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Just finished a quirky book, Goodbye, Vitamin: A Novel by Rachel Khong. She’s a new writer (newly published, I guess I should say) and this story is about Ruth, a 30+ something, trying to readjust to life without her fiance, who’s dumped her. She goes back home to help with the care of her father, who has Alzheimer’s. Written in a diary style, it jumps all over about her life, her mother, the funny, poignant things her father says on good days, and the nutty stuff he does on not-so-good days, her ex-, and her very quirky friends, too. Then a woman flits through who had had an affair with her father –  you get to observe all the angst from the mom about that. Mostly it’s about her father, as he’s relatively “together” early in the book, but then he disintegrates. Reading that part isn’t fun, although the author is able to lean some humor into it. I’m not sure I recommend the book exactly – I read it through – and felt sad. It doesn’t tie up loose ends – if you want that kind of book – you may not want to read this one.

Also finished Julian Fellowes’s Belgravia. You know Julian Fellowes, the producer and writer of Downton Abbey? He lends his mind to a story about a family or two from the similar time period as Downton, who live in London. There’s some amount of intrigue, romance, observations from within the halls of wealthy Londoners and moderately well off tradesmen and their families. There’s affairs, shady business dealings, an illegitimate child, the comings and goings of the “downstairs” staff too, etc. The characters were well done – I had no trouble keeping all of the people identified. The story is somewhat predictable, but it was interesting clear up to the end.

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.

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.

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 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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