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Just finished 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 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 parents were 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 a old 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.

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.

Eye On the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press, by James, McGrath Morris. Each year my AAUW book club reads something related to Black History Month. This is a biography of a woman you’ve probably never heard of, Ethel Payne, and about her life-long journey in journalism, struggling to keep her head above water financially, but staying true to her purposes of telling the truth about the black stories and black racism of the day. Sometimes biographies aren’t all that riveting, but I found this one to be so, and I savored each new chapter. We had a really good discussion of the book, and the ups and downs of Payne’s life, especially during her years as a Washington reporter. You’ll not be sorry to have spent the time reading this book. It’s well-written, as well. I was thrilled when the author, Morris, left a message here on my blog, thanking me (and my group) for reading his book.

H Is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald. This one has been on the best seller list. It’s a memoir about a woman who takes on a personal challenge of taming a wild hawk. Prior to reading this book, I knew next to nothing about the entire subject of hawking, or taming any of the big, wild birds. The book is equally about the writer’s inner journey. She’s a consummate writer, and every page was a joy of words, for me. My only problem is my own – I found it hard, the more time that went by, and the more time the writer spent trying to tame this bird, to scream out “let the bird go.” Perhaps it’s because I spent time in Africa in 2015, seeing animals in the wild, that I felt more for the bird than I did with the writer’s discontent with herself and the taming process. Little did I know what a hard job it is to tame a hawk. I actually didn’t finish the book. It was a book club read, and highly recommended by several of our members. And I ended up not being able to attend the meeting as I had a cold. So perhaps there is some great ending to it that would have made me feel better. I haven’t gone to the end to find out. I just had to stop reading it. But I’m not NOT recommending it. If nothing else, read it for Macdonald’s sublime proficiency with words.

Also read George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, by Brian Kilmeade and Dan Yaeger. Here’s what it says on amazon: When George Washington beat a hasty retreat from New York City in August 1776, many thought the American Revolution might soon be over. Instead, Washington rallied—thanks in large part to a little-known, top-secret group called the Culper Spy Ring. He realized that he couldn’t defeat the British with military might, so he recruited a sophisticated and deeply secretive intelligence network to infiltrate New York. I won’t exactly call this book a riveting read, but it was interesting. Relating facts that few people knew about, this Culper Spy Ring. It’s a little chunk of American history researched in depth by the authors. An interesting read.

Also read The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel by Nina George. If you’re an avid reader, you probably have the same kind of longing as I do for a quaint, independently owned bookstore right around the corner. So few exist anymore. This novel is about a very unusual book store, and book store owner. In Paris. On a boat/barge. It’s not a typical book store, and the writer takes you on a journey of discovery about (likely) her own lifetime of book reading. You’ll learn all about a variety of existing books and why they’re a good read. But it’s all cloaked in a story about this book store and the owner. And the customers. Very fun. I’m reviewing it for one of my book clubs next month.

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 October 17th, 2007.

It all started when I was sifting through my file for cookies to bake. Our son-in-law, Todd, asked about the chocolate-chocolate chip cookies I blogged about 2 weeks ago. I don’t suppose Todd reads my blog normally. But my laptop that lives here in the kitchen is the one he uses in the evenings to catch up on his email. My blog was up, front and center last night, so he started glancing through it, spying things he’s eaten in the last couple of weeks. He spotted the picture of the cookies. There’s just one measly cookie left in the freezer, I was sad to tell him.

So I wanted to make something for him to snack on while he’s here. Nothing jumped out at me amongst my stand-bys, so I went to my file. The 100+ clippings I have from over 40 years of saving recipes. I used to be in an annual Christmas cookie exchange, so I have all those recipes. And little slips of paper from friends and acquaintances. Plus the bulk of magazine and newspaper clips, and a few taken from the internet. I had so many that some years ago I had to divide them up by cookie type (chocolate, bars, brownie type, holiday, spice, candy-type, etc.).

(this is my old recipe notebook circa 1965)

But, in looking through the very large stacks, I spied a photo of a cream cheese brownie which brought back a flood of memories. I went to my old binder where I used to hand-write all my favorite recipes. Went right to the page where I had my recipe for “Heavenly Cream Cheese Brownies.” The recipe is not there. The yellowed scotch tape is still there, but the recipe, a magazine clipping, is missing.

