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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 Desserts, on July 21st, 2016.

blueberry_buckle_serving

Gosh, I can’t encourage you enough to make this dessert. It’s off the charts wonderful! Fresh blueberries stirred into a batter, baked with a brown sugar streusel baked on top, then drizzled with a bit of heavy cream.

Some weeks ago I was contacted by Finlandia, the company that produces cheese and butter products in Finland, but it’s imported here in the U.S. to a variety of mostly upscale grocery stores, but also to some Costco stores (not where I live, unfortunately). It’s carried at some Safeway stores and Gelson’s. Anyway, I guess they thought I might like to try some of their products, providing I’d write up something about it on my blog. I said sure, as long as I really liked the product (which I did).

Finlandia shouldn’t be confused with Finlandia vodka or with the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius’ musical opus by the same name (it’s beautiful – if you’d like to hear it, check out this YouTube 9-minute segment of it. Or with the annual ski marathon called Finlandia. I think if you live in Finland, the word is used in lots of ways!

They were kind enough to send me 2 packages of salted butter (7-ounces each), 1 of unsalted butter (also 7-ounces) and a package of deli-sliced Swiss cheese. They asked me to bake something with the butter, but I decided that before I did that I should have my visiting family sample the butter and we’d do a taste test.

butter_taste_test

So this was the first step – a taste test of both Finlandia types and my regular go-to unsalted butter from Trader Joe’s. I think this may not have been a very fair test because TJ’s doesn’t profess to be a premium butter. It’s good enough for my regular use, but it’s not anything extraordinary. Finlandia butter IS a premium butter for sure. I had a lovely loaf of crunchy baguette which was a kind of neutral slate on which to taste the butter. I probably shouldn’t have labeled them so they could see what they were eating. My visiting family hands-down liked the Finlandia salted type. They liked it so much the entire 7 ounces was gone in about 20 minutes. I often prefer unsalted butter and I always use it for baking (except the day I made this cake when all I had left was the Finlandia salted type).

The next morning we did another taste test, though. My S-I-L Todd frequents Starbucks, and he said they have some premium butter, called Gold, he thought. He brought home a few little Kerry Gold foil-wrapped squares and we taste-tested the Finlandia salted butter with the Kerry Gold salted. It was a mixed result – about half of us liked the Finlandia; the other half preferred the Kerry Gold. In past years I bought only Plugra, another premium butter made here in the U.S., but all of them are expensive.

My visiting family made sandwiches and used some of the Swiss cheese – they liked it just fine, they said. I’m not a fan, particularly of Swiss cheese (unless it’s Gruyere from Switzerland), so I haven’t had but a tiny bite of it. I’d guess if you’re a Swiss cheese fan you’d like it a lot.

With the remaining block of Finlandia salted butter I made this absolutely fabulous blueberry buckle. Oh my gosh it is so good. You simply have to make this!!! What I cannot tell you is if this blueberry buckle would be equally good with any old butter – it was off the charts, though, so I’m happy to say that the Finlandia butter might have had something to do with it. The recipe came from that same book I’ve been touting in recent months, Rustic Fruit Desserts: Crumbles, Buckles, Cobblers, Pandowdies, and More, by Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson. If you don’t have this book, and you’re any fan of cobblers and crisps, etc. you really need to buy it! I’ve made about 4-5 of the fruit desserts from the book so far and have been astounded with the results each and every time.

What makes a dessert a buckle, you ask? Here – Buckle or Crumble Is a type of cake made in a single layer with berries added to the batter. It is usually made with blueberries. The topping is similar to a streusel, which gives it a buckled or crumpled appearance. This info came from What’s Cooking America.

First I buttered my unusual Kaiser square springform pan (you can use any old 9×9 square pan) but I have blueberry_buckle_batterthis neat pan and thought it might look pretty if I could remove it from the pan to serve it. The batter is not all that different than many – it does contain buttermilk (makes it very tender) and cinnamon and at the last minute you very carefully stir in the fresh blueberries. You don’t want to overdo the stirring or you’ll get a purple cake with oozing juice. The recipe says you can use frozen berries, but leave them frozen when you stir them in or you’ll have the same problem with oozing blueberries and purple cake. Frozen, defrosted blueberries are very liquidy!  My advice? Use fresh blueberries.

Then you sprinkle on the brown sugar – butter – flour – cinnamon mixture all over the top and into blueberry_buckle_bakedthe oven it goes for nearly an hour. I left it in the pan for awhile to cool – then I actually transported in the pan when I stayed with family at a beautiful home in Big Bear (near the lake by the same name) and we enjoyed it after dinner one night, and again for breakfast the next morning. It worked equally well for both meals.

I had planned to make the lemon syrup (even though David Lebovitz who made this too, suggested that the lemon syrup took away from the fruit flavor, but as it turned out I answered the doorbell when I was making it, and the syrup burned up, burned my pan (and it may not recover – down the drain with a good Caphalon pan!), and smoked up my house! I wasn’t about to attempt it again. I loved it just the way it was.

I ended up not moving it off the springform pan as it was really moist, and tender, and I was afraid it would fall apart in the process. So I just left it on the springform base and cut squares to serve it with some cream.

blueberry_buckle_sideview

What’s GOOD: every single thing about this was delicious. The tender crumb (from the buttermilk), hopefully the nice high-end Finlandia butter, the fresh blueberries, the balance of fruit and sugar was perfect. The topping isn’t too sweet, either. Altogether a class act dessert! I’ll be making it again and again. It’s going onto my Favorites list, it’s that good. I think I’d make this without the lemon syrup again – it was just great the way it was.

