, and anise drop cookies, so I’m sure I’d love this cake. And it’s a flavor I’ve never encountered in a cake. It would be a nice change to accompany summer peaches.

    Peaches would work – just don’t put other flavors in with it – maybe some vanilla, or just plain sliced would be lovely, I think. . . carolyn t

  2. Thalia @ butter and brioche

    said on July 23rd, 2014:

    i’ve never made a pound cake before.. definitely something i need to try. love the anise flavour too!

    It really is worth making and everyone is surprised that the anise isn’t more pronounced. You know it’s anise, but it’s not overpowering at all. . . carolyn t

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