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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 9th, 2010.

It all started because I had a craving for something chocolate. I do my best to suppress it, but it gets the better of me now and then and there’s nothing much for it except to bake something. Something chocolate.

Well so anyway, I was reading a blog about a loaf chocolate cake. One thing led to another and I was researching an article in the New York Times about a chocolate cake and by golly, I have the cookbook from which this cake originates. Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Chocolate Desserts, it’s a treasure-trove of chocolate recipes of every type. I’ve had the book for years and rarely seem to refer to it. Shame on me!

It seems like I’ve cooked/baked a lot recently with bourbon. I really don’t drink it much, but it must be that flavor interests me at the moment. So many desserts of the South incorporate bourbon. And then there was the Kentucky Derby recently, and we attended a party where mint juleps were served. I drank two. TWO! Oh my goodness, but they were good. Must be the little bit of simple syrup in them plus the shaved ice (not cubes, mind you, but shaved pieces) and the fresh mint. So, yes, I guess I do drink bourbon every now and again. It was the first hard liquor drink I tasted when I was 21 (yeah, I didn’t drink until then – not because I was abiding by law – but because I wasn’t around people who did drink – beer was the drink of choice with a few of my college pals but I didn’t like beer). Anyway, my former father-in-law was a bourbon-and-7-up imbiber and he would make me really mild ones on rare occasions when we’d visit him. Always mwade with Jim Beam.

Back to cake . . . reading a few other websites and blogs indicated this was a five-star recipe, so since I had all the ingredients (yea!) I went for it. It can be made in either a Bundt cake or a tube pan. I opted for the Bundt just because it’s prettier. Maida includes this in a chapter of Old-Fashioned Cakes Without Icing. The cake batter is different in only one aspect – you alternate the dry ingredients with the coffee/bourbon liquid, and it makes a very liquid batter. No matter how low/slow I turned my stand mixer, and how slowly I dribbled in the coffee mixture, it spewed thin batter all over everywhere – the mixer, the counter, the cabinets, my apron and even my shoe, dad gum it! And there are dribbles on my hardwood floor that I haven’t yet mopped up. I didn’t notice those and now they’re dried. I should have used the plastic cover I have for my stand mixer. I never use it, but it would have worked well if I had! So, you’re warned, okay?

The cake is baked in a slow oven (325) for over an hour (70-75 minutes recommended). It makes a deliciously light cake, and nicely rich with chocolate. I used 70% chocolate for this to get that super dark chocolate flavor. I melted the chocolate in a little pan I have and placed it on top of a flame tamer. That’s one of those things that allows for a slower heat to a pan (top right photo in collage above) – you place it over the range burner and put your cooking pan on top. I used my smallest/lowest gas burner and turned it down to the lowest flame. It took about 10 minutes to melt, and it didn’t burn at all. One of those great little items for your kitchen that pays for itself when you need it.

My only advice about making this cake – do use very finely crushed dry bread crumbs for the cake pan. All I had in my pantry was panko. And now you know, even panko crumbs stay crisp after being in contact with a cake batter! It didn’t really detract from the cake – at first I thought it was just the outer edge of cake that had become crispy. Uhm. No. Panko. Light colored little flecks of panko. So, be warned about that!

Once the cake is baked, you let it rest for 15 minutes, then turn it out (over) onto a rack to cool completely. You can poke a few holes and drizzle more bourbon on it, if you like (I didn’t). And once totally cool, sprinkle the top with powdered sugar. According to Maida’s recipe, you can also substitute rum, Cognac, Scotch or Amaretto for the bourbon. The recipe was a favorite of hers to demonstrate at cooking classes, and the feedback she got was that everyone couldn’t wait to go home and make it. That’s surely good reason to make this cake! Do serve it with whipped cream, or vanilla ice cream. Or maybe a glass of iced-cold milk. Well –  the taste – oh my goodness – was it good. The lightest crumb. Just the lightest I’ve ever had in a cake. Worth making? Absolutely. Will I make it again. A resounding YES.

