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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 26th, 2017.

laurie_colwins_damp_gingerbread

If you’re a younger person, you’ve likely never heard of Laurie Colwin. She penned a column in Gourmet Magazine for many years. She died way too young.

How sad I was when I heard that Laurie Colwin had died in 1992. I loved her columns – irreverent for sure. She never considered herself a gourmand. She was just a home cook. She debunked theories and philosophies of cooking. She shared stories about how she cooked and entertained in her miniscule NYC apartment when she was a single person. I LOL’d when I read that story. I wrote up a post in 2013 about damp_gingerbread_wedgeLaurie Colwin, and part of that essay is in that post. And I’d always planned to make a lot of her recipes. She eventually married and had children, and continued to write her irreverent prose about the joys and dilemmas of day to day cooking. She wrote at least 2 memoir-style cookbooks, Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen (Vintage Contemporaries); and More Home Cooking: A Writer Returns to the Kitchen. I bought them years ago and savored every word in both books, certainly saying I’d make some of the recipes. But I never did.

Then recently I read a blog piece somewhere that mentioned this recipe, the Damp Gingerbread. One of her recipes I’d always intended to try. So, recently, when we had a dark, damp day, I dug into my baking stuff and made her cake.

This cake isn’t the heavy, dark kind of cake many people prefer, or think of when you think “gingerbread.” Most of those recipes contain molasses. This one doesn’t. This one uses Lyle’s Golden Syrup. Now, for those of you who don’t know what it is, it’s a type of syrup (Golden Syrup is made from sugar cane or sugar beet when processing for sugar. It is a form of invert sugar syrup. . . this from my friend Toni, in England) produced in England and available in some (rare) stores here in the U.S. I used to be able to find it sometimes, but since I had none on my shelves, I went to Amazon. The link above goes to a single can (free shipping even if you don’t have amazon Prime) that’s just the right size for this recipe. I had to wait for its delivery before I could bake the cake. Could you use regular corn syrup? I suppose, but Lyle’s has a lightly golden color and I think it’s made differently than our American corn syrup.

damp_gingerbread_slice_outThis gingerbread doesn’t contain the load of spices more common to gingerbread, either. Just ground ginger, ground cloves and ground cinnamon. I think Laurie Colwin liked a more subtle gingerbread. And then, what about the DAMP designation? Well, the recipe indicates you bake it JUST until the cake has pulled away from the sides and is still almost damp in the middle. I probably overbaked mine as it wasn’t exactly damp, in my opinion. Was it moist? Yes. Delicious? Yes. It would be nice to make two types and try them side by side. This one is more delicate. You don’t even need a mixer – I did it all in one bowl and poured it into my 9” round, high-sided cake pan (it would likely overflow a regular height cake pan). An hour later it was done.

What’s GOOD: it’s a lovely, lighter than usual gingerbread. Subtle spices, and delicious with a big, fat dollop of whipped cream on it. Easy to make – a one-bowl thing without using a mixer.

What’s NOT: if you prefer the dark heavy type of gingerbread, this one won’t float your boat. I liked it. Maybe next time I’ll try another recipe for the darker type. I think I like both, actually.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Laurie Colwin’s Damp Gingerbread

Recipe By: Laurie Colwin (deceased), writer, cookbook author
Serving Size: 10

9 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups Lyle’s Golden Syrup — (12 ounces)
2 cups all-purpose flour — plus 2 tablespoons
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 egg
1 cup milk

1. Heat the oven to 350° F. Butter a 9-inch round pan (2 inches deep) and line the bottom with parchment paper. In a small saucepan, melt the butter with the Lyle’s Golden Syrup.
2. Into a bowl, sift the flour, salt, baking soda, ground ginger, ground cloves, and cinnamon. Pour the syrup and melted butter onto the dry ingredients and mix well. Add the egg and the milk and beat well. The batter will be very liquidy, not to worry.
3. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 50 to 55 minutes. The middle should be just set, with the edge pulling away from the pan, and a tester will bring out a few crumbs. Cool the cake in the pan for 10 minutes before turning out. (Serve with sweetened whipped cream.)
Per Serving: 322 Calories; 12g Fat (33.5% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 49g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 52mg Cholesterol; 452mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on February 26th, 2017:

    Golden Syrup is made from sugar cane or sugar beet when processing for sugar. It is a form of invert sugar syrup. Quite different from your corn syrup.

    That is an interesting cake but having grown up eating the dark ginger cake, it might not be to my taste.

    I’m glad to know the science behind golden syrup – and to know it’s not a corn syrup derivative. I knew there were benefits to it, but did not know the particulars. I think I prefer the dark ginger cake also, but I was willing to try this one. . . carolyn t

  2. Joan

    said on February 26th, 2017:

    I enjoyed Laurie Colwin’s Gourmet magazine articles too and miss them. It’s nice to have this gingerbread recipe and I’ve ordered the Lyle’s Golden Syrup so I can try it. Thank you for the recipe.

    I do hope you enjoy the gingerbread. It’s different, so don’t expect the same kind of texture or taste to our more common dark (molasses-type) hyper-spiced variety. Let me know what you think. . . carolyn t

  3. Peggy

    said on February 26th, 2017:

    Again we have something in common. I loved reading Laurie Colwin and have both her books and several of her columns. And I must try this recipe – yes, gingerbread!

    Hope you enjoy the recipe. It’s NOT what you’re used to – the dark colored type with tons of spices. This one is much more mellow and light. Let me know what you think . . . carolyn t

  4. Madonna

    said on February 26th, 2017:

    It was so fun bumping into you at Trader Joe’s today. After reading your blog for awhile I felt like I already knew you.

    I am going to try to make this cake into teacakes. Jacques Pépin said to just make mini muffins and turn the upside down.

    Madonna
    MakeMineLemon.com

    That was a real kick to meet you yesterday. Small world for sure, Madonna. Enjoyed our conversation. . . carolyn t

  5. hddonna

    said on February 27th, 2017:

    Looks like a lovely accompaniment to afternoon tea. I do like dark gingerbread (The English Kitchen Sticky Ginger Loaf is my current favorite), but a lighter one would have its charms, too. I can get the syrup at my international grocery, so will have to give it a try.

    I think, if you are a fan of the dark type, this might not satisfy as much, but it’s very good. Just different. . . carolyn t

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