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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 July 27th, 2016.

choc_chip_cookies_baked_cookbook

Why would I bake yet another cookie of the chocolate chip variety? I have nothing fewer, to date, than 20 similar recipes – on my index here on my blog, I have a category on the cookie page just for chocolate chip cookies.

Why would I do it? Well, it was the rhetoric that accompanied the recipe – that it had become the best chocolate chip cookie in her collection. Or something like – this is my go-to cc cookie. That kind of language perks my ears, piques my interest. It made me save the recipe, and ultimately, to make them. And I must admit, these cookies are downright fabulous. I prefer crispy chocolate chip cookies, and these definitely fit my mold, satisfying my craving for a crispy cookie. My first pans full I over baked them – the photo above. They were almost burned because I forgot to set the timer once I switched the pans around half way through. Suddenly I began to smell something hot – yep, these cookies. But oh gosh – they were so good! The next batches I was more careful and removed them after 14 minutes. They were perfectly golden on the outside but still slightly soft in the middle. Below is a photo of the cookies done at exactly 14 minutes. To adhere to the recipe instructions, these are still over-baked as she recommends taking them out when the edges are just golden. So if you make them you can decide for yourself.

cc_cookie_bakedThis recipe is much like most cc cookie recipes – I looked at this one side-by-side with my other favorite, the ones from Silver Moon bakery, and the ingredient list is nearly identical, with this one containing slightly less butter and a little less flour. About the same on everything else. These taste sweeter. Don’t know why. The batter is very sticky – the difference being the amount of flour as mentioned, I suppose. Hence the chilling time is necessary to make the dough manageable (to roll balls in your hands).

Next time I make these I’ll use a little less sugar and see if I like them even better. I got the recipe from CakeSpy (a blog). When she made these, she got the recipe from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking (cookbook) by Matt Lewis. CakeSpy changed the recipe only slightly to add walnuts and reduce the amount of chocolate chips by that amount. I always like cc cookies with both chips and walnuts, so I chose to use her variation on the cookbook recipe. I sent some home with granddaughter Taylor and her friends as they headed back to NoCal.

What’s GOOD: has this moved into #1 position in my ranking? Hmmm. Not sure. They’re awfully good, but I still think Silver Moon ones are my favorites. I’ll have to make a decision, I guess, in a few days about the ranking! I freeze my cc cookies, and I eat them frozen, so that will be my final test, eating the hard, frozen cookie. I must say, however, that his cookie was oh-so good, still slightly warm with a cold glass of milk. Yum.

What’s NOT: only that the batter has to chill for several hours. Not sure why, but it’s in the recipe. Maybe it helps them keep their shape better since they start out cold on the baking sheet. Fabulous cookies – can’t complain about anything!

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Chocolate Chip Cookies – from Baked (cookbook)

Recipe By: From Cakespy (blog) and she adapted it from Baked (cookbook)
Serving Size: 72

4 cups flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups unsalted butter — softened
2 cups packed dark brown sugar — (might use less next time)
1 cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs
4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 1/3 cups walnuts

1. In a large bowl, whisk the flour, salt, and baking soda together; set aside.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugars together until smooth and creamy. Scrape down bowl and add eggs, one at a time, beating until incorporated. Mixture will look light and fluffy. Add vanilla and beat for 5 seconds.
3. Add the flour mixture, bit by bit, mixing after each addition.
4. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, fold in the chocolate chips and walnuts.
5. Cover the bowl tightly and put in the fridge for several hours.
6. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
7. You can bake larger cookies (2 tablespoons each) or smaller (2 teaspoons each). Use your hands to shape into perfect balls and erase any imperfections. Place on prepared baking sheets, leaving at least an inch between cookies.
8. Bake for 10-12 minutes for smaller cookies, 12-14 minutes for larger cookies. Rotate pans halfway through to ensure even baking. They’re done when the edges are golden and the tops are just starting to lose their shine.
9. Remove pan from oven and cool on wire rack. They are great warm, but you could also let them cool, if you’re so inclined.
10. These can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days or freeze for longer storage.
Per Serving: 168 Calories; 10g Fat (49.0% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 26mg Cholesterol; 102mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on July 27th, 2016:

    Goodness, 72 cookies at once? What a lot. I haven’t eaten a choc chip cookie in years and I don’t think I ever made any. Enjoy those that you have left.

    Well, I certainly didn’t eat them all. I give them away, I take them to friends, I serve them now and then too. Chocolate chip cookies are my favorite cookie, bar none; even more interesting to me than a brownie, which certainly contains more chocolate. I don’t know exactly what it is about a chocolate chip cookie that intrigues me so much. I admire you that you don’t eat or make them – that’s why you’re tall and lithe and I’m short and much wider! . . . carolyn t

  2. elizabeth

    said on July 30th, 2016:

    I haven’t made this one yet, but the smitten kitchen salted choc chip cookie recipe is great. Maybe another one for you to try?

    I’ll take a look . . . carolyn t

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