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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 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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