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Just finished 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 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 parents were 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 a old 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 finished Winter Journey by Diane Armstrong. Have you ever read about forensic dentistry? I sure had not, so I found it fascinating reading. It’s a debut novel for the author, and what a story. Halina, an Australian, with Polish roots, specializes in this obscure profession as a forensic dentist, and is asked to go to Poland, to help identify bone (and tooth) fragments, to put to rest a sad event in the story of this small town, when many, many people (Jews) were murdered. Was it the Nazis? Or was it the local townspeople who disliked the Jews. What a tangled web of intrigue, including Halina’s own mysterious past. I really enjoyed the read. The author does a great job of developing the characters (which I always like). This is no light read if you consider the subject matter, although it IS a novel (but based on fact). Nor is it a spy thriller – it’s more just an historical novel with lots of interesting people throughout. There’s a romance thrown in too, and a whole lot of angst about the discoveries found in the mass grave. But, the subject expanded my knowledge about forensics.

Recently finished reading The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr. I just LOVED this book. I’ve never been much of a fan of Caravaggio’s paintings, although I’ve seen plenty of them (many are extremely large) in museums around the world. His paintings were dark, often with dark subjects. But as with many of the old masters, occasionally some obscure work surfaces, perhaps credited to another artist, even, that turns out to be one done by “the” master. In this case, Caravaggio. Although this book is written as a novel (with dialogue, etc.) it’s historical through and through. It begins with two young women art scholars, in Italy, who are asked to do a research project. One thing leads to another, and to another. All true.  If you enjoy books about art – I learned some things about the paint and the canvases of the time – you’ll be intrigued as I was.

Also just read Eye On the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press, by James, McGrath Morris. Each year my AAUW book club reads something related to Black History Month. This is a biography of a woman you’ve probably never heard of, Ethel Payne, and about her life-long journey in journalism, struggling to keep her head above water financially, but staying true to her purposes of telling the truth about the black stories and black racism of the day. Sometimes biographies aren’t all that riveting, but I found this one to be so, and I savored each new chapter. We had a really good discussion of the book, and the ups and downs of Payne’s life, especially during her years as a Washington reporter. You’ll not be sorry to have spent the time reading this book. It’s well-written, as well. I was thrilled when the author, Morris, left a message here on my blog, thanking me (and my group) for reading his book.

Also read H Is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald. This one has been on the best seller list. It’s a memoir about a woman who takes on a personal challenge of taming a wild hawk. Prior to reading this book, I knew next to nothing about the entire subject of hawking, or taming any of the big, wild birds. The book is equally about the writer’s inner journey. She’s a consummate writer, and every page was a joy of words, for me. My only problem is my own – I found it hard, the more time that went by, and the more time the writer spent trying to tame this bird, to scream out “let the bird go.” Perhaps it’s because I spent time in Africa in 2015, seeing animals in the wild, that I felt more for the bird than I did with the writer’s discontent with herself and the taming process. Little did I know what a hard job it is to tame a hawk. I actually didn’t finish the book. It was a book club read, and highly recommended by several of our members. And I ended up not being able to attend the meeting as I had a cold. So perhaps there is some great ending to it that would have made me feel better. I haven’t gone to the end to find out. I just had to stop reading it. But I’m not NOT recommending it. If nothing else, read it for Macdonald’s sublime proficiency with words.

Also read George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, by Brian Kilmeade and Dan Yaeger. Here’s what it says on amazon: When George Washington beat a hasty retreat from New York City in August 1776, many thought the American Revolution might soon be over. Instead, Washington rallied—thanks in large part to a little-known, top-secret group called the Culper Spy Ring. He realized that he couldn’t defeat the British with military might, so he recruited a sophisticated and deeply secretive intelligence network to infiltrate New York. I won’t exactly call this book a riveting read, but it was interesting. Relating facts that few people knew about, this Culper Spy Ring. It’s a little chunk of American history researched in depth by the authors. An interesting read.

Also read The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel by Nina George. If you’re an avid reader, you probably have the same kind of longing as I do for a quaint, independently owned bookstore right around the corner. So few exist anymore. This novel is about a very unusual book store, and book store owner. In Paris. On a boat/barge. It’s not a typical book store, and the writer takes you on a journey of discovery about (likely) her own lifetime of book reading. You’ll learn all about a variety of existing books and why they’re a good read. But it’s all cloaked in a story about this book store and the owner. And the customers. Very fun. I’m reviewing it for one of my book clubs next month.

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 October 17th, 2016.

choc_amaretto_bars

Planning ahead for Christmas cookies . . .

It’s only October, and my friend Cherrie and I are wanting to make some different cookies this year when we do our annual Christmas cookie baking, usually in early December. We’ve been stuck in a rut for some years, making the same ones year after year. With all of the recipe sorting I’ve done in the last couple of months, I came across a bunch – really a lot – of old time cookie recipes that sounded good. We started with a list of 9 cookies, and narrowed it down to four. So, one day, when it was still hot, summery and sticky outside, I cranked down the A/C and we dug in to try these new recipes.

gingerbread_madeleinesWe made some gingerbread madeleines. Well, they were a complete bust, pictured there at left. They: (1) were too sweet; (2) stuck to my supposedly nonstick madeleine pan; the batter was so firm after being refrigerated, per the directions, that I had to leave it out for an hour so I could even scoop it; and lastly (4) because they stuck to the pan, I couldn’t frost the correct (ridged) side as they were all pock-marked. Toss out that recipe for sure.

lemon_walnut_barsWe also made a batch of lemon walnut bars. It sounded so good – Cherrie and I both like walnuts and I still have lemons on my tree. BUT, they were also a bust. Pictured at right, they (1) were too gooey and even after baking longer and longer, the filling never really firmed up; so (2) were almost impossible to cut; and (3) because the filling was too wet/damp, the shortbread part on the bottom got soggy, which made them unstable to be a bar. They were also sweeter than I like for a cookie, too. Threw that recipe out too.

