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Am just starting News of the World: A Novel by William Morris. 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 requires me to read it. It’s about an old man, during the early, old wild west times, who goes from town to town and people pay him money to read the newspaper to them. (Imagine, there WAS such a job.) By chance he’s asked to take a very young girl to Texas to reunite with her family. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby, raised by them, and she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!).

Just finished Winter Journey by Diane Armstrong. Have you ever read about forensic dentistry? I sure had not, so I found it fascinating reading. It’s a debut novel for the author, and what a story. Halina, an Australian, with Polish roots, specializes in this obscure profession as a forensic dentist, and is asked to go to Poland, to help identify bone (and tooth) fragments, to put to rest a sad event in the story of this small town, when many, many people (Jews) were murdered. Was it the Nazis? Or was it the local townspeople who disliked the Jews. What a tangled web of intrigue, including Halina’s own mysterious past. I really enjoyed the read. The author does a great job of developing the characters (which I always like). This is no light read if you consider the subject matter, although it IS a novel (but based on fact). Nor is it a spy thriller – it’s more just an historical novel with lots of interesting people throughout. There’s a romance thrown in too, and a whole lot of angst about the discoveries found in the mass grave. But, the subject expanded my knowledge about forensics.

Recently finished reading The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr. I just LOVED this book. I’ve never been much of a fan of Caravaggio’s paintings, although I’ve seen plenty of them (many are extremely large) in museums around the world. His paintings were dark, often with dark subjects. But as with many of the old masters, occasionally some obscure work surfaces, perhaps credited to another artist, even, that turns out to be one done by “the” master. In this case, Caravaggio. Although this book is written as a novel (with dialogue, etc.) it’s historical through and through. It begins with two young women art scholars, in Italy, who are asked to do a research project. One thing leads to another, and to another. All true.  If you enjoy books about art – I learned some things about the paint and the canvases of the time – you’ll be intrigued as I was.

Also just read Eye On the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press, by James, McGrath Morris. Each year my AAUW book club reads something related to Black History Month. This is a biography of a woman you’ve probably never heard of, Ethel Payne, and about her life-long journey in journalism, struggling to keep her head above water financially, but staying true to her purposes of telling the truth about the black stories and black racism of the day. Sometimes biographies aren’t all that riveting, but I found this one to be so, and I savored each new chapter. We had a really good discussion of the book, and the ups and downs of Payne’s life, especially during her years as a Washington reporter. You’ll not be sorry to have spent the time reading this book. It’s well-written, as well. I was thrilled when the author, Morris, left a message here on my blog, thanking me (and my group) for reading his book.

Also read H Is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald. This one has been on the best seller list. It’s a memoir about a woman who takes on a personal challenge of taming a wild hawk. Prior to reading this book, I knew next to nothing about the entire subject of hawking, or taming any of the big, wild birds. The book is equally about the writer’s inner journey. She’s a consummate writer, and every page was a joy of words, for me. My only problem is my own – I found it hard, the more time that went by, and the more time the writer spent trying to tame this bird, to scream out “let the bird go.” Perhaps it’s because I spent time in Africa in 2015, seeing animals in the wild, that I felt more for the bird than I did with the writer’s discontent with herself and the taming process. Little did I know what a hard job it is to tame a hawk. I actually didn’t finish the book. It was a book club read, and highly recommended by several of our members. And I ended up not being able to attend the meeting as I had a cold. So perhaps there is some great ending to it that would have made me feel better. I haven’t gone to the end to find out. I just had to stop reading it. But I’m not NOT recommending it. If nothing else, read it for Macdonald’s sublime proficiency with words.

Also read George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, by Brian Kilmeade and Dan Yaeger. Here’s what it says on amazon: When George Washington beat a hasty retreat from New York City in August 1776, many thought the American Revolution might soon be over. Instead, Washington rallied—thanks in large part to a little-known, top-secret group called the Culper Spy Ring. He realized that he couldn’t defeat the British with military might, so he recruited a sophisticated and deeply secretive intelligence network to infiltrate New York. I won’t exactly call this book a riveting read, but it was interesting. Relating facts that few people knew about, this Culper Spy Ring. It’s a little chunk of American history researched in depth by the authors. An interesting read.

Also read The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel by Nina George. If you’re an avid reader, you probably have the same kind of longing as I do for a quaint, independently owned bookstore right around the corner. So few exist anymore. This novel is about a very unusual book store, and book store owner. In Paris. On a boat/barge. It’s not a typical book store, and the writer takes you on a journey of discovery about (likely) her own lifetime of book reading. You’ll learn all about a variety of existing books and why they’re a good read. But it’s all cloaked in a story about this book store and the owner. And the customers. Very fun. I’m reviewing it for one of my book clubs next month.

