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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 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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