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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 August 29th, 2015.

peach_blackberry_almond_crisp

If a CRISPY crisp is what you like, you’ll not be disappointed with this one. A layer of peaches and blackberries on the bottom and the topping (crispy, but no oatmeal) sprinkled liberally on the top and baked. Wonderful!

A few months ago I purchased another cookbook. I’m a sucker. I’d read that the book was so worth buying and very few of the recipes have shown up yet on the ‘net, so I decided to spring for it. Rustic Fruit Desserts: Crumbles, Buckles, Cobblers, Pandowdies, and More, written by Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson. I had a big crowd over for dinner recently – it was a cool evening (although ever-so humid what with this oddball weather we’re toppinghaving) and I even lit the outdoor fireplace for some of the younger dinner guests. Anyway, I bought a small flat of peaches (not nectarines) and we generally don’t find boysenberries at our markets, so I bought blackberries instead. Otherwise I followed the recipe.

Since I used peaches, I peeled them. I have a great Messermeister Pro Touch Swivel Peeler that works like a charm on soft fruit. The recipe calls for tossing the fruit with cornstarch and a dash of salt. I thought the fruit was sweet enough, so I eliminated the 1/2 cup tossed into the fruit. I’ve noted it in the recipe as optional.

The topping is easy to make – you combine everything (adding in the sliced toasted almonds later) in a food processor (or do by hand if preferred) and once out into a bowl you kind of manhandle the dough until it makes shards or clumps and that are sprinkled all over the fruit.

Down below  you’ll see photos of the Pyrex dish with just fruit, and then with the topping. I increased the recipe to feed more people, so ended up baking it in 2 different dishes. One of the suggestions was to bake this in flatter, wider dishes so the moisture from the fruit will do some evaporation and so the topping will have plenty of space to “crisp.” That’s what I did.

fruit_before_topping

crisp_ready2_bake

The crisp is baked for 55 minutes (the recipe says 45-55 and the tops weren’t quite brown enough so I baked it the full 55 minutes). Ideally, serve this warm – you can reheat it for 10 minutes at 325° if you make it earlier in the day. I served it with vanilla ice cream. But, when we had left overs, I served it at room temp 2 days later and it was just fine.

What’s GOOD: this recipe is a real keeper. I LOVED-LOVED the crispy topping – and especially because it contained no oatmeal. I’ve never been a fan of oatmeal crusted cobblers. So I really liked this topping which IS crunchy and tasty. Really liked the almonds in the mixture too (toasted prior to baking the crisp).  Altogether a delicious dessert, and it wasn’t all that much work to make. Peeling the peaches wasn’t a whole lot of fun, but the peeler makes it pretty quick work. Nectarines don’t require peeling, and peaches probably could have been left unpeeled. Your choice, I guess.

What’s NOT: The blackberries I used were huge, so their seeds were quite large (chewy). If I had anything to complain about it would be that – and that’s not the fault of the recipe, just the fruit selection. I’d choose younger blackberries, or substitute raspberries. That, however, was the only thing I could possible comment on. The dish was wonderful, worth making.

printer-friendly PDF and Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click link to open in MC)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Nectarine, Boysenberry, and Almond Crisp

Recipe By: Rustic Fruit Desserts (cookbook)
Serving Size: 8

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter — cold, cut into 6 cubes
3/4 cup sliced almonds — toasted
1/2 cup granulated sugar (optional – if fruit is really sweet you can leave this out)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
6 whole nectarines — or peaches each cut into 10 to 12 slices (3 pounds prepped)
1 pint boysenberries — or blackberries
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
Optional for serving: ice cream or whipped cream

Cook’s notes: You will want to use a wide dish for this recipe so the filling can spread out in a shallow layer, which allows more water (from the fruit) to evaporate. Almonds are the first choice to complement the combination of nectarines and boysenberries, but walnuts or hazelnuts also work well.
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Butter a 3-quart baking dish (see cook’s notes).
2. Prepare topping: Mix flour, sugar, and salt together in a bowl. Add butter and toss until evenly coated. Using your fingertips or a pastry blender, cut in butter until mixture resembles crumbs. (Alternatively, you can put the dry ingredients in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse until crumbly, then transfer to a bowl and squeeze the mixture between your fingers to make crumbs.) Add the almonds and mix gently; try not to break the almond slices. Put the topping in the freezer while you prepare the fruit filling.
3. Prepare fruit filling: Rub the sugar, cornstarch, and salt together in a large bowl. Add nectarines and boysenberries, toss until evenly coated, then gently stir in the vanilla.
4. Pour the fruit into prepared baking dish and scatter topping over the fruit. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until topping is golden and fruit is bubbling. Cool for 30 minutes before serving, topped with ice cream or whipped cream, if desired. Wrapped in plastic wrap, the crisp will keep at room temperature for up to 3 days. Reheat in a 325-degree oven for 10 minutes before serving.
Per Serving: 452 Calories; 19g Fat (37.3% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 67g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 31mg Cholesterol; 388mg Sodium.

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  1. Bethier

    said on August 30th, 2015:

    Hi Carolyn,
    Yum! This looks like another winner! I’m not a fan of oatmeal in crisp toppings either–I think it
    should stay in cookies where it becomes a star!! I will definitely try this and like your idea
    of using raspberries with the peaches! I was wondering about apples–have not had much
    luck finding an apple crisp without the oats. . .
    Glad to hear Oliver is settling in–he is a cutie! Thank you again for sharing all your recipes
    and adventures–great writing and a wonderful spot to visit! ????

    Thank you for your kind words. You might try my Apple Pudding (see my favorites page). It has a crisp crust and no oats. It’s a family favorite. Was my mother’s recipe. I crave it now and then. Maybe it’s called Crisp Apple Pudding. . . carolyn t

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on September 1st, 2015:

    Isn’t that what we would call a ‘crumble’?

    Yes, this dessert could be called a crumble. There are a variety of words used to describe these kinds of homey, rustic desserts with fruit and some kind of topping. Crumble toppings don’t get as crisp, however, so it’s appropriate this one IS called a crisp, because it really is. . . carolyn t

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