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Just finished 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 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 parents were 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 a old 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.

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.

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.

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.

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, Desserts, on June 30th, 2015.

breadfarms_grahams

Can I just tell you that you have to make these and leave it at that? No, you probably won’t believe me, will you? I don’t use that kind of forceful declaration very often. Well, just believe me, okay?

Often I’m led down a cooking path by the description of a recipe. Maybe it’s something unusual about it – or in it – that piques my interest. Other times it’s because there’s such an interesting background story about it. Or maybe it’s a homegrown recipe from way back. In this case, it’s Molly Wizenberg, of Orangette blog, cookbook fame, and her husband’s restaurant Delancey fame too. I’ve always admired Molly’s writing – she has a gift of building up a great story and I was following her long before she became famous. I read her blog and liked it. This recipe came from her column in Saveur.

And I got hooked on it because of the story. She and her family were on a drive in Washington, and her daughter was hungry. So was everyone in the car and most of the stores were closed in Edison. They found Breadfarm was about to close – they grabbed some things and dived into the bags as they stood in the parking lot. What emanated from them all were ooohs and aaahs. But it was the little package of freshly baked graham crackers that made the biggest impression. They were gone before she arrived home. And, because you’re Molly Wizenberg, you obviously can pick up the phone and tell the people at Breadfarm that you want to feature them and their recipe in an article in Saveur.

I’m ever so glad she did. Normally I’d probably not make home made graham crackers. Crackers, in grahams_closeupgeneral, are a lot of work, and one meal, usually, and they’re gone. But Molly just made this graham cracker/cookie sound so divine that there just wasn’t anything to do but make these. First, however, I had to go shopping. I don’t stock whole wheat flour much – it turns rancid so quickly (the remainder is in the freezer for now). And I certainly had never used whole wheat pastry flour. Had to go to two stores before I found those items. It also uses wheat bran – another thing I don’t keep on hand because it doesn’t keep all that long, either.

Fortunately I read and re-read the recipe before I began to make them. Making these requires several visits to the freezer as the precious little graham cracker cargo are chilled and slightly frozen before baking. I was home anyway, so I was certain to make these at a time when I would have no distractions.

My kitchen freezer is very full. (Actually, this is a mini form of hoarding, I think – I can’t seem to ever get my freezer to some manageable amount of fullness – it’s always chock full.) So I had to slide the cookie sheets with the rolled out cookies/crackers on parchment into my garage freezer (yes, there is room there). It required 2 visits to the freezer, and technically they were supposed to have a 3rd visit, but I did a shortcut on that one.

The batter is easy enough to make – you cream the butter, sugar (she calls for cane sugar, I used moscovado) and honey for awhile, then add the dry ingredients in 3 separate additions and continue mixing until it pulls away from the workbowl using the stand mixer. The batter is divided in half and pressed into a 1-inch thick rectangle on parchment. A 2nd piece of parchment goes on top and a rolling rolled_perforatedpin is used to squeeze down the dough to 1/8 inch thickness.  The recipe says to keep the dough in its rectangular shape. Well, I couldn’t do that – I was handling it too much, so I just lived with the results of an oval shape and re-rolled the scraps. Some time was spent in the freezer, then you poke the crackers with a fork and either perforate the dough into squares, or in my case, I used a square cookie cutter, which worked just fine. Back into the freezer they go, so they’re cold-cold before you bake them. They are separated and placed on a parchment-lined baking sheet. And they’re baked.

And I remind you – you have to make these. They’re just SO good. They’d be loverly with cheese as an after-dinner course. I’m serving them with my lemon velvet gelato on Father’s Day – this won’t post until a week or so later.

What’s GOOD: the taste. Oh my yes, they taste wonderful. And although you will have spent more time than usual making a batch of these, you’ll be glad you did, if you can make the time to do it. They make a very nice snack, or a straight-out cookie. And maybe you’ll think it’s not so bad because it’s almost all whole wheat flours.

What’s NOT: nothing whatsoever is bad about the cookie/cracker. It just takes a bit of time to make. And they’re a little bit fussy – trying to get the dough flat and square as you roll it out – you don’t want them to be thicker on one side than the other, not only would they not bake evenly, but they’d look funny.

printer-friendly PDF

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Breadfarm’s Graham Crackers _ SAVEUR

Recipe By: From Molly Wizenberg’s blog, Orangette, and Saveur, 2015
Serving Size: 48

1 3/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon wheat bran — plus 2 teaspoons
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 sticks unsalted butter — softened
2/3 cup unrefined cane sugar — or turbinado sugar [I used moscovado]
2 tablespoons honey

1. In a medium bowl, whisk the flours with the wheat bran, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, sugar, and honey on medium speed, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl, until the mixture is creamy, 2 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients in three batches, stopping as needed to scrape down the bowl, until the flour is fully incorporated.
3. Continue beating until the dough comes together around the paddle, pulling away from the sides of the bowl.
4. Scrape the dough out onto a work surface and gather into a ball. Halve the dough ball and place each half on a 12” x 16” sheet of parchment paper. Pat each half into a 1”-thick rectangle and then cover with another sheet of parchment paper, lining it up with the first. Using a rolling pin, roll each dough half between the sheets of parchment to an even thickness of 1/8”, maintaining its rectangular shape [this was very difficult to do, so I made do with a big oval shape]. Carefully transfer the two dough halves, still between the parchment sheets, onto two baking sheets and freeze for 30 minutes.
5. Remove each sheet from the freezer, and transfer the parchment-wrapped dough sheets to a clean work surface. Remove the top sheet of parchment from each, and working quickly, use a fork or skewer to prick the dough sheets at roughly 1-inch intervals. Using a pizza cutter or a sharp knife, score the dough into 2-inch squares. Trim the scraps, and reserve to use for re-rolling and making more cookies. Return the pricked and scored dough sheets, still in single, large sheets, to the freezer for 15 to 20 minutes, until very firm.
6. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven, and heat to 350°. Remove the chilled dough sheets from the freezer, and invert each onto a clean work surface. Peel away and discard the parchment paper and, working quickly, separate the dough sheets along the score lines, into individual squares. Place the squares onto three parchment paper-lined baking sheets, spacing them about 1 1/2 inches apart. Chill the squares on the baking sheets for 15 minutes.
7. Bake the squares for 14 minutes, until golden at the edges; rotate the baking sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through cooking. Transfer to a rack and cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks. [I didn’t quite get 48 cookie/crackers out of my batch – probably because they were just a bit thicker than the 1/8 inch suggested – it’s hard to measure!]
Per Serving: 69 Calories; 4g Fat (49.7% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 8g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 10mg Cholesterol; 46mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on June 30th, 2015:

    These caught my eye, too, and have been lurking in the far corners of my brain since I saw the article. They were in danger of getting lost, so I’m glad you brought them up. I was a bit shocked at the price–$10 for a little bag of graham crackers in the photo with the article (looks like maybe 20 squares max). The fact that they are labor intensive as well as being a high quality artisan product no doubt accounts for that, but it’s still more than I could justify paying. I’m glad to know they are worth the trouble to make them yourself. Thanks for the reminder!

    Yup, they really are worth it – as long as you can make the time. I was SO utterly sad when I had the last one a few days ago. Since I have pounds of specialty flour now, I guess I’ll have to make them again! . . . carolyn t

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