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Just finished The Letter by Kathyrn Hughes. It’s a very intricate tale. At first it’s about Tina, a battered wife [at which point I paused and wondered if I wanted to read any further, but I’m glad I did]. She tries to get the courage to leave her husband. Then enters the letter she finds in a suit pocket in the thrift shop where she volunteers. It’s old – sealed and stamped, but never mailed. Then you learn about Crissie, decades earlier, a young pregnant girl who is sent off to Ireland to a distant relative by her father, then to a rigid (meaning horrible) convent [the book takes place mostly in Manchester, England and in rural Ireland]. The letter is addressed to her. Jump forward decades and William, the adopted child Crissie gave up, tries to find his birth mother. William meets Tina in Ireland [a serendipitous moment] as she’s trying to find the woman to whom the letter is addressed. This book is the #2 best seller on Amazon at the moment. It’s a riveting tale and I really enjoyed it.

Read Grace Unshakled, by Irene Huising. From Amazon’s page, it says: “In the year 2025, 17-year-old Grace Duncan finds herself in shackles because of her faith in Christ. An obedient daughter and stellar student, doing time in jail was never on her mental radar, despite the changes in religious laws [this takes place here in the United States] over the past few years. Through twists and turns in circumstances, Grace and a small band of Christians in Newport Beach, California begin a journey to discover what it means to follow Christ with unwavering faith in the midst of increasing persecution. Facing the potential loss of all her hopes and dreams, would Christ be enough?” We read this for one of my book clubs, and it’s a scary thought about what it could mean if we take God out of our country. The author is a friend of a friend and she attended our book club meeting to share about how she came to write this book. I don’t often share my faith here on my website, but this book made me stop and think about the direction our government is going, removing more and more our ability to worship God. Or to worship in any religion. Will this book ever make waves in the book world? Probably not. My copy may be a pre-edited version, as it contained numerous typos and formatting errors. But they didn’t detract from the subject, just the cosmetics. The book doesn’t come to a resolution; in fact it leaves you hanging, as some books do. It was intentional (obviously), but left me wondering about the “end of the story.”

Also just finished reading The Muralist: A Novel by Shapiro. It tells the story of a young woman, an artist, who was part of the U.S.’s WPA mural project from the 1930s-40s (she is fiction, the WPA is not). As with so many artists, even today, they live in abject poverty through much of their lives. This woman, though, had family in France, desperately trying to escape before Hitler’s henchmen rousted them into concentration camps. The story, a bit of a mystery but not of the mystery-genre, is about Alizée Benoit, this young painter, who slightly captivates Eleanor Roosevelt’s help. It also skips into current time when the painter’s great-niece uncovers paintings she believes were painted by her aunt. The painter had disappeared into thin air in 1940, and her relative tries desperately to find out what happened to her. It’s a really good story including such Abstract Expressionist painters as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner well-woven into the narrative. It keeps you guessing right up to the end. A good read. The author also wrote The Art Forger: A Novel a few years ago.

Read The German Girl: A Novel by Correa. It chronicles the story of a wealthy German Jewish family in Berlin, as the Nazis arrive and make life a living hell. The family is lucky (I guess you could say this) to be allowed to purchase passage on the M.S. St. Louis, a passenger liner, to take them to “the Americas.” The destination is actually Cuba. The story is told from two voices – the teenage daughter in this story, and from a current-day distant family member who is trying to learn about her ancestry. Of the 900+ passengers on the ship, only a few were allowed to disembark since the Cuban President decided he needed more money to accept them. Most families had no money left, as the Reich had taken nearly all of their assets. The daughter and her very eccentric mother were allowed to stay in Cuba.  The remaining passengers are rejected by the U.S. too, and eventually return to Europe, where most of the Jews end up dying in concentration camps. The story goes back and forth from the 1939 journey to current day as the link between the two women is slowly revealed. I had a tough time sometimes, tracking the people in this book, but the story was very riveting. It’s based on facts about the ship (see Wikipedia link above if you’re interested). A shameful chapter in history.