What’s NOT: nary a thing. It’s easy to make and I just know you’ll hear purrs from everyone. And just as an aside, my only “beef” with Finlandia is that they package their butter in 7-ounce packages. Most U.S. recipe increments relatr to half pound or quarter pound, or call for cubes, half cubes, quarter cubes, from a 4-ounce cube, which makes measuring Finlandia a bit difficult at a 7-ounce cube. I wouldn’t want to have to cut the 7-ounce cube into 7 slices. You’d have to cut and weigh the Finlandia. Not ideal in my kitchen anyway. Using a scale would be best.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Blueberry Buckle (with optional Lemon Syrup)

Recipe By: Rustic Fruit Desserts (cookbook)
Serving Size: 12

STREUSEL TOPPING:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter — cubed and chilled
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
BATTER:
6 tablespoons unsalted butter — at room temperature
1 cup sugar zest of 2 lemons (use the same lemons for juice in the syrup below)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour — PLUS 2 tablespoons
1 teaspoon baking powder — preferably aluminum-free
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon — or 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 large eggs — at room temperature
1/2 cup buttermilk — at room temperature
3 cups blueberries —
FRESH LEMON SYRUP: (optional)
1/3 cup sugar
6 tablespoons lemon juice

NOTES (from David Lebovitz’ blog about this recipe): Adding the lemon syrup is tangy but does take some of the spotlight off the berries. If you omit it, you might want to increase the amount of cinnamon or nutmeg slightly in the batter to give it a little more pizzazz. Other fruits can be used, such as sliced or diced plums, nectarines or apricots. Avoid fruits that are extra-juicy – it messes up the batter consistency. Raspberries can be used in place of the blueberries, or mixed with them. If you want to swap out other fruits, use the same amount by weight or volume as the blueberries listed in the ingredients. You can use frozen berries if you’d like, but do NOT defrost – too juicy. Add them frozen, right to the batter. If you don’t have buttermilk handy, you can put 2 teaspoons of lemon juice or white vinegar in a measuring cup and add enough whole or lowfat milk to equal 1/2 cup (125ml). Stir gently, then let sit for ten minutes until it curdles slightly, and use that.
1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Butter a 9-inch square cake pan.
2. TOPPING: crumble together the butter, sugar, flour and cinnamon with your hands or a pastry blender until the pieces of butter are broken up and are about the size of small peas. Set aside.
3. BUCKLE BATTER: In the bowl of stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or by hand in a bowl using a spatula or wooden spoon, cream the butter, sugar and lemon zest together until light and creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, stopping the mixer a few moments after you add each egg to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
4. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon or nutmeg into a medium-sized bowl. With the mixer on low speed, add half the flour mixture, then stir in the buttermilk.
5. Add the remaining flour mixture, mixing just enough so it’s barely incorporated (there will still be dry bits of unincorporated flour), then remove the mixer bowl from the machine and using a flexible spatula to gently fold in the blueberries in, just until they are incorporated. Do not overmix – you don’t want to smash the blueberries and stain the batter.
6. Scrape the batter into the prepared baking pan and smooth the top. Strew the topping over the blueberry batter and bake until the buckle is lightly browned on top and feels just set in the center; it’ll spring back lightly when you touch the center. It’ll take about 55 minutes.
7. SYRUP (optional): When the buckle is almost finished baking, make the syrup by heating the lemon juice and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat, cooking it until it thickens. It’s done when the bubbles get larger, and when removed from the heat (check a couple of times while it’s cooking), the consistency will be like warm maple syrup. It’ll take about 5 minutes.
8. Remove the buckle from the oven and pour the warm lemon syrup over it, letting it soak in. Serve the buckle when it’s cool enough to slice. It’s good warm or at room temperature. Whipped cream, vanilla ice cream or just a drizzle of heavy cream make a nice garnish, but it can be eaten just as-is.
Per Serving: 312 Calories; 11g Fat (30.5% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 52g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 62mg Cholesterol; 182mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on July 22nd, 2016:

    That is a very odd weight for a pack of butter. Ours is sold in packs of 250 grs or 8.81 oz.

    Kerry Gold is made in Ireland and, personally, I prefer a French make – Président and never buy unsalted.

    That’s so odd. My only rationale is that Finlandia wants a specific profit margin, so in order to compete at competitors’ pricing, they had to reduce the block of butter to do that. Otherwise, their butter would have been the most expensive in the dairy case. I think I have seen President brand, but not for awhile and I certainly don’t remember where. . . carolyn t

  2. elizabeth

    said on July 30th, 2016:

    I’ve made this twice, without the syrup, and will make it again. For me, the berries sink to the bottom, but we don’t mind at all. I melt the butter for the topping and use 1/2 c flour, instead of 1/3c. Thanks for posting the recipe.

    It’s a winner of a recipe, for sure! Glad you’ve liked it as much as I did. . . carolyn t

  3. Jean

    said on August 1st, 2016:

    Last night I made the Blueberry Buckle, and it was delicious. Thank-you for another winner.

    You’re SO welcome. I really want to make that dessert again. Soon. I almost always have blueberries around. Thanks for leaving a comment! . . . carolyn t

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