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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 June 10th, 2017.

plum_blueberry_kuchen

My mouth is watering looking at that photo. So delicious and in-season with berries at their prime.

Kuchen (koo-ken) is the German word for cake. It originated, obviously, in Germany, yet it has also been embraced by Russian populations ‘round the world too. When I did a search on the ‘net to verify the definition (I was quite certain it meant cake, but thought I’d best check), I found a blog from a California girl who is now a farmer’s wife in North Dakota. Apparently there is a heavy German and Russian or German-Russian population in that neck of the woods. Her version of a kuchen uses a raised, yeasted dough, and she makes them in bulk and freezes them. They’re a very popular dessert in that neck of the woods.

kuchen_ready2_bakeAnyway, THIS kuchen is not a yeast dough, just a simple enough cake batter (thick, though) that forms the base. It’s scraped into a springform pan and spread out to the edges. Fruit is added, then a sugar/cinnamon mixture and baked. Then a thin egg/cream mixture is poured over the top and baked another 10 minutes. Cooled. Then a powdered sugar top a nd served with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

This cake is not as sweet as some, and in fact, kuchens are often served more like a coffeecake or for a brunch, than as a dessert. But, no matter what, it has to do with the sweetness of the fruit – you can use peaches or plums and blueberries or raspberries. Apricots would likely work fine too – just use a stone fruit for the bottom fruit and a berry of some kind for the top. This recipe was one prepared by Tarla Fallgatter at a cooking class I attended last month. It was served warm with the sweetened whipped cream on the side. Yum.

kuchen_just_bakedWhat’s GOOD: it’s VERY easy to make – just have good, ripe fruit to start with. The batter is easy to mix up, so is the topping, and also the egg/cream that’s baked at the end. I loved the taste of the fruit with the cake. A keeper. It should freeze well if you wanted to double it to make two – one for the freezer. Just press plastic wrap directly onto the fruit (don’t add the powdered sugar), wrap well in another plastic layer and foil and freeze. This dessert is very low in fat as desserts go.

What’s NOT: only that there are a few steps to preparing this – none hard – but a few extra steps to get the toppings finished. Do serve it warm if you can. Or reheat it slightly if you make it a few hours ahead.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Plum and Blueberry Kuchen

Recipe By: Tarla Fallgatter cooking class, 2017
Serving Size: 8

FRUIT:
2 pounds plums — OR peaches
1/3 cup fresh blueberries — OR raspberries
KUCHEN BATTER:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour — sifted
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons milk — or half and half or cream
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon zest
1/4 cup unsalted butter — melted
TOPPING:
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2nd TOPPING:
1 large egg yolk
3 tablespoons heavy cream
GARNISH:
1 1/2 tablespoons powdered sugar — sifted
SERVE with vanilla ice cream or sweetened whipped cream

1. Preheat oven to 450°F. If you oven runs hot, lower it to 425°F.
2. Sift flour and mix with sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.
3. In a food processor pulse eggs with milk and zest. Pulse in melted butter and then add the flour mixture. Batter will be thick.
4. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and scrape batter into it, spreading evening.
5. Combine topping and mix well. Set aside.
6. Arrange plum or peach slices around edge of pan, filling the center with remaining slices. Sprinkle with berries (blue or raspberry). Sprinkle top with sugar-cinnamon mixture.
7. Bake kuchen for 25 minutes and remove from oven.
8. Beat yolk and cream together with a form and pour over the top of the kuchen. Return to oven and bake another 10 minutes.
9. Coolin the pan on a rack for 10 minutes, then remove springform side. Sprinkle top with powdered sugar (through a sieve or pre-sifted) and serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream
Per Serving: 326 Calories; 11g Fat (28.9% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 54g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 103mg Cholesterol; 279mg Sodium.

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