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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 February 24th, 2016.

safari_seeded_cookiesOkay, listen up my friends. If you’ve learned to trust me when I tell you – these cookies are beyond wonderful. Not to be confused with the previous recipe I gave you  for “safari anzac cookies” (the one provided by the African safari camp chef and posted here in November). These are mostly ordinary cookie ingredients, but an altogether different method and a tweak or two.

When I made the last iteration of these cookies (I’ve now made 3) I was less than pleased, although all my friends raved about them, and I agreed they were “good” but they weren’t perfect. I suppose if I were the more professional kind of blogger I wouldn’t have even posted the last recipe – since I wasn’t satisfied with them. But I did because everybody loved them, yet I wasn’t sure what in the world I could do with them to make them better or “right” in my book.

So, I do what I tend to do best – I researched. I went on the web and looked up things about the CHEMISTRY of cookie baking. The myriad of sites I went to had varying opinions about why one ingredient resulted in this type, or that method made the cookies a different way. But before I even did that, I went to my cookie recipe file (in my MasterCook program) and looked at each and every recipe I have in there (a couple hundred) and examined my photos, and analyzed the ingredients. And as I got down to the R’s in my list I came across my old recipe for Ranger Cookies. They’re a crispy cookie that contains oatmeal and corn flakes and other various things. But I was really looking more at the cookie dough ingredients than anything else – not the add-ins. And I remembered how good those cookies are. Don’t know why I don’t make them more often because I really like them.

Then I went on the web and researched. What I learned was this:

(1) using all butter makes for a very crispy cookie that may spread;

(2) adding shortening will help cookies to be more firm in height (less spreading) because shortening melts at a higher temp;

(3) eggs add tenderness (well, of course) and they’re a binder as well, something to hold the batter together;

(4) molasses makes cookies darker, sweeter, and since it’s a liquid, cookies tend to spread some because of it which causes quicker browning;

(5) melting the butter/shortening and molasses before baking also encourages spreading, creating a thin, flat cookie; and then

(6) cake flour tends to give cookies a more cake-like texture – duh, that’s why it’s called cake flour!

As am aside, I don’t use Crisco anymore because it’s hydrogenated (medical researchers tell us that’s not such a good thing to eat) so I seek out Spectrum brand non-hydrogenated shortening. It’s carried at some of my local grocery stores, but not all – it’s in a blue and white round plastic tub next to the Crisco. If they carry it. If you can’t find a non-hydrogenated shortening, you can use margarine, but I don’t know how it would work because it’s basically an oil and when it gets warm it melts. The whole idea behind the shortening is that it doesn’t melt easily – except at high temp, higher than the melting (flash) point of butter.

SO, keeping all those do’s and don’t’s in mind, I swapped out some of the butter and added the non-hydrogenated shortening. There were no eggs, but liquid was needed, so I added a little swig of milk. I took out the molasses altogether and used a combo of white and brown sugar. I used all-purpose flour and left the leaveners the same. When I started out making these, I had no idea whether they would turn out – I took one thing from one recipe, another from a different recipe, added a couple of things and removed some. And I changed the method of mixing too. I’m not usually as adventuresome about creating cookies because there truly IS a chemistry to baking, but perhaps not as critical as in baking a cake with specific ratios needed.

Here’s what I did: first I creamed the softened butter and shortening together and mixed it until there weren’t any streaks of shortening. Then I added the sugars and vanilla. Meanwhile, I’d made a mixture of the flour (all-purpose) and baking powder, soda and salt. Into the cookie batter I added oatmeal and unsweetened coconut and mixed that well enough, then I added in the flour and milk until the batter was pulling together, then I added the seeds (sesame, flax and pumpkin). It looked good. The batter tasted right too. I baked just one sheet of them and let them rest a few minutes after baking to see if they were okay. More than okay!

I’ve given away most of these cookies already and can’t wait to make another batch. These cookies aren’t exactly like the ones we had on safari (those were much thicker and almost jaw-breakers to bite through) but I’m so happy with the results of my experimentation that I don’t want to try yet again. I’d thought about making yet another (4th) iteration with adding more cookie part and less add-ins, but have concluded these cookies are just perfect. I mean it. They are.

What’s GOOD: these are just magnificent cookies, if I do say so myself. Love the seeds. Love the texture and the crispness. Love everything about them. Try them and you’ll see what I mean.

What’s NOT: absolutely nothing. These are a winner!

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Safari Seeded Cookies

Recipe By: My very own cookie invention, 2016
Serving Size: 40

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 ounces unsalted butter
1/2 cup shortening — (preferably not hydrogenated) or Crisco (which is hydrogenated)
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup oatmeal
1 cup unsweetened coconut meat
3 tablespoons milk
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup flax seeds
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds, roasted

NOTES: You can substitute other kinds of seeds for the ones used in this recipe, and you can use more of one than another – just use 1 1/2 cups of a combo of seeds of your choice. You can use regular Baker’s sweetened coconut, but reduce the sugar in the cookie batter by about 1/4 cup.
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. In a bowl combine the flour, soda, baking powder and salt. Stir to combine and set aside.
2. In a stand mixer combine the butter (softened in the microwave for about 10 seconds if the cubes are refrigerator-chilled) and shortening. Mix until both fats are completely combined and no streaks of shortening are visible. Add the brown and white sugars and vanilla and continue mixing until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.
3. Add oatmeal and coconut and continue mixing until combined.
4. Slowly add the flour, along with the milk, until all are mixed into the dough.
5. Add the sesame seeds, flax seeds and pumpkin seeds, and mix just until combined.
6. Scoop heaping tablespoons of the dough onto a Silpat-lined cookie sheet. Slightly flatten tops of each cookie with your fingertips, then bake for about 13-16 minutes, until the cookies are golden and the edges are even darker. (If, by some chance, your cookies spread too much, add in about a tablespoon of flour and mix the dough well.) They can be baked longer so they reach a very dark brown with no real differences except the cookie will be much more crispy. Remove from the oven and set the cookie sheet on a rack to cool for 3-5 minutes, then gently remove cookies from the pan to a rack to cool completely. Continue baking until all cookies are made. Seal in plastic bags and freeze, or they will keep at room temp for about 2 weeks.
Per Serving: 139 Calories; 12g Fat (73.0% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 8g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 16mg Cholesterol; 63mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on March 3rd, 2016:

    Am temporarily off seeds because of oral surgery, but these look delightful! Will put this on my to-try list.

    Sorry about the surgery, but yes, when you can, you should try these. I’ve not served them to anyone who hasn’t raved about them. . . carolyn t

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