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Recently finished reading The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke. All I can say is “wow.” In a general sense, this book is based on the premise of The Pilot’s Wife. But this one has some totally different twists and turns. A young wife is met at the door by police, informing her that her husband has died in an auto accident. Then she finds out he died in Hawaii – not Kansas, where she thought he was, on business. Then she finds out there was a woman in the car. Then she meets the fiance of the woman passenger and the two of them embark on a fact-finding mission in Hawaii to discover the truth. Well, I’m just sayin’ . . . the plot thickens. And thickens. And thickens clear up to the last few pages. Hang onto your seat. A really, really good, suspenseful read.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. What a WONDERFUL book. It opens up a shameful part of America’s past, but one you might not have heard about before this. In the late 1800s thousands of Chinese workers were brought to the West Coast to help with a variety of construction projects and a myriad of other things where laborers were needed. Many settled, married and made a new life for themselves. But suddenly the white population didn’t want them here anymore and they summarily ordered them ALL out of our country. This book chronicles a young Chinese girl, who was on a ship that was supposed to take her family to China, but the ship’s captain decided en route to dump them all overboard, to drown. The girl’s father knew it was going to happen and in order to save her, he threw his daughter off the ship as they were passing Orcas Island (in the San Juan Islands west of Seattle). She was saved. The book switches from that time to current time as a woman is rebuilding her family’s home on Orcas and finds a beautifully embroidered silk Chinese robe sleeve hidden under a stair step. The book is about that sordid past and the young girl’s descendents, and about the woman who is rebuilding. Stunner of a novel. Good for a book club read, I think. It has a reader’s guide at the back with good questions for book groups.

How It All Began: A Novel by Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant. Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the angry father is a wealthy and influential man in the area. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

 

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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