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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 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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