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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 Cookies, on March 3rd, 2017.

butterscotch_walnut_meringue_bars

You might think that all I eat is baked goods. A friend who looked at my blog recently thought that, but then, she didn’t delve very deeply into my posts. I probably have more desserts and cookies than any of the other categories. I just enjoy baking a lot. I have no cookies in my house at the moment.

Needing some cookies and things for an event recently, I looked at some newer recipes I’d added to my to-try list. This recipe came from Peabody, at SweetReciPEAS. She raved about them, so that was a good enough excuse to bake them for my event. They’re two layers – a brown sugar and butter base (with flour and egg), then you press walnuts into that layer; then you mix up the brown sugar meringue mixture and spread it on top. Bake. See? Easy. She used bourbon in the base and in the meringue topping too  (though you can use vanilla instead). Truly, I couldn’t taste the bourbon, but perhaps if they’d been omitted, they’d have been less flavorful – won’t know unless I try them side by side. Out of the entire 9×13 pan batch, I ate one and either served them at my event or gave them away to friends. I thought they might not keep all that long anyway.

They’re delicious. A bit of crunch from the bottom layer and a light crunch from the meringue. Plus the walnuts in there too. The meringue doesn’t exactly stick very well to the base, so be careful as you cut them up. Perhaps a whipped up raw egg in between might solve that problem, if you’re inclined to try it.

What’s GOOD: the flavor and crunch. They’re sweet – very sweet. If I make them again I’ll cut down on the sugar in both layers by just a tetch, but everyone I served them to raved about them. They almost have the sweetness of candy, but they’re definitely NOT candy. You could cut larger pieces, serve with whipped cream as a dessert portion. I made bars and got about 18 or so from the pan. Very different – the meringue has a golden hue – almost like taupe, from the brown sugar. Kind of different. Not everyone recognized that it was a meringue top.

What’s NOT: really, nothing. These are delicious. Easy to make.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Butterscotch Walnut Meringue Bars

Recipe By: SweetReciPEAS, 2017
Serving Size: 18

BASE:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 Pinch salt
1 cup light brown sugar — firmly packed
1/2 cup cold butter — cut into pieces
2 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons bourbon — or vanilla
TOPPING:
2 egg whites
1 cup brown sugar — firmly packed
1 tablespoon bourbon
1 1/2 cups walnuts — chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. 2. Spray a 9-x-13-inch baking pan with baking spray. Set aside.
2. BASE: Add the flour, baking powder, salt & brown sugar in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pulse until the ingredients come together. Add the butter and process until the butter is the size of small peas. Add the egg yolk and bourbon and pulse until the mixture as the consistency of sandy clumps. Pat mixture into the pan and level off by pressing with a small offset spatula or spoon.
3. Top with walnuts. Push them into the dough. The dough is crumbly so it will need to be patted down again.
4. MERINGUE: Using a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment beat egg whites until they hold a peak when whisk is lifted. Add the brown sugar and beat at the highest speed about 4 minutes. Add the bourbon and beat for another minute. Spread the meringue over the walnut layer. The meringue does stick to the dough, sort of – the dough is sandy, so it’s not easy to spread. Just do you best you can. Bake 25 minutes or until tester inserted into pan comes out clean.
5. Let cool to room temperature and cut into squares.
Per Serving: 221 Calories; 12g Fat (47.2% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 25g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 37mg Cholesterol; 114mg Sodium.

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  1. James McGrath Morris

    said on March 3rd, 2017:

    Not only do I want to make these butterscotch bars but I want to extend thanks for the kind words you wrote about my book. It’s an honor to think your book club read it.
    James McGrath Morris

    Gosh, thank you so much for stopping by my blog! Our book group DID enjoy reading your book, and I’ll never forget Ethel Payne and her life long struggles. Not just her personal ones, but the stories she wrote. Hope you enjoy the meringue bars too. . .. carolyn t

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