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Maida Heatter’s 86-Proof Chocolate Cake

Recipe By: Adapted from “Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Chocolate Desserts”
Serving Size: 12
NOTES: With smaller portions this would easily serve 16. Use very light, fine bread crumbs for this. You can also use real espresso (very strong) for the espresso powder (mixed with water). I used part decaf espresso, part decaf coffee granules and added cold water for the required liquid amount. I used a 10-inch bundt, which worked fine, but the cake was not as tall.

butter for greasing cake pan (use ample)
1/3 cup dry bread crumbs — (approximately), very fine
5 ounces unsweetened chocolate — (5 squares)
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup espresso powder — (or substitute prepared espresso for the water)
boiling water cold water
1/2 cup bourbon
1/2 pound unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
Additional bourbon (optional)
Confectioner’s sugar (optional)

1. Adjust rack one-third up from bottom of the oven and preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter well the inside of a 9-inch bundt pan (called a mini-bundt pan), or any other fancy tube pan with a 10-cup capacity, and dust with fine dry breadcrumbs. Invert the pan over a piece of paper and tap lightly to shake out excess crumbs. Set aside.
2. Place the chocolate in the top of a small double boiler over hot water on low heat. Cover and cook only until melted; then remove the top of the double boiler and set it aside, uncovered, to cool slightly.
3. Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt and set aside.
4. In a two-cup measuring cup dissolve the coffee in a little boiling water. Add cold water to the 1 1/2 cup line. Add the bourbon. Set aside.
5. Cream the butter in the large bowl of an electric mixer. Add the vanilla and sugar and beat to mix well. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until smooth after each addition. Add the chocolate and beat until smooth.
6. Then, on low speed, alternately add the sifted dry ingredients in three additions with the liquids in two additions, adding the liquids VERY gradually to avoid splashing. Scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula after each addition. Be sure to beat until smooth after each addition, especially after the last. It will be a thin mixture.
7. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Rotate the pan a bit briskly, first in one direction, then in the other, to level the top. In a minibundt pan the batter will almost reach the top of the pan, but it will not run over and you will have a beautifully high cake.
8. Bake for one hour and 10 to 15 minutes. Test by inserting a cake tester in the middle of the cake and bake only until the tester comes out clean and dry.
9. Cool in the pan for about 15 minutes. Then cover with a rack and invert. Remove the pan, sprinkle the cake with a little optional bourbon, and leave the cake upside down on a rack to cool. Before serving, if you wish, sprinkle the top with confectioners’ sugar through a fine strainer. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
Per Serving: 455 Calories; 23g Fat (46.8% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 54g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 94mg Cholesterol; 198mg Sodium.

A year ago: Scenery in Glacier Bay (Alaska)
Two years ago: Potato Salad

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  1. hddonna

    said on July 9th, 2010:

    You told me this was coming, and I am definitely going to make it! You know, I have that book, too, and I love it. I’ve made various recipes from it over the years, but hadn’t taken note of this one, so thank you for bringing my attention to it! I like that it’s a bundt cake–I’ve been gravitating more towards those lately.
    My favorite recipe from Maida Heatter’s book is the chocolate shortbread. I make several batches every Christmas, but instead of rolling it out and cutting it, I make little balls and press them down with my cookie stamps, of which I have a dozen or so in Christmas designs. They’re my easiest Christmas cookie and a family favorite.

    Thanks, Donna. I’ll have to go look up the shortbread recipe. I would think of making chocolate shortbread, but with your recommendation I’ll have to try it – maybe for next Christmas. . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on July 18th, 2010:

    I made the cake, and we’ve been eating it for several days, with homemade ice cream. This cake is amazing. It is incredibly moist but not heavy and dense–just melts in your mouth! I forgot it overnight on the cooling rack, and it didn’t hurt it at all. The breadcrumbs work amazingly well. I have a bundt pan with very narrow, sharp ridges, and things tend to stick. With the crumbs, it slipped right out. They kind of meld with the crust, too, so it isn’t obvious that they were used. This is the best chocolate bundt cake recipe I have tried.

    So glad you liked it. I still have a small chunk in the freezer and will look forward to having the last of this. It really is a fantastic tasting cake! . . . carolyn t

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