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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 Cookies, on March 8th, 2017.

choc_biscotti_

Why, oh why, did I wait so long to try these easy biscotti? They are just wonderful, and maybe even more so if they’re allowed to mellow for a few days. These must be easiest biscotti I’ve ever made.

Farmgirl Susan’s blog was one of the first ones I started following when I began reading blogs back in about 2004. I just loved reading her story about how she and her (then) husband wanted to move from California, got as far as Missouri, their car broke down, and the story starts from there. She shed the husband, found her hunky husband Joe, and has been writing and blogging from the backcountry ever since. She grows a lot of her own produce, barters all kinds of things with neighbors, and doesn’t get to grocery shop very often because they’re a loooong way from a town or city.

choc_biscotti_uprightSusan posted this recipe years ago. And I’m just plain embarrassed to say it’s been sitting in my to-try MasterCook file for years. YEARS! Too bad, cuz these are going to make a more frequent appearance in my house in the future. I rescued one biscotti (I tasted one when I made them) from the bag as I distributed most of them to friends and that one got dunked into my morning latte. OH-SO-GOOD!. Trust me on this one.

choc_biscotti_2nd_bakeSometimes biscotti is a bit persnickety. At least I’ve found them so. You bake them in a flat log the first time around, then you have to cut them into those unique and very recognizable angled flats, and bake them again to get them extra crispy. Often, in my experience, cutting the once-baked logs is problematical – you often break off ends, etc. These, however, were cinchy easy and the knife just cut perfectly. Susan mastered this recipe to a T. The only addition I might make would be nuts, or chocolate chips. But they’re pretty darned perfect just the way they are. Thank you, Susan, for a really great recipe!

What’s GOOD: how easy they are to make. Flavor is fabulous. They keep well. They satisfy a chocoholic’s cravings, they’re relatively low in calorie. Altogether wonderful cookie. Do try them.

What’s NOT: I can’t think of a single thing I didn’t like about these. They’ll be making a regular appearance in coming months.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Farmgirl Susan’s Easy Chocolate Biscotti

Recipe By: Farmgirl Fare blog, 2005
Serving Size: 36

2/3 cup semisweet chocolate — (4 ounces) or dark chocolate chips (or chopped chocolate)
1/2 cup butter
2 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour — and up to 1/4 cup more if needed
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder — (Susan cautions – make sure it’s fresh)
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg white — beaten, for glaze (optional)
1 teaspoon espresso powder — (optional) or more, added into dry ingredients

1. Heat the oven to 350°. Melt the butter and chocolate together (I put them in a Pyrex measuring cup and microwave them) and set aside.
2. With an electric hand mixer, beat the eggs and sugar until lightened, about two minutes.
3. Add the vanilla and chocolate mixture.
4. Mix in the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt (and espresso powder, if using) just until combined. You should have a soft, but not sticky, dough. Add the extra 1/4 cup of flour if dough is too sticky.
5. Divide the dough in half. On a lightly floured surface, form each half into a log that is 3½ inches by 9 inches. Place the logs on a heavy duty baking sheet and brush with egg white if desired. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the tops are set. Update: some readers have said their loaves sliced better when cooked a little less than 25 minutes, so I’ve changed the directions accordingly.
6. Reduce the oven to 275°. Let the logs cool as long as you can (the cooler they are, the easier to cut), and then slice into 1/2-inch thick slices (I use a large serrated knife and push it through the loaves rather than ‘sawing’ the slices). Arrange the slices on baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, carefully turn the slices over, and bake for another 20 minutes.
7. Cool on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container or freeze.
Per Serving: 89 Calories; 4g Fat (37.7% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 13g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 19mg Cholesterol; 111mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on March 8th, 2017:

    I want to bake these right now! I think I’ll put some macadamia nuts in them. I find that misting the loaves with water a few minutes before cutting them makes them easier to slice cleanly. I believe the idea came from the King Arthur Flour website. I use a bread knife and do use a sawing motion–will try the straight down push next time. Do you have any hints for cleanly slicing ice box cookie dough? If it has any nuts or other chunks, it’s almost impossible, and although you can push them back together, they are never as pretty.

    These biscotti were the easiest I’ve ever made. This will be my go-to recipe from now on, and yes, nuts in them should be good. Chop them up, however. No, I don’t have any great ideas for chilled cookie dough – sorry. . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on March 8th, 2017:

    About an hour and a half after reading this post, I’m munching on one of the best biscotti I’ve ever had. Commercial chocolate biscotti tend to be hard and tough, but these have a deep, rich, chocolate flavor and still retain a delicate, crumbly, crunchy texture–exactly what I’m looking for in biscotti. I misted the loaves with water when I took them out and was able to slice them easily using both the straight cut down with my chef’s knife and the gentle sawing motion with my Wusthof bread knife. I did chop the macadamia nuts, but they are hard to chop because of their shape, and some pieces remained fairly large. Predictably, they did make slicing a little more difficult, but the slices only broke where a large piece of nut weakened the structure. I actually had a few break when I turned them during the second baking, but they taste just as good! I’d try harder to chop them a bit smaller next time, but I don’t like them too small, either–I want the tooth-feel when I bite down on them. It’s a trade-off, and I find it worth a little breakage. These are amazing, and the recipe is going into my small binder of treasured favorites.
    Thank you for posting this again–I might have missed out on them if you hadn’t.

  3. hddonna

    said on March 8th, 2017:

    Oops. I guess you didn’t post them “again”–the original post was in the Farmgirl blog. So thank you for getting around to trying them and sharing the recipe with us!

  4. hddonna

    said on March 15th, 2017:

    Forgot to mention that I substituted a cup of white whole wheat flour for a cup of the all-purpose. The dough seemed really wet, so I added the extra quarter cup of flour, but that made it a little stiff. I was able to mold it by flattening it on the baking sheet and got normal-looking biscotti anyway, but next time I’d let it rest a while before adding extra flour, especially if using whole wheat as I did. The whole wheat wasn’t noticeable in the finished cookies. Next time I’m going with all whole wheat. You gave yours away, Carolyn—afraid I didn’t follow your example. Am enjoying a few every day, but they do keep exceptionally well, and I am making them last!

    Well, guess what? I made them again a week later, and stuck them all in the freezer. That keeps me from eating these too fast because they are hard as rocks straight out of the 0° freezer. Not to worry – I’ll get my share of them!! . . . carolyn t

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