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On my recent road trip, I visited one of my local libraries and borrowed 5 books on tape. We listened to 3 of them. I’m a big fan of Craig Johnson, the author of a series of mysteries taking place in Wyoming, and a TV series on Netflix called Longmire. This book, A Serpent’s Tooth: A Longmire Mystery was really complex. Hard to explain, but it’s about graft and greed and oil. Worth reading, for sure. Also read Stone Kiss by Faye Kellerman, another complex mystery about Lt Decker, an LA cop who journeys to NYC to help out his family when a murder occurs. Lots of violence in this one.  Not particularly a fav book, I’d venture. Then read Leaving Time: A Novel by Jodi Picoult. I’ve read most of her books – always very riveting. In this book, you’ll learn a whole lot about elephants since the protagonist in it is a young girl whose mother disappeared when she was quite young. Her parents ran an elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire. In the ensuing years, Jenna has tried to find clues as to her mother’s whereabouts because she just cannot believe her mother would have up and abandoned her. There are a whole cast of characters (her mother, her father, employees at the sanctuary, a cop or two, and a psychic). All play fairly prominent roles. Fascinating book – I really liked it, almost as much for the education about the behavior of elephants as about the mystery. A great read.

Also on the trip, I read a book (on Kindle) for one of my book clubs, The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin. It’s about the relationship between Truman Capote and his “swans,” a group of aging high society ladies, and specifically Beth Paley. I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not. Truman Capote was not a nice man, although the whole novel (vs. non-fiction, which this is not) is conjured from speculation about the years Truman was kind of adopted by the group of women. He cared about all of them (most were married/divorced, wealthy women) but in the end he betrays them all by writing a novella about their secrets, their marriages, their affairs (theirs or their spouses, information they’d all shared with him, thinking he could be trusted with their innermost secrets). It was scandalous, and yes, all that part is true. I finished the book, but almost felt like I’d read a “dirty book.” There is no graphic detail in this book – it’s just what Capote did to destroy these women, supposedly his dear, darling “swans.” He was the villain in the book, and in his old age . . . well, I won’t spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it.

I’ve written up an entire blog post about this book. (It hasn’t been posted yet, but will soon.) It may be one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a memoir by Pat Conroy (an author I’ve long admired). He died a year or so ago – sad, that. In order to get the most out of My Reading Life, I recommend you BUY THE HARDBACK. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s an autobiography of sorts, but not really. He never wrote one, I don’t think, and I doubt he would ever have written one as he likely didn’t believe anyone would want to read about his (sad) life. In this memoir, he chronicles the books (and the people who recommended them) that influenced his life. Starting at his mother’s knees and continuing through influential teachers and mentors and friends. One of my book clubs read it, and I devoured it, cover to cover, with little plastic flags inserted all the way through to re-read some of the prose. Pat Conroy was a fabulous writer – he studied words from a young age and used them widely and wisely throughout his writing, but better than most authors would. He adored his mother, and hated (with venom) his aviator military father who physically abused everyone in the family, including his mother. They all took it like stoic Buddhas. I’m going to have to read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel because of reading this book. I’ve never read it. Conroy says that book’s first page is the best first page of any book he ever read in his life. Wow. And maybe my book group is going to re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Vintage Classics) too because of the chapter on that book. We might have to assign that to a 2-month or longer read. If you have friends or family who are avid readers, this would make a great gift, this book, My Reading Life. If YOU are a reader, it needs to be on your bookshelf, but in hardback, so you can go back to it and re-read his stories. It’s a series of essays, each one about a sub-section of his life. A must-have and a must-read.

Also read The Towers of Tuscany by Carol Cram. It was a bargain book through amazon or bookbub (e-book). Back in the Middle Ages women were forbidden to be artists. Their only place was in the home, caring for children and sewing and cooking. But the heroine in this book was taught to paint by her widowed artist-father (in secret, of course). When her father suddenly dies, all hell breaks loose and she must fend for herself. Much of the book takes place in Siena (and also San Gimignano) as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

 

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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