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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 Desserts, on February 6th, 2017.

pumpkin_cheesecake_trifle_bowlWhat a success this was! It’s a trifle – with layers of  angel food cake, whipped cream and a pumpkin-cream cheese mixture. Was it easy? Absolutely.

Nearly every year on Christmas Eve, we join family for a big dinner celebration (anywhere from 16-30 people) and to play that gift exchange where you can steal the gift up to 3 times. And every year my cousin Gary flies south from the Bay Area, to spend the holidays with me, and he has to eat GF.

So, my mission, always, is to bring a GF dessert – something kind of special, spectacular, and certainly one that tastes good. If you do a search for GF here on my blog, you’ll find any number of desserts I’ve made over the years.

This one was particularly good and for sure it was easy to make. A friend served it at a party I attended –and I went online – found this version at Mom on Timeout. I’d purchased an angel food cake mix, but realized that it contains flour. WELL! Had to improvise by making a GF angel food cake from a recipe I found at King Arthur. It was easy to make, used a dozen egg whites, and was really delicious all by itself. I had some GF all-purpose baking mix in my pantry, so it was an easy recipe to make.

Once that was cooled (several hours), I cut it up into flat pieces, mixed up the pumpkin and cream cheese mixture , whipped the cream, and hunted all over for my trifle bowl before finally finding it. Anyway, it went together in a jiffy once I had all the 3 things made. I sprinkled some cinnamon and nutmeg on top, and chilled it overnight. Except for making the GF angel food cake, this is Trish’s recipe.pumpkin_cheesecake_trifle_spoonful

I will definitely make this again. If Gary isn’t here, I’ll make it with a boxed angel food cake mix. Some company does make a GF angel food cake mix, but Gary said it’s AWFUL, so I scratched that idea, even if I’d been able to find it somewhere. With the extra pieces of angel food cake Gary and I swiped the two mixing bowls clean. Yum.

What’s GOOD: this was really special. I’ll definitely be making this again next fall, in October, probably. It’s easy. If you buy ready-made angel food cake, you’ll eliminate more steps and it’d be cinchy easy to put together. I love-love pumpkin in every shape and type, so it was probably a no-brainer I’d like it. Unless you succumbed to using Cool-Whip instead of the real cream.

What’s NOT: can’t think of a thing. Great recipe. Easy.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Pumpkin Cheesecake Trifle

Recipe By: Mom on Time Out (blog)
Serving Size: 18

1 Angel Food Cake
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar
16 ounces cream cheese — may use Light
15 ounces pumpkin puree — (not pumpkin pie filling)
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice — (plus extra for dusting the top)

NOTE: Pumpkin pie spice is a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and allspice. If you don’t have it on your shelf, create your own blend.
1. Beat cream and powdered sugar together until stiff peaks form. Set aside.
2. In another bowl, beat cream cheese until light and fluffy.
3. Add pumpkin, brown sugar, vanilla extract and pumpkin pie spice and continue beating until thoroughly combined.
4. Fold in one third of the whipped cream. Cut Angel Food Cake into small pieces and line the bottom of your trifle dish with one third of the cake.
5. Layer with one third of the pumpkin mixture followed by one third of the remaining whipped cream. Repeat layers twice, finishing with remaining whipped cream.
6. Sprinkle with additional pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon, if desired. Cover with plastic wrap (use toothpick to hold the plastic wrap above the whipped cream) and refrigerate (overnight is fine) until ready to serve.
Per Serving: 310 Calories; 19g Fat (53.3% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 32g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 64mg Cholesterol; 257mg Sodium.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Gluten-Free Angel Food Cake

Recipe By: King Arthur Flour
Serving Size: 14

3/4 cup gluten free baking mix — or 3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons brown rice flour blend
3/4 cup superfine sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 cups egg whites — separated, yolks discarded or reserved for another use – up to 12 eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract — or Fiori di Sicilia
3/4 cup superfine sugar — + 2 tablespoons

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and place the oven rack in its lowest position.
2. Whisk together and then sift the flour, cornstarch, and 3/4 cup sugar. Set aside. In a large, clean (grease-free) mixing bowl, beat together the egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar until foamy.
3. Add the flavorings. Gradually increase the speed of the mixer and continue beating until the egg whites have increased in volume, and thickened.
4. Gradually beat in the 3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar, a bit at a time, until the meringue holds soft peaks.
5. Gently fold in the sifted flour/sugar blend ¼ cup at a time, just until incorporated.
6. Spoon the batter into an ungreased 10″ round angel food pan. Gently tap the pan on the counter to settle the batter and remove any large air bubbles.
7. Bake the cake until it’s a deep golden brown, and the top springs back when pressed lightly, about 45 minutes.
8. Remove the cake from the oven and invert the pan onto the neck of a heatproof bottle or funnel, to suspend the cake upside down as it sets and cools, about 2 hours.
9. Remove the cake from the pan by running a thin spatula or knife around the edges of the pan, and turning the cake out onto a plate.
10. Cut the cake with a serrated knife or angel food cake comb. If it’s difficult to cut, wet the knife and wipe it clean between slices. Serve with whipped cream and fruit. Wrap any leftovers airtight, and store at room temperature.
Per Serving: 128 Calories; trace Fat (0.6% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 29g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 134mg Sodium.

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