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Just finished a quirky book, Goodbye, Vitamin: A Novel by Rachel Khong. She’s a new writer (newly published, I guess I should say) and this story is about Ruth, a 30+ something, trying to readjust to life without her fiance, who’s dumped her. She goes back home to help with the care of her father, who has Alzheimer’s. Written in a diary style, it jumps all over about her life, her mother, the funny, poignant things her father says on good days, and the nutty stuff he does on not-so-good days, her ex-, and her very quirky friends, too. Then a woman flits through who had had an affair with her father –  you get to observe all the angst from the mom about that. Mostly it’s about her father, as he’s relatively “together” early in the book, but then he disintegrates. Reading that part isn’t fun, although the author is able to lean some humor into it. I’m not sure I recommend the book exactly – I read it through – and felt sad. It doesn’t tie up loose ends – if you want that kind of book – you may not want to read this one.

Also finished Julian Fellowes’s Belgravia. You know Julian Fellowes, the producer and writer of Downton Abbey? He lends his mind to a story about a family or two from the similar time period as Downton, who live in London. There’s some amount of intrigue, romance, observations from within the halls of wealthy Londoners and moderately well off tradesmen and their families. There’s affairs, shady business dealings, an illegitimate child, the comings and goings of the “downstairs” staff too, etc. The characters were well done – I had no trouble keeping all of the people identified. The story is somewhat predictable, but it was interesting clear up to the end.

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.

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.

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 Breads, on June 1st, 2016.

provencal_olive_fougasse

Know how to pronounce it? Foo-ghass. A bread. A sort of chewy flatbread – not the thinnest type, as we often see in restaurants as a base for a semi-pizza kind of thing. No, this is an actual bread, maybe about an inch thick. This one studded with black olives (cured type).

When my friend Joanne invited me for lunch a few weeks ago I didn’t know she was going to prepare lunch at her home, so it was a special treat when I spotted this bread sitting on her kitchen counter and learned we would have some of it for our lunch. Oh, was it good. Chewy, still almost warm from the oven.

The recipe came from Dorie Greenspan’s cookbook, Around My French Table: More than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours. The dough is mixed (preferably with your stand mixer and the dough hook – makes it really easy). The batter/dough is allowed to rise for a couple of hours, then you turn it over inside the rising bowl, stirring and deflating it, cover, then you simply put it in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, or the next day, you kind of pour it out onto a work surface, roll it out into 2 rectangles, put them on rimmed baking sheets, sprinkling it with flour as you move it. You cut those holes into the dough (all the way through) and allow the bread to rise again out on your countertop (covered). They’re glazed with a bit of oil and sprinkled with kosher salt and you poke it all over with a fork. Then bake it in a hot-hot oven for 10 minutes, turn it and reverse the baking sheets, and bake another 10 minutes and it’s DONE. How easy was that?

The original recipe called for both oil packed sun dried tomatoes, rosemary and olives. Joanne only used the olives plus rosemary from her garden. I read that bacon is a very common addition to fougasse when you eat it in France. But, you can also use some dried fruit and nuts (not with the olives) to make it a bit different. What’s really nice about this is you make enough for 2 breads – you can bake one and leave the other one for another day or so in the refrigerator and bake the 2nd one later. Joanne and Larry had taken the first loaf to a neighborhood gathering and she said everyone raved about the warm bread. I raved too when she baked the 2nd one for our lunch. It was wonderful with the Nicoise salad. You need only plan to let it rise the 2nd time for about an hour or so and bake for 20 minutes. Again, thank you, Joanne!

What’s GOOD: what’s there NOT to like about freshly baked yeast bread. I’m a sucker for fresh bread anytime, anywhere. This one was lovely with the salad lunch. My friend Joanne made this one, but it’s easy and I’ll definitely remember this for some upcoming evening when I’m entertaining. It’s so EASY!

What’s NOT: well, you do have to plan ahead – this needs to be refrigerated at least overnight and allow for two rising times. One at first when you mix it up, then again before you bake it. That’s the only down side to making any kind of yeast bread. But this one’s worth the effort.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click on link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Fougasse

Recipe By: From Dorie Greenspan’s cookbook, Around My French Table
Serving Size: 12

1 2/3 cups warm water — plus 2 teaspoons, divided (105°F to 115°F)
1 3/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
5 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil — divided, plus more for brushing
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup oil-cured black ripe olives — pitted, quartered
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, oil-packed — drained, chopped (optional)
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary — minced
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
Coarse kosher salt

1. Pour 2/3 cup warm water into 2-cup measuring cup. Sprinkle yeast, then sugar over; stir to blend. Let stand until yeast dissolves and mixture bubbles, 5 to 7 minutes. Add 1 cup warm water and 4 1/2 tablespoons oil.
2. Mix flour and 1 1/4 teaspoons salt in bowl of heavy-duty mixer. Pour in yeast mixture. Attach dough hook; beat at medium-low speed until flour is moistened but looks shaggy, about 3 minutes. Increase speed to medium; beat until dough pulls away from sides of bowl and climbs hook, about 10 minutes (dough will be like sticky batter).
3. Mix olives, tomatoes (if using), rosemary, and lemon peel in medium bowl. Add to dough and beat 1 minute. Using sturdy spatula, stir dough by hand to blend.
4. Lightly oil large bowl. Scrape dough into bowl. Brush top of dough with oil. Brush plastic wrap with oil; cover bowl, oiled side down. Let dough rise in warm draft-free area until doubled, 1 to 2 hours.
5. Gently turn dough several times with spatula to deflate. Re-cover bowl with oiled plastic; chill overnight (dough will rise).
6. Sprinkle 2 large rimmed baking sheets with flour. Using spatula, deflate dough by stirring or folding over several times. Divide dough into 2 equal pieces. Place 1 piece on floured work surface; sprinkle with flour. Roll out dough to 12×8- to 12×9-inch rectangle, sprinkling with flour to keep from sticking. Transfer dough to sheet.
7. Using very sharp small knife, cut four 2-inch-long diagonal slashes just to right of center of rectangle and 4 more just to left of center to create pattern resembling leaf veins. Pull slashes apart with fingertips to make 3/4- to 1-inch-wide openings.
8. Repeat with remaining dough. Cover dough with towel. Let rest 20 minutes. Beat 2 teaspoons water and 1 tablespoon oil in small bowl to blend for glaze.
9. Position 1 rack in top third and 1 rack in bottom third of oven; preheat to 450°F. Brush fougasses with glaze; sprinkle with coarse salt and pierce all over with fork.
10. Bake fougasses 10 minutes. Reverse position of baking sheets and turn around. Bake fougasses until golden, about 10 minutes. Transfer to racks; cool 15 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Per Serving: 244 Calories; 10g Fat (37.0% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 34g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 591mg Sodium.

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