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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 Cookies, on December 21st, 2015.

choc_chip_cookies_food52

Yes, it IS a different kind of chocolate chip cookie – maybe you wouldn’t know the difference if you’re not a collector of variations of the chocolate chip cookie theme. I was standing in front of the light, so that’s why some look different in the photo.

Last month I made a quick trip up to Northern California to visit my daughter and her family who live there. While staying there I did do some cooking, rather than go out to eat for most meals. Dana made a spaghetti dinner one night, and I made those lemony chicken thighs I posted about a week or so ago. My daughter doesn’t cook much, and she never eats breakfast. Period. While there, I got the following message from my best friend Cherrie:

Okay you need to hurry home, read about this chocolate chip cookie and make them immediately.  I figure we could have some with coffee by Wednesday if you don’t get distracted.

I laughed when I read it – Cherrie almost never says something like that – but you see, she’s not much of a baker. She does bake Christmas cookies, and as I write this (in late November) we have a date scheduled for last week, actually, just before this recipe will post, when we’ll get together in my kitchen and bake up a whole bunch of cookies and divide them between 3 of us, Cherrie, Jackie and me. But Cherrie knows I’m a sucker when it comes to chocolate chip cookies. They are, hands down, my favorite cookie. Period.

If you read Food52, you may have already read about this cookie and tried it. If not, then you may want to read about it here. There are several major differences with this cookie – (1) there is no egg in the dough; (2) it uses vegetable oil instead of butter; (3) you absolutely MUST let the dough rest overnight in the refrigerator; (4) it’s vegan, in case you are interested in that aspect. With that in mind, I bought the ingredients while I was up in Placerville, and made them there, leaving most of them for Dana’s family to enjoy. I brought home 3, ate 2 and froze one for Cherrie. She got it last week, and I have forgotten to ask her what she thought of it. It wasn’t by Wednesday – it may have been 10 days later that I saw her, it was near dinnertime, and she surely would not have wanted to eat it then.

The cookies look and feel different – because they chill overnight, the dough is kind of hard to work with (I thought) and the cookies stood up – they weren’t flat at all like the cookies shown on Food52’s website. I used dark chocolate chips (which are specified in the recipe), but you could use anything you prefer – use the regular ones, which might be easier to manipulate in the chilled dough since they’re smaller than Ghiradelli’s. The baking part was about the same. The texture of the cookie was not quite as tender as regular ones (using butter and egg). And I thought the dough was less interesting – less flavorful because of the oil. Part of the joy of chocolate chip cookies, to me, is the cookie part, not just the chocolate chips.

What’s GOOD: well, they’re different. They’d probably keep longer since they have no egg in them. Most people at Food52 just raved about them. I’m not quite so enamored with them, but perhaps I should give them another try in my own kitchen. And I’d use regular chocolate chips next time. Will these become my go-to recipe? Nope, probably not. You’ll find my favorites listed on my Carolyn’s Favs with three chocolate chip cookies recipes listed as favorites.

What’s NOT: only that you must let the dough rest in the refrigerator overnight. For a die-hard chocolate chip cookie lover, that was hard to do! I did taste the dough (which you’d have no health problem doing in this recipe since you won’t be ingesting any raw egg), which seemed about the same as usual. Dough was a bit harder to work with when cold. A cookie scoop would help with that – my daughter didn’t have one, so I used an ice cream scoop instead.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 14/15 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Ovenly’s Secretly Vegan Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies

Recipe By: Food52, 2015
Serving Size: 18

2 cups all-purpose flour — 250 grams
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 1/4 cups dark chocolate chips — use at least 60% cocoa content
1/2 cup sugar — (100 grams)
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar — (110 grams) or dark brown sugar
1/2 cup canola oil — grapeseed, or any other neutral oil plus 1 tablespoon
1/4 cup water — plus 1 tablespoon
Coarse-grained sea salt or flaky sea salt like Maldon for garnish

1. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the chocolate chips to the flour mixture and toss to coat.
2. In a separate large bowl, whisk the sugars briskly with the canola oil and water until smooth and incorporated, about 2 minutes. Note: Use fresh, soft light brown sugar. If there are clumps, break them up with the back of a spoon or your hand before whisking.
3. Add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture, and then stir with a wooden spoon or a rubber spatula until just combined and no flour is visible. Do not overmix.
4. Cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate the dough for at least 12 hours and up to 24 hours. Do not skip this step.
5. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Line two rimmed sheet pans with parchment paper. Remove dough from the refrigerator and use an ice cream scoop or a spoon to portion dough into 2-inch mounds. We recommend freezing the balls of dough for 10 minutes before baking as the cookies will retain their shape better while baking.
6. Sprinkle the balls of dough with coarse-grained sea salt (if freezing, remove balls of dough from the freezer first), and bake for 12 to 13 minutes, or until the edges are just golden. Do not over bake. Let cool completely before serving.
Per Serving: 223 Calories; 11g Fat (41.6% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 32g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 136mg Sodium.

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