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 Cookies, on December 18th, 2013.

mexican_wedding_cookiesEver made Mexican Wedding Cookies? Or Russian Tea Cakes. They’re one in the same. If you’re interested in the history of this powdered-sugar-puff cookie, read below.

jackie_cherrie_powdered_sugarMy friends Jackie and Cherrie were at my house a good part of the day recently. Baking cookies. We’ve been doing this for several Decembers – we each bring some stuff, and I often make the batter for one or two cookies before the big day. This year we made cardamom cookies, chocolate almond saltine bars, cranberry noels, and these, the Mexican Tea Cookies (or Cakes), a new recipe for our Christmas repertoire. Cherrie arrived with a printout in hand –from this recipe at TLC (Discovery Channel). These are SUCH a simple cookie to make. Here’s a bit of history about the cookie (from ehow.com):

The term “Mexican wedding cookie/cake” did not appear in the American vocabulary until the early 1950s, after which the term appeared in virtually every basic baking cookbook. At the same time, recipes for “Russian teacakes” began disappearing from the same books. Russian teacakes and Mexican wedding cookies are virtually the same thing in ingredients, method and final product. Many historians speculate that the term Mexican wedding cookie/cake was used to replace the term Russian teacake due to the strained U.S. relationship with Russia at the time (the Cold War).

Aside from Mexican wedding cookies, biscochitos and Russian teacake, the crunchy buttery ball also goes by the name polvorones in Spain, butterballs, Swedish teacakes, moldy mice, pecan sandies, Danish almond cookies, Finnish butter strips, Napoleon hats and melting moments. The same cookies (same ingredients and method but with different shapes) go by different names [in] various regions around the world, and it is impossible to state who was the first to pioneer the recipe.

mex_wedding_cookies_hotIn that write-up above, I particularly like that these cookies are called “moldy mice.” I read online at one website that many believe it was Russian nuns who went to Mexico and began making the cookies every Christmas season or for a special occasion like a wedding. Hence they were transformed into Mexican Wedding Cakes.

What they are, are easy to make. You mix up butter, powdered sugar, finely minced pecans and some flour, and that’s about it. The dough is chilled a bit to make it easier to roll into balls. With 2 of us working at it, that didn’t take all that long. The cookies are baked for 20 minutes, then rolled over and over and over and ever-so gently in powdered sugar.

In the photo above are the cookies right out of the oven. The pecans gives the cookies a little color plus the butter too. Some recipes call for shortening, but we wanted to use a butter one sincemex_wedding_cookies_in_sugar we think they taste better.

After baking, the hot little cookies are put into a bowl of powdered sugar and delicately – and I do mean gently –  rolled around in the sugar, lightly pressing the sugar into the cookies. They must be allowed to cool in the sugar, periodically rolling them. That’s why Jackie and Cherrie have sugar-coated hands in the photo at top.

After cooling completely they were gently laid onto sheets of foil. I put mine (since I was at home) in a sealing Tupperware container. They’ll keep that way for a couple of weeks, I think.

mex_wedding_cookies_closeupWhat’s GOOD: there’s nothing quite like the extra light and crumbly texture of Mexican Wedding Cookies, and I always try to eat them over a sink or a large napkin, as it’s so very hard to eat these without getting powdered sugar all over everything you’re wearing. These cookies are no different. Hence it’s a good idea to make SMALL cookies – that way the entire cookie can go into your mouth without biting it in half. Easy to make – the only tedious part is the gently rolling in the powdered sugar. That takes some patience.
What’s NOT: nothing at all – these are delicious. The only intrinsic problem is the fragile nature of these cookies – it’s hard not to crumble them in the sugar-rolling process. I broke 2 cookies while I was helping with the first batch of these (we made 2). Only solution was to eat them 🙂  !

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Mexican Wedding Cookies

Recipe By: From “How Stuff Works”
Serving Size: 48

1 cup pecans — pieces or halves (or almonds)
1 cup unsalted butter — (2 sticks) softened
2 cups powdered sugar — divided
2 cups all-purpose flour — divided
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt

1. Place pecans in food processor. Process using on/off pulsing action until pecans are ground but not pasty.
2. Beat butter and half the powdered sugar in large bowl with electric mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy. Gradually add half of the flour, vanilla and salt. Beat at low speed until well blended. Stir in remaining flour and ground nuts. Shape dough into ball; wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate 1 hour or until firm.
3. Preheat oven to 350°F. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets.
4. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Let cookies stand on cookie sheets 2 minutes. The cookies are extremely fragile at this point.
5. Place remaining half of the powdered sugar in 13X9-inch glass dish. Transfer hot cookies, one by one, very carefully, to powdered sugar. Roll cookies in powdered sugar, coating well. (Therefore, you can only make one or two pans at a time.) Let cookies cool in sugar.
6. If desired, sift any remaining powdered sugar over sugar-coated cookies before serving. Store tightly covered at room temperature or freeze up to 1 month.
Per Serving: 88 Calories; 5g Fat (54.5% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 9g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 10mg Cholesterol; 6mg Sodium.

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