Recently finished reading a magnificent historical novel. Not new. Philippa Gregory has been a favorite author of mine for a couple of decades. You may remember her most famous book, The Other Boleyn Girl, published some years ago. I thought that was a really great book. I’ve read other books by Gregory, but most recently I read The King’s Curse (The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels). The time period is the 1450s to 1541, mostly under the rule of King Henry VIII, the infamous womanizer and wife/Queen-killer. The man who cursed Rome (the Pope) – he wanted his first marriage annulled because Queen Catherine couldn’t produce a living male heir. And subsequently made himself the head of the church in England in order to do so. It was a Catholic country at the time. This story (it’s fiction, but woven with intricate historical detail) is from the voice of Margaret of York (a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine),  who was a Plantagenet in her own right (which is key to the later events in the book). Certainly I’ve read other novels over the years that dealt with Henry VIII, but not with this much breadth of info. What a wicked, sinful man he was. And did I say tyrant. Wow.  I could hardly put it down, through its nearly 600 pages. In the author’s notes at the end, she shares relatively recent medical info that suggests Henry probably suffered from a rare problem, Kell positive blood type, which can cause miscarriages, stillbirths and infant deaths IF the mother has the more common Kell negative blood type. And that in his later years, he may have had McLeod syndrome, a disease only found in Kell positive individuals. Around the age of 40 it causes physical degeneration and personality changes resulting in paranoia, depression and irrational behavior. All of those King Henry VIII had in spades. If you read the book, you might read the author’s notes (at the end) before reading the book. If you like historical fiction (I love any book about English history) you’ll just love this one. It’s interesting, though, as I think about the many books I’ve read covering this era in English history, that each book presented its hero/heroine as the most innocent and worthy individual vying for the crown of England. I remember thinking Anne Boleyn was dealt with so badly during her life (and certainly her beheading), and yet reading this book, I completely reversed my opinion. Anne Boleyn was called a wh–e by most people during the years she shared Henry’s bed. The “curse” from the title pertains to Henry’s inability or the curse on the Tudors, that caused him to fail in producing a male heir. In any case, none of Henry’s wives should have died for it – likely it was all Henry’s fault anyway. Just read this one, okay?

Also recently read News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a free-lance job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her family was killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of an old (wild) west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many. Just read this one first!

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 Breads, on February 26th, 2013.

prize_winning_banana_bread_loaf

Oh gosh, you’re going to love this bread. Or cake. Or cake made in a bread pan, masquerading as a loaf bread. Whatever it is, it’s marvelous. Easy. And better than any banana bread I’ve ever made, and I thought I had a really great one!

My radar wasn’t fixed – I mean tuned in – to making banana bread. Hadn’t even thought about it. Until I got an email from a new friend, Jerianne. A friend I’ve made as a result of my blog. This new friend lives about 25 miles from me, but we met for lunch several weeks ago. She’d found my blog somehow – I don’t recall if she told me how she happened to find it, and she started reading and she emailed me about getting together. We really enjoyed talking.  We have many common interests besides food. We are of a somewhat similar age. She loves to cook. We talked all about my blog, how and why, and we talked food for it seemed like hours. We’ve agreed to get together again sometime soon. She’s a Christian too, and she said a lovely prayer over our lunch.

Here’s a photo of Jerianne and me (J’s on the right) the day she took me to lunch (thank you again, Jerianne!). jerianneA week or so went by and Jerianne sent me an email with this recipe attached, telling me that I really, really needed to try this banana bread. She thought it was one of the best she’d ever made. Well, and it was called a prize-winning one, so why wouldn’t it be special? When I saw bananas, some very ripe ones, at the market, they called out to me and I made this bread. Oh my. Yes, yes, yes!

The recipe is in several places on the internet, and attributed to a county fair winner in 1981. It contains the standard stuff for a banana bread, with an addition of sour cream. I had light sour cream in my refrigerator, and it worked just fine. The bread prize_winning_banana_bread_slicesalso contains a lot of bananas – to get 1 1/2 cups I needed 4 medium sized ones. If you have really large bananas, probably 3 would be enough to measure 1 1/2 cups. My advice: measure!

It was all mixed up in my stand mixer and poured into a GREASED loaf pan. I had a bit too much for my loaf pan (fill the pan about 3/4 full), so I had to pour some of the batter into a smaller one (which I gave as a gift to our friend Joe who stayed with us the other night – Yvette, did you like it?). Likely you could scale down this recipe by about 1/5 and have just the right amount. It’s pretty hard to do that with standard measurements, but it could be done.

