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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 Desserts, on June 13th, 2015.

berry_cobbler_sublime You know that phrase, OMGosh? Well, this is one of those. SO good. The biscuits, those lovely golden brown rounds you see there, are just beyond tender and tasty. Once you see what’s in them you’ll know why. And the berries? Well, I used mostly blackberries (fresh) and about 1/4  blueberries (also fresh). The only berry you can’t use for this is strawberries, just so you know.

About the only time I bake these days is when I know someone’s coming to visit, and that was the case here. I increased the recipe because I was expecting about 9 people, but then a few people couldn’t come at the last minute, so I had more than enough. I don’t know how well this will freeze – I have a smaller dish of this left over and will try freezing it. I’ll  put a paper towel on top of the biscuits (to absorb any of the ice crystals that form), then seal it with foil.

berry_cobbler_berriesBecause berries are certainly in season at the moment, I used mostly blackberries (so good) and a few blueberries.

There are two steps – one for the berries (tossed with sugar and a little bit of flour) and one for the biscuits (the usual, except that it uses heavy cream as the liquid/fat as well as butter).

The berries go into the baking dish and the biscuits are hand-formed (easy) and placed on top of the berries in about 1/2 inch thick rounds. It should go immediately into the oven so  the biscuits don’t have a chance to become sponges for any juices formed by the berries.

berry_cobbler_to_bakeInto a 375° oven it goes and bakes for about 35-40 minutes. That dish you see above is fairly big (it’s bigger than a regular pie pan/plate) and it took 40 minutes. The smaller one took exactly 35 minutes. The picture at right is the dish just before it went into the oven.

Originally this recipe came from Lindsey Shere’s cookbook, Chez Panisse Desserts, but I found the recipe, adapted somewhat she says, from Orangette blog. The only difference is the choice of berries. Molly Wizenberg used different ones, and as I mentioned, I used mostly blackberries with some blueberries. I’d guess that any combo of berries would work fine here. The recipe IS about the whole dish – the fruit and the biscuits – but I’ll just tell you, those biscuits on top are something else!

What’s GOOD: everything about this was scrumptious. I’ll definitely be going to this recipe if/when I ever make another berry cobbler. I don’t know if it would work with stone fruit – it might. My guests raved about it and so did I.

What’s NOT: nothing. As I said, it’s sublime.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Berry Cobbler

Recipe By: Adapted from Chez Panisse Desserts, by Lindsey R. Shere (recipe on Molly Wizenberg’s Orangette blog site)
Serving Size: 6

FRUIT:
4 1/2 cups berries — fresh or frozen [I used mostly fresh blackberries and some blueberries’
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour — or up to 1 1/2 T.
COBBLER-BISCUIT DOUGH:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
6 tablespoons unsalted butter — cold
3/4 cup heavy cream
Heavy cream to pour over the top when serving, or vanilla ice cream

NOTES from Molly: This cobbler keeps well at room temperature for about two days. (refrigerating it changes the texture of the topping). Rewarm it gently, if you want, before serving. The original version of this recipe calls for boysenberries, blueberries, and raspberries. Molly made it with roughly 3 cups of blueberries and 1½ cups of raspberries, and she loves the flavor that results. The only berries that don’t work so nicely here are strawberries. The texture gets weird: spongy and slimy. If you’re using frozen berries, she recommends thawing them at least partially, or else they take a little longer to cook.
1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
2. Toss the berries with the sugar and flour. Use the larger amount of flour if the berries are very juicy. Set aside.
3. In a medium bowl, combine the dry ingredients for the cobbler dough. Using your fingers or a pastry blender, cut in the butter until the mixture looks like coarse cornmeal. [I used my pastry blender for awhile, then used my fingers to break down the remaining little shards of butter.] Add the cream and mix lightly, until the dry ingredients are just moistened. [You can prepare the dry ingredients and butter up to a few days ahead, storing it in the refrigerator. The cream should not be added until you’re ready to bake.]
4. Put the berry mixture into a 1½-quart baking dish. With your hands, scoop up lumps of dough and form into rough patties, 2 to 2½ inches in diameter and about 1/2 inch thick. The dough may be a little sticky, so it helps to moisten my hands with a little water. Arrange the dough patties on top of the berries. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the topping is set and lightly browned and the berry juices bubble thickly around the edges of the dish.
5. Serve warm, with cream to pour over. This is best when still warm, but it’s also good at room temp. [Can also serve with vanilla ice cream.]
Per Serving: 412 Calories; 23g Fat (49.7% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 48g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 72mg Cholesterol; 331mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on June 13th, 2015:

    Cream biscuits are amazing! I like to use them for strawberry shortcake, and am sure they would make a heavenly cobbler! The summer fruits are finally coming in–hooray!

    I was telling my daughter, today, about this recipe, raving about it. It really was a delicious dessert, and I want to make it again before berries are mostly gone. I loved the blackberry version. . . carolyn t

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