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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 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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