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Am just starting News of the World: A Novel by William Morris. 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 requires me to read it. It’s about an old man, during the early, old wild west times, who goes from town to town and people pay him money to read the newspaper to them. (Imagine, there WAS such a job.) By chance he’s asked to take a very young girl to Texas to reunite with her family. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby, raised by them, and she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!).

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 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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