Cherrie and I decided that there are so many cookie recipes out there, it’s simply not worth our time to try to figure out how to fix these.

But these Amaretto bars with chocolate were great. After baking them, though, I almost thought they were going to be a bust too because we couldn’t cut them very well. I refrigerated them overnight and was able to cut them properly then, so I fixed the below recipe to make sure that problem doesn’t happen to you. The taste, though, is wonderful, but they’re RICH. Just so you know . . .

choc amaretto bars unbakedThe bars are layered. First there’s a shortbread layer on the bottom that’s baked; a filling contains eggs, chocolate chips, Amaretto, sliced almonds, sugar and corn syrup, butter and cornstarch. That’s poured over the hot bottom crust (see photo at left of the filling poured in and ready to be baked) and baked for 25 minutes.

The pan is cooled on a rack, then you drop 1/3 cup of chocolate chips into a heavy-duty (freezer) plastic bag, microwave it until it’s very warm and melted, then you snip off a corner of the bag and drizzle that all over the bars.

choc_amaretto_bars_bakedHere, on the right you can see the finished pan full out of the oven. The top is golden brown. It took a good long while for this pan to cool off – at least two hours. Do more-or-less cut the bars while the pan is warm (but not when they’re hot). The bars are ooey-gooey, but you’ll be glad to have an idea about cutting them the next morning when you can cut them completely. When chilled, the bottom shortbread is very firm, so I was glad that most of the bars were already mostly cut.

What’s GOOD: did I mention that they’re very rich? Yes, indeed, so do cut them into small squares. I’m not sure how many I got from the pan, so I guessed at 36. You might get more than that. Being so rich, you won’t want to eat more than one, most likely. If you’re a chocoholic, you’ll be a happy camper. If you prefer milk chocolate, just substitute for the dark listed in the recipe below. Great recipe.

What’s NOT: nothing about them is hard to do, and it makes a lot of cookies/bars, but it’s a bit fussy trying to get them cut properly. I thought it was worth the effort, but for some, you might find it a bit difficult. I advise using a glass 9×13 pan so when you use a sharp knife to cut, you won’t be damaging the knife on the metal pan. I used my nonstick pan, and won’t do THAT again. I’m surprised I didn’t make some permanent grooves in the nonstick coating.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Chocolate Amaretto Bars

Recipe By: a Nestle’s Baking Book, from the 1980’s probably
Serving Size: 36

CRUST:
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup butter or margarine — (1 1/2 sticks) cut into pieces, softened
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
FILLING:
4 large eggs
3/4 cup light corn syrup
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons butter or margarine — melted
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 cup amaretto — or 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups sliced almonds
1 2/3 cups chocolate chips — [I used dark chocolate]
CHOCOLATE DRIZZLE:
1/3 cup chocolate chips — [I used dark chocolate]

1. PREHEAT oven to 350º F. Grease a 13 x 9-inch glass baking pan.
2. FOR CRUST: Beat flour, butter and brown sugar in large mixer bowl until crumbly. Press into prepared baking pan.
3. BAKE for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown.
4. FILLING: Beat eggs, corn syrup, granulated sugar, butter, cornstarch and liqueur in medium bowl with wire whisk. Stir in almonds and 1 2/3 cups morsels. Pour over hot crust; spread evenly.
5. BAKE for 25 to 30 minutes or until center is set. Cool completely in pan on wire rack.
6. DRIZZLE: Place remaining 1/3 cup morsels in heavy-duty plastic bag. Microwave on HIGH (100%) power for 30 to 45 seconds; knead. Microwave at 10- to 15-second intervals, kneading until smooth (this may take 90 seconds or so to reach the melting point, but not hot enough to melt the plastic. Cut tiny corner from bag; squeeze to drizzle over bars. Using a knife, and with a tall mug of boiling water nearby, cut the bars into 1 to 1 1/2″ squares, dipping the knife back into the hot water if the filling sticks. Try using a sharp spatula to cut through the crust part. Refrigerate for several hours. Using a spatula or a kitchen knife or both, re-cut the scored part and carefully lift out the squares. If storing for awhile, put waxed paper between layers and seal in a plastic box for up to a week. Keep bars in refrigerator.
Per Serving: 228 Calories; 13g Fat (49.0% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 27g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 36mg Cholesterol; 65mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on October 17th, 2016:

    These look like a good addition to the Christmas cookie line-up. I always try to have at least a dozen kinds; used to be a dozen and a half or more, but I don’t seem to find the time for that anymore. And more and more of those I do make tend to be bar cookies. I’ll definitely want to try these–and it’s nice that you’ve already done the troubleshooting on this recipe! I’ll keep your tips in mind. Thanks!

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