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Just finished reading 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 because 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 a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine, Margaret of York, later titled Countess of Salisbury, but 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, too!

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.

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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