Then, you sprinkle raw sugar (turbinado) on the top of the raw batter – it adds a lovely crispy top. Don’t not do that step as you’ll be forever changed about adding that to any loaf breads. Loved it. The baking times varied a bit – some said 45 minutes, some an hour. I know loaf breads needed to bake until they reach about 205°, and it took about 55 minutes to do that. The bread MUST stay in the pan for a little while. Why? It’s a very, VERY tender bread/cake, and it could easily stick. If you want to be sure about this, put buttered parchment paper on the bottom of the bread pan. The large pan came out perfectly, but the little one was a little harder – it left a little bit stuck to the bottom.

After about 20 minutes I gently shook both pans to make sure the breads were loose and very carefully rolled the pan over onto my other hand and forearm, then quickly but gently placed it on a cooling rack. Be extra careful doing that – I very nearly broke the loaf in half. When I tell you it’s tender, it’s really, really tender, okay? Allow it to cool completely before slicing. Jerianne, thank you SO much for sharing this recipe with me! It’s a real winner.

What’s good: every single, solitary thing about this is wonderful. A definite do again bread.
What’s not: nothing whatsoever. What a lovely gift it would make, too.

printer-friendly PDF (created using CutePDF Writer, not Adobe)
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* Exported from MasterCook *

Prize Winning Banana Bread

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from a 1981 county fair winner, found at grouprecipes.com
Serving Size: 18

1/2 cup butter — softened
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups bananas — mashed ripe (I used 4 ripened bananas)
1/2 cup sour cream — (I used light sour cream)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup walnuts — chopped
turbinado (raw) sugar for top of batter

Note: To be safe, line the bottom of the loaf pans with buttered parchment paper – for sure you’ll have no difficulty getting the bread out. Remove paper once you have removed the breads from the pans.
1. With a mixer combine butter, oil, sugars and eggs until smooth.
2. Add mashed bananas, sour cream and vanilla, stirring together well.
3. Mix in flour, baking soda and salt, stirring until it is blended. Do not over mix. Add walnuts if you’re using them and stir until combined.
4. Pour into a well-greased standard large loaf pan to about 3/4 full. It may require a second smaller pan, or use 2-3 smaller pans.
5. Sprinkle turbinado/raw sugar generously over top of batter, using your hand to gently pat some of it into the batter.
6. Bake at 325° F – large loaf pan will require about 1 hour, smaller loaves about 45 minutes or until the center of the loaf reaches 205° on an instant read thermometer.
7. Allow bread to cool in pans for about 20 minutes, then run a sharp knife around the edges, tap the pan on the counter several times or gently shake it to loosen it, (you’re trying to loosen the bread from the bottom of the pan), then invert pan over a wire rack and let the bread fall onto the rack to finish cooling completely.
8. Variations and Suggestions: Add any of the following – miniature chocolate chips, toffee bits, shredded coconut, chopped pecans or macadamia nuts.
9. Try toasting the banana bread – spread hot toasted bread with butter and even add a sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar and some slices of banana, or top with a combination of honey and peanut butter, or spread hot toasted bread with some Nutella…the possibilities are endless!
10. Use slices of banana bread to make your French toast. Just dust the finished product with some powdered sugar, or a little powdered sugar glaze, or spread on some Nutella, and maple syrup is good on it, too.
Per Serving: 253 Calories; 13g Fat (45.9% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 31g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 40mg Cholesterol; 195mg Sodium.

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  1. Mary Ann

    said on November 11th, 2013:

    I live in South Florida & grow several varieties of banana trees so I have made A LOT of banana bread over the years. Recently, I was looking for a super moist recipe and came across this one. I have to tell you, this is BY FAR the BEST banana bread I have EVER tasted! I doubled the recipe & made two, large loaves. I froze one for some day when I want something indulgent and don’t have time to make it – now I’m even more happy I made that second loaf!

