A Night of Miracles and Mango Coffeecake

Having just finished Night of Miracles, by Elizabeth Berg, I've got to say she's got another winner! I've reviewed several of Berg's novels in the past (The Art of Mending and Never Change), but am not letting that stop me.  When they're good, they're good, and you want to share it!

This one calls to mind the sadly late Maeve Binchey, featuring a number of diverse characters in a small town, whose lives are tied together in various ways. The central figure, an elderly woman, Lucille, is a consummate baking queen, who has begun to teach classes in her home, between fending off a few encounters with the Angel of Death.

So mentions of food abound, not just baked goods, but plenty of scrumptious Southern cooking turns up here, with another of the characters working in a local cafe.  Beware of constant temptations from the likes of Upside-down Chocolate Pudding Cake, Praline Cupcakes, and sugar cookies stuffed with raspberry jam.

From the Publishers:

"Lucille Howard is getting on in years, but she stays busy. Thanks to the inspiration of her dearly departed friend Arthur Truluv, she has begun to teach baking classes, sharing the secrets to her delicious classic Southern yellow cake, the perfect pinwheel cookies, and other sweet essentials. Her classes have become so popular that she’s hired Iris, a new resident of Mason, Missouri, as an assistant. Iris doesn’t know how to bake but she needs to keep her mind off a big decision she sorely regrets.

When a new family moves in next door and tragedy strikes, Lucille begins to look out for Lincoln, their son. Lincoln’s parents aren’t the only ones in town facing hard choices and uncertain futures. In these difficult times, the residents of Mason come together and find the true power of community—just when they need it the most."

I was called upon to bring some baked goods to an event, and summoned up my domestic goddess persona (what my ex-son-in-law called me).  This novel inspired a pan of Mango Coffeecake, the recipe adapted from one recently posted by Beth Fish Reads.

Mango Coffeecake
  from King Arthur Flour’s Whole Grain Baking, via Beth Fish Reads
One 9 x 13-inch cake
  • 2 cups (8 ounces) white whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup (2 1/8 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 ounces) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups (12 ounces) diced fresh peaches (or mangoes)

  • 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) sugar
  • 1 tablespoon unbleached all-purposed flour
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease and flour a 9 x 13-inch cake pan.

Make the cake: Whisk together the flours, baking soda, and salt in a medium mixing bowl. Cream together the butter and sugar in a large bowl. Beat in the egg. Add the dry ingredients one third at a time, alternately with the buttermilk. Add the vanilla. Stir in the peaches until evenly distributed. Pour and spread into the prepared pan.

Make the topping: combine the butter, sugar, flour, and cinnamon until evenly mixed. Sprinkle over the top of the batter.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes until the top is golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean. Let cool on a rack for at least 20 minutes before serving.

Just scrumptious, perfect with coffee or tea!  My mango was a large one, on the slightly under ripe side, which is best for cooking.  I'll share this over at Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking event, and with Heather's Foodies Read Challenge, September Edition.  Check out the good food and book suggestions.


Perfect Cold Borscht for Hot Weather

This is the time of year when cold soups come into their own, and yes, it's still hot here.  I was very happy with the way this version of Borscht turned out.  I've tried others, good too.  There are probably as many variations of this soup as there are nostalgic emigres around.

On a related, sort of, subject?  We must have been in a Russian mood, as I ordered a jar of Shilajit, which if you've never heard of, is a supplement, a mineral rich tar found in high mountain ranges, like the Himalayas, Altai and Caucasus.  You add a small amount - less than 1/8 teaspoon to some tea and voila, energy!  It just came in the mail from Siberia, so I'll let you know how it works.  My brother-in-law, who is sold on the stuff, told me about it.

So, here's a delicious soup to be made earlier in the day, chilled and, then when you don't want to heat up your kitchen, there you have it!

Cold Borscht
From Good.Food.Stories

Makes 4 servings

    * 2 medium beets
    * 2 potatoes
    * salt
    * juice of 1 lemon
    * sour cream, thick yogurt or kefir
    * 2 teas. horseradish or to taste

    * 1 cucumber, seeded and cubed
    * 1/2 bunch scallions, thinly sliced, and or chive blossoms
    * 1/2 bunch dill, chopped
    * 1 hard-boiled egg, diced
    * 2 radishes, thinly sliced

Peel beets and potatoes and place, whole, into a medium saucepan. Fill with water just to cover the veg and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes (check beets and potatoes with a fork; you may need to extend the simmering time by a few minutes depending on the size of your veg). Remove the beets and potatoes and let cool for a few minutes, reserving the water.

Once the veg are cool enough to handle, grate the beets coarsely, either by hand or in a food processor, and dice the potatoes. When the water has cooled to room temperature, put the beets and potatoes back into the soup and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight (the longer the flavors can marry, the better).

When ready to serve, add salt and lemon juice to taste, drizzle with sour cream, and scatter your desired garnishes.  A number of years ago, I posted this Cold Beet Soup, garnished with garlic chives and their blossoms. A reprise in the same stunning color!

I served the Borscht with a loaf of freshly baked bread for a perfect simple meal!  I'll share this over at Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking event and with Deb at Kahakai Kitchen's Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammies) Sundays. Be sure to visit for some good reading suggestions and excellent food.