I knew the name was exactly “Heavenly Cream Cheese Brownies”. Figuring I’d find hundreds of listings on the internet, I put exactly that phrase into my google search box. Nothing. Huh? How can that be? There’s a site that tries to recreate or house archives of “lost” recipes. It’s called astray. I was certain it would be there. No, not by that name. After spending far too much time looking at various “cream cheese brownie” recipes I went to my cookbooks and figured some of those home-spun cookbooks I have would list this. Nada.

I don’t remember what type of chocolate the recipe used, but it seems to me that it was German’s sweet chocolate. The method: you poured some of the brownie mixture in the bottom of an 8×8 pan, then poured on the cream cheese batter that had a tad of flour in it (there wasn’t enough to cover the chocolate layer), then you blobbed on the last of the chocolate batter, which also didn’t cover completely. Then you ran a knife through it to swirl it around. Bake, slice and eat. I always loved that recipe.

I dug out my box of chocolate ingredients. Actually I have more than one, but this one contains the myriad of bar chocolates I use for baking. Thankfully, there was a bar of German’s sweet chocolate amidst this pile. I do eat chocolate too. But I diligently limit myself to about 1 ounce when I do. My preference for eating is the low-effective carb bars from Trader Joe’s. The dark chocolate type. I wanted to stock up on them (to take on our upcoming trip), but TJ’s is currently out of them. Hope that’s not permanent.My guess is that the cream cheese brownies recipe was first published (in a magazine ad) in the 1970’s. My recollection is that it was an ad for Knudsen Philadelphia style cream cheese. I remember reading it and thinking, what a novel idea. I tried it right away, and was very pleased with it. Over the years I probably made it more than 20 times. Now, of course, that I don’t have the original recipe, I was feeling bereft.

I finally found a recipe on allrecipes for a cream cheese brownie. It does use the German’s chocolate, and looks much like the one I remember. And the directions seem to ring a bell. Many of the recipes I found used a brownie mix. I didn’t want to do that, since I was sure the chocolate wasn’t cocoa, or Hershey’s liquid. So I wanted the real thing. So this one, submitted by a gal named Rosina, fit the bill. I also found a couple of recipes on the astray website that called them German’s sweet chocolate cream cheese brownies. They’re identical to this one, so I think I found the recipe. I’ll hope so. Here’s the batter all ready for the oven. I did use about 7 ounces of cream cheese. The original recipe calls for just a 3-ounce package. So mine have more of that light cheese swirl.

The report: excellent. They were exactly what I remembered. Bereft no longer, am I.
printer-friendly PDF

Cream Cheese Brownies

Recipe: allrecipes.com
Servings: 16

4 ounces chocolate — German sweet bar
5 tablespoons butter
8 ounces cream cheese — softened
1/4 cup sugar
3 whole eggs
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Melt chocolate with 3 tablespoons of the butter over very low heat. Stir constantly until smooth. Set aside to cool.
2. Cream remaining 2 tablespoons butter with cream cheese until smooth. Gradually add 1/4 cup sugar. Cream until light and fluffy. Blend into this 1 of the eggs, 1 tablespoon flour and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Set aside.
3. Now beat the remaining 2 eggs until light and fluffy. Gradually beat into them 3/4 cup sugar. Continue beating until thickened. Stir in the baking powder, salt and 1/2 cup flour. Add to this the cooled chocolate mixture. Blend well. Stir in the nuts and 1 teaspoon vanilla.
4. Spread half of the chocolate batter into an 8×8 inch greased baking pan. Spread the cream cheese mixture over the top. Then drop the remaining chocolate batter by tablespoons over the top of the cream cheese mixture. Swirl through batter layers with a spatula for a marbled effect.
5. Bake in a preheated 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) oven for 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in the pan. Cut into squares or bars.
Per Serving: 221 Calories; 14g Fat (56.9% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 21g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 65mg Cholesterol; 142mg Sodium.

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  1. s.j.simon

    said on November 15th, 2007:

    lol. did you know that chocolate was banned in switzerland for many years. read this

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