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Just finished reading 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 because 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 a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine, Margaret of York, later titled Countess of Salisbury, but 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, too!

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.

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.

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 22nd, 2016.

port_balls

The cutest, tastiest little buggers. Easy peasy to make.

As I mentioned a few days ago, my friend Cherrie and on a quest to make some different cookies for our annual cookie marathon we usually do in early December. This was a recipe I’d cut out of the Los Angeles Times – I had an old, yellowed clipping. It did require a trip to the grocery store for vanilla wafers; not something I stock in my pantry! I learned something on the journey . . . the recipe called for 12 ounces (a box) of the cookies. Those boxes are now 11 ounces, not 12. Lots of foods are now packaged in smaller quantities – I suppose it’s to avoid having to raise prices. I haven’t altered the recipe because of the loss of one ounce – they seemed to turn out okay. I wasn’t going to buy another box, and I assumed the cookie would survive that minor change.

Anyway, the ingredients are all whizzed up in the food processor – the cookies, Dutch processed cocoa (I used King Arthur’s Double Dutch Dark Cocoa) pecans, dark corn syrup, and the Port wine. The powdered sugar is used to coat the balls after you make them. I think Cherrie counted them – we got 47 balls. THAT would account for lack of the extra ounce of cookies. The balls are small – they’re rich – and when you taste them it takes just a few seconds to feel the warmth from the wine.

The original recipe called for Zinfandel Port. I’m sure at one time I had a bottle of that, but it’s been drunk in the past. I wasn’t about to make a trip to the wine store for that, so I substituted an aged Port instead. Do NOT use California Port – it’s a far cry and a poor substitute for a real, Portuguese Port. Many years ago I visited Portugal and learned to savor the many types of Port. If you visit Porto, the northern Portuguese port, you’ll likely visit the port lodges that sit right on the wharves on the south side of the Duoro River as it moseys out into the Atlantic Ocean. You’re in for a treat if you ever go there. On the same trip I also visited Madeira (it belongs to Portugal, but it’s located off the northwestern coast of Africa) and came to REALLY appreciate Madeira. I prefer it to Port any day, but Port was what was called for here, so I used some Taylor Fladgate aged Port for it.

Cherrie rolled these little guys into balls, dipped them in the powdered sugar and set them on a rack to “dry” and then we packaged them up. We both really liked them. I’d definitely make these again. An adult cookie, I suppose, but there’s not much Port in them, so even if a teenager or younger child ate one, I doubt they’d notice anything except the warmth in the tummy.

What’s GOOD: the overall flavor is very nice. The Port is subtle; so is the chocolate, actually. Maybe as they sit and “age” the flavors will be more pronounced. They won’t last that long, I don’t believe! They shouldn’t be frozen as the powdered sugar would disappear – though I suppose you could re-sugar them if you did.

What’s NOT: well, I suppose it’s not a very good family cookie. I’m not certain children would really like it anyway. I don’t know . . .

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Chocolate Port Balls (Cookies)

Recipe By: Los Angeles Times, from many years ago
Serving Size: 48

11 ounces vanilla wafer cookies
1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder — unsweetened
1 cup pecans
1/4 cup dark corn syrup
1/2 cup port wine — use good quality
1/2 cup powdered sugar

NOTES: Original recipe called for Zinfandel Port. That may be hard to find, so use any other good quality, but heavy-duty port wine. Do not use California Port. Original recipe also called for 12 ounces of vanilla wafers, but current boxes contain 11 ounces. Recipe seems fine with that quantity.
1. In a food processor, whirl vanilla wafers until they are fine crumbs, then add cocoa powder and pecans until the mixture is uniformly fine. Add corn syrup and port and whirl until blended.
2. Shape dough into 1-inch balls and roll in powdered sugar. Set on a rack to dry. Transfer to an airtight container. Will keep for a couple of weeks. Do not freeze.
Per Serving: 62 Calories; 3g Fat (42.9% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 8g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 23mg Sodium.

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