    I’m so glad, Mary Ann. It is a really great recipe. All the credit goes to my friend who forwarded it to me. . . carolyn t

  2. Charlotte Moore

    said on December 9th, 2013:

    I made 6 small loaves and 6 muffins from this recipe. I just took the muffins from the oven. They smell so good. I read the recipe wrong and added 1/2 cup oil. I did cut the sugar to 3/4 cups. Oops!! I also did not notice to sprinkle the sugar on top. Oh well!!

    I just ate a hot muffin. WOW!!! It was so light and airy. I am not even real fond of banana bread but wanted to use up some bananas. VERY GOOD!!!

    Well, it sounds like even with the little mistakes, they turned out well. I’m glad. It’s a good recipe; i agree! . . . carolyn t

  3. Jordasche Kingston

    said on December 25th, 2013:

    My problem with banana bread is it is always too dry. Not this version! Just pulled out of the oven 20 minutes ago, and had a slice with butter. Wow!!! So delicious! And not dry! Thank you so much for sharing.

    You’re so welcome. It’s a great recipe; I agree . . . carolyn t

  4. Cindy

    said on January 28th, 2014:

    Excellent banana bread, very moist and great flavor! Will make my regular recipe from now on!

    Great! So glad you liked it as much as we did! . . .carolyn t

  5. Keekle

    said on July 7th, 2014:

    Added chocolate chips and get so many compliments! Even the 20 somethings said it was better than their aunt’s! Thank you and your friend for sharing!

    So glad you liked it. It’s my go-to from here on out! . . .carolyn t

  6. Shari

    said on December 22nd, 2014:

    Been looking for that moist delious muffin recipie for my banana bear pan…over sized muffins.
    Banana bread … for years iv’e used the same recipe and altered to my liking, but felt I needed a freash start…I currently have mini muffins with nuts and chips per my daughters request. A small loaf and a full loaf all out of one mix…I thought I lost track of flour, so I added another 1/2 cup…it must have been right. Batter looked softer than I was expecting. since i just made a litte more batter. We had to mix it up a little…my muffins look amazing! I see a taster is needed…Sammie ~ the true test, kids never lie well…hum shes back for more! Doent love the nuts, but dad will! Wow super buttery moist and a little golden crispness. Loafs look very moist too. I love that you included the temp to read makes it easy not to second guess if its done yet!
    Great recipe…. Thanks for sharing
    Shari

    You’re very welcome. Glad it made a big impression on your family. I made this a couple of months ago and was wowed myself – it’s so moist and delicious. . . carolyn t

  7. Elsa

    said on July 27th, 2015:

    I am making this recipe again tonight, this is by far the best banana nut bread recipe. I have tried several banana nut bread recipes, and this one for sure is the BEST, I love it, I shared some with my friends and they totally loved it as well. Thank you SO MUCH for sharing this delicious recipe, I will search no further for any more banana nut bread recipes, this is a keeper……

    So glad you liked it as much as I did. I can’t take credit for it – a friend sent it to me, and she found it online, I believe. My mouth is watering as I type – guess it’s time to make this again! . . . carolyn t

  8. Linda

    said on February 7th, 2016:

    I have tried many recipes for banana nut bread, never 100 percent pleased. I tried this recipe, and I love it. Gave our neighbor Robert four large slices to share. He ate every bite in one sitting!! It is delicious and so moist. Thank you for this recipe. It is a keeper!!

    I’m so glad you liked it. It IS a keeper of a recipe! . . . carolyn t

  9. Stacy

    said on September 6th, 2016:

    I’m not sure what I did wrong but the center collapsed and it was undercooked in the middle. I made one large loaf pan and baked it for one hour. The parts that were cooked were absolutely delicious.

    Oh no, Stacy. I’m so sorry! Was the center puffed up when you took it out of the oven, or already deflated? Probably the larger pan wasn’t quite cooked through – it could be the temp in your oven, I suppose. Next time use an instant read thermometer (baked things should be about 195-205F in the center). I’ve begun to rely on my instant read thermometer whenever I bake as it’s so much more reliable than the toothpick test. I hope you’ll try it again; it’s such a good banana bread! I haven’t made it in awhile – maybe I need to, although since this recipe came from a prize-winner, I’m not thinking there’s anything wrong with the recipe. The other culprit COULD be your baking powder – I’ve only had it happen once when a can was past its prime and just wouldn’t do its job. Thanks for letting me know. . . carolyn t

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